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Kids Gifting

By Karina | December 19, 2011

It’s just a short week before Christmas is here (if that’s the one you celebrate!) and we are kind of nutters in my household right now. Like, perhaps we might have been saving all of our holiday gift procurement until (cough) NOW. We’re saved by some secret snowflaking and a tendency to get our nieces and nephews dorky nerdpresents which are easily procured. It’s the handmade stuff that is really stressing me out – I have so much left to do!

This year we also tried something new – we worked with the little dudes to figure out what they can make for all the grownups that love them. At first I kind of floated the idea of what they could make… and a couple of weeks later, when nothing had happened, I started to get a little concerned.

Next I started to think of things that they could make! My nephew, for example, has given Christmas ornaments out every year. They’re wonderful and I love to see them each time we put the tree up. I know that others put together cookie plates or other kinds of food, and I was even wondering if we should make snow globes. I wanted to give the boys a chance to put together something they wanted to gift, but with easy-to-complete requirements.

When my partner and I first set out the gift idea to them this weekend, they were *highly* resistant. I was actually pretty surprised! At first Twelve said he would buy (or had bought) things for everyone… but that was just plain not true. Then he said he didn’t want to do it at all because it would be too hard, so I may have pulled a little guilt trip by saying how discouraging it was for them to say things were hard without trying them, because we want them to feel like they can do anything that they try to do… if they don’t feel like that then we have FAILED THEM. That worked pretty well and the next thing you know they were having a really wonderful time making a bunch of gifts. The mood shifted from “we don’t want to, we’ll buy” to “it’ll be too hard” to “stop helping us! we are supposed to make these gifts ourselves!”

I’m not going to post what we eventually made, but they made it together, it’s amazing and will not take up lots of space, and I hope that everyone will love it. The boys are really proud, which is probably one of the most important things. I love that they will have a chance to see how easy it is to make a gift for someone and to personalize the holidays that way, and I hope that this will become a long-standing tradition.

Do you have special gifts that kids have given you or that you’ve made with your kids?

[[Photo from flickr user J Maz Photography via creative commons license.]]

Topics: Crafts/DIY | Comments Off

Easy Peasy Tip: Snuggle Up for Warmth!

By Karina | December 17, 2011

Snuggle up with a loved one or with a pet to stay warm at night. If you go to sleep with a hat on you’ll probably fall asleep warmer than otherwise. The socks under the covers are a good tip too if it’s exceptionally cool. If you do all these things, you can reduce the thermostat a few extra degrees – try leaving it at 55 or even 50 degrees over night and see how you do!

In the winter we all do nutty things to stay warm. But let’s stop thinking of them as nutty. Let’s just accept them as cost-cutting and energy-saving!

Topics: Easy Peasy Tips | 2 Comments »

Happy Eco-News Fridays!

By tinychoices | December 16, 2011

Topics: Happy Eco-News | 2 Comments »

My Vegetable Soup

By Jenn (TinyChoices.com) | December 14, 2011

I haven’t always been the best at cooking my own meals; having been a lifelong New Yorker, I grew accustomed to being able to grab food on the go– a slice of pizza, a burrito, a bagel sandwich, were all foods found acceptable to eat while walking down the street.  Many evenings found me munching while travelling from one engagement to the next, food purchased strategically along my journey: 2 more blocks to the subway, that’s enough time to down my slice before I get there…

I now find myself in a place which only has a few “to-go” type restaurants, which I do employ frequently in my meal rotation– but thing get dull after a short time if I eat there too frequently, and the real restaurants nearby get too pricey to eat in every day.

So after years of cooking infrequently & reluctantly (as proof, see: Crockpot Cookin’, Rice Cooker Meals, and the useful Tiny Choices Meal List), I am now cooking much more frequently– and while there’s a learning curve, I love it!  It’s not always easy: there are many, many times I look forlornly in my fridge while wondering how long another handful of almonds will sate my belly.  But then, since there are no other options, I get myself out of my house and down to the nearest store to load up on veggies and tofu and whatever other basics I need to prepare a quick meal.

We’re not talking high cuisine here, though I do really enjoy working with more involved recipes for a holiday or special meal with friends.  Most of the time I’ll whip up some kind of veggie stir-fry kind of thing, with the vegetables I’ve got which aren’t wilted, whichever seasonings catch my eye first (could be spicy! could be soy-saucy!), and mix it with both various cooked beans and brown rice (both of which I cook up in large quantities and store in the freezer for these quick meals, smart, right?)

