Friday, December 15, 2006

Green, greener, and greenist

As a newbie to the land of green advocates, I sometimes feel like a pledge in a highly orchestrated social entity. I chose this path for myself; I wasn't converted in that Tony Robbins kind of way. Rather, I came to this in my own way and in my own time. Yet, I'm sure those I chat with around the water cooler sometimes just want to discuss the recent episode of Top Chef. They probably think I'm a bit of an evangelist. But I have to say that I'm pretty "light green" in the scale of greenness. Apparently that is the way one's commitment and knowledge is described by those who have been designated as the arbiters of the gradations of green.

My ability to become light green has been a result of my diligence in sifting through the information that is out there. And sifting is exactly what it feels like. There's lots of it but it's very fragmented and some of it is good. Most of it is pretty difficult to find valuable. Embracing the literature/information in this category takes a real commitment of time and perseverance. I caution you so that you are not inclined to give up once you type "green" into your Google search engine.

I've created a category in my blog of what I call media resources. It is here that I've listed, and will expand over time, the the best of blogs, information-rich web sites, online/offline magazines, and general background materials that can provide with enough green tint of varying degrees to help you on your way.


Ideal Bite Themed and quite easily digestible. It's a well laid out e-newsletter. Light green and easy reading.

Eco Fabulous is a blog from Zem Joquin. You may recognize her from House and Garden as she's been recently named their eco columnist. Zem's got great style sense and I love her recommendations of chic and interesting green products. Light green and easy to identify with.

Grist is for the medium green who really want to get a greater sense of what it means to advocate for green lifestyles. It can get a bit too green at times for the lighter tinted of us, but it does remind you of what it means to evolve your commitment.


Green Home Guide is a must while in the throws of renovating. It's an online source for all those questions that will come up as you tackle your decisions. My favorite discussion, thus far, was on how to choose the right toilet. It's written for light and medium greenies. I promise, it won't intimidate. It just isn't as complete as it needs to be.....but that's to be expected in these early days.

Green Light magazine is the Real Simple of the category. Its articles are short and pithy and don't require much thinking. Overly simplistic for those who prefer a Vanity Fair read. It's a light green read of the category and worth checking out online, but probably not for a subscription.

Tear Sheeting:

I have several friends with publishing backgrounds and we all seem to flip through magazines with each other in mind. We rip out articles, ads, ideas and share with each other. I have stacks and stacks of tear sheets to file, put in the mail to the above mentioned friends, etc. The best places to tear sheet are:


House and Garden
Real Simple
Fine Homebuilding
Natural Home

All of these have their own web sites as well.


The Not So Big House series by Sarah Susanka
Good Green Home titles from Jennifer Roberts
Natural Remodeling by Carol Venolia
The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture by Alanna Stang, Christopher Hawthorne

Monday, December 11, 2006


I realized that this was going to be a different kind of project when my neighbor asked me if I was going to have a debris box in front of the house. He wanted to take advantage of it for some disposal of his own. I didn't know the answer but said I would ask Cemil, my contractor.

And that's when I realized that this was a "green" project and that didn't involve a debris box. Of course, it makes sense when you think about it. How can you feel good about creating a sustainable and healthy environment when you are adding to a community's landfill. "Think different" in green means to recognize that out of sight is not out of mind. To be eco-aware means to think about everything that happens to the environment even when it isn't in your backyard.

Unfortunately it takes some ingenuity to recycle with today's resources. Less difficult now than a decade ago, but not what we need in order to assist sustainable practices. We need to build a greater infrastructure and channel to recycle unused items. I hesitate to use the word trash, because in the renovation person's trash is another person's find. As my Texas friend likes to label her finds, treasures.

Luckily Cemil is quite practiced at responsible disposal. He takes care in removing materials so that they can be used again. And we are also lucky to have the resources from being co-located to land of early adopters, Marin. For example, there is a very sophisticated recycling program, Marin Resource Recovery Center and from the sounds of it seems to be an efficient system of machines and manpower to divide and categorize any waste material immediately. As Cemil describes it to me, I envision a scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

But after the baseboards, drywall, flooring were all removed to the resource center, we still had to dispose of the oven, refrigerator, kitchen cabinets, lavs, and lights. All worked, but they just weren't up to the standards and aesthetics of the new design. Cemil suggested Craig's List I knew of its charm as I've posted there for employment opportunities and occasionally would check it out for specific pieces of mid-century modern furniture. A friend of mine who owns a fabulous home store in San Francisco, Ma Maison, swears by it as a virtual flea market for pieces that she uses in her store for display purposes.

