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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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The Buy Nothing *New* For the Holidays Challenge!

The Buy Nothing New For The Holidays Challenge!


A month ago, I was remarking via Facebook and Twitter that I was aghast by the number of “buy green for the holidays” press releases I’d already started receiving in my email box.  I mentioned the idea of a “buy nothing for the holidays” challenge, and it sparked a good deal of interest.  Crunchy mentioned to me that she had something in store, and soon released her “Buy Hand for the Holidays” challenge.  Awesome!

But… I was looking for something a little different, a little more.  I am working my butt off in my new business and unfortunately I don’t have time to make much in the way of gifts.  Yet – I don’t want to ruin Christmas for those who like to give or receive gifts, so I don’t want to stop the gift-giving completely.  Besides, a really thoughtful gift can mean a great deal to both giver and receiver.  I like the good that can bring to the world.

Alrighty then, here you have it – let’s challenge ourselves not to buy anything NEW.

What Does That Mean?

1.  You can make handmade gifts (and I highly encourage you to make them out of things you don’t have to buy new – collages, scarves and mittens made out of re-sold or traded yarn, napkins made out of old sheets or scrap pieces, canned sauces or dried herbs from the garden, old furniture refurbished to look like new, etc).

2.  You can buy from a thrift store, resale shop, or anywhere that sells or gives away used items (like a beautiful first-edition copy of your mom’s favorite book, an awesome game you used to play as kids, a vintage handbag, an irresistible shawl, a tricycle, almost anything you can think of giving comes in used versions!)

3.  You can give non-material things (like kisses and hugs, help painting the porch, setting up dad’s computer, babysitting for a parents’ night out, a coupon for a candlelight dinner for two at home, donating to a charity in the recipient’s name, or something else creative).

4.  You can give things from your home (like an old, meaningful piece of clothing, a book dear to your heart, a vase or picture frame you love but doesn’t fit in your home anymore, a relic from an old trip, etc).

5.  You can give things from your garden (like propagated perennial herbs or ornamental plant starts, saved seeds, flowers, holly berries, nuts, citrus fruits, veggie starts, etc).

Why Do It?

  1. Why not? Does anyone you know really need more stuff?
  2. It means more, because the gift is more unique (and because maybe you searched for something to give that meant something to you)
  3. It doesn’t support corporations whose values you don’t agree with
  4. It doesn’t put unnecessary stuff out into the world
  5. It lowers the carbon footprint of your gifts
  6. It saves money


Some Resources:

(*Note TisBest is a client of mine, but I just think they’re cool – I get nothing from telling you about them!)


Shout It Out, Spread The Word!


If you’d like to spread the word about this challenge, please do!  Pick a doodad below to put on your blog, or you can click on the images to download a larger size.


The Buy Nothing New For The Holidays Challenge! The Buy Nothing New For The Holidays Challenge!

Sign Up Now – Join Us!

I remember when I was a little kid nobody talked about holiday shopping until after Thanksgiving – well, not anymore – it’s not even Halloween yet but the decorations are up and the malls are packed! So before you succumb to the peer pressure, sign up for the challenge and stay true to your values this holiday season!

And please feel free to share resources and ideas when you sign up below!

Why Bother? Why Live This Way? What Motivates You?

Why are you looking for ways to change your lifestyle?

Why are you looking for ways to change your way of doing things?  What motivates you to do the things you do?  Why do you come to One Green Generation?  And what is your goal – is it to be frugal, to simplify, to become more self-reliant, to live healthier, to prepare for the future, or for some other reason? 

There is a great conversation happening over here – first I wanted to thank you all for being so civil and kind in your disagreements – and second, I want to applaud you for getting everything out in the open.  I love that we come from different places, have different perspectives, and live quite different lives – and yet we all have similar goals.  That’s why I created this blog in the first place!  I truly enjoy seeing it happening.

So… What Motivates You? Why Bother?  Why Live This Way?

Please everyone, share your thoughts – it’s fascinating to know, and I believe we can learn a lot from each other.

Do You Have To Change Your Life Entirely In Order To Stop Climate Change?

Climate change.  It’s big.  It’s scary.  It’s looming.  And we all just wish it would go away.  In fact, it’s easy to pretend it isn’t there, as we go about our lives the way we had before we knew.  Before we knew that each of our actions makes a difference to our planet, to our children and the way they will be able to live their lives.

Why don’t we take actions to change our way of living due to climate change? Is it because it isn’t personal, it seems far away, or it feels like we can’t make a difference on our own (so why bother trying)?  Is it because only crazy environmentalists reduce their carbon footprint low enough for it to really change anything?  Is it that we’re too busy, too poor, or too concerned about other things to spend the time and effort?  Is it because we think change doesn’t happen at an individual level, but rather, it’s up to the politicians to make laws that create change?

