Conversation Highlights: The Sunday Edition, March 31, 2019

Visible Mending Blends Fiber Arts with Sustainability

Visible Mending Activates Creativity and Gives New Life to Old Clothes

Favorite jeans are torn at the knees, treasured flannels have frayed at the elbows, the warmest of socks have split in the toes; what’s the fate of all of these once new, now well-loved garments? Rather than passing them on to a thrift store or adding them to a sewing scrap pile, families can give new life to their well-worn clothes by doing a bit of creative visible mending. Combining basic sewing skills, a bit of artistry, and the principles of leading a more sustainable lifestyle, visible mending is a perfect solution to the woes of well-worn clothing, and provides a simple means of upcycling goods. It’s even a great entry point for exploring sewing skills!

The concept of mending, of course, has been around for eons – dating back to a time when simply buying a replacement simply wasn’t an option. Today, mending remains important, and offers many a simple fix for the small tears and worn patches that clothes will inevitably experience. Visible mending, however, differs from regular mending in that it’s meant to be seen (hence its name), and gives new life to articles of clothing by not only fixing rips, tears, and the like, but by adding interesting (and perhaps artistic) details to clothing. Visible mending is not only practical, but can be exciting and engaging for creative folks. Read the rest of this entry »

Cardboard Challenge Unleashes Creative Free Play

Kids Can Grasp the Spirit of Community Collaboration Through Creativity & Recycled Art

The Cardboard Challenge makes a great intergenerational project for families and community organizations to participate in, combining creative free play with recycling and design skills!

Have you heard of Caine’s Arcade? The spirit of Caine’s creative genius comes to communities worldwide through the Global Cardboard Challenge! An event that combines creative free play with recycling and design skills, the Cardboard Challenge welcomes folks of all ages to exercise their own Caine-like creative genius to make masterpieces of all shapes and sizes using recycled materials – specifically, cardboard!

Though the Cardboard Challenge is technically an event, it’s one with lots of flexibility. The challenge begins in September (so it has already started!) and comes to a close on October 11th. Participation is simple – gather up some cardboard, bring along some cutting and sticking supplies, bring some creative friends, and build away! The Cardboard Challenge makes a great family project – simply raid your recycling bin and see what it turns into. Teachers, youth groups, and community organizations can easily participate in the creativity-filled event – simply organize a date, time, and place (perhaps on October 11th to match up with the event’s official closing), and bring enthusiastic folks together to build. Read the rest of this entry »

Parenting Green: Make Yourself Re-useful

Lead by example and develop new habits in reusing materials

Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. But do it from reusable water bottles.

I know this to be true about water bottles… They make you drink more water; especially when they’re new, and you’re a kid. It’s worth it to me for our kids to get excited about the purchase of a new one, especially now that summer is finally here. I often forget in those first weeks about switching gears into full-hydration mode, and making sure that everyone is drinking enough water. Without fail, getting a new containment method for liquids provides enough entertainment that even I have fun drinking more.

There are so many choices of BPA free plastic ones and gloriously colored stainless steel ones, you’ll be sure to find your muse. In the $15-30 sticker price, you might convince yourself you’ll be done buying them because they last forever, but they also get lost so easily. (Maybe they’re all where I left my reusable bags.) Then I think about all those moments when I want a cold drink when I’m out and about: an iced coffee, or chai, or a smoothie from the cafe. These are ALL moments we can hand our reusable container over the counter and have it filled up. Read the rest of this entry »

Earth Day Feature: Unique Recycling Programs

Recycle T-Shirt Sign

Three Unique Recycling Programs

Unidentified keys, trophies from the early 80’s & broken crayons… these three things can clutter up your junk drawer, attics, and art supplies. Here are three unique recycling programs that recycle all three of these items for good causes. Gather items together with your kids, ask your neighbors if they have any to contribute too, then package up and ship off. These teaching moments can spark conversations with your kids about the importance of recycling and help others: Earth Day Feature: Unique Recycling Programs.

Christmas Morning Clean-up: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

It’s a Wrap!  Time to Recycle!

Gift wrap IS recyclable! Reuse what you can and toss the ripped up stuff into your paper recycling bin (Do not include gift wrap with metallic ink, glitter, or foil). When opening gifts, use a brown paper bag to capture gift wrap, tissue paper, greeting cards, envelopes and boxes.

Unwrapping gifts this morning?  Have a mini-mountain of wrapping paper, or pieces strewn across your living room? Did you know that all wrapping paper is recyclable (except wrapping paper with foil)? Recycle your wrapping paper this year with your other paper.

Also, keep in mind that all cardboard gift boxes, tissue paper, gift cards and paper shopping bags are recyclable (just no foil or glitter), and you might be able to bring Styrofoam packing peanuts to the UPS store for reuse.

On the other hand, ribbons, bows and tinsel cannot be recycled are not. Next year (or for any other special gift giving occasion), try making your own gift bows from old magazine pages.  Check out this tutorial from How About Orange.

Read the rest of this entry »

Reuse & Recycling Rally in Northampton

Reuse & Recycling Rally Offers 3 Ways to Practice the 3 R’s!