I just never thought that used kitchen cabinets would be something that dozens of people would be searching for on a Monday. Sure enough, they are..... apparently. Cemil reported back that within 1 hour of posting the cabinets, he got 30 e-mails. And his first phone call was to an older woman who lives within 20 miles and she helps non-profits in her retirement, it seems. So I feel good that these cabinets will go to a some worthwhile endeavor and will have a fitting second life, so to speak.

I was aware of how to recycle computer parts and old electronics. Since that was the theme of the day, I dropped off some inoperable laptops and printers that I'd been storing in the garage on my way to see the job site. Again, I used a Marin location, Marin Computer Resource Center, that takes any electronics that you can carry in and they break them down for parts in a kind of Mad Max way and fix up systems for non profits and the like. ( In San Francisco, check out

I'm now fully initiated into this new informal channel of "re-users" and I might even be tempted to become one myself. Terri, the treasure hunter, would be delighted. Of course technology has made it possible for treasure hunters and "distributors" to be put together in a wider area. Of course, it needs to be easier. I'm advantaged by my sustainable sherpa that I have in Cemil. Without him, I would have been at some considerable loss as to where to go. But imagine, if you will, a future where distribution points are clearly available in the most convenient locations: parking lots of large retail giants, for example. And knowing that the products will be reclaimed and reused by such organizations as Habitat for Humanity, big users of gently used cast-offs from home renovations.

Another northern California resource is here

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Demolition, dust and decisions

I pride myself on being extremely organized. I began this project with research, an extensive library of books, magazine articles and a tabbed filing system of all my ideas. So when demolition day rolled around, I felt like I was ready for anything.

Well, I'm proof that, in spite of extensive preparation, you can't possibly anticipate everything that you uncover when you start removing walls and molding. While I figured there would be some dry rot, I never thought I'd have termites in an interior hall closet. It probably means that we have termites in the foundation. And how do you deal with that in a green and natural way? It doesn't mean that you tent the house and fumigate it with chemicals as is so often done. My contractor suggests that we bring in a natural termite expert who can guide us on how to lure away the termites from chomping on my delicious birch framing wood to something else-- equally compelling we hope. A sort of "pied piper of termites" approach.

My reading on the subject:

A bit about my contractor. He's actually my partner in this expedition. I've described Cemil ( to friends as a cross between yoga teacher and contractor. He's the perfect blend of expertise, green knowledge, practical thinker and artisan. Cemil is really the Renaissance green builder. We share ideas, we muse over what could be, and together we find innovative solutions. In short, we are completely in sync. I'm so lucky to have him for my first foray into this new green world of renovation because it means that I'll learn and contribute in ways that few would have the time or patience to allow.

Back to my house carcass. That's what I have now. No plumbing, no cabinets, no fixtures, and gaping holes where closets and the utility room used to be.

What has become certain is that the washer and dryer get relegated to the garage and become stackables: saves space and energy. I'm a family of 2, with "several" cats and don't have massive loads of wash going every hour. I had a tankless water heater ( installed earlier this year because my large tank water heater was always running out of water when we had more than 2 people shower. I love this new water heater and am now glad for the space that it saves. I also got a rebate. And it means that my washer/dryer area can be expanded in the garage to the space that the former water heater took up.

I am excited. By reorienting that room, I can now have a butler's pantry of sort and include a small wine refrigerator and an extra sink....... and have enough room for all my baking utensils. I've learned that to be green also means to live comfortably in small spaces. While I'm not suggesting we live according to the U.N.'s recommendation of "usable space per person" calculation, I am acutely conscious of how Americans have come to think bigger is better. Well, unless you live in Texas, there's no reason for enormous mansions that take up land, consume energy and are a testament to waste rather than taste. Cemil and I both take extra delight in discovering a use (and it doesn't always have to be completely practical) for every bit of space.

I am thrilled with the emergence of these new decisions. And while it means that I have to add a few new tabs to the "notebook," it also means that this truly is an adventure. So surprises are to be embraced, not feared.

End note: While removing one of the window sills in the bedroom, we found a 1993 penny, the year the house was built. I plan to add a 2007 penny to it and return them to their resting place. I wonder what materials and technology the 2020 remodel will entail? I hope they realize that that was the year that the climate catastrophe was reversed and this generation made sure that the next one would inherit a sustainable and healthy environment.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

A convenient intersection of circumstances

Along the way, you begin to notice how things just seem to happen in ways to make your decisions self-evident. More religious types might cite this as the hand of God, I prefer to think that I am more in-tune with my intuition and apply it to what is happening around me.

