Archive for Green at Home

Tips for a Green Dorm

Recently I had the pleasure of giving a presentation to a group of high school seniors about ways to be eco-friendly when they go off to school. The presentation was very well received, and the kids seemed to be in tune with a lot of the information I gave them. Their insightful questions indicated that this generation has been raised with more eco-knowledge than mine. Then again, basic concepts like composting were foreign to them.  So it looks like we still have some work to do!

Below is the PowerPoint presentation I gave. Take a look through, and let me know if you have questions or other advice!

Green Your Dorm

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Local Government Allows Farming on Village Owned Property, Yes!

And now, more insight from our pal Gina of MySkinnyGarden:

I met Jessica on the Internet. There, I said it.  I know it sounds weird but we both had garden blogs and somehow found each other and learned we lived just blocks apart in Forest Park and that we were both originally from Tennessee.  Within 12 months of meeting, we’d partnered to start Forest Park Community Garden. I have never met anybody so easy to work with. Not only did we share a vision about creating a local community garden but the synergy between us was amazing, comfortable, fast!

While writing this blog post for Green Home Experts it occurred to me that I’ve never really talked to Jessica about her gardening experiences prior to when I met her. I just know that ever since then she’s been on fire trying to figure out a way to make a living doing something she loves. Urban agriculture.

This year Jessica started Forest Park Mini Farm, a small farm located on a piece of land owned by the Village of Forest Park and leased to her for growing herbs, flowers and fresh, organic produce. Jessica sells what she grows at Forest Park Farmers Market every Friday evening and she is also offering shares of her harvest for sale just like large-scale Community Supported Agriculture farms do and she’ll even deliver to your home for free if you live in the area.

I am proud of Jessica for relentlessly pursuing her urban agriculture dream and for her innovation in working with local government to utilize the empty land they own to provide space for eager farmers like Jessica. Most communities have these parcels of land waiting to be developed and allowing them to be farmed in this way is a very safe investment that sends a strong message to the community that they support residents with this entrepreneual spirit and a lot of sweat equity to give. It’s cliché but it nobody loses here.

Jessica still has a few shares available for her Community Supported Agriculture program which starts this coming Friday July 20th. If you live in the Oak Park, River Forest or Forest Park area, you can’t get much more local than purchasing produce from this exciting new mini farm. If you decide not to buy a share, be sure to stop by the Forest Park Farmers Market on Friday evening 3:30 – 7:30 at The Grove where you can buy Jessica’s produce and beautiful flowers, in person.

(And a note from Maria, GHE Queen Bee: I subscribed to Jessica’s CSA and can’t wait to get my first share on Friday!)

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Helping Your Chickens Survive the Dog Days of Summer

As the temperatures and humidity soar, you’ll want to help your hens keep cool. A few tips for helping your hens beat the heat!

Read the rest of this post and information from Jennifer Murtoff, Urban Chicken Consultant, here.

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Winging It, by Debbie B.

Winging It
They say that if you ask ten beekeepers a question, you’ll get 12 answers. Maybe it was always that way, because of the nature of beekeepers, but with all the challenges bees are facing these days, there are no simple answers.
Many of the questions have to do with pest management–the bees are plagued with parasitic mites, and there’s a new kid in town, the small hive beetle. Beekeepers are also constantly puzzling out how to treat viruses without killing bees or affecting the honey. And how to keep the bees alive over the winter can spark quite a conversation.
Even a question as simple as whether to keep feeding the bees supplemental sugar syrup has at least three answers: Yes, no, or “as long as they keep taking it”.  You can see sugar syrup in the photo of the hives below–it’s in the spaghetti-sauce jars, which fit into a contraption known as a Boardman feeder.
The syrup question came up last week at a beekeepers’ mentoring get-together. During the course of the meeting one of the newbies said about her experiences in beekeeping, “I’m just winging it,” to which one of the mentors, a man with decades of beekeeping experience, replied, ” That’s how I feel.”
So I’m just winging it, too, alone in my backyard with two brand-new hives of bees. I’m amazed by how different the personalities of the hives are. One is doing everything by the book and coming along well; the other is a hive of mavericks and rebels who are raucous and will fly right into you if you’re in the way. Their behavior is related to the temperament of the queen. I kind of like the more assertive girls and am interested to see which hive does better.
In the photos below, guess which hive is the ‘party hive’ (can exterior decoration affect a bee’s mood?). In the close-up, you can see several bees who have just come back from foraging–they have yellow-orange lumps on their back legs, where their pollen baskets are. The pollen will be stored in the comb for later consumption–it’s the bees’ source of protein.

