Paint giveaway, hydrogen-cell minivans and high-fructose corn syrup – Friday wrap-up

This week has been packed with interesting news — and it’s especially appropriate for homeowners and parents.

New car option on the way?

When I posted last week about the Chevy Volt, someone commented that they were waiting for a fuel-efficient vehicle that can accommodate a larger family. Apparently, Chrysler *might* be thinking about doing just that with a possible hybrid or hydrogen fuel-cell minivan option.

Contest for a home facelift — the green way

“Special-materials industry giant Rohm and Haas” has created the Paint Quality Institute, which is sponsoring a contest to win one of eight exterior home paint jobs. Apparently, Rohm and Haas has a whole line of low-VOC paints — and they’ll include a spruce tree for the winners, who will be announced on Arbor Day, April 24.

The contest runs until Feb. 1, 2009. You must submit a photo of your home and an essay of 200 words or less that explains why your home needs a spruce-up. (Thanks to the Lean Green Family Blog for posting about this event.)

The dirt on high-fructose corn syrup

Has anyone else gagged on those syrupy-sweet ads about why high-fructose corn syrup is no big deal? You know, because your friends will mock you if you criticize it …

If you’d like a quick rundown of some sources that will explain why we should be cautious about HFCS (beyond the fact that it has infiltrated so many of our foods, and that much refined sugar isn’t so good for our bodies), check out this post from My Green Side.  For more information about HFCS and diabetes, check out this article.


What we get from living near a grocery store

Sometimes I take for granted the immense convenience that comes from living in our highly walkable neighborhood. We are about two blocks from the door of one grocery store, and another block or so from another. This morning I was thinking about the many ways this location benefits our lives:

  1. No driving. Occasionally we do park in the grocery-store lot, when I am utterly exhausted and need to stop on our way home from somewhere or on our (late) way out to an event. But typically, I walk to the store. While it’s very close, I know from my mileage from the gas station on the corner that the drive is actually .2 miles. Not driving twice a week saves me around 20.8 miles a year, or a gallon of gas.
  2. Togetherness. Sometimes, Little Cheap goes with me to the store. It’s so much more pleasant to skip over together, holding hands, than to drive.
  3. Convenience. We can run over to the store easily on the occasions when we must have a doughnut or a pint of ice cream. In these summer days, when we have a freezer full of meat and a fridge full of CSA vegetables, I don’t have to plan too much; I can stop in when needed for a gallon of milk or some cheese to accent dinner.
  4. Delivery replacement. We don’t always, but should more often, take advantage of the store for conveniences like refrigerated, fresh-made pizza. It tastes better than most of our delivery options, still comes in recyclable packaging, and costs less than $10 for more food than our family ought to eat.
  5. Coffee tawk. The store has a Starbucks location inside (not to mention another a block away in the neighboring store, and another freestanding location one block further). If I need a pick-me-up, I can walk over with my reusable cup in hand.
  6. Community. Because we live where the store is, we relatively often run into someone we know. I have one acquaintance I see pretty much solely at the grocery store.
  7. Supporting the community. On Saturdays, a group of ladies parks outside our store selling cinnamon roles, sweet potato pie and other goodies to pay for their program feeding the homeless. If I parked in the lot, I wouldn’t have to walk past their table. As it is,I do, and sometimes I succumb; sometimes they razz me or my husband a little bit and we joke about why we AREN’T buying on that day.
  8. Exercise. It’s not much, but it is a walk. And on the days when I encounter a raft of unanticipated bargains, it can be a real workout to carry 60 pounds of groceries the two blocks home.
  9. Local pharmacy. It’s oh-so-handy to be able to just run across the street when I need to pick up a prescription. If I could ever remember on the first try, that is.
  10. Entertainment. The store also has a Redbox location where we can pick up some last-minute entertainment for $1 a night. (If you sign up for their e-mail list, you can get one night’s rental free here.)
  11. Flirtation. If I weren’t married, this would surely be a perk. As it is, I’ll continue waving my wedding ring in the face of the checker who REALLY likes me.

