Archive for August, 2010

It was the moment I had been putting off all summer — organizing for the first day of school.

Having to find rulers, notebooks, running shoes and gym clothes during the summer holidays makes it feel like summer is over. While kids seem to like all the preparation, and the shopping that comes with it, many parents I know dread it.

The back-to-school shopping lists for the two school-age children in our house came in the mail at the beginning of August, requesting dozens of items -from compasses and calculators to Kleenexes, liquid paper and many, many notebooks, duo-tangs and binders. Oh, and by the way, don’t spend all your money at the mall, because you still have to pay for agendas and school books that are running at about $40 per kid at my house.

That made me think that this year we are going to focus on economizing and the environment for the first day of school at the Commission scolaire de Montreal next week.

A survey done over the summer in the U.S. found that consumers would spend on average $550 on back-to-school shopping this year. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have $1,100 burning a hole in my wallet right now.

So, here are some ideas for cutting costs and reducing the environmental impact of back-to-school.

The first thing we did was sort through all the used and unused school supplies that came home at the end of June. We ended up with a plastic bin full of duo-tangs, pencils, binders, rulers and pencil cases, as well as unopened boxes of tissues and reusable plastic bags.

A friend of mine does this with her sister, and in August they trade coloured duo-tangs and binders to meet the requirements of their four kids’ school-supply lists.

Then we tackled the backpacks. A kid I know has been using the same backpack since kindergarten, and she just graduated from Grade 6. We threw all of ours in the washing machine, checked for holes and declared three of them completely usable for this school year. We did the same thing with pencil cases and were able to cross them off the list. Next, we went through the house collecting pencil crayons, sorted through them and were able to make a collection of 24 for each kid.

Some things you can’t avoid buying, like the extremely specific lined and unlined notebooks that teachers request every year. With the money you’ve saved by reusing last year’s supplies, though, hopefully you can afford the (unfortunately) higher-priced environmentally friendlier versions of notebooks, lined paper, pens and binders.

I checked out a few local stores to see what was on offer last week and found notebooks made with recycled paper, pens that were made 80 per cent of recycled materials and plastic report covers made of recycled plastic.

There were staple-less staplers that hold sheets of paper together without any metal, Post-it notes made from recycled paper, as well as scissors, rulers and erasers made of recycled materials.

The good thing about buying products like these is that it helps to increase the market for recyclables we put in our green bins, like paper, plastic and metal. You can see that concept at work at places like the Cooperative du Grand Orme in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, where they sell notebooks made from recycled paper by Quebec company Cascades. They also carry pencils made from recycled newspaper, pens made of corn, as well as different kinds and colours of paper.

The other place to look for environmentally friendlier options is the lunch box.

With garbage-free lunches being encouraged at many schools, the challenge is to get all that food into reusable containers. Many people invest in plastic containers with easy-to-remove lids, and reusable drink boxes or water bottles.

This year, we’re going to do away with plastic sandwich and snack bags.

Montreal-based Credo Bags makes small snack-size drawstring bags that are not only convenient and reusable, but kids like their style. Something else that is becoming more readily available is reusable sandwich bags that can be tossed in the washing machine when they get dirty. You can order several different kinds from online stores. I’ve been using one made by a company called Reusies, and they have Velcro to keep it closed and are big enough for sandwiches, bagels and wraps. (Go to http://www.reusies.comfor more information). Still with the lunch boxes, disposable napkins and plastic cutlery can easily be replaced with reusable ones. It won’t necessarily make your kids eat the food you pack for them, but at least it cuts down on what they throw in the garbage.


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Both The Car Co-op and Zipcar have distinct advantages. So how do you choose which company to go with? Belinda Bruce does your legwork. An article from Frugalbits!  http://frugalbits.com/what-is-frugalbits/

The Car Co-op Mini Cooper - C. Phaisalakani


SAVE ALL AROUND | You love having your own car but you hate the expense and annoyance: gas, insurance, repairs, car payments. For people who only need a car on an occasional basis, joining a car sharing program is much more cost-effective than owning, renting or leasing a private vehicle. The company usually pays for assigned parking, maintenance, insurance and even gas.