Coming up is National Pollinator Week, June 18-24 this year. How will you celebrate?

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How to Make a Chalkboard Fridge

Follow Gina T. from myskinnygarden on the journey to convert her old fridge to a chalkboard fridge:

How to Make a Chalkboard Fridge
originally published at 

When we moved into our house the stove the previous owners left was rusted with hole in the side of it and there was no dishwasher at all.  We bought a new stove and dishwasher but the fridge was clean and in good working order so we decided to keep it until it broke.  We figured we might get another year of service from it.  Here we are nearly 7 years later and the big white monster is still going strong.  Since it sits immediately next to the stove, the fact that it doesn’t match the stainless steel is the first thing you notice when you enter the kitchen.  I think it drives my mother-in-law crazy. She keeps threatening to buy us a new one.

As I was planning my minor kitchen update I found this great idea to turn the fridge into a chalkboard on one of my favorite websites the kitchn.  Since I used a fairly different (and easier!) process for my fridge, I thought I’d explain how I did it here, in case any of you want to try it.

Our chalkboard fridge is extremely practical because it gives us a place to write notes and it makes the fridge match the other appliances a little better.  My mother-in-law approves!


  1. Determine the type of material your fridge is made from.  Mine, like most, is some type of metal but the front is covered with a layer of vinyl that is kind of textured.
  2. Purchase a primer that is appropriate to cover the material the surface of your fridge is made from. I would recommend checking with Green Home Experts because they carry environmentally friendly primer. Note: Although the instructions I found at the kitchn recommended I sand off the front of the fridge, I learned that some primers can be applied right over vinyl and that sanding off the vinyl would extremely messy and an all around miserable task.
  3. Purchase chalkboard paint.  I bought plain black because I wanted the fridge to match my other appliances but you can also get school-house green and apparently some big box stores carry up to 14 colors.  Even pink!
  4. Remove all handles from fridge. Note: I did not replace my handles after my fridge was finished because, well, the handles are white and I think that would look stupid. The fridge looks much better with no handles at all and we have not found it difficult to open the fridge using the corners.
  5. Cover the floor around the fridge and any other surfaces vulnerable to paint splatter.
  6. Apply primer front of fridge per the instructions on the primer can or per your paint professional’s recommendations.  I believe I used 2 coats of primer.  I did not treat the sides or top of the fridge at all and I’m happy with the way it turned out.
  7. Paint front of fridge using chalkboard paint (mixed well) per the instructions on the paint can or per your professional’s recommendations.  I painted 3 coats allowing each to completely dry in between.
  8. Allow chalkboard paint to set for a minimum of 3 days prior to writing on it.  I followed the instructions on my chalkboard paint can which recommended 3 days but the paint scratched off in one area the first time I wrote on it.  I really feel it is better to allow the paint to set for up to 2 weeks to prevent damage because patching was no fun.  By the time you finish you will have multiple layers of primer and paint and it takes longer than you’d think to completely dry and set.
  9. Season the chalkboard fridge by covering the entire surface with chalk then erasing it.  Turn a long piece of chalk on its long side to speed up the process.  This step is especially important if your fridge is textured like mine.  It allows chalk particles to fill the crevices of the surface.  If you skip this part, the first thing you write will not be able to be completely erased.
  10. Write, draw, have fun!  A chalkboard fridge is a great place to write planting dates, grocery lists, recipes, menus and track your vegetable harvest.

A note about chalk dust and chalkboard markers.  I read a lot about the potential of chalkboard dust in the kitchen but it has not been a problem for me at all.  I was so worried about it that I considered using chalkboard markers instead of real chalk until I learned that these markers are not really meant to be used on actual chalkboard paint.  I spoke to the company and they suggested just using the chalkboard markers to write directly on my white fridge.  The reason they won’t work on actual chalkboard paint is that a cleaner like Windex is required to wipe these marks off and these cleaners cannot be used with proper chalkboard paint.

There is a lot of debate about whether it makes more sense to replace an old fridge with a new, more energy efficient one and I can see both sides. New ones use less energy but replacing a perfectly serviceable fridge means a big hunk of metal to dispose of. For us, keeping the old one was more comfortable. Now that it’s a chalkboard I’m kind of dreading needing to buy a new one!

Please click here to see a slideshow of my chalkboard fridge conversion process.

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Time to Tackle the Garage

Mid-May has blessed us with this beautiful summer weather. The birds are singing, butterflies flutter through newly sprung gardens, and our thoughts are drifting toward home projects. Spring cleaning is done (right?). Garden plans are made. The grass is mowed. What about your garage?