Northampton Reuse & Recycling Rally happens Saturday, April 20th from 9am-12noon at Smith Vocational High School. Find new-to-you toys for the kids at the community tag sale, shred confidential papers, donate old baby equipment, recycle well-loved pants with holes in the knees and t-shirts with juice box stains for the textile drive, and bring by those hotel shampoos and conditioners from your family winter vacation to Florida to donate to the Hampshire County Interfaith Emergency Shelter. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The Northampton Department of Public Works is sponsoring another reuse & recycling rally on Saturday, April 20th, 2013 at the Smith Vocational High School from 9am-12pm, in cooperation with the City’s ReUse Committee, the Salvation Army & ProShred of Wilbraham.  This is the third in a series of events in 2013 to promote waste reduction, reuse and recycling of unusual materials.  Once again, it’ll be a three ring circus:  a community tag sale and donation drop off, a shredding event for confidential papers and a textile drive to keep usable goods out of the landfill.


The Community Tag Sale is a flea market with a twist.  Fifty-four sellers will load up their trunks and sell stuff from the back of their vehicles in the Vocational School’s back lot at 80 Locust Street (Route 9, Northampton, MA).  Each will be given two parking spaces- one to park in and the other for sales (note: pre-registration is required for vendors through the Northampton DPW.   Yard sale devotees will be delighted with bargains at this huge multi-family tag sale!

The Salvation Army will be on site to accept donations of small household goods, including but not limited to kitchen ware, fireplace sets, lamps, wall decorations, board games, books, DVD’s/CD’s, tools, sporting goods, luggage, radios, umbrellas… practically anything in good condition except mattresses, upholstered furniture, and baby equipment.

Voluntary donations for the Hampshire County Interfaith Emergency Shelter will be gratefully accepted in exchange for this service (hotel-sized shampoos, conditioners & hand soaps, men’s and women’s socks & underwear, small deodorants, toothbrushes & small toothpastes, razors & shaving cream, combs & brushes, women’s hygiene products, gloves & mittens, etc.


The Salvation Army will also be accepting clothing, shoes, accessories and textiles.  Textiles that are unsuitable for reuse or resale will be reprocessed into polishing cloths for industrial use, fibers for insulation, soundproofing, carpet padding and building materials.  Acceptable textiles can be worn, torn, stained or missing buttons- but they must be clean and dry.


Concurrently, a free regional shredding event for confidential papers will be offered to residents and small businesses.  ProShred’s mobile shredding unit will provide confidential destruction of documents on site.  Participants can deliver up to two recycling bins to be safely recycled, and pre-registration is not required.

For more information contact Karen at 413-587-1059 or at, find them Facebook (“Northampton ReUse”) or go to the DPW’s website at

Kids Swap Meet In Northampton

Northampton’s Free Kid’s Stuff Exchange
Smith Vocational High School Cafeteria
Saturday March 9 from 8am-12pm

Upcycle Artist, MaryLynne Boisvert, will lead an art activity for families to create fun, wearable garments form upcycled clothing.

The Northampton DPW’s ReUse Committee is sponsoring a free “Kid’s Stuff Exchange” at Smith Vocational High School this coming Saturday March 9th, 2013.  Pre-registration is required to participate from 8-11am, opening up to the general public from 11am-12noon.

This swap meet will allow local families to exchange clothing, toys, books and sporting goods in good condition at no cost.  Participants might find almost anything for kids ages 0-12 except baby gear (car seats, strollers, cribs), stuff with parts missing (puzzles, games), items with possible cutting/choking/lead hazards or over-sized items (play structures).  From 11am-12noon, the general public is welcome to come and take whatever they can use.  At noon, any remaining items will be donated to the Salvation Army.

Kids will be welcome.  Childcare will not be provided, but representatives from the Artisans of WMASS, Northampton’s Early Childhood Program, and  other local reuse & craft artists will offer free “make & take” art activities for ages 4+ (with adult) at the Kid’s Stuff Exchange from 9am–12Noon:

  • Lou Leelyn: Transform plastic trash into flowers & accessories
  • Aviva Sieber & daughter Tali: Create sculptures from household recyclables
  • Jenny Lisa Kass: Melt old crayons into fun, new shapes
  • Zoe Ma: Make personal creations from First Night buttons
  • MaryLynne Boisvert: Create fun, wearable garments from up-cycled clothing

Space is limited, and participants will receive more information when they register.  Signing up is easy!  Just provide a full name, mailing address, daytime phone number and email address by phone: 413-587-1059; or by email:  No dealers, please.  More info is available on Facebook and on the DPW’s website

Repair Café in the Berkshires

Pittsfield Resilience Circle Host a Repair Café
Saturday, January 19th, 2013

The Repair Café concept was formulated in 2009 in the Netherlands by journalist and publicist Martine Postma and sustainability accelerator Peter van Vliet. Since January 2011, the Repair Café Foundation has provided support to local groups in the Netherlands and other countries wishing to start their own Repair Cafe ( [Image: First Repair Café held in Brussels.]

Janet Henderson writes:

What do you do with a broken toaster? Or with a bike that needs repair? Or with a pair of pants when a seam rips? Or a partially dysfunctional umbrella? Throw it away? Certainly not!

The Pittsfield Resilience Circle is organizing the Berkshires’ first ever Repair Café. It will be held in Pittsfield on Saturday, Jan. 19 from 1 to 5 p.m. in the St. Stephen’s Church basement at 67 East St. The event is entirely free.

[The  Repair Café] involves people in the community giving to other people in the community, making needed repairs of all kinds. Various repair persons will be available to fix small appliances, clothing and other fabric items, bicycles, toys, small furniture items, computers, and so on. Anyone with a broken item in need of repair may bring it to the Repair Café between 1 and 5 p.m. on Saturday, January 19th. We will fix as many articles as we can during that time. We’re also offering free refreshments for those waiting in line.

