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Dispose of those disposables!

a cloth diaper doubles a bib for Haydee while we were in Guatemala City for almost a month last year

Once we decided to use cloth diapers for our children, we began to consider what else we could switch from disposable to reusable. Once we tried, we discovered that just like cloth diapers, it took no more effort - in fact, frequently, it took less effort - to be green in more areas of our lives. Here’s what we’ve done.

baby products: We’ve had the same tub of disposable wipes for Haydee, our youngest daughter, for over a year and it’s about half-full. They are reserved for travel when we know we won’t be near a water supply. Normally we use flannel wipes in lieu of disposable ones. The reasons are just like the reasons for using cloth diapers: easier on baby, wallet and earth. For Liefe, we cut receiving blankets into rectangles. With the advent of Buzzie Bee Diapers and the homecoming of Haydee, we upgraded to two layers of flannel, sewn together. With cloth wipes and washable swim diapers and/or training pants, there is no reason to run to the store. Here again, cloth saves time and money.

cleaning products: The last time we bought paper towels was when we first moved to Maine, just about four years ago. We actually still have that role. It doesn’t feel right to throw it away. Instead of paper towels, we use rags from old cotton clothes, either stained or otherwise unsuitable to be hand-me-downs. We store them in a canister on the kitchen counter and launder as needed. We save money and reduce the amount of needless waste generated. Plus a clean cotton rag is does as much better job at picking up spills or cleaning up messy hands and faces than a scratchy paper towel.

composting: All vegetable food scraps (including egg shells and coffee grounds) go in a large yogurt container (with a lid) on our kitchen counter. When the container is full, one of us brings it out to the compost bin. We keep our compost bin right off the porch so we’re more likely to use it. Composting also cuts down on the amount of trash we produce. This cuts down on the number of trips we need to take to the dump. And, by composting, we wind up with great soil for our flower and vegetable gardens.

gift bags: When you receive a gift from the Temple family, chances are it’s either wrapped in children’s artwork or it’s in a reusable fabric gift bag. Our bags are likely to be made from scraps of old clothing or other household fabrics - like the remnants from curtains. While we do have some wrapping paper left over from the Day After Christmas sales back in 2000, it’s been so much easier to toss presents into a bag and tie with a beautiful ribbon. We always encourage recipient to reuse the bag.

leftover hats: I’m not sure what the technical or even common name for this. It looks like a shower cap, only its made to cover food. I find them from time to time at Family Dollar. We use them in place of plastic wrap. Then we wash them out with soap and water, hang them to dry and re-use again and again.

picnic basket: Eating outside is an adventure for small children. They love how it changes the routine. Liefe says that food always tastes better on a picnic. Rather than use disposable silverware and paper plates, we have a picnic basket with real silverware and washable, durable plastic dishes. We keep the basket loaded and ready to go.

shopping bags: Over the years, we’ve collected dozens of canvas bags. We use them when we go shopping, whether to the farmers market, the good tern, or even to the pharmacy. Many of our bags have been painted by our girls. It’s a fun, safe and easy project. Using and re-using canvas shopping bags reduces the overstock of plastic bags we previously had in several areas of the kitchen.

table linens: Growing up, my family always used cloth napkins and placemats. I share this practice with my family today. Cloth napkins double as baby blankets and boo-boo bear holders. Plus, it’s much more entertaining to do tricks with cloth napkin than it is with a paper one.

Have you done something else to reduce your consumption of single-use household items? If so, please let me know, I’d love to share more ideas...


Save Time and Money (and the earth, too) by Cleaning with Vinegar

About a month ago, Liefe (my four year old) asked if she could have a chore chart. Since she wasn’t concerned about an allowance or getting paid to do the chores, we agreed. So, she set to work making a list of all the chores she already does. She came up with feeding the dogs, folding her clothes, setting the table, and cleaning the house (or CLN HOZ as she wrote it on her chart). She decided to give herself a sticker when she completed a task on the chart. She challenged herself to fill the entire sheet of paper with stickers. Some days she uses her chart regularly and other days it hangs unnoticed in our kitchen. By far her favorite chore is cleaning up - what four year old doesn’t like a spray bottle!?!