Vancouver has two excellent car-sharing options: Cooperative Auto Network and Zipcar. Both companies offer self-service, on-demand cars booked by the hour or the day on a first-come first-serve basis. Cars are located all over the city, including at universities. In just minutes or up to a year in advance, members can reserve cars online or by phone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Members access cars using a key lock box or card to simply unlock the door and drive away. Low rates make day trips a breeze. And you get extra green points. According to Zipcar, Zipcar members tend to drive less than before they joined, and each Zipcar takes 15-20 personally owned vehicles off the road.

Car Sharing: Here’s What’s In It For You

The Car Co-op is a local not-for-profit organization started in 1997, providing cars across the Lower Mainland and in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. The Car Co-op is a true cooperative; when you join as a member, you pay a one-time refundable $500 share purchase, get the company’s lowest rates and have a vote at the company’s annual general meeting. Current rates are $3/hour or $36/24-hour period plus a small admin fee (maximum of $6/month) and anywhere from 15- to 35- per kilometre, depending on your usage (the more kilometres you travel, the better the rates).

A Car Co-op Membership has other perks including:

• discounts on Translink Fare Passes, car rentals, YMCA/YWCA memberships and City of Vancouver Recreation Flexi-Passes
• extended health and dental benefits through Pacific Blue Cross
• parking in any Permit Only and Residents Only Zone within the City of Vancouver (excluding UBC)

If the deposit is a strain on your wallet, the company also offers a DepositFree option: you don’t have to fork over the $500 deposit and you still have access to all of Car Co-op’s vehicles at a low rate.

Big Bonus: Some Vancouver residents have car sharing options built right into their buildings—residents of the Woodward’s development, Adera’s Green and UBC’s Wesbrook Place, to name a few. Plus City of Vancouver employees and B.C. provincial government employees can use The Company Car—a Car Co-op initiative.

Zipcar is the world’s largest car sharing and car club service with offices in major cities around the world including New York, London and Vancouver. Zipcar offers two membership options. The Occasional Driving Plan has an annual fee of $55 plus a $25 application fee. Rates are as low as $7/hour and $69/day with 200 free kilometres. The Extra Value Plan for frequent drivers charges no annual fee but a minimum $50 monthly fee (up to $125), a $25 application fee and rates starting at $6.30/hour and $62.10/day with 200 free kilometers per day.

A Zipcar Membership has other perks including:

Members can choose from more than 25 different makes and models, including gas/electric hybrids, SUVs, pickup trucks, sedans and high-end vehicles including the Mini Cooper and BMW. Zipcar also guarantees its members they will get the car they reserve, unlike rental car companies.

More fringe benefits: Zipcar offers member discounts at partner companies including Blenz Coffee, Cadillac Fairview, Gap Adventures, Lindt Chocolate, Wee Travel and Spud organic produce delivery.

So Which Is It,  Zipcar Or The Car Co-op?

Both The Car Co-op and Zipcar have distinct advantages. So how do you choose which company to go with?

Car proximity is a key factor for most people. Shelley Mantei, owner of Mediatonic PR, has a Zipcar within half a block and a bunch more within four blocks of her office. Mantei, who once owned a Porsche, uses Zipcars for business and personal trips: a trip to North Vancouver for a client meeting, a trek to Steveston to pick up her dog. “Zipcar allows you to take animals in a carrier. It’s much cheaper than taking a cab or a rental car,” says Mantei.

A big appeal of Zipcar for Mantei is the international benefits. Members don’t pay extra to book cars in 28 North American states and provinces, plus London, England.  “And I like Zipcar’s higher-end selection of cars, like an Audi, a hybrid or a Mini Austin Cooper.”

Vancouver musician Mark Haney uses Car Co-op vehicles 10 to 20 times a month, mostly to transport his double bass to gigs and rehearsals. While his monthly costs may be comparable to owning a car—$160 to $170 per month—he loves the maintenance-free convenience of Co-op cars. “I could only ever afford beaters, which meant a lot of hassles and repairs.” A member for over two years, Haney based his initial decision not only on the proximity of cars but the type of organization. “At the end of the day, they come out pretty even,” he says. “I prefer the Co-op because it’s a locally owned non-profit.”