The Pittsfield Resilience Circle could use more volunteers for the Repair Cafe. Persons with experience in any kind of repair craft or who would like to provide general help, please call Tom Harter at 413-212-8589 or email Janet Henderson at The Repair Café is looking for more sponsors (those who donate $20 or more). We are thankful for our sponsors, including the Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT), who is contributing both money and time!

By holding a Repair Café, the Pittsfield Resilience Circle wants to help reduce waste, promote repair skills, teach us all to be more self-sufficient, have fun, come together in a non-consumerist way, forge bonds of friendship through mutual dependency, and make Pittsfield a better place to live.


Members of the Pittsfield Resilience Circle meet twice a month to learn together and become better friends through doing things for and with each other. The Resilience Circle is based on information available at The group also has an informal Gift Circle. Information about Gift Circles can be found on the OpenCollaboration’s Blog.

Christmas Morning Clean-up: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

It’s a Wrap!  Time to Recycle!

Gift wrap IS recyclable! Reuse what you can and toss the ripped up stuff into your paper recycling bin (Do not include gift wrap with metallic ink, glitter, or foil). When opening gifts, use a brown paper bag to capture gift wrap, tissue paper, greeting cards, envelopes and boxes.

Unwrapping gifts this morning?  Have a mini-mountain of wrapping paper, or pieces strewn across your living room? Did you know that all wrapping paper is recyclable (except wrapping paper with foil)? Recycle your wrapping paper this year with your other paper.

Also, keep in mind that all cardboard gift boxes, tissue paper, gift cards and paper shopping bags are recyclable (just no foil or glitter), and you might be able to bring Styrofoam packing peanuts to the UPS store for reuse.

On the other hand, ribbons, bows and tinsel cannot be recycled are not. Next year (or for any other special gift giving occasion), try making your own gift bows from old magazine pages.  Check out this tutorial from How About Orange.

Read the rest of this entry »

ReUse Rally for the Arts: A Call for Artisans

ReUse Rally for the Arts: A Call for Artisans

Deadline to apply: Aug. 24th, 2012.

What can you do with old clothes, leftover non-recyclable containers, bits of string, extra drops of paint, and seemingly useless utensils? Make art!

The Northampton DPW ReUse Committee is hosting an artisan show featuring work made from recycled, reused, and found materials – titled, “ReUse Rally for the Arts,” the event will both showcase interesting and radical work from local artisans, as well as bring light to the artistic potential of recycled and found materials and the non-necessity of brand new manufactured art supplies.

The show will take place on October 13th at JFK Middle School in Northampton, but the application deadline for artisans interested in participating in the show is August 24th.  The event will showcase the work of 20+ creative reuse artisans, and is an intergenerational opportunity for older students (teens) serious about art to participate using a non-traditional medium, and to experience the use of art as a tool for cultural change.  All work submitted should be made out of at least 75% post-consumer materials – pieces can be anything from collages or statues to jewelry or clothing!

Description of the event and application are available here.  For more information contact Deborah Slavitt, Arts ReUse Coordinator, at

Earth Day 2012 in Western MA

Recycle T-Shirt Sign

Earth Day Weekend 2012

Earth Day is this weekend and there are several ways families can be eco and community minded this weekend and next.


Volunteering in their community can help kids learn to appreciate the resources available to them, and spring clean-ups are a great way to get involved. Here are five community service clean-ups which families can take part in:

  1. In Plainfield the Historical Society will be planting sugar maples, a tree with great importance to our local culture and history. Join them in planting more of these important natural resources for generations to come.
  2. In Great Barrington families can volunteer to prepare the Housatonic Riverwalk for the summer (River walk tours follow the clean up).
  3. In Williamstown the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation welcomes families to help them clear land and mark a new trail.
  4. And families can help clean up  downtown Westfield at one of many locations around town.
  5. Then next weekend the Springfield Museums invites families to come help them clean up their grounds.


Looking for an Earth Day community celebration? The annual Amherst Sustainability Festival happens on the town common this Saturday and on Sunday there will be an Earth Day Festival at the Springfield Museums! Both events will have live music, hands-on activities, and opportunities to discover the work of eco-friendly businesses and non-profits.


Other ways the community is marking Earth Day include a screening of The Lorax at the Western Gateway Heritage State Park in North Adams, a seed-planting activity at River Valley Market in Northampton, earth-friendly crafts made out of recycled bottles at the Amelia Park Children’s Museum in Westfield, and the Great Cloth Diaper Change happening simultaneously in both the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley.


Looking for ideas on how to participate in Earth Day, every day? Here are four recycling ideas:

  1. Trophy Recycling Program: Do you have old trophies cluttering up your attic from your days of glory? Did you know there is a Trophy Recycling Program you can donate those beauties to to support non-profit organizations? Find out how you can conduct a Trophy Recycling Drive and collect trophies to be passed along rather than ending up in a landfill or on the free table at your next tag sale!
  2. Keys for Kindness: How many old, unidentified keys can your kids find in your junk drawer? Have them take a look, pull them out, and mail them off to Keys for Kindness. Every key mailed in goes towards raising money for M.S., and is an excellent way to recycle keys from previous cars, unused locks and unknown origins!
  3. National Crayon Recycling Program: Did you know there is a National Crayon Recycling Program that families, schools, day cares, restaurants, etc. can send their unwanted, broken and rejected crayons to for recycling?  Find out how this program works and how you can set up a crayon collect in your local school, library, or community center.
  4. Recycling Shoes into Art: Wondering what to do with that single shoe(s) that is missing it’s matching pair? Donate it to the Art Garden in Shelburne Falls this Friday, April 20th! They are hosting a free shoe-decorating workshop for the village Art Walks and welcome the donation of shoes (single or paired). Drop by any time between 3-7pm this Friday to donate and/or decorate! Art Garden is located at 14 Depot St.

