Clorox Green Works Cleaner

When I first read about the new line of natural cleaning supplies produced by Clorox, I scoffed. I couldn’t help it. Clorox going green? It was enough of a stretch for me to accept that the company bought Burt's Bees (yes, sorry to break it to you if you didn't know already, but Clorox owns Burt!).

Why was it such a shock? Let's just say the terms "bleach," "giant corporation," and "green" aren't exactly synonymous (or even distantly related).

The fact that Sierra Club stands behind the line of Clorox Green Works cleaning products—and on the label—made me reconsider my initial guffaws. But still I hesitate.

Sierra Club says it approved the use of its logo on the Green Works packaging after volunteer committees reviewed the cleaners and their environmental claims. But what does Sierra Club stand to gain from it? If Sierra Club is genuinely endorsing a natural cleaning product, it could have picked one that wasn't owned by a giant corporation like The Clorox Company. Makes you wonder how big a chunk of change Clorox is donating to fund other Sierra Club causes ...

And I'm not alone in my thoughts. The Sierra Club decision has raised more than a few eyebrows and certainly isn't without controversy.

Although the Clorox name is being downplayed in recent advertising, the company's logo is still prominent on the bottles along with the Sierra Club logo. Depending on who you ask, one thing Clorox does or doesn’t have going for it is name recognition.

Me? I’m cynical of the Green Works line and how environmentally friendly it really is precisely because it has the Clorox logo on it. Conservative Boy, on the other hand, and likely countless other Americans who otherwise wouldn’t even consider green cleaners because they think they are ineffective or for the hippies, may be willing to give this line of “green” cleaners a try precisely because of the Clorox logo—it’s a cleaning brand that they’ve trusted for years, so it must work.

Another bonus is that Green Works products are easy to find in about any store—right in the cleaning aisle with the rest of the products, unlike other natural cleaners that are often tucked out of sight in organic sections (where not every shopper is willing to tread yet). And it's affordable for the masses—expect to pay about what you would for other conventional cleaning supplies, rather than forking over a couple of extra bucks per bottle as is the case with some natural cleaners.

For these reasons, I decided to test a bottle of the Green Works bathroom cleaner for myself.

Conservative Boy doesn't believe that natural cleaners are effective. But he also recently experienced first-hand the hazards of using toxic cleaning chemicals. So Green Works is the perfect solution for him—he buys its effectiveness much more so than that of my Seventh Generation cleaning products because of the Clorox name, but is excited about the fact that he doesn't go through an intense, chemical-filled experience when he cleans the shower.

My initial reaction? The bathroom cleaner worked well. I liked the "foam" spray option, it got everything clean, and it didn't have a chemical-y scent or make my eyes burn. (Although it did have a bit more of a scent than some of my other natural cleaning supplies.)

I'm still a bit cynical though. Is it really as environmentally friendly as my other cleaning options? According to Clorox, Green Works lists all of its ingredients on the label—something companies aren't required to do (and don't do) with conventional cleaners. And the company says that each of the five cleaners is 99 percent "natural." Of course, the term natural isn't regulated in any way, but according to Treehugger all but two ingredients listed on the Green Works labels can be naturally derived.

Overall, I'd say Green Works cleaners do the trick. Will I continue to buy Green Works cleaners rather than my other natural cleaning supplies? Probably not. But anything that helps the average, budget-conscious consumer clean her home with something healthier than bleach earns points from me.

The Story of Stuff

Got 20 minutes? (I know you're just itching for an excuse to procrastinate!) Check out The Story of Stuff. Then tell me what you think.


Composting (Part III)

I'm on a mission to compost. I intended to create my compost bin this weekend. Really I did. But first, I decided to cheat.

Rather than making my own compost bin like this, which I originally planned to do, I stumbled upon the handy metal container at left when I went to buy a plastic garbage can. Eureka! I said. I was buying the plastic garbage can in order to poke holes in the bottom and sides and use it to stash my compost, but this can had holes already in place.