One day recently I found myself staring, yet again, into the fridge, with a friend on the way for dinner, and it occured to me: veggie soup!  Nothing’s easier than a nice big pot of soup, so: I sauteed some onion, chopped all kinds of veggies, tossed in handfuls of cooked beans and brown rice, lots of water and some veggie stock, and brought it to a simmer.  I then put a few cupfuls into the blender and whirred it around, then poured it back into the stockpot, which thickened things up nicely.  A quick run to the corner bakery for a couple of hard rolls, and I was ready for company– not to mention all the leftover soup for my fridge and freezer!

From desperation to delicacy, and all for about $2 or $3.  So I’ll just keep reminding myself: if I can just remember to be even the littlest bit prepared, I too can manage this Responsible Food thing!

How about you: what are some of your quick go-to meals these days?

[Image by Witneyinchicago via Creative Commons]

Topics: Food, Waste | Comments Off

So, Tiny Choosers, I’ve been busy…

By Karina | December 12, 2011

Hi there gang,

It’s been a whole week! You know, since Jenn and I started this website on June 23 2007, we have put up content almost every day. (HOLY CATS, this is post number 1,598.) So this radio silence thing was kind of unusual.

The thing is – I got busy. CRAZY busy. The college I attended – Cooper Union – has a financial crisis. To make a long story short, Cooper Union has traditionally been a free school – full scholarship for everyone admitted. And now the Administration is talking about changing that – and I’m trying as hard as I can to stay engaged, work with alumni, and doing my best to keep Cooper Union free and wild. I helped organize a Community Summit which took place last week, and then after that I had to catch up on my sleep – all while managing my day job and family lives.

(I was at a holiday part this weekend in Pittsburgh and my friends were asking what’s new with me… and I kept starting to tell them, and then saying – “you know? it’s kind of boring.” They’re sweet and asked for more details, but it’s hard to explain.)

It’s been tremendously busy. But as I wrote in my reactions to the summit, “I feel more than ever that the Cooper Union community is a reflection of Peter Cooper himself – the idealism, the creativity, the force of vision and the ability to see through ideas to the very end – we have embodied that through our own strengths and through the strength of education we received at Cooper Union.” And as Peter Cooper (the Founder of Cooper Union) said – “I have endeavored to remember that the object of life is to do good.”

So, friends, I’m still here, and I’m still making tiny choices. I’m sorry I’ve been away! I’ll be right back to write about them, most certainly. Please bear with me as I try to effect some change in this other important corner of my life.

So, um, are y’all still doing ok? Any news?

Topics: General | 1 Comment »

Easy Peasy Tip: Sometimes, just BUY it.

By tinychoices | December 3, 2011

There are a few things that you are all totally capable of making. These include things like:

HOWEVER. these things require a lot of extra things that you might not have on hand for a one-off. Things like

Sometimes, if you’re really interested in learning how to do something – sometime you should probably not invest in all the extra things. Find a maker space or a tool share locally, and if you need the lovely thing right away, look for it on etsy or through a local tradesperson.

Topics: Easy Peasy Tips | Comments Off

Happy Eco-News Fridays!

By tinychoices | December 2, 2011

Topics: Happy Eco-News | Comments Off

Tiny Choosing New Curtains

By Jenn (TinyChoices.com) | November 30, 2011

I’m loving my sweet little new apartment, which has an abundance of large windows which let the bright sunlight in.  Ever think you’d have the problem of having a too-bright kitchen?  Me either!  I’m not complaining– I love that kitchen!– but it gets so bright that I can’t see the flame on the stovetop during the day.

So, I need to make curtains, and a lot of them: four for the kitchen, two for the bedroom, two for the living room (including a full-length french door set), and one for the hallway…  this adds up to a lot of fabric.  Which, naturally, brings me to thinking about the eco-best way to bring these curtains into my life and my home.

The greenest curtain choice would be to find used curtains, but they seem to be a rarity in this town.  I could shop for them on eBay but to be honest, I don’t have much time to wait for auctions to end– my neighbors are loving the free show every night!   In addition, I’d like to have some choice over the aesthetics of my window coverings, instead of settling for whatever someone happens to be selling… because of these reasons, used curtains aren’t the best option for me this time around.

I went to the fabric store to see what I could find.  There are some cotton fabrics there but no organic cotton choices, and seeing as how cotton is the most pesticide-laden crop in the United States, those fabrics don’t necessarily end up being any greener than the nylon or polyester fabrics, just a different kind of polluting.