Looking for more ideas? Local families in Western Mass offer helpful tips showing that it IS easy being green. Here are over 10 suggestions on how to celebrate Earth Day and make each day a little greener. Get inspired and share your own idea and inspire others!

Virtual Tour: How Plastic Bags Get Recycled

How are Plastic Bag Recycled?

Plastic bags are a huge pollution problem!

The best solution: Bag Share!

Another solution: Recycling!

Kids, gather around and learn how plastic bags can be recycled. Take a virtual tour inside the largest plastic bag recycling facility located in Indiana.:

Giant Earth Day Ball: 2011

Head over to Pulaski Park in downtown Northampton (next to Academy of Music) on Saturday, April 23rd, 2011 to see the Giant Earth Day Ball made out of single-use plastic shopping bags by students from the Northampton Public Schools. This educational tool will be available to schools and environmental groups to use in their promotion of waste reduction and environmental respect… after seeing the ball, can you guess how many plastic bags it too to make it?

Re-Wrap Afternoon: Making Gifts from Repurposed Materials in the Berkshires

Leslie Reed-Evans, Executive Director of the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation in Williamstown, MA writes:

The Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation invites you to a unique and earth-friendly get-together on Saturday December 11th from 1:30 – 4:00 at Sheep Hill (671 Cold Spring Rd.) in Williamstown. Used wrapping paper, tissue, ribbon and boxes thrown away during the holidays in the USA amounts to an additional 25 million tons of trash. The “Re-Wrap afternoon” will highlight making creative wrappings, gift boxes and bags from found or repurposed materials that might otherwise be thrown away. Create beautiful origami boxes from old calendars, print wrapping paper and cards, decorate bags with sprays of nature’s findings, make seasonally scented sachets and use collage technique with nature-themed images to decorate gift boxes.

These family friendly projects will have a range of difficulty; some are appropriate for younger children with more difficult ones for teens and adults. The pre-holiday celebration will include popcorn, cookies, hot chocolate and a fire on the hearth. Get ready for the holidays while being kind to the earth! There is a $3 non-recycled materials charge.


Sheep Hill is the headquarters and a conservation property of the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation, a non-profit, member-supported land conservation trust which works to preserve the rural New England character of the area and sponsors nature education, local history and seasonal food events throughout the year. Sheep Hill is located on Route 7 in Williamstown, approximately one mile south of the rotary. Program support provided by the Williamstown Savings Bank. For more information visit or call 458-2494.

Green Mama: A Brilliant Way to Upcycle Your Kids’ Clothes

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

Solutions for the Fashionista’s in Our Lives

Thirteen-month-old Kylee knows that stripes are making a comeback this season. (Photo Credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

My niece is a mini-fashionista. She has an outfit (or two) to wear for every day of the month (at least) before my sister even has to think about running a load of wash.

Wait a minute. Strike that. Unless my little fashion-forward niece (did I mention she’s only 13 months old) wants those clothes to curdle in her hamper, there is a little washing that needs to happen — but you do get my point. Don’t you?

Kids today have clothes, clothes and more clothes; many of them more stylish than their sweat pant-wearing, jeans-buying, comfort-seeking moms and dads. The problem? Many of those clothes occupying their overfilled closets and broken bureau drawers have never seen the light of day.

Come on all you moms out there. Admit it. Most of us have donated an item or two to the Goodwill, a friend or another worthy person or charity in need of clothes for their children with the original price tags still on them. I know I bought Kylee — that’s my niece — a Patriot’s onesie that for some reason or another she never wore. (Yes, my dear sister I just outed you online!)

Not to mention the money we parents are spending on outfitting our little divas or models-in-training. And just wait until they reach their “preteen” years.

My 11-year-old twins — one boy, one girl — are all about looking stylish. My son tried on shirt after shirt after shirt before beginning middle school this fall, each time asking his twin sister, “Does this look cool?”

My daughter McKenna had me toting her all around the county to find a sporting goods store that carried basketball sneakers that were stylish enough for her newfound “divalicious” tastes. Seriously? They’re basketball sneakers for God’s sake: last year’s sneakers still looked brand-new and if they wouldn’t cause blisters or her toes to permanently curl or resemble something right out of a Chinese binding ritual I would have made her continue to wear them.

I know I’m not alone with these concerns. Our kids are growing up and out of their clothes faster than many of us parents can get our busy selves to the stores or click the mouse on to our favorite online department store. But thanks to the new online company thredUP we now have an answer to our clothing prayers.

The company established in the spring of 2009 is the brainchild of James Reinhart, Oliver Lubin and Chris Homer based in Cambridge, Mass., and advised by current Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

The company is by far one of the greenest, most environmentally-friendly solutions I’ve seen for parents looking to keep their kids clothed, in the styles (and sizes) they want all at bargain prices, too. It’s virtually free!