Is it ideal? Probably not. A big pile on the ground or in a purchased compost tumbler might be better. But this option was relatively cheap and exceptionally easy. And remember, my goal is to compost without (a) disgusting Conservative Boy and (b) disgusting the neighbors (who are quite close on all sides and very friendly, so I don't want to irk them).

Aside from cheating, I also managed to put off getting the compost bin ready to go until tonight—even though it only took about five minutes once I did. But once my handy compost crock was full after this morning's additions (eggshells from Conservative Boy and coffee grounds from me), it was time to do something.

I began by breaking up sticks into small pieces and tossing those in, along with crushed up leaves. These are called the "brown" ingredients. Next I threw in the "green" part, which was all the stuff from the compost crock (this week, in addition to the coffee grounds and egg shells it was mostly potato peelings and banana peels). Then I tossed more brown stuff on top, stuck the lid back on, and called it a day. (At right, you'll see mostly brown stuff. All the green stuff is under there, promise!)

Soon, I'll add some newspapers, maybe an empty egg carton, and definitely some grass clippings along with more kitchen scraps. Hopefully this compost will be cookin' in no time!

Oh, and if you're one of those crazy people who doesn't yet think composting is cool, maybe this will convince you—even Julia Roberts does it.


Enjoying Spring Flowers

Look at our front yard.

Really! This is our front yard, as of today. Hard to believe, isn't it?

I wish I could take credit for all these flowers, but the truth of the matter is I haven't done a darn thing in our yard yet except rake up some old leaves and pick up sticks (lots of 'em). All of these flowers just started springing up, all on their own accord, in the past couple of weeks.

And let me tell you, I was surprised. Because when we bought the house this summer, there wasn't a flower anywhere to be seen. But the woman who lived here before us sure was busy one fall not too long ago (or, rather, from what I hear, her grandkids were busy), and so once the weather warmed up and we got some rain all the spring bulbs started to show their stuff.

It's been exciting taking Butter out for walks throughout the day and watching as the flowers have grown and bloomed. It has me itching to plant my own sometime soon—but I've been told it's a good idea to hold off until after Mother's Day, so that's the plan.

Until then, I'll just have to enjoy the jackpot in our front yard.

Especially the tulips, which just opened today.


An Illinois Earthquake

Yep, that's right. I experienced my first earthquake last night. And I almost slept through the whole darn thing.

According to the USGS, it was a 5.2 that occurred at approximately 4:37 a.m. And it was felt outside of Illinois, from Ohio to Des Moines.

Right about that time, Conservative Boy and I awoke to the sound of Butter barking. Butter doesn't bark much, so this was a bit startling.

In my fuzzy, still mostly asleep mindset, I realized I was holding onto my nightstand because it was shaking. My far-from-lucid thought was that my alarm clock must've been off-balance so it was causing my nightstand to shake. I know, it makes no sense at all, but at the time it seemed logical!

As the nightstand was shaking, I asked Conservative Boy what Butter was barking at and he said, oh, probably the rain. Although I wasn't awake enough to figure out what was going on with my nightstand, I knew it wasn't raining out, so that really puzzled me. But I was too tired to argue so once Butter stopped barking I rolled over and went back to sleep.

The end. Until we heard on the radio this morning that it was an earthquake. In Illinois? Big thunderstorms. Tornadoes. The occasional blizzard. Flash flooding. These are things I expect in Illinois. But an earthquake? That's a new one. I guess Conservative Boy's buddy who bought earthquake insurance here last week wasn't so crazy after all. (Does he know something we don't?)


Remembering Grandpa Charlie

I save the sounds of you coming home from work. First the screen door creaking open, then the screen door slamming shut. Although I cannot remember them exactly, I save the greetings you call out as you stop in the entryway to remove your worn cowboy hat and turquoise jacket. (Did you yodel at us—or was that later?)

