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All this month NBC’s Green is Universal is hosting its annual campaign to support the Arbor Day Foundation. Make and share an NBC Green is Universal gift a tree 2015animated GIF here to help us all have a greener holiday season.

Here’s how:

  • Go to and create and share a holiday GIF. It’s simple and fun!
  • Use hashtag #GIFtATree on social media and for every GIF shared and hashtag #GIFtATREE generated on social media by the end of December 2015, the Arbor Day Foundation will plant one real tree in a state park or national forest up to a maximum of 25,000 trees!

Instagram a photo of your GIF and connect with @greenisuniversal and @arbordayfoundation using #GIFtATree hashtag in your share. While you’re there you can connect with me too @mygreenside.

Tweet to @GreenisUni & @arborday using hashtag #GIFtATree if you’re on Twitter. You can follow me too @mygreenside.

Share your GIF on Facebook using #GIFtATree. Yep, I’m on Facebook too! You can find me at

Please take a couple of moments out of the busyness of the season to help make a real difference: GIF’t a Tree! Thank you and have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Christmas Tree Lane 2015

About Green is Universal:

Launched in May 2007, “Green is Universal” is NBCUniversal’s ongoing green initiative dedicated to raising Greenawareness, effecting positive change to the environment, and making its own operations more sustainable. Throughout the year, NBCUniversal uses it numerous media and entertainment platforms to educate the public on the environment, with green-themed content airing across over 50 NBCUniversal brands.


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Wreaths are a great way to improve your home’s curb appeal and make a wonderful first impression when people come to your front door. You can make wreaths for any occasion, holiday and season. You can also use almost any material to make your wreath from recycled clothing to items you find in nature.

The Base of the Wreath

Metal bases are great for durability and sustainability. I have a metal wreath frame that I bought at a craft store and have used it over and over again.


I have also seen flat wooden base forms, or you could make your form from paperboard tubes that you can liberate from your recycling bin.

Here are four wreaths you can make from items you may find in your recycling bin, local thrift store or yard:

Tie Wreath

Take a trip to the thrift store (or your husband’s closet) to gather some ties to turn into a fun wreath. I embellished mine with a bow tie.


The amount of ties that you need will depend on the size of your wreath. Cut your ties into 15-inch-long sections. Position the narrow end of first cut tie, front side up, on a section of the wreath. Secure with glue from your hot glue gun. Wrap tie around form until pointed end is positioned as shown, hiding the rolled tie; secure with glue. Repeat, overlapping ties slightly. Flip wreath over; glue down any spot that may need it. Pin or glue on your bow tie or use a whole tie made into a bow and secure with a pin.

Recycled Greeting Card Wreath

Recycled greeting card wreaths are a great idea if you are like me and can’t throw away the cards you receive. Decide on a shape, like holly leaves, make a template (or find one online) and then start cutting. Cut out enough of your shape to completely cover your wreath base. I find going clockwise with your first layer and then filling in where you need it works great.

Check out Ruffles & Stuff for a bunch of great ways to recycle greeting cards.

Cork Wreath

If you enjoy your wine, and have already made multiple trivet and coasters with your leftover corks, this is your next project. A wreath made of wine corks would look adorable in a dining room or hanging above your wine storage.

For this wreath, you will need around 20-25 corks, two pieces of long green floral wire, 20-25 small red jingle bells and a ribbon to hang your wreath. You will need to drill a small hole in both the top and the bottom (1/4 inch from the top and bottom) of each cork. The hole needs to be big enough to fit the floral wire. Connect your corks by pushing your wire through the bottom hole first (save enough wire at the end to twist together). Then connect the tops by pushing your wire through the top holes; alternating between the corks then jingle bells. Twist wire to close on top and bottom, shape your wreath and hang your beautiful creation with a length of ribbon.


Here are the instructions for another adorable cork wreath.

Nature Wreath

A natural wreath is beautiful and fun to create. I trimmed my rosemary bush to use for this wreath, but you could also use evergreen branches, pine cones or whatever happens to be handy. Wrap your branches around your base, securing them with twine or glue. What is an added bonus of rosemary, lavender or an evergreen wreath is the lovely scent.


The fun part about creating a wreath for your home is you can make it uniquely your own. Once you have a base, you can recycle almost anything from magazine or book pages to old t-shirts or sweaters to make your wreath.

– This was originally published at on October 09, 2015.