So I ended up sorting through the remnants bin in the back of the store, and low and behold I found all the perfect fabrics I needed; scrap pieces which would have otherwise been tossed out as bits of trash.  Pieced together creatively, they’ll make beautiful curtains to cover all of these windows, and at a fraction of the price of buying fabrics by the yard.

In the end my new curtains are not as green as buying used, but not quite as black as buying “new”– perhaps this is familiar to you as the eco-middle ground many of us frequently find ourselves in.

Have you decided on an eco-middle ground choice recently?

[Image by msnc via Creative Commons]

Topics: Crafts/DIY, Home | Comments Off

Funny “seasonal” foods

By Karina | November 28, 2011

I was at the grocery store yesterday taking advantage of some of the post-Thanksgiving sales (ok, not really) and noticed that there were a huge surplus of foods that  are considered seasonal – because it really is! but which I really believe are just in the stores right now because of tradition.

Seeing all of these actual seasonal foods at the grocery store made me stop and question the differences between seasonal and traditional eating, and local eating. If we had prepared our thanksgiving dinners with just local foods, I think it would be reasonably similar – we ate turkey, squash, potatoes, stuffing with onions and apples, stewed shallots, and of course – a chocolate and pecan pie for dessert.  The pies were not quite local, really. We also had a delicious green salad that conceivably could have been grown in a cold frame or greenhouse. (If you restrict our food-miles we might have problems with the flour for the pie crusts, biscuits, and dressing, but we could have managed).

So the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner is generally a pretty local-food-friendly endeavor, even if these days it’s hard to source all this stuff locally unless you put lots of effort into it… but other fall and winter foods that we traditionally enjoy are seasonal, yet totally not local at all! It’s an interesting dichotomy that is brought to us by our food transportation system.

Did you celebrate thanksgiving this weekend? How did you do for local foods vs. seasonal foods?

[[Photo from flickr user SeeMidTN.com via creative commons license.]]

Topics: Food | Comments Off

Easy Peasy Tip: Have a Sleepover!

By tinychoices | November 26, 2011

As the holidays approach, we all find ourselves doing a little more traveling than usual. If you’ve got a special relationship with your friends and family, try having a sleepover! It will save you time and money, you’ll have extra time for visiting, you’re sharing resources that are already in use, the kids will love it! And you won’t feel as stressed and rushed if you don’t have to zip from place to place.

When did you last have a holiday travel sleepover?

Topics: Easy Peasy Tips | 1 Comment »

Happy Eco-News Fridays!

By tinychoices | November 25, 2011

Topics: Happy Eco-News | Comments Off

Recovering K-Cups

By Karina | November 21, 2011

We’ve posted before about Keurig “K-Cups”, the coffee brewing system that everyone loves for its easy and variety but everyone hates for its incredible waste. I’ve tried to quit using the keurig machine at work a few times, and it’s gone with varying levels of success. Most recently I followed Friend of Tiny Choices Amanda and tried out Solofill Cup Refillable K-Cup – I even got some fair trade coffee from my local coffee roaster (Noble Roasters)! it went really well… until the k-cup vanished from my office kitchen. So since then I’ve been back using the occasional k-cup and feeling pretty guilty about it.

I was pretty excited when my office manager came in to the kitchen triumphantly waving a container from the take-back program Grounds to Grow On. You buy collection and shipping boxes, which are made of mostly-recycled plastic and lined with a plastic bag, set them up for your office to dump all used k-cups into (instead of the trash!) and when it’s full, you close it up and ship it – postage pre-paid – back to Grounds to Grow On where the waste is separated into coffee grounds (compost!) and everything else. The everything else isn’t recycled or reused, rather, it’s recovered into energy at a waste-to-energy facility. (I just learned while writing this post that waste-to-energy is NOT an incineration process because the combustion is contained and optimized in order to harvest the heat, which is used to generate electricity by steam turbine.)

Of course, the longer you think about it, the more you realize that this is pretty… well. not 100% awesome. To start with, it’s only available to offices, you have to pay for the boxes, AND it’s just a beta program right now – I’m not even sure how my office manager discovered the program, because it’s not described on the Green Mountain Coffee corporate sustainability website! There are a few other issues with the program really nicely laid out at Coffee Habitat.

So even though this program is way better than the alternative of just chucking everything, and even though I’m so thankful that my office is participating in it, I really need to get another reusable k-cup if I want to drink any coffee at work. The system is a good choice, but still, as a whole the Keurig system is more wasteful than using a standard coffee machine with paper filters and coffee grounds.