You kiss Grandma on the cheek, sneak a cookie or two from the kitchen, poke at my sister and I playfully, then plop down on the blue couch in your usual spot closest to the TV. Here you’ll remove your cowboy boots. It’s never an easy process, always requiring more than a little grunting and groaning, but when at last you get the darn things off, you set them beside the couch. Lean back. Wiggle your sock-clad toes, sweaty from a day of unsuccessful attempts at car sales.

Once you turn on the basketball game, you settle deeper into your seat, resting your arms over your round belly. I notice then—and this I save—that your feet don’t quite touch the ground. Before the buzzer sounds to end the first quarter, you’ll be asleep—there’s no question. You’ll rest your head in your right hand, elbow propped on the arm of the couch, and begin to snore. “Charlie, you’re snoring,” Grandma will say, and you’ll shake yourself awake. This won’t last long—this I save.

I never knew you back then, when you smoked and drank too much. Still, I’ll save forever the fact that you’ve been sober nearly exactly as long as I’ve been alive. Every year, when we’d visit for Thanksgiving, we’d have your favorite chocolate cake with thick, dark chocolate frosting to celebrate the anniversary. A sobriety birthday celebration. This I will save.

Somewhere in there, though I only remember it from stories I’ve heard, I’ll save all the times I sat at the table in the camper and ate spoonfuls of butter from the dish with you. I’ll save the caffeine-free Diet Coke you drank, the forays into the kitchen for a midnight snack or two. Or three.

Forever I’ll save learning to ride horses, to race barrels, to rope the electric steer that cruised slow circles in your barn. I’ll save watching you rope in real rodeos—though I can’t remember if you were a header or if you went for the calf’s feet. I’ll save the best birthday gift I ever received from you—Gypsy, the first horse that was really, truly my own. I’ll save your belt—not the buckles you won, which will be dispersed among us grandchildren when you truly leave us, but the brown leather back of your belt—that reveals your nickname. Hon Chas. Honest Charles.

The hardest loss of all is when you lose someone who is still here. This, too, I will save. I imagine you every day, sitting in that nursing home. Someday, when we find it, I promise I’ll save your mind for you. I’ll be your memory. I’ll save every moment that you’ll give me. The playful memories of childhood, the hard times, and most of all every second—right down to the butter eating—I was able to share with you.

I wonder every day if you remember me, if you know who I am. This I will not save for long. Only until I have a new memory of you.

* * *
I wrote this a couple of years ago about my grandfather, who passed away this evening. Another thing I'll save? The photo above of him (with me!). Photos and memories of my granddad. Now that is what I will save.


To Be a Movie Extra

OK. Not really. I can't say that I'll get to be an extra in a movie. But considering that downtown L-Town may be the site of the filming of a movie, who knows? Maybe I'll at least get to watch. We do have a pretty little square around the courthouse here, so I'm not that surprised it was picked.

Read about the movie and where in L-Town it will be shot here.

(By the way, it should come as no surprise to those of you who know him, but Conservative Boy thinks this will be his big break. He thinks movie-stardom becomes him. Ha.)

Letting Butter Talk

My name is Butter.

I have been in my new home for almost two weeks and am loving every minute of it.

My favorite thing to do in the whole world is sit in front of the living room window and watch the action outside—even if there’s not a soul or car out there anywhere. I wish I could sit here all day. That way I could make sure nothing moves.

Most the time when something does move I just grin happily at it and wag my tail. When I'm really excited, my tongue starts hanging out of my mouth. And it gets lower and lower and lower the happier I am. (I have a really long tongue, in case you were wondering.)

Like I said, I wish I could sit here all day. Only lots of times I have to spend most of the day in the office. My friend Julie is boring then because all she wants to do is work, although every once in a while when I go put my head in her lap and look up at her she can't resist petting me. Then she pats my back to let me know she has to get back to work and I run off to play with one of my fun toys in front of her desk. I love my toys (thanks, Aunt Net!), which I tear to shreds as fast as humanly possible. I can now dismantle a stuffed toy in under five minutes, right down to pulling out the little device inside it that makes noise. Pretty smooth, aren’t I? Only then Julie takes the toy away from me and I never see it again. That's kind of sad.