The garage is the standard holder-of-overflow. Can’t find a place for it? Stick it in the garage. Want to move something out of sight because company is coming? Stick it in the garage–I’ll get to it later! Well, it’s way past later. It’s time to tackle the garage, and here are some tips to help you*:

–Gather up your latex paints and primers and bring them into the shop. We send them to Earth Paints Collection System to be recycled.

–Donate unwanted bikes, toys, tools and more to your local organization of choice.

–Give everything a good washing with non-toxic cleaning supplies. Earth Friendly Products and Mrs. Meyers Clean Day are our two most popular lines!

–Clean oil-stained concrete with Emerge, a soy-based biodegradable cleaner that’s made in Illinois. It’s powerful stuff!

–Give concrete a new coat of non-toxic, no-VOC paint with AFM Safecoat Deckote.

–Get organized! Label bins so you can find things easily. Create a space for everything: garden tools, storage, hobby area, etc. Ok, ready for some real organizing tips? Check out this info from our friends at Within Your Reach. Want to see an example of their work? You probably already have–their beautiful storage system holds all of our personal care products in our Kid & Baby section. Read here for more about their sustainability initiatives.


*Disclaimer: Anyone who knows me knows I’m not famous for being organized. So I’d never write a post about being organized! These tips are designed to help you declutter and clean.

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Homemade Never Goes Out of Style

Gina T. from My Skinny Garden dishes on homemade pizza:

The other day I had a conversation with a coworker who is about to become a grandmother, way too early in her opinion. Our discussion was mostly about what the baby would call her but I took advantage of the opportunity to tease her because she is young and vibrant and stylish, nothing like her image of what she thinks a grandmother is supposed to be. The more we talked, the more I realized most of he qualities she attributed to a “proper grandmother” were around food.  Specifically, she mentioned homemade ice cream and biscuits at least five times. To hear her talk, it was as if making homemade ice cream was akin to making bars of gold from bars of soap. I just kept mumbling….”making homemade ice cream isn’t that hard…making homemade biscuits isn’t that hard…”

This isn’t news to any of you but we’re trying to cram so much stuff into our day that we have stopped doing some of the simplest things that make lasting memories for our families. I remember as a child always preferring restaurant food because it seemed so fancy. But as I sit here writing this post for you I can’t think of a single restaurant meal I loved as a child. What I remember is the amazing roast beef my mother made. Falling off the bone, crowded by tender delicious chucks of potatoes and carrots, my mouth waters just thinking about it. I haven’t eaten meat in over 10 years but if I walk into a house and smell roast beef cooking, I always have a flashing thought that being a vegetarian is stupid. That I am missing out on something really special.  When I still lived at home, part of our birthday celebration always included the home cooked meal of our choice. I wondered why we didn’t ever go out to dinner for my birthday, but now? I cherish the memories of the chicken stroganoff I chose every year for my birthday dinner.

Cook for your children. Our memories around good food last forever. Even if money is no object and you can afford to pay someone to prepare every meal for you, it’s so worth it.  One of my favorite things to make from scratch is pizza. It’s versatile, fun to make and so much better than any pizza that can be delivered to your house.

A few years ago I was on a quest to make the perfect pizza dough. I scoured the Internet, read millions of blogs, tried dozens of recipes. In the end I found the best pizza dough for me was a simple recipe I found on the Cuisinart website after I received one of their food processors as a gift. The ingredients are simple, the recipe is fast and easy and it makes perfect dough. Pizza dough can be frozen for later use or made into smaller crusts and pre-baked then frozen for quick meals.

The biggest lesson I learned from The Pizza Investigation is that the key is to cook the crust really fast. Preheat your oven at the highest temperature possible then cook the pizza for about 10 minutes. Don’t use pre-shredded cheese because it’s coated with some type of cornstarch, which prevents it from sticking together, but also affects the melting process. Lastly, put the cheese in the freezer for about 15 minutes prior to topping your pizza with it. Otherwise, the cheese will burn in your extra-hot oven before the crust is done.

I can honestly say I don’t know a single person who doesn’t like pizza. And when you make your own, you can make it as simple or exotic as you like. My husband loves a plain cheese pizza. My favorite is anything involving goat cheese and sun dried tomato. And today when my family came over for dinner I even tried barbecue hash brown pizza inspired by Julia at SnarkyVegan. Making pizza is fun. The magic of watching the dough rise, the challenge of seeing how thin I can roll it out.  I realize that pizza isn’t the healthiest food out there but making it from scratch allows more control over the ingredients and somehow making a great pizza is always the most gratifying cooking experience for me. I hope you’ll try it and come back to share your experience.

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