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If I hear one more time how “trendy” being “green” has become, I might explode. Wake up and smell the shade-grown-fairly-traded-coffee people.

Sustainable living is not trendy; it’s a thoughtful, responsible way to live. It’s not just about putting your plastic bottles in the recycling bin; it’s about realizing that you should avoid the plastic bottle all together. It’s about really thinking about your impact on your community, your city and your world.

The converse of living sustainably is living in a way that is depleting the very things we need to survive. We need clean water, clean air and healthy food for our continued existence on this planet. Currently, the worldwide population and global demand for these resources are both greater than ever.

I know it’s not always easy. I also know that it’s imperative to make the effort.

There are all sorts of complex issues that people a lot smarter than me debate ad nauseum. But I believe if you use your God-given common sense, you’ll get it right most of the time.

For example, would you use a product in your home when the label says it’s harmful to humans and animals? Common sense says no. The next time you pick up a canister of Clorox wipes, read the label. Not only does it warn that it’s harmful to humans and animals, the two ingredients listed, dimethyl benzyl ammonia chloride .145 per cent and dimethyl ethyl benzyl ammonia chloride, are pesticides.

Would you put lotion on your baby if you knew it contained a known carcinogen? The next time you reach for your favorite Johnson & Johnson baby care product, does it contain a lot of ingredients you’ve never heard of? According to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetic safety database, Johnson’s Baby Lotion Aloe Vera & Vitamin E contains ingredients that cause cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity and allergies, among other things. Take a look at all your cosmetics.

Common sense dictates if the product is harmful for my body then the health risks are prevalent throughout the life span of the product. So, the product isn’t just bad for me, it’s bad for the workers who manufacture it, the community that lives by the manufacturing facility and the environment.

Take polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl). The health risks of PVC are prevalent throughout the life span of this plastic. From the manufacturing process, the use and the disposal, PVC causes health risks for the communities near the chemical plants, our children and our environment.

“PVC plants are disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color, making the production of PVC a major environmental justice concern. Communities surrounding vinyl chloride facilities suffer from groundwater and air pollution. In 1999, the federal government measured dioxins in blood samples taken from 28 residents who lived near PVC facilities in Louisiana. The testing revealed the average resident has three times more dioxin in his/her blood than the average U.S. citizen. Workers at PVC plants may face life-long health risks from exposure to cancer causing vinyl chloride and other hazardous chemicals used to make PVC. These health risks include angiosarcoma of the liver, lung cancer, brain cancer, lymphomas, leukemia, and liver cirrhosis.”

Source: Center for Health, Environment and Justice

I am all about Simple Tips for Green Living but I think we need to dig a little deeper and understand that we are all connected.  What we do locally affects someone else regionally. And that effect spreads nationally and, ultimately, internationally.

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Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day. The goal is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion around important issues that impact all of us.

For 2011, Blog Action Day coincides with World Food Day, so the topic of discussion for this year is Food.

I believe we should be eating organic whole foods, nutrient-dense foods without genetically modified ingredients or pesticides. It’s common sense, right? We just want to eat food that’s good for us. Period. Eating healthy is important for everyone but it’s especially critical for children. Pound for pound, children eat and drink more than adults so healthy eating is essential in order to safely nourish their growing bodies.

Here are some healthy eating tips from our friends at Healthy Child, Healthy World:

  • Choose to eat and prepare organic, whole foods rather than packaged foods whenever possible. The easiest way to eat healthier is to start making your food instead of buying prepared food and warming it.
  • Avoid genetically modified organisms (aka GMOs or genetically engineered foods). For more information on GMOs visit
  • Choose safer seafood. Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website to learn more and print a pocket guide.
  • Read labels. Look for foods with few and identifiable ingredients. Avoid the top five risky additives: Artifical Colors (anything that begins with FD&C ), Chemical Preservatives (Butylated Hydroxyanisole [BHA], Sodium Nitrate, Sodium Benzoate), Artificial Sweeteners (Aspartame, Acesulfame-K, Saccharin), Added Sugar (High Fructose Corn Syrup [HFCS], Corn Syrup, Dextrose, etc), Added Salt (Look at the sodium content and choose foods with the lowest amounts.)