Has your office tried recovering k-cups before? Do you use a reusable cup? What’s your favorite model?

Topics: Food | Comments Off

Easy Peasy Tip: Make an extra big pot of food!

By tinychoices | November 19, 2011

When you’re making dinner, if it’s an easy one-pot meal (or even better: a complicated one-pot meal) try making twice as much as you need. It’s easy to jar it up and put it away in the freezer for meals through out the week (and beyond)! You’d be surprised what can freeze and be enjoyed later in the year, too – soups, rice based dishes, beans, even pasta does just fine in small quantities in the freezer. It doesn’t have to be lunch food, either – try out oatmeal or even little egg cups in tiny jars!

You’ll save time in the long run, and will get a head start on the weeks lunches – giving you plenty of extra time to do more fun things that YOU want to do.

Do you pack up lunches? Do freezer meals help you out?

[[Photo from flickr user armigeress via creative commons license.]]

Topics: Food | Comments Off

Happy Eco-News Fridays!

By tinychoices | November 18, 2011

Topics: Happy Eco-News | Comments Off

A new holiday gifting tradition

By Karina | November 14, 2011

I got a really wonderful email from my dad and stepmom last week – it was a mass email, and it went like this:

We have been thinking – you have been very generous in the past and we have appreciated your gifts.  We would like to request that you NOT give us any special holiday gifts.  We feel that we should focus on our grandchildren and those in need. We are considering the attached as a guide in our selections.

We are suggesting that we all abide by this.  This will only work if we all commit to this plan.  If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to talk with either of us.

As a result, we will not be giving individual gifts.

As always, simple cards and personal notes are appreciated and welcomed.

They attached a slightly edited version of this mass email as their guide.

I was so excited to see this email! Mostly because it makes me feel a little more secure in my homemade Christmas dreams - I don’t do a 100% homemade gifting every year, but I do try to give everyone SOMETHING homemade. I know that my nieces and nephews and stepsons much prefer getting some “boughten” toys, but I do make hats and other things for them by hand, so they have something lasting and handmade, and something else faddish and sure to please. (though to be honest, I give them lots of books and art supplies, usually – it’s hard to keep up with the toys du jour!)

I love the idea of keeping the cash in the community, too – there are various numbers out there, but some studies say that as much as 87% of money spent in big box stores leave the community. So if you walk into a big box store and spend $100 bucks, only $13 stays locally, usually in the form of low retail wages. The rest leaves town and goes to other places in the form of stockholder and corporate dividends, among others. On the other hand, if you shop at a local independent retailer around 45% of the money stays local!

In our family we are already really low key – my sibs and stepsibs do a gift swap, and we all give to the kids, and we also all give to our parents. We hash this out every year at Thanksgiving, and I’m glad that we make these decisions as a group! As caring and accepting as my family is, it can be hard to be the only one handing out handmade gifts, so I’m thankful that this year we will probably have a more DIY kind of party than previously.

So remember - it’s never too early to plan your holiday gifting if you’re going to go a DIY or handmade route. Reach out now, and get everyone on board!

[[Photo from flickr user Axel Buhrmann via creative commons license.]]

Topics: Activism, Crafts/DIY, Waste | Comments Off

Easy Peasy Tip: Go To Bed!

By tinychoices | November 12, 2011

Now that the winter is looming here in the northern hemisphere, the sun sets way early and we tend to spend more time inside and at home.  This can also mean higher electricity (since the lights are on for more hours per day) and heating bills.  One way to counteract this is to wear hats at home, and another is to just turn in earlier!  The lights go off, the heat gets turned down, and we all rest easy.

Plus, c’mon, aren’t you a little sleepy, anyhow?

[Image by Violarenate via Creative Commons]

Topics: Easy Peasy Tips, Home | 1 Comment »

Happy Eco-News Friday~

By tinychoices | November 11, 2011

* Neat article about how agricultural trust programs are, literally, saving the family farm.

* Super attractive and neat urban bee-keeping set up, but we can’t help but wonder: is this the urban equivalent of a hollow tree? there’s not much ability to finesse or care for the bees in this pretty globe.

* Some low tech and common sense entrepreneurs are featured in the NYTimes! Check it out for the sheep lawn mowers alone.

* In totally scary news: Fracking Firm Admits It Caused Earthquakes in England.