Have I found your reason yet?

I have reasons, too.  I’m not perfect, I falter.  Since I have had such a crazy schedule lately, I don’t have a lot of time to cook so I do eat frozen pizzas and take out lunches on occasion.  I do get in the car on a whim and drive to wherever we need to go sometimes.  And I definitely do turn on the air conditioning when I’m sweating and can’t think, saying to myself that I can’t save the world if my brain is frying from the heat!

But wait. It’s not all or nothing, right?  Any change in the positive direction is good change.

It’s ok to taake one step at a time.  And even to start by changing the things that will make you happier.  Just start by doing whatever you like to do, but do it in a way that emits less carbon.  For instance:

  • Do you like to cook? So spend the time to cook a meal with fresh, local ingredients that taste better!
  • Do you hate cleaning? Then throw out all the toxic stuff and just spray some vinegar and wipe.
  • Do you love walking? So walk the two miles to work, or to and from the store, or wherever else you need to go.
  • Can’t stand tap water? Instead of buying bottled water, find a water filter that attaches to your sink – it will likely taste better and be cheaper!

Do you see?  Any change is better than no change. Don’t worry about doing it all at once, don’t worry about changing everything you do.  Just change what will improve your quality of life.  Make your changes work for you – to make yourself happier and healthier.  Once you’re happier and healthier, the other changes might not look so hard – you never know!


This blog is full of small changes you can make which together all add up.  Make some of the changes, and then tell a friend about them, or even make changes together with your friend.  We can inspire our friends and families to change, which increases our own power to change the world and help stop climate change.


You don’t have to change your life entirely to stop climate change.  But you do have to start the change. Take a challenge here or at another blog, read a book about things you can do, whatever gets you going.  One step at a time.


Please Share Your Own Experiences!


For those of you who are far along in your lifestyle changes:  What worked for you? What got you to start changing the way you do things?


And for those who are thinking about it but haven’t done much to change the way you do things: What are your biggest barriers?  How can we help?


Blog Action Day 2009 will be the largest-ever social change event on the web. One day. One issue. Thousands of voices.  Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day on their own blogs, with the aim of sparking discussion around an issue of global importance.”  We have participated since 2007.

How To Grow Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potato Vines


They’re truly gorgeous plants, don’t you think?  I’m so happy we tried growing them!  And it’s incredibly easy.


1.  Buy Slips or Grow Them At Home:



2.  Plant The Slips.


The slips are basically mini plants.  Plant them after the last frost, in rich soil with some well-aged compost, 12-18″ apart (we planted them far closer, but some of our potatoes were pretty small).


3.  Do Virtually Nothing.


Water regularly, but otherwise they need almost zero weeding, and we didn’t have any bugs or disease.  You can stop watering them during the last 3 weeks before harvest, so the roots are dry when you pull them out, and so that they don’t develop any molds.


To those of us in the northwest US, note that they are related to morning glories, so we can be assured they’ll grow very well!


Ready to be Pulled


4.  Pull Them Up!


They’re basically on the same schedule as Irish potatoes:  when they start to yellow in the fall, it’s about time to pull them. You can also feel them beneath the soil and get a sense of how big they are.


Mom Shows Off Sweet Potato Plant


Seriously, that’s it.  No excuses now – if you like them, grow them!


Our Sweet Potato Loot


Any Questions or Tips?


Lessons I’ve Learned From My Grandfather: #1

I know several of you are anxious to hear answers to your questions.  I apologize – our schedules haven’t synced up easily over the last week, and I haven’t made it to see my grandfather.  Totally a bummer, as I miss him and I can’t wait to ask him your questions.  But until I can get together with him, I thought you might be interested in some things I have learned from him.


Courtesy Henry Ford Museum

When he was young, my grandfather would go down to the corner of the road with his brother, and they’d wait.  Sooner or later they’d hear it:  chuck, chuck, clunk, clunk, getting closer….  Ah, there it was – a car!!  They’d cheer and whoop about, it was such a novelty.  There were several trains that passed by during that time, but the car was the thing.

A couple of months ago a friend of mine took his son down to the corner and they waited, and waited.  Sooner or later they heard it:  chugga, chugga, clank, clank, getting closer….  Ah, there it was – a train!!  They cheered and smiled, it was such a novelty.  There were hundreds of cars that passed by during that time, but the train was the thing.


“It’s about time they put the trains back in,” my grandfather said.  “I can’t believe they tore out all that track in the first place!  What a shame.  You know the technology isn’t really any different than it was?  It’s just more expensive now.”

Our great grandfathers often had the right answers.  Sometimes it seems like we should have spent more time fixing things that needed to be fixed, rather than things that didn’t need fixing.


Is There A Sustainable Solution To Cat Litter?