Past Blog Action Day topics:

In 2009, the topic was Climate Change: My Green Side on Blog Action Day 2009

In 2010, the topic was Water: My Green Side on Blog Action Day 2010

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by Wendy Gabriel

Chris Baskind is a writer and the publisher of several websites, including Chris Baskindthe green living journal Lighter Footstep. He recently launched More Minimal, a new site focusing on the benefit of a simpler lifestyle. A frequent spokesperson on Environmental issues, Chris has appeared on venues as diverse as National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” Business Week, and He’s also a familiar presence on Facebook and Twitter. He lives in Pensacola, Florida.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

For one thing, I quit driving. It started as a one-month “carfree” experiment, and I’m now going into my fourth month without getting behind the wheel. Bicycle advocacy is becoming an important feature of my writing and outlook on personal sustainability.

You cofounded the groundbreaking site Lighter Footstep in 2007 with business partner Lisa Cagle. What was the impetus for starting a green living site?

It extended from my conviction that greener living is for everyone. There weren’t many sites dedicated to lowering one’s environmental impact in 2006 when Lisa and I started laying the groundwork for Lighter Footstep. There are hundreds now, of course, but just a few years ago, most green websites were primarily targeted to the treehugger crowd. I’m a treehugger myself, but “dark green” environmentalists account for a tiny slice of the population — and they’re not the ones looking for practical answers to difficult lifestyle questions. So that’s where were pointed Lighter Footstep.

More Minimal is your personal blog. A wonderful site that promises: Leaner. Greener. Happier. How do the pieces you write for your blog differ from the articles you include in Lighter Footstep?

More Minimal is very new, so we’ll have to see how these siblings get along. But the big difference between the two sites is that More Minimal is largely written in the first person. Lighter Footstep is very direct, pragmatic, and how-to oriented. More Minimal is more intimate. It’s also focused on downsizing our hectic, overstimulated, vastly consumptive lives. Learning to make more of less is the new green.

You were recently interviewed by Sean Daily at Green Talk Radio. It was a wonderful interview with some very quotable phrases including, “It’s not what we buy, it’s what we don’t buy.” Can you elaborate on that concept?

To be honest, a lot of green living and environmental websites and magazines are starting to look like product catalogs. Buy this, buy that — shop green and spend your way to a more sustainable world. This is nonsense. I am totally behind people and companies who are genuinely reevaluating the production chain: how we get products to market; how can we minimize the energy and materials involved without compromising quality; what should we do with these products at the end of their lifecycle. But the surest way to minimize a product’s impact is not purchase it at all. This is particularly true in the middle of a steep recession. Money is dear, and we don’t need a bunch of luxury goods presented as “green” products convincing people that simpler, more conscious living is only for the rich. It’s for everyone.

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by Wendy Gabriel

Carole Brown is a Conservation Biologist with a passion for Ecosystem Carole BrownGardening–giving a little back to wildlife by creating welcoming habitats in our gardens, conserving natural resources, and choosing sustainable landscaping practices. Carole has worked as a wildlife habitat landscaper for almost twenty years, designing, installing and maintaining Ecosystem Gardens for wildlife for homeowners, businesses, and other property managers. She is a consultant, educator, and author of Ecosystem Gardening. Avid birder, butterfly watcher, and lover of all wildlife.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

I try to do this in as many ways as possible. We belong to a local CSA for produce as well as a local food co-op, and try to get as much of our food as we can from local sources. I’ve installed CFL light bulbs throughout the house, low-flow adapters on all of the faucets and shower and low-flow toilets.

My next project inside the house is to install a hot water on demand system, which only uses energy when we need hot water as opposed to a traditional hot water heater which is constantly running.

We recycle everything that we can and attempt to find new owners for the stuff that we no longer need, usually by donating it to people in need or to charities who can locate people who need what we have.

I installed a programmable thermostat and keep the temperature as low as possible during the winter. This means wearing wool socks and sweaters through the cold times, but I’ve found that I much prefer that to an overheated house.

I’m always looking for new ways to “green” my life, which is why I so enjoy your “Four Questions” series because I’ve learned a lot from the other people you have interviewed.

You are a Conservation Biologist who teaches people to manage their properties sustainably, in an environmentally friendly and conscious way. How do you educate people to be aware of the impact they are making on the environment?

One backyard at a time. For almost 20 years I have worked as a wildlife habitat landscaper designing, installing and maintaining ecosystem gardens for my clients who included homeowners, businesses, and other property managers.

I’m now continuing this work as a consultant and educator to larger audiences, trying to stress how critical our gardens are to the survival of wildlife and the health of our environment.

