Category Archives: Simple Living

Topics include reducing waste, organization, recycling, focusing on the simple things, happiness, balance, stress reduction and having more time to do the things you like to do.

18 May

DIY Kinetic Garden Sculpture

1aThis weekend my husband and I finally made a sculpture for the focal point of our hill garden.  When we built the wall back in 2004 I had imagined a sculpture in this location, and even installed a concrete tube footing with rebar.  I guess I just never found something I wanted to spend a lot of money on, and there were always things that seemed like a higher priority (plants, ha!) but since my garden is going to be on two garden tours soon I figured I better get something in that spot that was mildly interesting.

We had a few criteria… 1) not too expensive (we ended up spending about $40).  2) not to hard or time consuming to make (It took us a couple hours).  3)it had to be at least 6′ tall to be in scale with the garden (it ended up being 10′tall).

Materials:   We started by going to the hardware store and buying 9 plastic pipes (10′ long pvc schedule 40), some huge landscape nails, 9 solar lights, a metal floor flange with a 4″ extension, and 2 cans of spray paint formulated for painting plastic.  We also used some plywood and a landscape nail we already had.

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We laid out the pipe on a tarp on the driveway, across two pipes to keep them slightly elevated.

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Next we sanded off the black bar codes and writing, then cleaned the pipes with a little soap and water.

We spray painted the pipes with two different color reds.  They were pretty close in color, one was more orange than the other.  I tried to do a fade from one to the other, but the paint colors are just so close you really can’t tell.

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We put 3 pieces of plywood together for a thick base, painted it black, then attached the floor flange in the center over a 1/2″ hole we drilled.

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Then we arranged the 9 nails facing up, in a circle around that.

The idea is that the metal floor flange would sit down over the piece of rebar that was sticking out of the concrete foundation in the area I wanted the sculpture.  You could also just have a long piece of rebar pounded far into the ground, it’s the same idea, but having it already in concrete was a bonus. The metal flange fit right over the rebar, and even though they are not technically attached, the rebar/flange combo keeps the sculpture from tilting.

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After we painted the pvc pipes, we gave them a quick second coat.

We put the plywood base into place by just setting it on the existing single piece of rebar coming out of the ground, and leveling the plywood base with rocks.

When the pvc pipes were dry, we put some 99 cent solar lights on the top of each pipe.  The solar lights just needed a little duct tape around the base and they fit perfectly snugly within the pvc pipe (we did check the fit of the solar lights with the pipe at the hardware store to make sure we got ones that fit together with little problem or work.

Putting up the sculpture was then just a matter of literally setting the pipes over the ends of the nails.

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The pipes bend naturally, and splay out.  When the wind blows they wave a bit, and move.  It is very organic looking.

I was very happy with the result, it is definitely eye catching, and I love the way it moves in the wind.  The solar lights at night are a little bonus.  I think we might go back at some point in the future and do another shorter ring around this one, maybe in yellow!

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11 May

Time Warp Kitchen 1970s Style

My kitchen is original to our 1972 house. It is like walking into a time warp…When I first saw it I thought the same thing you see all those people say on “House Hunters” or shows like that…I thought “oh, that ugly old kitchen needs to be updated”.

Live Simply - love what you have, save resources by not replacing something just because it is outdated in style

Live Simply – love what you have, save resources by not replacing something just because it is outdated in style

I’ve lived in this house now for 14 years…guess what…the kitchen still hasn’t been updated. So did it actually “need” to be updated? or did it just “look” like it needed to be updated? Meaning, was is physically worn out? Or were the colors and style of the décor just not ‘the latest trend’?

Well, it turns out, the kitchen didn’t ‘need’ updating. The counters still work for food prep, the oven works, the stove works, those old dark cabinets are extremely sturdy and hold a lot of dishes and cooking equipment. Basically, everything works, and although the layout could be improved to take better advantage of the space, the current arrangement works fine…actually it works really well.

So as time went by, and I hadn’t done any updating, I began appreciating the kitchen I had. When something actually breaks, we fix it, or replace it…like the dishwasher and fridge when they broke down (replaced with an energy star models…and some appliances definitely should be replaced with newer more efficient ones even if they aren’t completely broken, like refrigerators, they are huge energy hogs…I’ll write another post about that sometime).

replacing old appliances with energy star models does make good environmental sense, especially refrigerators.

replacing old appliances with energy star models does make good environmental sense, especially refrigerators.

After getting started with our Sprawlstainable blog, and becoming more appreciative of the aesthetic of sustainability, I began to see my old kitchen as a symbol of anti-consumerism. As a designer by trade, I have the kitchen ‘redesign’ all worked out in AutoCAD…I’ve had it laid out and designed for years. Would it look awesome? Yes, I’m sure it would.