* Cleveland – one of the poster children for the rust belt – becomes a sustainability leader.

Topics: Happy Eco-News | Comments Off

Green Furnishing My New Pad

By Jenn (TinyChoices.com) | November 9, 2011

I’m about to move into a new apartment, and while it comes partially furnished there are things I’m going to need to buy to make it my cozy home.

At the top of the list are the items needed for basic survival– such as, a coffee pot! –and a mattress to replace the thin piece of cardboard which the landlord called my “bed.” Other nice-to-haves are decorative, less essential items: hanging lanterns, floor rugs, and pillows for the sofa.

And as I’m thinking about how to acquire these items, of course my thoughts turn first to buying as much as I can second-hand, which for me is way preferable than going shopping in a retail store which I try to avoid at all costs– because buying new is more expensive and less green than buying pre-loved items, and because shopping gives me hives.

So I’m scouring the local listings for garage sales in my ‘hood, which happen every weekend are are (as to be expected) hit or miss.  I’ve found some amazing things at amazing prices in the past, and other times I’m incredulous that people can actually put such pure junk out for sale, and mean it.  But after scores like two wool blankets for $5 and a DVD player for $10, I’m a believer!

Now, even I have limits with the “buying used” thing — while I’m all about clothing swaps and scouting out used goods, I’m thinking specifically about my desire to switch out that sad mattress with a real one, and am deeply unsure about buying a used mattress.  Firstly, you can’t clean a mattress, and secondly, who knows what may be living deep inside it which I’m then inviting into my home?  It doesn’t seem like a benign item to buy second-hand, if one doesn’t know the personal habits of the original owner.

So I guess I have limits to my green decisions, and I’m wondering if you do, too– are you so hardcore green that there’s nothing you wouldn’t buy used, or do you have an internal cut-off valve, too?

[Image by Steve via Creative Commons]

Topics: Home | 6 Comments »

Daylight Savings Time

By Karina | November 7, 2011

This weekend we observed the end of daylight savings time (DST) for this year – and you know, as fiddly and annoying as it is to worry about turning clocks forward or backward, this year it went really well for me. You know why? because we had nothing planned. I was supposed to meet some friends for brunch in NYC, but I had an extra long week and wasn’t feeling well so turned off the alarm clock and slept in. I didn’t even remember that we were supposed to set clocks back until 3PM (which was really 2PM)! And then I had plenty of time to clean out the fridge of the old CSA detritus, make 28 pounds of apples into 7 quarts and 5 pints of applesauce, and read 1 1/2 books.

I was thinking about DST because, let’s face it, it’s a pretty weird thing. Lots of places don’t observe it, and a many used to, but have changed their minds. Initially DST started because people wanted more daylight after working hours, so they would be able to pursue outdoor leisure activities. After that, though, it was adopted as a way to save energy – both lighting and heating – because the sun would be out later in the day, when people were returning home. If you’re someone who likes to get out in the morning- like, a farmer, or perhaps me, who doesn’t have much time after work to go running, but can usually fit it in in the morning – DST can be disruptive to your schedule because it steals an hour of light from the morning and adds it on to the evening.

So Monday wake-up seemed like it was later than normal – but because of my awesome Sunday with no commitments, my body was able to adjust. You all know how unusual that is for me! but happily, this year, I was able to listen to my body and obey the seasons. I should make a date with myself to do this EVERY year!

Do you have Daylight Savings Time in your neck of the woods? How did you cope this year?

[[Image from wiki creative commons.]]

Topics: Health, Home | Comments Off

Easy Peasy Tip: Wear a Hat!

By Karina | November 5, 2011

If you’re coming into wintertime, do yourself a favor – wear a hat! Much in the same vein as Put On A Sweater, a hat will keep you warmer than you think it ought to.  Even though it turns out that you don’t actually lose most of the heat from your head, if you’re chilly you’ve probably already covered up most of your exposed skin, and putting on a hat is a very simple add-on that will warm you up. If you’re outdoors in the wind a hat can protect your head from a greater chill, too – and choose one with a brim, and you’ve got sunblock!

So experiment with insulating your body. Go head and put on a hat – the amount of warmer you will feel will probably seem disproportionately high compared to the relative ease of putting a hat on.

[[Photos from Flickr users as cited, via creative commons license: 1. Funny Hat BBQ 2074, 2. You have a funny hat on., 3. funny hat friday - undead style, 4. Funny Hat]]

Topics: Easy Peasy Tips | 4 Comments »

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