When I’m not sitting in front of my window or in the office I love taking long walks and playing in the backyard. I also love to follow people around—I will follow my family members around the house no matter what they are doing. I think I’m pretty helpful, actually. I always make sure they have someone to keep them company, which I think is an important job!

When I came here I was very hungry yet not very good at eating. Now I eat three solid meals a day and am much better about going potty only when I am outside. I've even learned to like doggie treats and (shh! don't tell!) people food too. And, luckily, my cough is almost gone too. Because you know what? Being a dog with bronchitis sucks.

Have I mentioned that I love to play? Mostly though, I just love to be petted. I want as much love as you're willing to give me, and then when you're all done petting me I'll come back and ask for more. You probably won't be able to resist. My family rarely does.

Sometimes I forget I’m not supposed to nip at people, but I hardly ever bark or whine. I guess I must be pretty good because my owners want to keep me around—they even came after me today when I ran after a squirrel and snapped my dog collar off. I ran around for a while and wasn’t sure what to do. Luckily when I was on my way home my friend Conservative Boy found me. The man sitting on the porch near us laughed at C.B. because he was wearing a suit when he picked me up and carried me to the Space Turtle. (I’m not a big fan of riding in the Space Turtle, so I tried to resist, but I guess C.B. really wanted me to go home with him. That makes me happy.)

Anyway, now I have a new collar and life is good because I’m back sitting in front of my window. Oh yes, life is good.

Composting (Part II)

As you may have read, I'm going to make my own compost bin this week. And I'm still itching to install a low-flow showerhead. If you're in the mood to do either (or, better yet, both!) of these things too, check out the handy videos Sierra Club has posted on its Earth Day 2008 website here. They only take a couple of minutes to watch—and there's also one on installing a water heater wrap, if you're so inclined.

More soon!



Guess what the mailman delivered on Friday?

Now, I know what most of you are saying: "What the heck is that? A fire hydrant with a handle?" Except for my sister. She's saying: "Why the heck would you buy that? All you need is a bowl on the counter."

Let me explain. It's a compost crock. I purchased it from Gardeners.com last week. The purpose of said compost crock is really quite simple: It sits on my kitchen countertop, and rather than tossing kitchen waste like eggshells, banana peels, potato skins, and coffee grounds in the garbage, I toss them in the crock. Then, when it's full, I'll take the crock outside to my as-yet-to-be-made compost bin and dump its contents inside the bin.

How about a fact: According to the EPA, food scraps and yard trimmings constitute 24 percent of the U.S. waste stream. But it’s easy to keep both out of the landfill by composting instead—and the result is the perfect fertilizer for your yard!

Because I’m trying to minimize how much waste makes the trip from our house to the landfill, and because I’m about to embark on a great gardening adventure, I decided it was a good time to try my hand at composting.

If you’re interested in learning more about the topic, I’ve written a much more detailed post about it at The Home Know-It-All—it touches on why composting is great, how to do get started, and even some troubleshooting tips should you need them.

In the meantime, stay tuned. This week I’ll be making my own compost bin for the backyard. (I was going to do it today, but the cold weather is deterring me.) And you can expect periodic updates on how the compost is progressing. Thrilling isn’t it?

For now, this is all I have in my handy crock.

But don't worry, it will be filled soon.

But wait, you say. What did the boys in your house think about this endeavor?

You may be surprised to know that one was quite interested and the other actually didn’t seem to mind too much. My fearless buddy Butter was actually instrumental in helping to remove the compost crock from the box. Maybe he didn't actually do anything, but he did sit beside me and happily wag his tail the whole time. (He also helped me make banana bread and load the dishwasher this morning. Here he is after he got to sample the banana bread. Fortunately he's not afraid of the camera anymore—just intensely curious about what it is.)