And then the grocery store is in a strip-mall location, so that has additional benefits:

  1. Buying wine. The shopping center has a family-owned, 50-year-old liquor store where we shop for alcoholic beverages. Because we receive our neighborhood newsletter, where the shop advertises, we can even save $5 every month or two on a larger purchase like a box of wine.
  2. Shipping store. We don’t really use the shipping store’s services, but I can walk over a bag of styrofoam peanuts or other packing materials for them to re-use.
  3. Dry cleaning. We dry clean about four items per year, but we have no need to drive with four cleaners close by.
  4. Thrift shop. I don’t find our neighborhood location quite as awesome as the Goodwill I prefer, but we do have a thrift store within walking distance that has great deals on books — and where I strolled over a few weeks ago to buy a used curling iron when my daughter needed curls for a costume.
  5. Haircuts. The proximity to Mr. Cheap’s crappy convenient chain hair salon is great when he forgets what time the store opens, or the hair cutters have forgotten what time the store opens, and he can run right back home and go back later for his haircut.

Sometimes I forget all this greatness and think about moving to the country, but I’ll tell you, my mocha was good — and so convenient — this morning. Ahhh …

Super sugary soccer snacks

I had a “triumphant mom” moment a couple of weeks ago. Our soccer team alternates bringing snacks after the game each week. Two weeks ago, the snack included a bottle of Sunny Delight. My daughter asked what it was, and I said “an orange drink.” She took a couple of swigs and handed me the bottle.

“I don’t think I want to drink that,” she said. “It tastes like junk food.”

We looked at the ingredients panel, which was indeed pretty surprising. I anticipated seeing water, orange flavor, and probably some fruit juice (like the common ones, apple and grape, which provide fructose sweetener), along with citric acid to make it taste more like orange. Instead, we found this:

SunnyD® Tangy Original Style

Cellulose gum? Seriously?

It makes Gatorade look super simple — its ingredients are: Water, sucrose syrup, HFCS, citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, salt, sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, coloring. And Gatorade has 60 calories per 8 ounces, while Sunny D has 120. Wow!

Our snacks usually include oranges at halftime and some juice and a goody (granola bar, rice krispie treat, etc.) afterward. I have brought homemade muffins or cookies in the past; the drink aspect makes me feel a bit guilty because of the waste, especially considering that every girl has a water bottle with her.

This week, it’s my turn to bring the post-game snacks. Any suggestions?

Friday wrap: Organic butter coupons, chiming in for NYC cycling rights

Get your organic butter on … cheaper

The Nourished Kitchen this week is giving away coupons for Organic Valley butter. If you’d like to sign on for the coupons, visit her site and post a comment. (Thanks to L’An for the alert.)

New Yorkers, help No Impact Man fight bike/car rage

On Thursday, No Impact Man (Colin Beavan) posted an open letter to a New York State Sen. Jeff Klein, who called Beavan an obscenity after they had a little bike/Mercedes run-in on the mean streets of Manhattan. (Complete with veiled threats and hand gestures!) Check out his letter for details, and ways to contact the Senator to support Beavan’s request that Sen. Klein meet to discuss transportation alternatives.

Update on a stalled garden

July in Denver was arid and hot; August was cool and wet; and for the garden, September is like the August we never had. In terms of the garden, our plants went on hiatus and are just now getting back into the swing of things.

The Roma tomatoes are big, but just now beginning to turn red. This weekend, I’m hoping to get into the garden to peel away some leaves and expose the fruit to the sun in hopes we’ll get a good crop in before frosts hit in October.

All summer, we’ve had just one cantaloupe growing, and not very big, either. As you can see, these photos are a couple of weeks old, and by now we have that same cantaloupe starting to mature, and TEN more cantaloupes ranging in size from 2 inches to 4 inches. Want to place any bets on how many will ripen?

Somehow, the volunteer cucumbers (from last year’s plants, which I think were hybrids) are making normal cucumber fruit (top), and the seeds I planted and nurtured are making mutants (bottom). Same seeds as last year. I thought hybrids couldn’t grow fruit, but that’s not entirely correct. Nevertheless, last year’s babies made the best babies this year.

Below is our first pumpkin — in late August! Again, this pumpkin is bigger two weeks later … but after the whole summer growing, our vine has just two fruit on it, and they’re not turning orange yet.

