Week 2 & 3 Recaps: Fall Cleanup & Halloween

This week was pretty easy. I mulched the leaves in the backyard (which just meant mowing over them with our electric mower), and it worked like a charm! The mower spit out chopped-up leaves back onto the grass, where they will decompose and become worm food.

We have one massive tree in the backyard and it still has a lot of leaves on it, so I’ll have to do it at least one more time. The rest will be raked and bagged. In the end, we’ll probably have under 10 bags of leaves to take to the yard waste site, which I’ll take along with our compost and our pumpkins from Halloween. It is super cool to think that all of it will turn back into dirt to be used to grow more vegetables, plants and grass next year!

The kids and I went and checked on our drain and removed any mud and leaves that were on it. We also got a guide in the mail with tips on how to keep it clear, and can go on the website twice a year to report how many pounds or gallons of debris we collected. To date, my city has collected and reported over 145,000 pounds!

Halloween also went pretty well. A lot of the candy the kids got from trick-or-treating is in foil-lined wrappers that I can recycle at my local TerraCycle drop-off, but there’s still a lot that will be garbage. I also pulled together an awesome costume (one of my best ever, if I do say so myself) by borrowing items from family and neighbors. Check out the results below!

In your eyes…

At Target today, we wandered into the holiday section where all of the remaining Halloween decorations and costumes were 50% off. There was a LOT left. It made me wonder: What happens to all the stuff that doesn’t sell?

That’s it for this recap. I’m pretty excited for next week’s challenge. And please keep sending me your ideas of what to tackle next!

Week 3

Fall Cleanup

Where I live, fall means crisp mornings, shorter days, and beautiful changing leaves—which go from being on the trees one day to covering our yard the next. My husband usually takes the lead on this seasonal chore, first raking them into a giant pile for the kids to jump in, then bagging them up for me to take to the yard waste site (we don’t have curbside pickup for leaves where we live, but at least we can drop off our compost at the same time).

We used this method in our front yard yesterday, which ended with me getting stung by a bee on my ring finger as I picked up a handful of leaves. Awesome.

Surely there is a better way that is less hassle, less painful, and more environmentally friendly? I know a lot of people who swear by mulching their leaves instead of raking and bagging, but we’ve never tried it. Is this the way to go?

According to Mother Nature Network, the answer is yes.

We don’t have a mulching mower or a leaf vacuum, two tools that the above article recommends. But I will give it a shot with our lawn mower in the backyard and see how it goes!

Adopt a Drain

I don’t remember where I first heard about it, but our city has an Adopt a Drain program that encourages residents to help keep the drains on the street free from leaves, dirt and debris that could end up in our lakes and rivers. I pulled up the website and sure enough, there were several drains around our house that needed to be adopted.

We live on a busier street, so we picked one around the corner. The kids named it Cookey. We will check on it once a week and make sure it’s clean! They will also send us a yard sign to encourage others to adopt their own drains. (More on yard signs next week…)

What else should we do to ensure eco-friendly fall cleanup? I will post other ideas on Twitter and Instagram as I learn more throughout the week.

Week 2

Green Halloween

Halloween is, hands down, my favorite holiday every year. People’s creativity really comes out on Halloween, and I love to see both friends and strangers come up with clever, funny and poignant costumes that I wish I would have thought of myself.

Now that I have kids, Halloween is an even bigger deal than it was in my 20s. In past years I have made their costumes (with a lot of help from my very crafty mother-in-law), but just didn’t have the time to dedicate to it this year. Plus, my oldest son wanted to be Godzilla and I wasn’t sure how to pull that off with a sweatsuit and felt.

This year, my goal is to make this holiday as green as possible. Here is how I’m planning to do that:


I refuse to buy something that will only be worn once for many reasons. I also dislike how gendered store-bought costumes are, specifically superhero costumes for toddlers that have muscles built into them. (That’s a whole different blog!) This year, I turned to my new favorite place to shop: Facebook. I tried my neighborhood buy/sell/trade group first (over 4,000 members!) but didn’t find what I wanted there. I expanded my search to Marketplace, and found exactly what I was looking for: The Flash (sans fake muscles) for my toddler, and Godzilla (really a dinosaur costume that with slight tweaks will be perfect) for my first grader. One was shipped to me from Iowa, and my husband picked the other one up close to where he works.

The fact that I spent less than $40 total is an added bonus to keeping these one-time purchases out of the waste stream. I also sold one of my kids’ costumes from last year to another mom in my neighborhood!


Plastic wrapped in more plastic with some candy inside

Until the urban legend about razor blades in apples and poisoned candy goes away for good, individually wrapped candy bars will continue to be the norm. While we can’t control what our neighbors give away, we can pick what we give out. This year, I am opting for fruit snacks in recyclable packaging: the cardboard box they come in can be recycled curbside, and I can recycle the foil-lined wrappers through my local TerraCycle brigade (more on that in a future post). We don’t get a lot of trick-or-treaters at our house, so at least I know whatever we have left over won’t end up in the trash.