Conservative Boy was less interested in the crock, but didn’t protest like I thought he would. His first reaction was, of course: “A what?!” But after that he shrugged and went about what he was doing. Later, his main question was: “Is it going to smell?” That’s why I intentionally bought a nice compost crock for the countertop rather than using a more DIY approach—it looks better than having a pile of food waste in a bowl, and it has a handy charcoal filter in the lid so you don’t smell a thing. So that takes care of that. Although he still threw his eggshells away today.

Remember, it's baby steps people.


Watching The Other Boleyn Girl

I’m not much of a movie-reviewer. Or a movie watcher for that matter. (Which is why we’ve had the same two Netflix movies for about two months now.)

But when I heard that The Other Boleyn Girl was coming out, I knew I had to see it. And so I did last week with Conservative Mom.

The thing is, I’m a cynic when it comes to movies based on books—especially books I’ve read and enjoyed. Rarely have I ever found the movie to be better than—or even close to as good as—the book. I’m a reader. I’m a lover of words. That’s the way I’ll always be.

Plus I heard that this particular movie wasn’t as good as it was originally expected to be. But I decided I still had to see it, because I’ve been a sucker for Philipa Gregory’s historical fiction since two Christmases ago, when I picked up my mom’s copy of The Other Boleyn Girl and, although up until that point I would never have considered myself a fan of her sort of historical fiction, I was hooked.

I read the novel as fast as I could (it's a quick read despite its heft) and became thoroughly caught up in the historical drama that was the reign of the Tudors. Since then, I’ve read quite a few of her other novels and enjoyed them as well. This sort of novel may not be at the top of my “quality” reading list, but it’s a great escape from the usual books I read. (Who doesn’t like a lusty court and a bit of royal intrigue thrown in among all that nonfiction reading?)

Besides (please don’t laugh at this fact), since I was a child, I’ve always dreamed that one day someone would perfect the art of time travel so I could experience all the historical periods I so often imagine. Depending on what held my interest at the time, I’ve wanted to homestead a la Little House on the Prairie, live it up in the roaring ’20s, you name it. And spending a bit of time amidst the Tudor court would be high on my list too. That’s why I love reading these books, and why I was excited to see the movie.

Anyhow, I’ve digressed a bit. Funny how often that happens. Back to the movie.

As I expected, the costumes were much better in the movie than in my mind. The colors, the textures, the mood, the dark, damp buildings and the dreary scenery. It was all much like I pictured it, but somehow much more vivid. And I thought the casting was pretty fabulous too—but who wouldn’t say that, with Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman as the leads?

The plot, however? And the character development? Not quite up to snuff, in my very unprofessional opinion.

All the way through the book, I rooted for Mary (Scarlett Johansson). In the movie, she was just kind of there—cleavage and misguided love for King Henry in tow, but not a whole lot else going on there.

The movie just zips through things like all movies do—forget about the depths of the family ambition, the subplots, the slow pace at which the initial romance between the King and Mary comes about. In one scene, she’s getting married (to a guy we don't really see after that). In the next, she’s pregnant with the King’s baby. OK. Maybe not quite that quickly. But close.

It’s probably better that it’s been a couple of years since I read the book, because it wasn’t quite as easy to point off the discrepancies in the film. But I knew from the get-go things were “off.” Every once in a while, Conservative Mom and I would look at one another and say, “I don’t think that’s right.”

And, most of the time, we were right. The movie focused a lot on the bitter sister rivalry between the two lead characters, which I don't recall from the book. And in the book, the girls’ mother is as ruthless and power-hungry as the rest of the Boleyn-Howard clan, while in the movie she’s concerned with the interests of her girls. I could go on ... about how the king violently "took advantage of" (to put it nicely) Anne before they actually married ... about how Mary suddenly married again, although we never heard what happened to her first husband. And at the end? The whole almost-incestuous relationship between Anne and her brother George? Not quite how it was depicted in the book. (In the novel, there wasn't an "almost.")

