Setting the mood with the right bulb, where to find earth-friendly cards and chem-free fabrics

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Q I’ve tried buying compact fluorescent bulbs, but I’m not crazy about the light they give off. Am I seeing things?

A First, let me pull out my pompoms and get a cheer going for the energy-saving power of compact fluorescents (CFLs). If all Canadians switched to these hyper-efficient light sources, we’d be cutting back on so much energy use that it’d be like taking a million cars off the road. But no, you’re not hallucinating. Different CFLs give off different types of light. And although they have improved over the years, you may not be crazy about all of them. Some are warm, some bluish, some remind you of sitting in a cubicle. That’s because of something called colour temperature: the lower the colour temperature, the warmer the light.

To get an idea of what’s out there, you can often choose between 2,700K (if you’re wondering what the K stands for, it’s a unit of heat measurement called kelvins), 4,100K and 6,500K bulbs. Closest to the yellowy glow of regular incandescent bulbs is 2,700K. The higher the number, the whiter, cooler and bluer the light. FYI, most “daylight” bulbs are about 6,500K.

If you’re a fan of dim lighting and find fluorescents too bright for your taste, consider dimmer switches. But (and this is important) you can’t use dimmer switches with 95 per cent of CFL bulbs. Put a regular CFL on a dimmer switch and it’ll flicker or hum, but you shouldn’t have that problem if you buy good quality CFLs labelled as dimmable (Philips makes some).

The other option is to pick up three-way CFL bulbs with low, medium and high settings. Of course, you’ll need a three-way lamp fixture for it to work.

Chandelier owners take note: low-watt chandelier-sized CFLs are now available (yay!), but aren’t yet dimmable.

Q Is there a store in Toronto that sells environmentally friendly cards?

A These days you can pick up cards for your dad’s birthday or your cousin’s graduation pretty much anywhere that sells gum. And though most are printed on bleached virgin trees, you’ll be surprised how often the recycled logo comes up if you flip the card over. Even Hallmark has some 100 per cent recycled cards, a series with photos of kids holding umbrellas in the rain and dogs wearing boas, that kind of thing. Of course, if you’d rather avoid malls and major corporations, local card shops like Valhalla on Queen West sell lines of 100 per cent recycled paper. Tree-free hemp cards or cards with high percentages of post-consumer recycled content are the best. Grow-A-Note cards, made from 100 per cent hemp, have flower seeds embedded in the paper so recipients can plant them in their garden and watch daisies or catnip grow. You can get them at Grassroots on Bloor or Danforth, Whole Foods and T.H.E. Store on Avenue Road. They’re also sold in bulk online (www. if you want a whack of Grow-A-Note thank you cards.

Grassroots also has blank cards made from old flyers. The Paper Place on Queen West sells paper from Quebec made from old jeans that you can use to design your own cards.

Q I like to sew clothes. How can I get more ecologically responsible fabrics?

A Walk into any fabric store and ask for organic textiles and you’ll probably be told that all cotton is natural. Sure, it comes from the earth, but is it pesticide-free? Fat chance. Manufacturers also tend to use all kinds of nasty dyes and potent chemicals to process the materials, including adding a wrinkle resistant formaldehyde finish. One of your only local storefront sources caters to the stoner set. Yes, Toronto Hemp Company on Yonge sells hemp fabric by the yard, including dress-worthy hemp/silk blends and hemp denim.

For a broader selection, you’ve gotta head online. NearSea Naturals probably has the biggest and most inspiring collection of organic cotton prints, woven blends, wools and knits by the yard (www.nearseanaturals. com). The company even has organic thread, batting and a crazy-cool collection of buttons made of stuff like bamboo, nuts and fallen antlers. Organic Cotton Plus ( and Earth Friendly Goods ( also carry organic fabrics. May the thread be with you!

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