Here’s how it works. ThredUP eliminates (or at least significantly decreases) one’s need to head to the department stores every other month for new clothing for the ever-growing children in our lives. The company does this by offering a way to “shop” for the sizes and type of clothing you want or need for your children. Essentially the company is a one-stop second-hand store that takes the hassle out of second-hand shopping by doing the work for you. Basically, parents can exchange full boxes of kids’ clothing, in the sizes they want on the company’s website ( without ever leaving the house.

Kylee making a fashion statement in her JLo-like leisure suit and snuggling with her Aunt Kelly. (Photo credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

How do they do it? Parents find other parents on the site who have the sizes they want or who want the sizes they have. Parents looking for clothing — browsing by size, season and gender — pick a box of clothes for their children from the thredUP site. (Approximately 15 articles of children’s clothing fits in each box.) Parents pay only a $5 shipping charge for the box. Parents looking to donate gently-used clothes list their clothes and sizes online and when your box is picked you send it free of charge to its new owner via thredUP’s home pick-up and delivery option. Parents also can find a favorite sender and receive notifications when they list new boxes.

This idea is absolutely brilliant. Not only are parents finding a low-cost way to keep their children in the styles they want, but there are also a number of added environmental and overall parental benefits to the system.

According to thredUP’s press packet their system helps “Keep it Green”: “Over 20 billion pounds of clothing and textiles are tossed into landfills each year,” their press release said, “ThredUP helps combat the waste, encouraging families to “upcycle” kids’ clothing.”

ThredUP also claims to eliminate the number of hours many parents spend “selling kids’ clothing one painfully tedious item at a time” via eBay or consignment stores. In just 10 minutes, without uploading pictures or leaving their couches, parents can get rid of the clothing cluttering up their hallways, closets, attics and more.

ThredUP even allows you to send care packages to military families stationed domestically or overseas.

Currently I have two garbage bags full of items that no longer fit my 9-year-old son, who also no longer fits into his older brother’s hand-me-downs. They wear the same sized shirts and in another month or two their pant sizes will be the same size, too. That can get pretty pricey, not to mention the 11-year-old fashion diva living in the room next door. With her eyes on brand-name items I need to take on more freelance work just to pay for her wardrobe or better yet, she needs to get a job!

Or we can just find another young fashionista to swap with. It won’t be long until you see my name on thredUP’s “Super Swapper” or “Top Rockstar” list.

As for my favorite little 13-month-old fashion icon … You can bet Miss Kylee that I’ll be turning your Mommy onto this site very soon.

To learn more about thredUP and how the company works visit their site at


Kelly Bevan McIlquham

Kelly is a psychotherapist-turned-writer who resides in Hinsdale, MA with her husband, three children, two black labs, a cat, a turtle, and a few goldfish. She is the Features Editor for The Advocate in the Berkshires where she especially enjoys writing family- and education-related articles and her monthly “Parent to Parent” column. Kelly also dabbles in writing for children and has had her work published by Wee Ones online family magazine. Her new blog “Green Mama” chronicles her journey as a “green” parent in every sense of the word — from her parenting naiveté to living greener. When not writing, her favorite pastime is cheering on her children at various football, soccer, basketball and baseball games.

Green Mama: Kelly’s Top 10 Reason to Live a Greener Lifestyle

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

Let’s Hear It For The Bear

(ccl) Alan Vernon

Photo credit: Alan Vernon

Apparently no one told the neighborhood bear that the McIlquham’s were making an attempt to live greener and had enough forces working against them in their attempts to do so, so we most definitely did not need his/her help in thwarting our efforts.

Really, every time we feel like we are making great strides forward, something gets in the way. The spring sports season rules our dietary intake (as I’ve said before there’s nothing organic about the food at the Little League snack bar). My husband or I forget to pick up the organic fruit and vegetable basket for the week and have only canned, processed fruits and veggies to feed our kids for the week. The weather gets so hot and humid that the bedroom feels 50 degrees warmer than a sauna and we break down and put the air conditioning unit in the window. And now the BEAR.

As I might have mentioned in previous posts, we purchased a composter and began using it a couple months ago. We had been wanting to get one for a long time and when my husband came home one day and presented me with this beautiful, green, plastic canister I couldn’t have been happier than if he had done all the laundry, folded it and put it away. I purchased a pretty green countertop canister online to house our daily scraps and the kids were temporarily fighting for the chance to be the one to bring out the scraps and turn the composter. All was well and green at the McIlquham house. But the scraps were not composting as quickly as we had hoped and soon we had two problems. The smell began to deter our children from the chore of emptying the bucket while at the same time attracting our curious neighbor — Mr. or Mrs. Bear.

Each morning we would find the composter pulled of its stand and pushed half-way down the blueberry path. I guess the bear realized the encroaching forest would make it difficult to roll the canister all the way home so he/she developed another tactic: the bear decided to try and remove the compost cover and get at the goods inside, while hanging out in our backyard at all hours of the night.

His first few attempts merely left a few claw marks in the plastic and the composter left to be retrieved from the blueberry path, but it didn’t take long for him to figure out how to get the cover off. That incredibly clever bear was able to rip the screws right out of the plastic and the cover right along with it. After a few choice words, Mark had had it and for a week or two there the unused, coverless composter sat, our scraps making their way back into the trash can. Hey, it was a good effort on our part, but apparently composting in the backwoods of Hinsdale wasn’t meant to be. Or was it? Mark and I began making lists. These lists included all the reasons to continue our green journey. They also included all the ways that we had changed in a few short months. It was unanimous that one of the most noticeable changes was evident in the amount of trash we were collecting (significantly less than the waste months before), and that was a direct result of our recycling and (you guessed it) our composting.

