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The Gaults

Five-year-old Madeleine Gault stands in the hot back yard, garden hose in hand, filling up her plastic swimming pool.

Meanwhile, just inside the house, her mom, Melissa Gault, is talking about water conservation with horticulturist Steve Chaney.

With enough mulch and the right native plants, Chaney tells her, you can have a garden that doesn't waste water. There's a thriving one in Wichita Falls, he says, that hasn't been watered in seven years.

That's when Madeleine comes bursting through the back door.

"The pool flipped over," she reports -- and sure enough, all that precious water is running in rivulets through the grass, forming mud beneath a now-empty pool.

Melissa laughs. She rights the pool, squishing through wet grass on her way back to the deck.

"Go turn the water off," she tells Madeleine, who skips over to adjust the faucet. Melissa stands back and surveys the scene.

"I think," she says, "I've got my work cut out for me."

Meet the Gaults

  • Melissa, 27, is a high school teacher in Fort Worth.
  • Marc, 40, is a lawyer in Fort Worth.
  • Family: Madeleine, 5 (in pink); Ella, 2; and a terrier named Bosley.
  • Home: 1,900-square-foot single-family house in Benbrook, built in 1993.
  • Life before the Green Challenge

    The Gaults wanted to throw themselves into the challenge to combat the "pink consumer monster," Melissa said. Like most kids, their daughters are big fans of anything pink and plastic, anything made by Disney or Mattel. The Gaults worried that without a solid grounding in environmental responsibility, the girls would grow too comfortable in their world of plastic toys and convenient, disposable consumer goods.

    To do this, the Gaults wanted to learn how to make green living a priority.

    "We do the basics," Melissa said. "We recycle, we have fluorescent lights, we keep our thermostat high. How do we get to the next level?"

    How the challenge changed their habits

    The activities they planned and the efforts they made were designed to teach the girls to love green almost as much as they love the toys in that other color. When Melissa dropped off old paint cans at the environmental collection center (thus saving them from the landfill), the girls went along. Together, Melissa and the girls turned a struggling vegetable patch into a sensory garden — basil to smell and taste, lamb’s ear to touch — so the girls can understand and appreciate how things grow. They also bought red worms for vermicomposting and set up a “worm farm” that’ll turn kitchen scraps into compost.

    The daily log

  • Highest mileage day: 130 miles
  • Lowest mileage day: 12 miles
  • Daytime thermostat setting: 80 to 84 degrees
  • What worked

    The Gaults started the challenge with a list of projects -- painting a room with eco-friendly paint, gathering up toys to give away, building a better compost pile. It was all about activity. But along the way, they learned that the less dramatic stuff was what mattered the most: the everyday decisions that make a difference. "Before the Green Challenge," Melissa says, "I assumed going green was all about action. Our family learned it's more about choices and philosophy than constant 'green' activities."

    What didn't work

    Melissa planned to throw an all-green backyard party to celebrate Marc's and Madeleine's birthdays. She'd imagined their guests eating from pricey biodegradable plates — but she abandoned that idea when she discovered a big sale at Party City. Good economic sense prevailed, and she settled for offering guests a recycling bin and reselling the party decorations on eBay.

    Unexpected discovery

    Melissa started mopping her tile floors with an Earth-friendly mix of vinegar and water. There was no residue and no smell when it dried, and it didn’t make the tile sticky like her regular cleaner tends to do. Green choices, she discovered, aren’t always a sacrifice.

    The next step

    The Gaults spend more time cooking and grilling at home, less time waiting in drive-through lines. They turn off the DVR during the day and limit their computer use. And Melissa’s projects with the girls give them time together, focused on nature instead of consumer goods.

    “These aren’t just green choices,” Melissa told us. “They’re good choices.”

    “We have all noticed that we feel better, we’re sleeping better — we just feel healthier.” she says. —