Learn more about the inaccuracies from this AV Club article. Or just go see it yourself. Even if it's not all that accurate to history or the book, it's still an entertaining, visually pleasing romp through Tudor England's rocky past.


Going to a Cubs Game

Yes, that's right. I went to my first Cubs game in Chicago on Sunday. Because Conservative Boy is a die-hard Cubs fan (you know, the kind that says every single year that this is the year, that the Cubbies are going to win the World Series), because I don't really have a team (it's hard to have a team when you grow up in a state without a single pro sports team), and because I am now an Illinoisan (is that what I'm called now?), I now root for the Cubs. (Besides, I've been a fan of the Iowa Cubs for a few years now, so jumping up to the majors is a logical next step, right?)

So Conservative Boy and I hopped the train yesterday morning for the day o' Cubs. As usual, we had some delays, so we were pushing it to arrive in time for the first pitch. In fact, at the point we were going over this bridge, not quite to Union Station yet, we only had approximately 38 minutes in which to make it to our seats. (That little time stamp, if you can see it, says 4:42, but it was really 12:42.)

Needless to say, we didn't make it for the first pitch. But close.

Now, I've never been to Chicago in early April, but from what I hear the weather on Sunday was pretty unusual. Mid-sixties and sunny. Absolutely perfect. From our rooftop seats, we were able to wear jeans and t-shirts and feel perfectly comfortable. Lovely.

Rooftop you ask? Yep, we weren't actually in the stadium. We were across the street, on the roof. For $75 each, we had great seats (as evidenced by the view below—you can't even really tell we weren't in the stadium, can you?) and all the food we could eat (you know, brats, burgers, chips, ice cream) and beer we could drink. Not a bad deal considering how much a hot dog and a Bud Light sets you back in the stadium.

So there we were. Great weather, great seats, lots of food and beer and fun with C.B.'.s friends. Plus the Cubbies won, so you can't beat that. Which was good, because that meant I actually got to hear the whole crowd sing the "Go Cubs Go" song, a welcome change after having to listen to C.B. sing it for a good part of the three-hour train ride to the Windy City.

Will I go back for more Cubs games? Oh yes, anytime. Although I wouldn't mind actually sitting in the stadium next time. Gotta get the whole experience. Bleacher seats maybe?

Oh, and I have to get a Cubs shirt. I didn't have one this time, which made me one of, oh, maybe five people in Wrigleyville on Sunday not wearing a the big red C on my chest. And I'm pretty sure I was the only one in a Wyoming Cowboys t-shirt. Brown and gold really clashes with blue and red on Sundays in Chicago, just so you know.


Owning a Dog

This is Butter.

Butter is our new dog. Butter came to live with us yesterday morning, when I picked him up (freshly neutered) from the animal shelter.

Conservative Boy picked out Butter’s name. Butter is actually Butter Jr., because Butter is Conservative Boy’s nickname among his high school buddies. So now I live with Butter Sr. and Butter Jr. Who doesn’t like a lot of butter in life? Yum.

Some great alternate names were suggested by my coworkers yesterday in the off chance Butter doesn’t stick. Haha, butter stick. Didn’t mean that at all. But it’s funny.

Parkay. Oleo. Country Crock. I can’t believe it’s not Butter.

I’d hate to have to yell, “I can’t believe it’s not Butter, come here!” though, so I think Country Crock will be my backup name.

Anyhow. In case you couldn’t tell, Butter is a yellow lab. He needs a bath and some more brushing because he’s shedding like a mad man. He also needs fattened up, because he’s insanely skinny. But after that? He’ll be absolutely lovely, won’t he? (I do, however, need to teach him how to sit for photos. Every time I think I have the perfect shot, he runs away at the last second. So I have lots of pictures of Butter’s butt. I’ll work on that this weekend.)