We humans have made some pretty bad choices for the environment and we’ve destroyed a lot of habitat in the process. In fact, habitat loss is the number one reason why so many species are in such trouble. Do we really need one more Walmart, Starbucks, or Home Depot?

I try to show people that we can choose to make much healthier decisions, we can give a little back in the form of creating welcoming habitats for wildlife, using more sustainable practices, conserving natural resources, and eliminating our use of toxic chemicals.

I really enjoyed a recent post on your site entitled, Why Your Ecosystem Garden Matters, Even When We Already Have Protected Lands. Can you explain how our gardens can have a huge impact on the health of the wildlife around us?

We have taken so much habitat away from wildlife, either by destroying it outright, fragmenting it into smaller and smaller pieces, or poisoning or otherwise degrading it, that many species simply have nowhere left to go.

This is where our gardens come in: if we can learn to share our space with wildlife, to provide for their needs, we can create habitats that will support many species of wildlife and bring nature right up to our back doors.

By removing invasive species from our gardens and incorporating more native plants we can create beautiful gardens for us to enjoy that also support a wide variety of wildlife, including birds, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles and amphibians, native pollinators and other insects, and bats and other mammals.

All of these species are dependent, either directly or indirectly, on native plants. When we choose to add more native plants to our gardens we are giving something back wildlife instead of driving them away.

Our gardens can be stepping stones between larger natural areas. When neighbors band together, larger habitats can be created which can become safe corridors for wildlife to use.

You say on your site that you have been saying for years that if every one of us did one small thing for wildlife, the cumulative effect would be enormous, and can contribute to the ecological health of our neighborhoods, regions, country, and even have a global impact. What are some examples of one small thing we could do for wildlife?

• Plant a tree. Oak trees support over 500 species of butterflies and moths, plus many birds and mammals. Many other native tree species also support many butterflies and moths.

• Make a Monarch waystation by planting milkweed and a variety of nectar plants.

• Install a wildlife pond and watch dragonflies, frogs, toads, and birds almost immediately move in. This is truly a “if you build it, they will come” activity.

• Find out which butterflies are native to your area and plant a patch of their host plant. Each species of butterfly is dependent on a particular plant on which to lay their eggs.

• Reduce your lawn. Lawns are a monoculture of (usually) non-native species which support very few species of wildlife. A wildflower meadow with native grasses would be much better for wildlife.

• Fill in that bare spot in your garden with a native plant.

The possibilities are endless, but it’s so important that each of us start with just one thing that will help wildlife. All of us doing this will mean that there’s a lot more places for wildlife to go. It’s the actions of one multiplied by the power of many, and that can only be a good thing!



by Wendy Gabriel

Karen Stoker is the proud owner of the Hotel Donaldson, a luxury hotel in Karen Stokerdowntown Fargo, North Dakota.

In 2000, amid what Karen refers to as a mid-life awakening, she purchased the 115 year old Hotel Donaldson building in downtown Fargo. Her mission was to create memorable experiences. The next three years were spent working toward that vision. In August of 2003, The Hotel Donaldson team opened the doors and began living their mission of creating memorable experiences by celebrating the community’s visual, culinary, performing and literary arts.

Karen enjoys reading, music, cooking, traveling – most of all being a Mom. She considers herself the luckiest girl she knows.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

Keeping our environment in mind has been a part of my life as long as I can remember thanks to my parents, so being conscious and conscientious of what our family does is a way of life. It’s almost a fun game (how many times can we reuse the aluminum sandwich wrapper in the lunch box, or wash and reuse plastic bags before they don’t zip lock (a very long time!). We eat at home a lot. I need to know where our food comes from and how it’s raised. It’s nice there are so many places to get cloth bags now. I buy our eggs and all our meat from local producers and this time of year, the weekly box from our CSA is better than Christmas. Little things such as using a dish pan to rinse dishes before putting them into the dishwasher rather than letting the water run. The soaps we use are detergent free and environmentally friendly. Etc. Etc. Cliché’, but little things really do add up.

I love your email tag line, Please consider the environment when printing emails and living in general. How do you incorporate this philosophy into the running of the Hotel Donaldson?