Right now I appreciate the kitchen I have. I appreciate the energy and materials that went into my kitchen. I wonder sometimes, when people discuss things like counter tops and I hear them say that such and such material is great because it lasts ‘forever’. I think, so do they thing that it will stay “in style” forever? because I’m sure it won’t. It really bugs me to see very durable materials taken out of a home just to be replaced with something that looks more ‘modern’.

My countertops are Formica from 1972. They are great, even if they are harvest gold. They are easy to clean and hard to stain. They are 43 yeas old and don’t have any stains…they are a little uneven, and the trim in one place is coming off a bit, but, all in all, I would have to say that these countertops were made VERY well. I wonder if laminate counter tops are made anywhere near that good anymore? I really hate when I do have to replace something that lasted 43 years and the replacement doesn’t even last 5.

Many great parties and meals have been hosted in this kitchen!  And still are!

Many great parties and meals have been hosted in this kitchen! And still are!

We live in such a throw away society, everything from paper plates to cabinets, to people. Keeping what you have and taking care of it is a value many people have lost. I for one think that caring for and appreciating what you have is part of the ‘conscious and simple’ life. It is respectful to future generations and past generations.

So back to my ugly kitchen. Well, I don’t think it is so ugly any more…I think it is quite beautiful, and very reflective of my inner values, even if it doesn’t reflect my design style.

05 Apr

The REDUCE “of reduce, reuse, recycle”

One often overlooked way to live in a more eco friendly fashion is to reduce the amount of goods that you use. This isn’t always as simple as it seems, and consumerism can be a hard habit to break. We are constantly bombarded with messages telling us to ‘buy this new product’ or ‘pay more for this eco friendly thing’ Etc. but I wanted to remind you that one of the most efficient ways to be ‘green’ is not to exclusively focus on ‘recycle’ but to not buy it or use it in the first place.

“Reduce” has the largest impact of the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle). In my life this means that I have tried to limit our consumer spending.

At the time of year when I work on our personal accounting, I enter several months of credit card statements into the computer at once, and categorize every purchase. Now I don’t have every single item categorized, but I categorize the stores…Whole Foods = groceries, Walgreens = sundries and small household items, Mobil = gas, Etc.

A few years ago I noticed there were some stores coming up more often than I would have guessed…mostly home stores and craft stores. These are places I primarily buy things for decorating, or for fun. I decided that I could save money, and help reduce the unnecessary things that I buy by just not going to those stores any more, at all. Why do I need to go to “insert home store here”? What do they have there that I just can’t live without? (OK, so I needed, yes actually needed and not just wanted, a new knife and new frying pan, and I did go to that store to get it, but I didn’t buy any other things.)

Another trick I started using when I was at a store like Target where I buy a combination of things I want (impulse purchases, pretty things, things that just satisfy some consumer emotion) and things I need is to walk away from my cart (actually I always walk away from my cart and tend to lose it, it is a bad habit of mine, I don’t like pushing carts around…but I digress). So when I find myself away from my cart, I’ll ask myself…what is in my cart right now? I figure, if I can’t remember what I put in my cart only a few minutes after I put it in there, than I probably don’t need it.

Oh, and I always shop from a list now….this saves money, it saves time, and it keeps the landfill clear of the eventual consumer trash I would have bought. Win win.

21 Mar

Our Transition to buying all organic food.

If you are reading a blog about living more sustainably, I’m going to guess that I don’t need to preface this post with an introduction about all the reasons WHY we started thinking about buying more organic food…this is about how we made that transition and encourage you to do the same.

The first items we started buying organic were the ones that, at the time, seemed most important…a commitment to buying organic milk was our first step. It is difficult to swallow the price tag on organic milk when it is sitting right next to non organic milk (and we did this quite a number of years ago, so the impact was even more apparent since the organic milk demand was low and prices very high) But we chose to buy it because we really thought it was a health risk to drink milk with antibiotics and hormones.

So my tip for the first step, pick one thing…like milk…and ALWAYS buy it organic. Just don’t even ever look at the price of the non organic alternative, just act like it isn’t even there. Picking one item helps concentrate your “vote with your dollar” effect because it consistently helps that item have a higher demand. I know it costs more, I’ll get to that in a minute…but for now I’ll say, just do it.

Second, we started buying more organic food…here and there. But the price was an issue every time, so every time I went shopping I had this stress associated with buying almost everything if there was an organic option. I hated this stress.