So far Butter has been a relatively good dog. Once he got over his fears of actually coming into the house, he set about exploring almost immediately. And, much to my excitement (because we have no idea how old Butter is, let alone if he’s house trained), he listened relatively well to “sit” and “no” yesterday. And, joy of all joys, he only peed outside!

Butter behaved rather well yesterday while I worked (aside from pulling over a coat tree in my office). All he really wants it attention. Lots of it. He doesn’t have any interest in toys or dog treats or anything of that nature. All he wants is to be petted. Which I can handle. Except it’s hard to pet a dog all day long while you’re trying to type. (If anyone has figured out a good way to do this, let me know.)

Here Butter is trying to distract me from work. Bad dog.

We did discover last night, however, that Butter has no interest in going into his crate when we leave the house or when it’s bedtime. It takes both Conservative Boy and I and all our brute strength to get him in there. Fortunately he’s still a scrawny fella.

I’ve never owned a dog before, so this is going to be a real adventure. Particularly in light of the fact that Butter eats too fast, which led him to puke up some rather unfriendly, whole, bright red pieces of dog food right when we were going to bed last night. Fun.

And he pooped (a lot, because we had yet to get him to poop outside) in the living room this morning in the five minutes C.B. and I were both busy. Now I’m questioning whether I’m cut out for this job. And people my age have kids? Yikes.

Expect to hear more about Butter soon. But I promise, I won’t spend every day yapping about my dog and his exploits, like proud parents do to people who could care less about their kids. Really, I promise.

Oh, but did I mention what Butter just did? It was so cute … (Really. He's snoozing right now and just tipped over. It was cute.)


More Green Moves Around the House

So in my haste to post some of the environmentally friendly moves I’ve made around the house, I forgot a few keys. Silly me. So here are some more:

Adjusting the thermostat. Did you know that you can save 3 to 5 percent more energy for each degree below 68 degrees Fahrenheit you set your thermostat in cold weather or for each degree above 78 degrees you set your thermostat in warm weather? We definitely didn’t go higher than 68 degrees with our thermostat during the winter, although admittedly we didn’t turn it down as low as I would’ve liked because I discovered that my office (where I sit all day) is the coldest room in the house. And I have dreadful circulation. Let me tell you, trying to type when your fingers are white and numb is no fun. And I’m not exaggerating there.

Turning off lights. Sometimes I forget. But whenever I think of it, I wander through the house turning off lights that don’t need to be on. Want to take it a step further? Install motion sensor lights. (Photo: massdistraction)

Shutting off the water. I turn off the water when I’m brushing my teeth, washing my face, or anything of that nature. I cringe whenever Conservative Boy leaves the water running at full force while he shaves every other morning, but it’s baby steps here. At least he shuts the water off when brushing his teeth now.

Installing faucet aerators. To reduce how much water gets used for things like Conservative Boy's shaving, I bought an aerator for the bathroom faucet this weekend. Talk about a cheap and easy project. It cost a couple of bucks and screws onto the faucet in a minute.

Saying no to bottled water. My friend Rachel reminded me of this one. That’s what my trusty SIGG water bottle is for. And I’m a big fan of those crazy inventions called water fountains and drinking glasses. The only time I buy bottled drinks of any kind is when I’m at a sporting event where I can’t sneak my own bottle in or on the road when I desperately need a soda to stay awake.

Taking shorter showers. I just started consciously working on this one this weekend. I've been timing my showers and so far have made it out in under five minutes. (Of course, there hasn't been any major leg-shaving involved yet, so I have a bit work to do on this front.) Sometimes it just feels so nice to stand under that hot water for a while … but I’m trying to wean myself off of that habit.