We’re always looking for ways and again, by being mindful, we continue to do more. We recycle, which I was surprised to learn when creating The Hotel was NOT common. This is becoming easier in the industry, so hopefully more restaurants, bars, and lounges will. Since we opened, we’ve asked our guests to consider water, energy and soap by reusing their towel and we make the beds as nicely as clean sheets, but change them at the guest’s requests. This has become quite common, thankfully. Six years ago in luxury hotels, however, it wasn’t – waste isn’t luxurious. We recently posted a note on the back of the room doors asking guests to turn the lights off when they leave. Many people leave lights on! We work with our vendor who handles our maintenance to stay on top of efficiencies and recently did an energy audit with a specialist. Our bison, beef, pork, chicken, lamb and wild game are purchased within a 100-mile radius. We use local flour and bake all our bread and pastries. Again, this time of year we enjoy a lot of wonderful produce. Our coffee is fair trade, sustainably raised and locally roasted. The list keeps getting longer.

What has been your biggest challenge being environmentally friendly while running a hotel and restaurant?

When we opened six years ago, there were few purveyors and it took a lot of work to identify places where we could get the quantity and consistency we needed. Now, we can get tomatoes from DL or Duluth all winter. Commercial cleaning supplies continue to be a challenge. “Greener” products are more expensive and often don’t work as well as chemical based products. We keep looking and have found some. As the market becomes more aware of the importance, I think consumers will appreciate the effort and be willing to pay more knowing the business they’re doing business with is making a positive difference environmentally. Another challenge is health code related. There are restrictions on sharing food and our hotel toiletries with soup kitchens and shelters. It’s sad to see what’s wasted. It lacks any common sense.

What do you hope the guest of the Hotel Donaldson comes away with after dining or staying with you?

Our mission is to create memorable experiences by celebrating Our Community. We have over 70 regional artists on the property; I mentioned our commitment to local food and to culinary art, local musicians, poets, etc. We hope after guests have spent time with us they leave with a sense of place. National Geographic Traveler chose us to be on their first ever “Stay List” – places that understand and celebrate their sense of place. It was wonderful to be recognized by the world’s most widely read travel magazine for living Our Mission. More importantly however, is that our guests have a memorable experience. It’s an honor to have so much of who we are in this area under one roof.

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by Wendy Gabriel

Katherine Center is an author, wife and mother. Her second novel, Katherine CenterEveryone Is Beautiful, was featured in Redbook and got glowing reviews from People magazine and USA Today. Kirkus Reviews likens it to the 1950s motherhood classic Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, and says, “Center ’s breezy style invites the reader to commiserate, laughing all the way.” Booklist calls it “a superbly written novel filled with unique and resonant characters.”

Katherine’s first novel, The Bright Side of Disaster, was featured in People, USA Today, Vanity Fair, the Houston Chronicle, and the Dallas Morning News. BookPage named Katherine one of seven new writers to watch, and the paperback of Bright Side was a Breakout Title at Target. It was also optioned last fall by Varsity Pictures.

Katherine’s essays about motherhood have appeared in Real Simple Family and in the anthology Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers on the Mother-Daughter Bond. She has just turned in her third novel, Get Lucky, and is starting on a fourth. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and two young children.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

We are big composters. We compost everything–bread, tea bags, coffee grounds. I even dump out my old coffee in the garden. We keep a mixing bowl on the counter and just fill it up as the day goes along, then dump it in the mulch pile before dinner and wash it with the dinner dishes. This summer, I went out of town and saved a bag of compost to drive back with me in the car because I just couldn’t throw those banana peels and egg shells away! I love knowing that I’m keeping our scraps out of the landfill, and I love the idea that it all just magically turns back into soil.

We also have a garden with lots of native Texas plants and herbs in it. It’s fun to think about plants not just as decorations but as functioning parts of our yard’s ecosystem that attract wildlife to the garden. We have hummingbirds, tons of bees, and many monarch butterflies. The kids love it! Though we’re very laissez-faire with the garden and never put chemicals on it or even water it much!

We also do lots of little things, like take re-usable bags to the grocery store and try to use re-usable stainless bottles for water instead of plastic. I have many things I’m not yet doing that I’d love to do, too. I’d love to paint our roof white–it’s so hot down here in Texas!–and I’d love to have a rainwater collection system to save rain runoff for later. I also love to fantasize about keeping chickens in the backyard.

You mentioned that you recently watched Food Inc. How, if at all, has this changed how you look at food?

A lot. It confirmed a lot of things that I suspected about what’s going on with the food system in our country, but it also shocked the heck out of me with very vivid things that I hadn’t even imagined. I was especially horrified by the industrial system’s treatment of animals. The idea that we are voting with our dollars for local food or not, organic or not, has really stayed with me. I’m very mindful at the grocery store about supporting organic and humanely-raised food.