Renewed with our lists my husband (with some help from my dad) found a way to fix the cover, we moved the composter to a sunnier location so it would compost more quickly, smell less thus deterring the bear from the area and not the kids, and we began collecting our scraps again. We are back in composting mode. Yahoo! We even used some of the composted soil to repot a few plants recently.

But I know this is not the end of the “forces that be” and I know somewhere along the line in the not-too-distant future we will contemplate just giving up on this whole green thing and be tempted to go back to living our old, wasteful way of life. So in anticipation of that day I have created a new list of why we should continue on this journey, for myself and my family … maybe it will help you when various forces of nature try to thwart your environmental efforts.

Kelly’s top 10 reasons to live a greener, more environmentally friendly, health conscious lifestyle:  Read the rest of this entry »

Green Mama: There Is Always Someone Who Needs It

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

A Lesson from Brazil

The honking of the car horn as they approached the driveway announced their arrival. Max, who had been helping me make the bed, quickly abandoned the task (and me) and bolted down the stairs to greet his friend. Discarding the pillowcase in my hand I quickly followed suit. Menial tasks could wait: Our friends who had just returned “home” after a year in Brazil could not.

Arriving seconds behind Max, my heart did a silent leap in my chest at the sight before me. All three of my children stood in the driveway taking turns embracing our visitors and then it was my turn.

I held out my arms in invitation and 11-year-old Nick quickly accepted. He ran into my arms and squeezed. My sentiments exactly, I thought as I proceeded to squeeze him right back.

The Julianos had moved back to their native Brazil last July after five years in the United States. None of us had been happy about it, Lilly and her children included. But that moment in the driveway reconnected us all in a matter of seconds and it seemed as though my friend Lilly and her two sons Nicholas and Arthur (her husband could not make this trip but we had seen him the previous week when back in the area on business) had never left and most importantly, hadn’t changed a bit.

But first impressions are deceiving, and after six days of togetherness and countless hours of conversation later I realized that one cannot go from the backwoods of Hinsdale, MA, to the suburbs of Sao Paulo in Brazil and not change.

The most notable change was with the kids. They had grown a lot in a year, not only in size but in maturity. Their English was interspersed with Portuguese more than ever and the two brothers who previously had only spoken English to each other slang and all (they were so “American” when they were here) most often than not spoke to each other in their native tongue.

Lilly still had the same laid-back, loving personality, but I noticed she struggled more finding the right English word to use in describing Brazil, food, her emotions … everything.

What I noticed most though, was Lilly’s unwavering appreciation for the place she called home for five years — Berkshire County.

She commented on the birds that woke her up in the morning: “It was beautiful.” She took great joy and even cried in the supermarket when she reunited with the brands she hadn’t seen in a year: “Ahhh, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter,” she said. She relished the low, low prices in the U.S. despite the current recession: “A $20 video game here costs $120 in Brazil.”

But most of all Lilly talked about how much we had in the U.S. — “You have no idea.” She discussed the great disparity in social classes at home, and she talked about the need of others.

In Brazil, nothing goes to waste. I knew that’s how Lilly lived here, the same food made it to dinner, lunch the next day and dinner again, and if it still wasn’t gone it was frozen for another day. In Brazil, Lilly informed me, everything is recycled as much as possible including clothes, furniture and other household items and appliances.

“There is always someone who needs it,” Lilly has commented on more than one occasion.

During this time with Lilly (that is not over yet) I even learned some things I hadn’t known about her. Like how disappointed she was when she moved that no one would accept the dining room table she wanted to donate so it ended up getting burned in a farewell bonfire. To Lilly that was shameful.

After living in a disposable society for five years, Lilly moved back to a place where everything is precious either because of the cost to acquire it or because you know that a great number of people cannot afford it.

It’s something to think about as I continue my Green Mama journey. Living greener, it seems, is as much about people as it is about the environment. I think sometimes that’s something that can get “lost in the translation” and we should work hard to ensure that it doesn’t.

So when Lilly leaves in a couple weeks she will not only leave me a little sadder and slightly heartbroken to lose the constant company of my friend once again, but also a little more aware, a little more appreciative of what I have and where I live, and little more inspired to continue our family’s journey.

Vamos nessa!


Kelly Bevan McIlquham

Kelly is a psychotherapist-turned-writer who resides in Hinsdale, MA with her husband, three children, two black labs, a cat, a turtle, and a few goldfish. She is the Features Editor for The Advocate in the Berkshires where she especially enjoys writing family- and education-related articles and her monthly “Parent to Parent” column. Kelly also dabbles in writing for children and has had her work published by Wee Ones online family magazine. Her new blog “Green Mama” chronicles her journey as a “green” parent in every sense of the word — from her parenting naiveté to living greener. When not writing, her favorite pastime is cheering on her children at various football, soccer, basketball and baseball games.

Anxiety of Green Living

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

I’m Going Green Crazy

Hilltown mothers of the world would be proud. Two months ago my family embarked on a journey to eat healthier, but as we began our trek through the grocery stores talking about healthy eating, living, BEING it began to spark some interesting conversations.