The intersection began on a flight back from New York where I had a series of political conversations about what issues could bring a divided nation together. It was a week of intense discussion on just what was it that the country could agree on as key to our survival as a nation. And since terrorism is still an issue of division, no obvious answer seem to emerge. I turned the page in the New York Times and saw an ad from a significant Christian evangelical group that spoke to the need for Christians to take a pledge of stewardship to protect the planet and as such, they would be honoring our creator. It went on to explain that to destroy the earth was to dishonor the God and the teachings of Christ. Suddenly I felt a kinship with this group of people as I had never before. See

My sister-in-law Suzanne, a thought leader in our family, asked me to attend and support her efforts to bring global warming issues to the attention of the Chicago area garden clubs. This influential group of women choose an issue each year to focus on for their annual meeting. Given their connection to their beautiful gardens, it seemed a natural to understand how the nature in their own backyards was going to be affected by climate change. I was never prouder of my gender and of Suzanne then when I got to see her introduce an august panel of experts from around the world. The speakers received rapt attention from a group of 400 women who were there for the education. This was not idle exercise for them. I came to appreciate the power that these women had in changing opinion when I talked with them at the end of the event.

I felt compelled to analyze my own carbon footprint afer seeing Al Gore's movie, An Inconvient Truth ( I realized that my practices needed to change. Recycling my waste into blue and green cans was not enough. I needed to make more informed decisions and contribute to restoring this planet to health in a greater way. I took stock of my daily practices, and found that I could incorporate small but important changes in my life. They included:

  • Buy a new hybrid? I decided to keep a used car out of the landfill. But I bought a "21st century indulgence" from Terrapass ( I drive less now and I'm somewhat relieved by the fact that my "contribution" to alternative energy investments through this carbon offset fund is a good thing. And the next new vehicle I buy WILL be a hybrid or maybe even an electric car.
  • Change my cleaning products. I had always prided myself on being economical in my decisions on detergent and household cleaners. I didn't stop to think of what I was introducing into the sewage and into my surroundings with the artificial "pine" scent that was masking some noxious an unnecessary chemical.
  • Buy less "stuff." Oh, I admit that I am a commited consumer. I love the aesthetics of all kinds of products. But I consume too much and that means lots of packaging and more to recycle. I have a childhood friend who has been an ecologist forever, before all this heightened awareness, as she's always believed in recycling waste. She's beautifully renovated at least 6 homes with the cast-offs of other people. I admire her.
  • Use less. I've always had lots of canvas bags that I picked up at trade shows and shoved in the back of the closet. Well, now I use them instead of taking new paper bags every time I buy groceries. It's a small thing, but I love the conversations I've had as I pull out my bags and refuse the use of the store-provided ones.

And the final intersection of events was a decision to renovate my weekend home in Sonoma. We had been looking for a new place for many years and just never found a place that we liked as much as what we had. The only reason I wanted to move was to have a more updated and efficient home. Because I like to cook and entertain, that was the primary driver for a wholesale refab. So as I cast about for contractors and finishes, it felt increasingly "right" that I should explore what I could do that was "green." And by that I mean, healthy for the planet and healthy for me in the products I choose and how I recycle and reuse.

As future posts will detail, the decisions are not always easy to make and my hope is to share my learnings with you.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

The beginning of the rest of my life

A diary is a very useful way to remember the details of a period in one's life. That's what I intend to do here. My work life, to date, has been about supporting the use of information to entertain, educate and enlighten.....mostly as a magazine and web publishing executive. Then the election of 2000 happened and it underscored for me just how much "information" was being exploited to sway public opinion. And in my opinion, not for the good.

The last 2 years have been about my discovery and transition to use information to promote an understanding about the choices we make and how they affect our world. Much of the progress made in the last few decades to create an educated populace with a bigger world view and understanding seemed to be in regression. Sadly, I've observed that our tolerance for diversity of opinion and people who are "not like us" seems to have been buried along with the bodies in the world trade center. It clearly isn't the world that I'd hope it would be when I graduated from an Alabama high school in 1976.

I've always appreciated the importance of your actions and consequences. I have been taught to believe that it's not about what happens to you, it's about what you cause to happen. With that philosophy emblazoned on my tee shirt, I decided to look around at the world that I wanted to live in and ponder what it was that my generation would leave for the next one. My decision: to make the next period of my life be about creating a better place to live and work.

You begin to ask yourself a few questions as you take this positioning for your new life adventure.

1- What is work about in the 21st century? How does innovation happen and what are the opportunities for people like me?

2- How can my work be an example to others? How can I inspire great work around me and realize economic fulfillment?

3- What's it like to live in this world that we've created? Is it a healthy place?

4- How can you maintain a connection to others in a world that is moving at the "speed of information" and is truly global?

4- How will my work and life affect others.... good and bad?

My answers took several years to emerge. My clarity of thought is still emerging. But I've got some very clear objectives that I seek to accomplish. In my next entry, you will read about how I came to decide on a green renovation project as my entry into a new life adventure.