We’re also not eating at restaurants as much anymore. Houston is a huge city with every type of cheap, delicious food you can imagine. But ever since seeing Food, Inc. (and also reading the companion book), we’ve really tried to eat at home as much as possible, cook from scratch, slow down, take our time with food and meals. My kids are very interested in gardening, and we’re looking into joining a Community Supported Agriculture group, too, at some point.

I have read all of your books and have loved every minute of them. As an author what is your view of devices like the Kindle?

Thank you! I’m undecided about all the changes going on now with books. I have an affection for tangible objects, like books and pages, but people sure do seem to love their Kindles! We’re definitely in the middle of a revolution that will determine how people find, read, and experience stories. In theory, anything that makes it easier for people to access books and stories is probably good, but I have no idea what things will look like–for authors, for the publishing industry, or for readers–on the other side…

What have you found is your biggest challenge to living a sustainable lifestyle?

Living in Texas! Three things in my home state put me at odds with mother earth on a regular basis. One, it’s hot as blazes here a good 6 months out of the year. Two, Houston is a sprawled-out, driving town. It’s almost impossible to get anywhere or do anything without a car. And three, the mosquitoes are so bad down here they make you want to slather yourself in poison. That said, we are trying! And the older the kids get, the easier it seems to get!


by Wendy Gabriel

I am a huge fan of playing outside for kids of all ages. Now that my oldest isBe Out There in kindergarten (gasp!) it occurs to me it might get more challenging as she gets older to allow time for unstructured outdoor play. 

Our friend, Anne Keisman, with the National Wildlife Federation is helping us out by giving us some great tips to get outside during a busy day:

1. Scenario: Traffic made you late, there’s no time to cook dinner, so you drive the family over to the rotisserie chicken place to get a quick meal.

Tip: Keep a picnic blanket in your car for an impromptu picnic on any spot of grass you can find!

2. Scenario: Backpack? Check. Lunch? Check. You’re ready to head to school.

Tip: Whether you drive or walk to school, or wait with your child by the bus-stop, take a moment to notice nature. Make it a game of “I Spy” — or download this nature scavenger hunt at

3. Scenario: Your child is studying plants at school and, at the dinner table, recites how photosynthesis works. You, yourself, have never successfully kept a plant alive.

Tip: Start small: All you need is some bird-seed and a sponge. For sponge-garden instructions, visit Next step: check out National Gardening Association’s parents’ primer for gardening with kids at

3. Scenario: You and your youngest wait outside your older child’s school, a few minutes before the bell rings.

Tip: Look up at the sky together. “Wait, mom — is that a sheep or a donkey?” Picking out shapes in the clouds is a classic childhood activity — and needs no special equipment.

4. Scenario: Your child looks at you and says, “Mom — I’m a little old for cloud-watching!”

Tip: For older kids, combine technology with the outdoors and go geo-caching or, the lower-tech version, letterboxing. There are about 20,000 letterboxes and 250,000 geocaches hidden in North America. Visit and

5. Scenario: The kids get home from school and immediately plop in front of the TV. You suggest going outside. They respond, “Indoors is more fun!”

Tip #1: Set time-limits for TV watching and video game playing. It won’t be popular, so make sure you have a back-up plan. If you have a backyard, kid-customize it with a homemade fort, dart boards, a trampoline, a craft table. Set up a bird house to keep wildlife visiting.

Tip #2: No backyard? Find your local parks using For older kids, start stretching your child’s boundaries, allowing them to go for unsupervised walks in the neighborhood with groups of friends. They’ll love the feeling of independence.

6. Scenario: Outside, it’s a perfect fall day, but you look at your child’s homework assignments and realize outside play-time isn’t a reality.

Tip: Take homework outside! There’s no reason math problems can’t be done in the fresh air. Set up a clean outdoor workspace for your child on a patio table, perhaps.

7. Scenario: Your daughter comes home from school clutching new-found treasures: three crumbly leaves, two acorns and a dirt-encrusted rock.

Tip: Instead of putting them on the kitchen counter, a drawer, or — gasp — the trash, start a nature table. Set a limit of how many items they can have in the “nature museum” — so they’ll keep it to a manageable number. Other ideas: use an old tackle or sewing box, or a hanging shoe-organizer with clear plastic pockets. Have your kids decorate it!