Our family began to talk about the environment. We began to think about how our unconscious stream of living was affecting the environment around us. The kids worried about what was in their snacks and cafeteria lunches at school. They began to inquire about our recycling habits and occasionally they turned off a light or two.

And conversation wasn’t the only environmental flame ignited. My family actually began taking some steps to implement some really sustainable habits.

For Earth Day we purchased a composter. That big, giant, hunk of plastic was as pleasing to my eyes as the beautiful butterfly bush that used to reside in the stonewall flower garden our composter now calls home.

About two days after that little treat, the McIlquham family began a home recycling center. I even spent an afternoon grilling my dad about the best way to separate our recyclables for our local transfer station since he’s the one who makes the weekly trek to dump. (Hey, he’s retired. It gives him something to do, and besides I think he likes it.) Thanks to that afternoon of quality father/daughter time and multiple phone calls later, I think I’ve got it figured out.

That same week, my 10-year-old daughter (now 11, her birthday was last week) commented on how green we had been living that week. Thanks to the car being in the shop we walked a mile to a friends house, bringing along our own healthy, semi-organic lunches to hang out for the day, and even walked the return trip home knowing we could have gotten a ride. We enjoyed that so much, that we opted to leave the newly fixed car at home and ride our bikes to the lake the following day.

My children were so impressed by their multiple displays of greendom that week that they asked to go out to dinner (some greasy dive down the road, not a chance that anything there would be healthy or organic), to celebrate.

OK we aren’t completely there yet, but “we’ve come a long way baby!” And to be completely honest I don’t think we will ever be 100 percent there — completely green, organic and sustainable. But I’m OK with that. We are living healthier and more consciously and the environment is better for it — and so are we!

But there is one thing about this whole “Green Mama” adventure that I am not OK with and that is the neurosis I have begun to develop in the process.

Read the rest of this entry »

One Great Way to Recycle Your Kids Tattered & Outgrown Clothes This Weekend

CET’s 15th Annual Earth Day Clothing and Textile Drive This Weekend

On Saturday, April 24 and Sunday, April 25, the Center for Ecological Technology (CET) will hold its 15th annual Textile Drive to collect old clothing and household textiles for reuse and recycling. The event will be held in partnership with Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires to help celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. The collection is open to all Berkshire county residents as well as those living in southern Vermont and eastern New York State. CET is located at 112 Elm Street in Pittsfield, MA.

Materials will be accepted at CET in Pittsfield on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Last year’s drive resulted in CET collecting almost 22,000 pounds of materials!

All types of clothing are accepted—including sweaters, shirts, skirts, pants, jackets, overcoats and raincoats. Blankets, gloves, socks, paired shoes and winter boots, sheets, towels, and curtains are also acceptable. Clothing must be clean, dry and packed in strong plastic bags, such as garbage or lawn-leaf bags. Rugs, carpeting and pillows will not be accepted. Please do not bring clothes on hangers. During this year’s drive, CET will also collect donations of non-perishable food items in support of Goodwill’s Food Pantry program. These donations will only be accepted at CET’s Elm Street collection on April 24 and 25.

Goodwill resells the wearable clothing at its local stores and sends the remainder to the textile market. Additionally, Goodwill uses the collection, sorting and retail sales as job training for individuals with barriers to employment. Last year, Goodwill provided services to 122 individuals in eight different programs.

Read the rest of this entry »

13 Tips On How To GREEN Your Holiday

Reduce, Reuse and Plan Ahead: 13 Tips On How To GREEN Your Holiday

Photo credit: (ccl) Plastic_Bat

1. Wrapping paper is now recyclable!

All wrapping paper is recyclable except wrapping paper with foil, no ribbons or bows and no metallic inks or glitter. Recycle your wrapping paper at the landfill or transfer station this year with your other paper. Also, keep in mind that all cardboard gift boxes, tissue paper, gift cards and paper shopping bags are recyclable, and you can bring Styrofoam packing peanuts to the UPS store for reuse. On the other hand, ribbons, bows, tinsel and photographs cannot be recycled. They go to the landfill.

2. Reduce and Reuse

Give Used Gifts
It’s greener to give used items than to give new green items. It takes a lot of energy and natural resources to make stuff. To be green, give a gift that used no additional energy to create. Antique shops and thrift stores are cheap and often have some really cool stuff. Re-gifts (gifts you received from last year, but never use) can be passed on to someone who will use and appreciate them. Give away the bike, appliance, or gadget that you never use. It will save you time, money and storage space. — If you’d like to stay at home, scour Craigslist for heavily discounted (or free) electronics, furniture, books, clothing, toys, or almost anything else, or Freecycle for free items.

Re-Use Paper for Wrapping Paper
Reuse old maps, magazines, and gift cards as wrapping, decoration or tags. The Sunday comics or brown paper packages tied up with string are fun, original, virtually cost-free and totally recyclable. — You can also use old shoeboxes, cloth napkins or gift bags from last year to add flair to your gift-wrapping projects.

3. Compost Christmas Trees at the Landfill

4. Buy Quantities of Food that You’ll Actually Eat!

Plan your holiday meals and parties carefully to reduce avoidable and costly waste. Package leftovers and distribute them to guests as they leave. COMPOST all food scraps and uneaten leftovers to keep them out of the landfill.