So I came up with the idea to just start with the alphabet…the letter A. anything that started with A I bought organic…apples, apple sauce, etc. And that quickly spread to about half way through the alphabet. It made it so much less stressful to make each individual choice, but the overall cost was still an issue.

So then there was this turning point…I won’t go into details, but I was privy to a conversation between one of the most well known natural food advocates, and some other people who are deeply involved at a corporate level with one of the most un-natural large agricultural businesses. A lot was said, and they disagreed on everything…except for one thing that both sides agreed on….and it hit me hard and reverberated through my consciousness….They agreed that the large agro businesses would respond to market demand!!!!!

This made me realize, there is no need to fight them on paper, or in the voting booth, or through legislation, fundamentally speaking, if absolutely everyone believed that they will respond to the market demand, then we as consumers hold all the cards. This isn’t a new idea, and I’m sure there is a lot of discussion about this topic, but I decided right there and then, even before leaving that room, that I would buy EVERYTHING organic (as best as I could…I am human) I would vote with my dollar!

So that solved a couple of problems…no more stress over every single item to buy…I realized that the organic food wasn’t “too” expensive, it is the cost that food is supposed to be (this is where I could go off for another two pages quoting the evidence for artificially low prices on non organic food, but ‘ll spare you).

But yes, it is more costly…so what did I do? Since we were in 100% in terms of commitment, it helped because we knew we wouldn’t compromise on the quality of our food, so we found other things to give up that weren’t as important as the food we put onto our bodies…things like hair cuts, clothes, entertainment. We basically increased our food budget by about 10% by cutting back in other areas.

Then we looked at the other side of the equation, how to buy all organic food for only 10% more than our regular food budget. (as a disclosure, our “regular” food budget was not exceptionally tight, but not on the high end either, we cooked more than half the time from scratch, ate out at fast food about 1x or 2x per week and out for dinner about 2x or 3x a month. One thing was easy…most food at restaurants is not organic, fast food definitely isn’t. So we gave up all fast food, and very close to all other dining out, only maybe 1x per month (And if we do dine out we try to choose local family owned restaurants or natural food cafe’s) Oh, and our Starbucks’s visits went from about 1x per week to 1x every other month or less (and when we do go for business meetings, we stick to a cheap house brew).

So now we aren’t eating out…that saves money, but means we eat more at home. How do you cut back on that? After looking at the options, we realized that the most expensive food is convenience foods (we didn’t have to think about it much to come to that conclusion, it is so obvious) So our grocery list switched from what used to be about 35% convenience items (frozen pizza, frozen toasted ravioli, crackers, chips, mac and cheese…etc) to about 95% whole foods…fruit, vegetables, meat, grain. I realized I was cooking and eating a lot more like past generations…chicken soup to get the most out of a whole chicken (no more boneless skinless, tasteless chicken breasts because they cost more per pound), roasted vegetables, bacon and eggs for breakfast instead of cereal, etc. Basically we did most of the typical tips and tricks you see when researching feeding a family on a budget. We bought our grass fed beef all at once, half a cow…and it took about a year for my husband and I to get through it all and we bought whole pasture raised chickens and pork when it was on sale. One thing we do “splurge” on is natural bacon…I love bacon and just bite the bullet, even when it isn’t on sale. (update – we just ordered half a pasture raised pig, so bacon is coming!)

I hear people say “oh I can’t afford it”…and I realize this is absolutely true for some people…some day I may be one of those people…it is a hard place to be in and I hope that If you are one of those people you can cope and get back on your feet soon…I’m sending you some positive energy as I type this, but when I hear that same comment from someone who just came back from a vacation to Florida (I’ve never been) or who is answering their smart phone (I don’t have one), or driving around in a new or newer car (my car is 17 years old and I paid it off years ago) or all three, well that kind of steams me….that isn’t about the cost, that is about choices. With the choices we have made, I estimate we are spending about $600 more per year for organic food for our family of 2 plus being more creative/frugal in the kitchen, how much does your Starbucks and McD cost per year?

We have given things up to eat this way because, voting with your dollar takes commitment, and everyone working together. We are doing it for the very same people who say they can’t afford it when they just choose not to, and for those who actually can’t afford it, because as demand for natural foods, real natural foods, not just green washed pseudo natural foods, rises, the prices will come down, the quality will go up, the benefits to our health and environment will become exponential…That’s why we buy organic food and don’t take expensive vacations, why my kitchen has never been made over and why I encourage you to join us with the same commitment. It has been such a positive change in our lives in ways I didn’t expect…cooking together, feeling better, becoming a better person…who knew?