Convenient. Cost-effective. Cool cars. What more could you ask for? And if you’re one of those people who like to give their car a name, well, car sharing is like dating a different person every week.—Belinda Bruce

To find out more about these car sharing programs, visit www.cooperativeauto.net or www.zipcar.com

Photo: The Car Co-op mini on Pacific Avenue – C. Phaisalakani

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Trees are a magical addition to any garden; here are a few of the surprising tricks they can do—plus a way to keep a lid on their cost.


 In the landscape of memory, trees define the countryside. As the most prominent and long-lived of all vegetation (think giant sequoia), they are the one green symbol guaranteed to represent place. Mention Italy and Italian cypress come to mind. Images of southern France always include olive trees. The English landscape, that great affectation, is symbolized by large-scale deciduous varieties planted in “clumps” (by Capability Brown) that look from a distance like a single stylized tree. In the Pacific Northwest, iconic evergreens—Douglas fir, Western red cedar and hemlock—colour much of the landscape black-green, a situation that both pleases and perturbs me.

I have a love/hate relationship with these vertical giants. I love them unequivocally in the wild, but in the city, my feelings are mixed. They are messy for one thing, too thirsty for another. They can rob a tiny garden of sunlight, and turn otherwise amiable people in to axe murders. How many times have I read about someone topping or chopping down a neighbour’s evergreen—without asking permission—to improve his or her own view or to capture extra sunlight?

When clients ask me to preserve the large fir, cedar or hemlock on their site, I always try to do it. Rarely, however, do I choose to install these trees, and when I do, it’s usually to create a backdrop or a screen on a larger property where their height and mass can be viewed from a distance.

Most of the trees I specify are quicker growing deciduous varieties. I select them for their height and shape when fully grown; for their novel bark or branching or leaves (the majority of deciduous flowers are short-lived and uneventful); and for the work I need them to do.

What Trees Can Do For You

One of the things I love about deciduous trees is what they do in the sunlight. The leaves and branches of Victoria’s Garry oak, for example, cast a magical dappled light that is unique in Canada. The fat, flat leaves of the Sorbus aria ‘Lutescens’ (whitebeam) outside my studio window are grey-green on one side, ash white on the other. On sunny, brezzy days, they shimmer the way waves do when they’re caught in a shaft of moonlight.

If you want to illuminate a corner of your garden where the sun doesn’t shine, a shock of coloured leaves will do it. I’ve used the acid yellow foliage of Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’ (black locust) to light a dark spot, but I wouldn’t recommend putting a lot of these trees in a small space; the overall effect would be off putting, too many trees screaming “Hey, look at me!”

I once had a client from Hong Kong who collected deciduous trees the way keen plantsmen accumulate perennials. No matter what quantity I specified, he asked me to squeeze in more. “I like trees,” he told me, “because they actually relax me.” Botanists might back him on that: Trees are the earth lungs, absorbing carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen; it’s not much of a stretch to think of siting a house in the woods as a form of oxygen therapy.

This may sound illogical, but if you want to make you garden feel larger, plant more trees, not fewer. The more trees you have, the easier it is to create the layered look found in nature.  Planting in layers contributes to the sense that a garden goes on indefinitely. It also means you are going to get more shadow play, which makes it more difficult to gauge boundaries; believe it or not so does leaf size. If you want to exaggerate the depth of a property, plant larger-leafed trees close to the house and smaller leafed ones in the distance, and use more of fewer species, but clump them together the way they would grow in the wild (like the vine maples pictured here).

How To Save Money When Buying A Tree

Trees are sold one of two ways: in pots or balled and burlapped (known as B and B). The price of a tree can jump substantially once it has been removed from a pot and and wrapped in burlap, a process that requires extra labor that can be reflected in the cost. It makes good sense to find the largest specimen in a pot rather than the smallest one in burlap. Once the smaller tree is in the ground it will make up for any size differential quickly.—Ron Rule

Ron Rule is a well-known residential garden designer in Vancouver. He is the founder and head of the Certificate In Garden Design program at the University of B.C.


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