Our main garden bed is going completely crazy. Even if you can’t pick out the separate plants, you’re seeing okra, Brussels sprouts, Roma tomato, peanuts and a renegade yellow pear tomato that volunteered, but has not matured a single fruit this year. No wonder we hated those plants last year!

Other plants are stunted, too. The butternut squash that last year yielded 15 enormous fruit? This year, the same number of vines (two) are almost as long as last year, but one fruit fell off while it was immature, two are growing enormous and ripening (but one is cracked, I think from the erratic moisture), and about six more are finally growing … time will tell how big they get before it freezes.

Our average first frost here is something like Oct. 15, so if these plants step on it, we might see some good results yet. On the other hand, for whatever reason, our hearts just haven’t been in the garden this year (could it have been the searing July temperatures that kept me inside all month?), and perhaps the plants are feeling our lack of energy.

How does your garden grow? Business as usual, or funky veggies out there?

The (almost) gasless car is (almost) here

Chevrolet has unveiled the final production model of its Volt, a car that can travel 40 miles on a battery charge … without any gas. They say it will be available in 2010.

It’s not a Flintstone-style, foot-powered vehicle. Instead you fill the tank with gas, and the gas powers a generator that can charge the batteries on a longer journey.

Of course, it’s not free of all energy use. (Remember physics? Motion is energy. OK, I never took physics. But that’s the general idea.) Instead, you plug it in to charge the batteries, so theoretically, you could use clean power, solar, wind, etc. No word on whether the “common household plug” it will use will be 110 volt or 220 volt, but it would be annoying to have to run new power to your garage if it were the latter.

The price is estimated somewhere in the $35,000 range. The mileage? Well, that appears to be seriously confusing, but consider it somewhere between 48 miles per gallon and 100 mpg.

Now if only they can invent a gasless dog. Or a car that charges its batteries using canine gas as a power source …

Friday wrap-up: Stainless freezer ware, dog costs, SmartFlix and how to spend

This week brings a menagerie of money and earth-saving ideas.

Stainless for the freezer

Today, Fake Plastic Fish posted about new stainless ware for freezing food. It all sounds good … although I clicked through and found the containers cost at least $13 each. Compare a one-time cost of buying stainless ware to health risks of the future. Hmm, for the time being, I’ll likely stick with glass, foil and yes, plastic … but I will keep this in mind for a longer-term investment.

Videos with know-how

As a birthday gift, partly from my husband, partly from my late grandma’s bequest, which I’m so far whittling down for hobbies, I bought a great wheel (also called a walking wheel) the other day. (That’s not me on the video, but it gives you an idea.) But I don’t really know how to use it. Someone on Ravelry suggested I look into charkha spinning for tips. I thought a video would be just the thing, but the video I found on charkha spinning costs $40 — a bit steep for something I might not refer to more than once.

Then I came across SmartFlix, where I can rent the same video for $10 (including shipping to and fro). It’s still a little pricey, but less expensive than buying, and less wasteful too. Has anyone tried it?

The cost of a dog bite

And this article on about the financial dangers — not to mention the moral obligations — of dog ownership was sobering, considering that we are thinking about adopting another dog. Fortunately, our current and prospective pets aren’t on the dangerous breeds list. And we have a large umbrella liability insurance policy, too.

After all, just having a dog is costly enough. The dog rescue organization asks whether adoptinig households can afford $1200 a year to feed and care for the new animal, and I think that estimate is about right, based on expenses for our current dog.

Spendthrift or tightwad?

And I came across this article about whether you should spend your money now or save it. I think there is a middle ground, but this question came to mind this week when I bought an expensive electronic gadget at Costco. I bought it because I’ve been contemplating one for Christmas for months, and last weekend, Little Cheap tried it out at a friend’s house and came home extremely enthusiastic. Costco had a good deal, and as I’ve been saving for Christmas since January in a special ING Direct account, I had the money to burn.

But ours is going straight into our closet for 3.5 long months. The man behind me said, “Oh, some lucky kids are having a party tonight!” and I was so surprised, thinking, “Do some people really just come home one day with a $400 gadget and go to town?” Sometimes I wonder if I’m too prudish, making everything wait for a special occasion. On the other hand, I don’t want to set the precedent of a big-ticket item being something we just rush out to buy.

Where do you stand on pricey toys or events? Save or spend?