When Liefe is doing chores, I can guarantee that her little sister Haydee is not far behind. They are two very good reasons why we use cleaning products we know are safe. Since they love the spray bottle, it also helps if the products are economical too. Enter: Vinegar. White vinegar is known to kill bacteria, germs and mold, yet it’s harmless to children. (Note: vinegar is likely to be gluten-free as it is not generally made from wheat, but parents of children who are sensitive to gluten should certainly double check, just in case it’s ingested.) As a naturally occurring substance, vinegar is safe for the earth as well.

Equal parts water and vinegar in a clean spray bottle makes an effective cleaning solution for most areas of the home. Vinegar not only cleans, it disinfects and deodorizes as well. The vinegar odor disappears as soon as it dries. We’ve taken the cleaning adventure one step further by cutting old t-shirts into cleaning rags. They don’t unravel in the wash and, unlike paper towels, they can be used over and over again.

With supervision, children learn to be great housekeeping helpers. Haydee’s not quite there yet, but Liefe recently started to clean windows. We use this recipe to avoid streaky windows: 2 cups of water, 1/4 cup of white distilled vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon of liquid soap or detergent in a spray bottle. The liquid soap breaks down the wax left on the windows from a commercial window spray.

We get rid of fruit flies by setting out a small, shallow dish of undiluted white distilled vinegar. If the fruit flies are particularly stubborn (like at our house where we’ve placed the compost bin just outside the kitchen window so that we’ll actually bring things out to the compost), add a teaspoon of sugar and some dish soap. Children enjoy checking this to see how many fruit flies they’ve trapped.

At our house, children who can dress themselves, can help with the laundry. Vinegar comes in handy in the laundry room as well. Add ½ cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle in place of store bought fabric softener. Vinegar has the added benefit of breaking down laundry detergent more effectively. This has been great in our family as a few of us have sensitive skin.

It is important to make sure all cleaning supplies are well labeled and kept out of the reach of children. While it’s nice to imagine them cleaning without us, perhaps while we enjoy a nice cup of tea or a well-deserved rest, it’s probably not a great idea to leave them alone with even the vinegar-water solution. By using earth friendly cleaning solutions cleaning with our children, we model yet another way to keep our homes healthy. While Liefe and Haydee are spritzing away, they’re actually learning about personal responsibility and team work. Plus, many hands do make light work. And light work means more time to play...

Buzzing on the Air

Years ago, I majored in English and Theater. I quickly discovered that I liked being backstage infinitely more than being on stage.

For a friend’s thesis, I reluctantly accepted the role of an angel who descends from the ceiling to center stage while playing the flute. For my own thesis, I designed and built the costumes for an equally bizarre performance. From the safely and comfort of a seat in sixth row, I loved seeing my work on stage.

On some level, writing this column has become therapeutic — as it forces me to make the time to reflect on my parenting beliefs. It’s also brought about some name recognition. For example, when I paid by check at the a local hardware store last week, the clerk told me he had read my piece about carbon footprint and how he had shared it with a friend.

So far, the internal and external benefits of Me & The Bee have exceeded my expectations. What I enjoy most is that I do it from home, on my own time, with my own computer, when my children are asleep. I like words. I like being able to think about them before I use them. And I can write, re-write, and re-re-write as much as I like before I send off this column. The process suits me. Just as running a diaper service suits me. Much of the work I do for my business is behind the scenes. I do see my customers, only not that often. And I’ve been able to plan how I want the business to run. Almost two years into it, things are running smoothly and it feels comfortable.

I was pushed out of my comfort zone when I was invited to talk about my business on not one but two upcoming radio shows. The opportunity to promote my business should be welcomed with gratitude and open arms. Like my children, my business will grow in the right direction if given lots of positive attention. So, with that in mind, I took a deep breath and accepted both invitations. The more people who know about the business, the more they are likely to support it. I believe in what I do and why I do it so I imagine I could have an intelligent conversation about it with the hosts. Still, why am I this nervous? Because, unlike words on the computer screen, the spoken word cannot be backspaced or deleted until the right word comes along. Because it’s me who will be interviewed, not my business plan.

Enter two daughters, stage left. Hearing their delicate but knowing voices, I am reminded that for all the planning I do, they balance me by being unwittingly sincere. They say what they mean because they say what immediately comes to mind. I think I’ll follow their lead this time.

Jennifer Moore Temple is the owner of Buzzie Bee Diapers, a cloth diaper service and supply company in Rockland. She can be reached at 542-0505 or via the company Web site,