Packaging isn’t the only consideration when it comes to buying candy. I recently learned about palm oil and the devastating effects that harvesting it can have on rainforests, endangered species and indigenous people. My local zoo sent out this handy chart for those who are buying traditional Halloween candy to help everyone make a responsible choice.


Decorating pumpkins is one of my kids’ favorite parts about Halloween. In the past we have painted them to avoid using knives and making a giant mess, but this year we will carve them. Why? Because painted pumpkins can’t be composted. Carved ones—and all of their guts—can!

Buy local!

Oh, and be sure to buy your pumpkins from a local farm or pumpkin patch. The ones at the grocery store are tempting and could save you the added trip, but if there isn’t a sign that says they were grown locally, they probably weren’t.

What have I missed? Send me your tips on how to have a greener Halloween. I will post other ideas on Twitter and Instagram as the holiday prep continues!

Week 1 Recap: Meat Free

By avoiding meat for one week, my husband and I saved:

8 animals

67 pounds of CO2

6,000 gallons of water

vegetariancalculator.com and peta.org

You know the meatless movement has gone mainstream when it’s a topic on Oprah’s podcast (listen to Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations Oct. 16 episode). Despite any fears going into our meat-free week, I have to say this challenge was pretty painless!

Cereal with almond milk and coffee for breakfast, vegetarian Lean Cuisines for lunch, and three meals out were easy to keep meat free. Our best dinner was this cauliflower Alfredo with peas from My Kitchen Love. I often tire of leftovers, but not this one!

Cauliflower Alfredo from My Kitchen Love

Paying closer attention to what we were eating did raise some questions I otherwise wouldn’t have considered. Our son’s annual preschool open house was this week, and the menu is always hot dogs and hamburgers. In past years, this event has meant a welcome break from cooking and a free dinner. We didn’t make the kids go meat free, so they had hot dogs but didn’t finish them. So what should we have done? Stuck to our challenge and thrown the leftover meat away? Or finished it so it wouldn’t go to waste?

As I have come to learn with most environmentally based decisions, the answer is complicated. The resources it took to make the hot dogs have already been used, so throwing it in the trash doesn’t change that. Composting wasn’t an option either, so in this case, eating it may have been the best choice.

Now that the week is over, I am planning to follow the “no meat before dinner” plan (or two meat-free meals per day) proposed by author Jonathan Safran Foer. If you’re not quite ready to take it that far but still want to start somewhere, you can pledge your commitment to eating less meat by signing the Meatless Monday pledge on earthday.org.

Thanks for reading! Email me your favorite vegetarian recipes at climate52challenge@gmail.com.

Week 1

No Meat

It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef.

Close to half of the contiguous U.S. is devoted to animal agriculture.

Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

— Facts via Cowspiracy.com

It’s week one of my Climate 52 challenge, and I’m starting with a big one: not eating meat for one week. While animal agriculture has been shown to disproportionately contribute to climate change, it is not talked about as much as fossil fuels, plastic or some of the other big contributors. Why? The documentary “Cowspiracy” is a good primer, and is free to stream for Netflix subscribers.

Changing your diet may also feel more daunting than, say, bringing your reusable bags to the grocery store. If you are used to eating meat as a regular part of your diet, you have to make a conscious choice to plan your meals differently. There are also dietary concerns about getting enough protein and other nutrients commonly found in meat.

My husband found some vegetarian dinner recipes that we will eat this week. For breakfast, I typically eat cereal, and I bring lunch to work, which is often a vegetarian Lean Cuisine. So those two meals are pretty easy.

Going into this, I think the hardest part will be remembering to avoid meat, since I’ve never consciously tried to do that before. And as my husband will tell you, I do not love vegetables, so our meat-free dinners could be a challenge.

I’ll check back in a few days with an update. In the meantime, check my Twitter and Instagram feeds for what I’m eating this week!

Welcome to Climate 52

I have a lot of feelings about the climate crisis, and my role in it. This is my attempt to turn those feelings into action.

Climate 52 is one Midwestern mom’s attempt to make lifestyle choices that, if widely adopted, can help heal our planet. I’ve made a lot of changes over the past year to reduce my family’s environmental impact, but wanted to do something a bit more structured and deliberate to hold myself accountable.

Why am I doing this?

  • Because I want my kids to inherit a planet that is still habitable well past their lifetimes.
  • Because I’ve been feeling like nothing I do as an individual will make a difference.
  • Because I want to get out of my comfort zone and do something hard.
  • Because I want to inspire others to do the same.

Each week, I will focus on one change that is believed to positively impact the planet. Through the process, I will find out how difficult or easy of a change it is to make, and whether it’s something I can commit to for the long-term.

That’s really it. Follow along, and let me know what you think I should do next week at climate52challenge@gmail.com.