And last but not least…guess what not eating fast food, not eating Dorito’s, not eating Cheese It’s, not drinking soda or other convenience food has done as a by product? I’ve lost a lot of weight…I never went on a diet to lose weight, I just started eating actual good food, like fruit and vegetables as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted…really never thinking about weight loss in any way…the weight just started coming off. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t lived it…I would have sworn that I didn’t eat “that” much junk food, much less than I saw other people eating, but….the proof is in the apples I guess you can say…because after going organic only…with no additional exercise (and before I made some other dietary changes for health reasons) I lost 25lbs in one year.

So if you made it to the bottom of this long post and you have wiggle room in your budget by making some sacrifice, even if it is a little tight like ours, I hope you will consider just jumping in with both feet and going ALL organic. In so many ways it is a lot easier than just doing it halfway, and it is healthy, and good for the environment, and changes the tide of consumer demand towards better agricultural practices, tastes better (in my opinion) and is the right and ethical and responsible thing to do.

Update – I did our accounting one year after switching to all organic food and we spent LESS on food than we did before going all organic!!!!!!!!!!!!! How? We ate out less and cooked from scratch more, bought more in bulk and ate a lot less junk!!!!

11 Mar

Sprawlstainable – New and Improved for 2014

Spawlstainable began as a two year chronicle of Dan and Mary Deweese’s journey to create a more sustainable lifestyle while living in the suburbs. Their 2 year goal was to reduce their energy consumption by 50% (which they did) and to grow 10% of their own food (which they didn’t). After the two years was up they had many followers, and had enjoyed their blogging experience, but new things came along and Sprawlstainable went dormant, without updates, for another couple of years. Now, Mary is resurrecting Sprawlstainable with new categories, a new mobile compatible word press template, and most importantly, a new commitment to adding content, because, even though the blogging had taken a hiatus, the Deweese’s journey towards sustainable living did not, and there is a lot to write about and catch up on…..so welcome to the New and Improved Sprawlstainable Blog….Thanks for Visiting!

Mary Deweese

22 Aug

Recycled Cargo Pants Messenger Bag

Recycled Cargo Pant Messenger Bag Purse

Well this is a small departure from what you are used to seeing on Sprawlstainable, but recently I was inspired to get into a creative crafty mode and came up with this project for making a messenger bag purse out of recycled/reused cargo pants I bought at my local Goodwill, some fabric from an upholstery sample book, and a small piece of new fabric.

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02 Jun

Serviceberry Jam (and Strawberry Jam)

These are the homemade strawberry preserves made with sugar

Today I had the house to myself and I decided to embark on my first Jamalama (Jam making and canning) I’m doing Serviceberry and Strawberry. Of course the first thing you must do when jammin’ is turn the music mix up real loud…I hope you like Jammin’ too…we’re jammin’ he he :)

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31 May

Two Month Garden Time Lapse

The Backyard Layout is very Formal...which ties together the whole design.

Here is a time lapse video of my hill garden from April 1st 2011 to may 31st 2011.  It begins with the forsythia in bloom in the pot, and some bulbs.  Soon the serviceberry trees bloom white and everything starts turning green.  The Siberian Iris in the pot are growing, and when they begin blooming the bearded Iris do too way to the left of the image.  The hill garden blooms in very light pink from the primrose and is also very purple from the catmint (although the video doesn’t show it well)  Towards the end you start seeing the serviceberries turning red and our ladder is out so we can pick them.  There was a lot of rainy days during this two months…and we did some entertaining towards the end of the video.

12 May

Buying a House? – Evaluate the Yard for Safety and Potential Liabilities

backyard

By Mary Francois Deweese – Registered Landscape Architect and Sustainable Site Consultant, Principal of Acorn Landscapes, St. Louis, MO.

When  buying a new home, make sure your home inspector looks at the entire yard and reports on possible problems.  Some landscape related problems can be very costly to repair.  It is important for new homeowners to research the types of plants they have in their yard, especially those that are close to the house, and be aware of those that may pose a problem years down the road from weak wood or root invasion.  The following are some tips for inspecting a home landscape. Read More

16 Apr

We’re Part of the Problem… Now What?

in the middle of the sprawl

Not too long ago I woke up and realized…I’m living as part of the problem: the middle of suburbia…in an outdated, energy hog of a house, a big grassy yard, and a car I drive every time I need anything because I’m smack dab in the middle of residential sprawl.

What can I do about the environmental problems?  Should I move to the city and live in a dense urban core?  Should I move to the country and live off the land and off the grid?  Certainly being in the suburbs is the worst place to be…everybody says so. “Sprawl”: it is a bad word, and I am part of it.  I grew up in a cul-de-sac neighborhood…and now I live in one. Read More

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