Raisin Keeping Clean


It’s the bane of my sustainable existence.  I’ve written about this before and the problem hasn’t gone away!  Back when we lived in the country, the most environmentally sound way to deal with cat waste is to let our cat go outside to do her duty.  But that proved unsafe for her, so we kept her inside.


My next solution was to bring the outside in – I collected a large container of dirt from our yard, and Raisin used that as a litter box.  But it was impossible to clean between changings (so I had to change it every couple of days), it smelled strongly of dirt in the bathroom, and she kicked it all over the place because she didn’t like it.


Then we tried Yesterday’s News, which is made from recycled newsprint.  We hated it and our cat hated it.  They’re huge pellets that are ok for pee because they sort of absorb it, but the poop just sorta sticks to the pellets and – well, it was icky for cat and human.  She kicked it around everywhere, and it had to be changed every couple of days because it had zero deodorizing qualities and boy it stunk quickly.  Not only bad for humans, but cats hate that.  Changing the litter so frequently was costly and wasteful, but the worst part was:  that’s when she started using our house plants as an alternative.


Out of desperation at that point, I went to the internet and read everything there was to read (which is very, very little by the way – few people seem to talk about sustainability and cats – it’s sort of a hidden problem).  Then Matt and I went to the pet store and stared at all the packages.  There are wheat and corn products.  Matt felt that there was something unethical about growing food for cats to pee in while people starve.  And I had a problem with it because industrial farming has many prices – GMOs, pesticides, replacing ecosystems with monocultures, to name a few – so it felt like everything that was wrong with our food system was encapsulated in that one bag of cat litter.


So on that day, we decided to go with what seemed like the lesser of evils: natural clay, without any of the fragrances, crystals, and whatever else they put in almost all cat litter.  And we really had to search for one that had nothing in it!  After we bought it, I came home and read about clay mining.  It’s not good at all.  But all that research did for me was to make me feel more guilty every time I buy it, and to make us more determined to stretch it out as long as possible.  We had looked at all the alternatives, and none of them was good.  This one still seemed to be the least harmful in our minds.


And then a few months ago, I found a partial answer.  One Earth Cat Litter is made from corn husks and pine shavings, the by-products of the agriculture and forestry industries.  Here’s what the company says:


One Earth products are created with a commitment to preserving nature’s delicate balance. Only premium natural ingredients are used in order to ensure the optimum wellness of your pet. Absolutely no toxins, post-use pollutants or artificial flavors are used. Up to 3% of the retail sales of One Earth pet products goes towards World Wildlife Fund to help support conservation work throughout the world protecting wildlife and their habitats – including fisheries, forests, wetlands, and open lands. “  It’s made by 8-in-1, the makers of Nature’s Miracle, if any of you have used that.


So, it’s from a good company, using industrial byproducts.  Our cat really likes it, we like the smell (fresh pine smell from the shavings).  What’s wrong with it?  It’s not easy to find, and it’s expensive.  Our solution to that is to order it online (which has it’s own problems, I know), order several packages at a time, and then mix it half and half with the clay.


That’s it, unfortunately.  There is no perfect solution that I have found.  This is as close as I can get.  I just encountered a great article here that came to the same conclusion.


Ways To Stretch Your Cat Litter

There are three ways I know about to stretch your cat litter so that it lasts as long as possible:


  1. Use the least amount of litter that your cat will allow (no need to fill it to the top of the box – experiment to see how little you can get away with before your cat gets mad, while still making sure you have enough that if you scoop out the clumps for two weeks, you won’t end up with zero cat litter in the box)
  2. Make sure you scoop the litter carefully every day (get every one of those little clumps out, and be careful not to break them up)
  3. When the litter starts to get smelly, sprinkle baking soda over it and mix it in


Will you please share your experiences? Has anyone found better alternatives?  Or good tricks? I’m sure all the cat owners here would love to know! 


Last week I received an email from Theresa, asking what solution we’ve found to kitty waste.  Thanks, Theresa, for asking the question!


Good Morning!

I hope you all have had a lovely week.  I apologize – I hadn’t meant to take the week off from blogging.  Life caught up with me this week.  Many of you know about a year ago I started a new business – the worst time in a very long time to start a business!  So as you might expect, there has been some struggle to get it off the ground.  Well, we had an amazing week.  In addition to our bread and butter clients, we will sign a large client on Monday, and it looks like more large clients may be signing soon.  Hooray!

Apologies to you all, though.  I need to find a better way to incorporate writing into my daily routine even when I’m busy.  I welcome any suggestions you all have about ways to do that effectively!


We have some good friends in town this weekend. I’m working on some fabulous posts as well as a new challenge (!).  But it may be tomorrow or it may not be until Monday before you hear from me again.  See you soon!