5. Buy or Borrow Re-Usable or Compostable Cutlery, Cups, Flatware and Napkins

Thrift shops and tag sales have an abundance of reusable plates, utensils and glasses, often at a low price that is comparable to buying disposable items. Buy a whole bunch and then keep them in storage for your next party. You can also call a neighbor and borrow additional place settings for a large party. — If you do use paper plates and napkins, know that they are compostable. Plant-based plastics and biodegradable cutlery and cups are also available.

6. Minimize Packaging and Vote With Your Dollar

If you buy new gifts, send a message to manufacturers by choosing items with minimal packaging.

7. Consumable Gifts

Gifts that are consumable such as baked goods, coffee, cheese or wine have minimal, recyclable packaging and are immediately enjoyed, appreciated, and won’t go to waste. Buy gift certificates to locally owned stores. Check out, they offer a directory of local businesses in the valley. [The Hilltown CDC offers a directory of businesses in the hilltowns too.]

8. Shift Away from Material Gift-Giving

Material gifts require resource extraction, transportation, manufacture, distribution, purchase and eventual disposal. Check out the Story of Stuff to learn about the hidden environmental costs associated with of all of our material stuff. Gifts that are immaterial will last forever. Offer time and services to loved ones such as babysitting, household chores, or a night out.

9. Donate Charitable Gifts in Someone’s Name

Consider directing your money to a service-oriented cause, charity or organization. offers micro-loans to third-world citizens so that they can start a business that will sustain them and their family. These loans of about $50 dollars can help make a huge difference in the lives of the worlds’ less fortunate people and they are repaid 98.4% of the time. After it is repaid, they can either be redeemed or revolved back into another loan…it’s up to you.

Heifer International ( provides livestock, bees, and other beneficial gifts that can offer ongoing nutrition and income to the world’s poor one family at a time. The gifts are inexpensive, and can be given in someone else’s name. Reminder: charitable donations are tax-deductible.

10. Be Thoughtful About Your Transportation and Travel Plans

Reduce your carbon emissions by doing all of your shopping at once, rather than in multiple trips. Carpool with family and reduce air travel by taking a train or driving to your holiday destination. Keep your car tuned up, and tires properly inflated to optimize your car’s fuel efficiency.

11. Pool Resources

Get together, organize and connect with your family to buy one meaningful, durable, fantastic gift for someone. Many hands make light work, and small contributions can add up quickly to get a few great gifts for everyone.

12. Eliminate Junk Mail and Unwanted Catalogues

There are many ways to eliminate unwanted catalogs and junk mail that waste energy, resources and paper. Check out or sign up for with pre-addressed cards that will reduce your junk mail easily.

13. Give gifts that encourage a green lifestyle.

Last but not least, there are plenty of things to buy that encourage an earth-friendly lifestyle; Earth Machines (available at your local DPW) make composting easy and accessible. Travel mugs, canvas bags, solar chargers, plants or gardening tools are all good options too.

Gift wrap IS recyclable!

Amy Donovan, Program Director of Franklin County Solid Waste Management District writes:

Gift wrap IS recyclable! Reuse what you can and toss the ripped up stuff into your paper recycling bin (Do not include gift wrap with metallic ink, glitter, or foil). When opening gifts, use a brown paper bag to capture gift wrap, tissue paper, greeting cards, envelopes and boxes.

The details, from the Springfield MRF’s website: (Springfield MRF is where recycling from 80 towns in Western Mass goes)

DO Recycle:

  • gift-wrap (except those with foil, metallic ink, or glitter)
  • greeting cards (except those with foil, glitter, or wire)
  • corrugated cardboard boxes
  • paperboard gift boxes
  • catalogs

DO NOT Recycle:

  • ribbons, bows, and tinsel
  • packing peanuts, bubble wrap, styrofoam
  • “blister pack” plastic packaging from toys, electronics, etc. This is the stuff that is impossible to open and is shaped like the object inside the package.

If you have any questions about recycling, please contact the recycling hotline at 888-888-0784, ext. 2293.

Pedal People Put the Cycling in Recycling

Pedal People Put the Cycling in Recycling
by Laura Kaliebe for YES! Magazine

Pedal People co-founders Alex Jarrett and Ruty Woodring. Photo courtesty of Pedal People, Derek Goodwin

Pedal People co-founders Alex Jarrett and Ruthy Woodring. Photo courtesy of Pedal People (Derek Goodwin)

Alex Jarrett, 33, has never owned a car. Around town, he gets almost everywhere he needs to go by the power of his own two feet—walking or biking. So it seems only natural that Jarrett’s business, which he started with Ruthy Woodring in 2002, is bicycle-based.

Jarrett and Woodring are the founders of Pedal People Cooperative Inc., which they describe as “a human-powered delivery and hauling service” for the Northampton, Mass. area. In all types of weather, Pedal People’s staff of 12 can be found hauling up to 300 pounds of trash, recycling and compost on trailers hitched to the back of their bikes. The business also offers a compost service, a yard care service, grocery and diaper delivery, and even a pedicab service for special events.

Unlike many cities, Northampton has no municipal curbside pickup for trash and recycling. Residents haul their trash and recycling to the transfer center or contract with a private service. Jarrett and Woodring saw this as an opportunity to begin a bicycle-based business. Jarrett had been using his bicycle trailer, which is made by the company Bikes at Work Inc., to bring his own recycling to the transfer center. “Ruthy and I thought, ‘Let’s give this a shot. This sounds like a crazy idea, but let’s see if we can haul other people’s [trash and recycling] and if they’ll pay us for it.’”  Read the rest of this entry »

It’s a Wrap!

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