Speaking of showers, we have a leaky tub faucet that hasn’t been fixed yet and I feel really guilty about that because it’s been going on for a couple of weeks and it’s pretty bad. So that’s near the top of my list of home repairs. I’ve been catching all the dripping water in a bowl and using it to fill Walker’s water bowl (when he was here last week) and water plants. I can’t keep up though, so there’s a full pitcher on the counter and the bowl in the tub is full again. Since I can’t bring myself to dump it out, I either need to get a repair going pronto or get a big bucket for storing all that wasted water in so I can use it for other things—maybe washing the car or watering the plants outside (once they’re actually planted).

Shutting off my computer. This goes along with the whole concept of phantom loads. But shutting off your computer each night saves a lot more energy than putting it in sleep mode; and contrary to popular belief, turning your computer on and off each day isn’t harmful to it in any way.

Replacing the HVAC filter. For a more energy-efficient HVAC system (and better air quality), you should replace the filter at least every three months. And when your system is working the hardest (like through the winter), monthly replacement may be necessary. I missed the boat on that one but did finally replace ours this weekend. Better late than never, right?

More soon!

Quote-Worthy Moments

Why not share an inspiring or entertaining quote or anecdote on occasion? Here's today's, which a coworker of mine stumbled upon:

"I'm a big believer in mulch. I don't know how I survived without long underwear, flannel sheets, and mulch."

Amen to that. The rest of the article is serious, but I just love a good lede.


Freelance Writing

I was chatting with a friend the other day who was lamenting how much she was dreading the job search she likely will undertake soon—updating resumes, sending letters, for all practical purposes "selling" herself to potential employers—and I realized that when you're a freelance writer you are, essentially, in a constant state of job searching. Only instead of a full-time job with built-in opportunities for career advancement, benefits, and the works, when you land a freelance gig, that success only yields a single writing assignment.

And then what do you do? You start all over. Updating resumes. Sending query letters. Selecting the right clips. Selling yourself. For the majority of us who aren't sought-after, big-name writers penning celebrity interviews or thought-provoking essays on demand for top-tier publications, it's an almost-constant cycle.

Granted, at this point in my life I'm fortunate enough that I have a full-time job (doing what I love, namely writing and editing books and magazines). And I have relatively steady freelance income copy editing and proofreading. So as long as that stays the same, I'm not going to be fretting over whether my queries will pay the bills or put food on the table.

Yet I'm still dying to write more. To get my name out there and start getting more of those "yes, please" responses and fewer "no, thanks."

Only it's hard work. It takes a lot of time, more time than I've had lately.

A story query can't be taken lightly. You have to know the magazine you want to write for, inside and out. You have to look into your crystal ball and figure out what stories have already been done, which ones are in the works already, and what won't ever be done. You have to try, as impossible as it sounds, to figure out what the heck the editor you're pitching to is going to like, what she's thinking, even when you've never met her before and probably never will.

What proposal is going to strike a chord when she's likely stressed, overwhelmed, overworked, underpaid, and battling a never-ending barrage of query emails from folks who don't have a clue what they're talking about? That's what you, the intrepid freelance writer, must figure out. Which clips will she find most interesting? Which job should be played up more in the resume? Should the whole package be sent by email or snail mail? How formal should the greeting be?

Welcome to the mind of a freelance writer.

And the clincher is that no matter how stellar the story idea is or how well-researched your query letter might be, if the editor isn't into it on any given day, you're out of luck. The end. Sayonara. Try again, sister.

I've sent a select few queries out in the last year and most have been met with no response or a big fat no. It's a game of chance, really. Especially when you're breaking into a publication you've never written for before. In one instance I had the perfect idea, pitched it to the perfect publication. The only problem? They'd just assigned a similar story for an upcoming issue of the magazine. Too slow. Another time, I sent out a hastily penned query for a story I was incredibly excited to write, only to get a terse "not interested" email two days later. At least I got a response though. The editors a freelancer never hears back from—no matter how many attempts are made—may be the most puzzling and frustrating creatures in the world.

Expect to hear more about the trials and tribulations of this a less-than-part-time freelance writer soon. I sent out another query last week. Any bets on whether they'll say yes?