9. Scenario: A blank piece of paper in front of her, your daughter asks you, “What should I draw?”

Tip: Have your child make a map of your neighborhood — using only natural landmarks. This will heighten his or her observation skills and can be the first step in creating a “field guide” to the nature in your neighborhood.

10. Scenario: It’s 8 p.m. Dinner’s over, but not quite time for bed.

Tip: Keep flashlights near the door, and go for a neighborhood night hike. Kids will love the novelty — and you can challenge them to identify “night sounds.” Learn how to make a moon journal at

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by Wendy Gabriel

Jennifer Taggart is a mom of two, an environmental and consumer Jennifer Taggart with sonproduct attorney, a blogger and author of Smart Mama’s Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Toxic Chemical Exposure.

How do you make your day-to-day life a little greener?

Basically, I try to make more sustainable choices. Being green isn’t about buying green, but more about making do with what you got. That doesn’t mean that I don’t use the power of my purse to make green choices when I shop. When shopping, I prefer to buy from companies that support sustainable principles in all aspects, not just one product line. At home, we do all the basics- turn off lights and electronics, recycle, etc. My one big thing is trying to avoid disposable plastic. We use re-usable bags for shopping, including our produce bags. I buy in bulk when I can. The kids have re-usable stainless steel containers. It doesn’t always work – my husband bought a container of plastic wrap from Costco eight years ago that we are still using because I loathe it and hardly ever use it.

Your book, Smart Mama’s Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Toxic Chemical Exposure, should be required reading for anyone who has children in their lives. What was your impetus for writing the book?

Thank you for the recommendation! I’ve gotten a fabulous response. One reader even tweeted that she tested her home for radon after reading my book, and found elevated levels. She is getting it fixed. That’s what motivates me, helping people out. But the impetus for the book was two miscarriages before the birth of my son. Those unexplained miscarriages prompted me to consider whether anything in my environment was causing or contributing to the miscarriages. Then, after having my son, I attended a weekly new mom/breastfeeding support class. Given my background and my interests, I was routinely asked questions about how much fish was safe, or how to read information from a termite company. The facilitator asked me to teach a class on going green and non-toxic for new moms, and from that, the book just flowed. I really wanted to provide a resource with easy-to-understand information for parents and caregivers.

I recently heard you on Martha Stewart radio giving some great green cleaning advice. What is one of your favorite green cleaning tips?

I have a couple. To clean your garbage disposal (or snow cone machine), make vinegar ice cubes. Just put 1 cup distilled white vinegar in an ice cube tray, fill the balance with water, and freeze. Once frozen, drop a couple down the disposal (or put in the snow cone machine), run it and voila! The vinegar helps disinfect and the ice helps remove any food stuck on the blades.

To clean your microwave, just use lemon slices. Place some in a microwave safe cup or bowl with 6 ounces or so of water. Heat on high for 3 minutes, let sit for 3 minutes (without opening the door), and then open and wipe clean. Crusted food should lift easily and your microwave will smell lemon fresh without hormone disrupting phthalates.

Finally, my favorite is Dr. Bronner’s rose liquid castile soap and baking soda. I use this combination as a soft scrub for sinks and counter tops, and also to clean my toilet. Just mix them until you get a consistency you like. I prefer to place them in a old squeeze bottle and stir with a chop stick. If you are cleaning your toilet, just squirt under the rim and let sit. After 5 minutes or so, follow up with some vinegar and left foam. Then flush.

You recently blogged about a new regulation that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued exempting various materials from the lead content limits for children’s products in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). As an expert, what kind of clothing would you tell parents to look for to ensure that their child is not getting exposed to lead?

The CPSIA has banned lead in children’s products above 300 parts per million (ppm) and in paints and coatings above 90 ppm. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that you don’t still find children’s products with lead. Most fabrics do not have lead in them and that is why the CPSC issue the exemption for certain materials, including textiles. After testing thousands of fabrics, the only fabrics I have found with let are some synthetic felts, certain leathers and some screen prints. However, you can find lead in some buttons, rhinestones and crystals, zippers, eyelets, etc. Most of those aren’t going to result in an exposure to a child, however. Lead is also sometimes used to stabilize polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. PVC plastic must be stabilized and it is usually a metallic salt, often lead. PVC is also bad for the environment and can contain hormone disrupting phthalates. So, I always recommend that people skip PVC, which includes many fake leather items.

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