Wednesday, December 17, 2014

9 Ways to Shop Local for the Holidays ... And Beyond

From the bean of Green Bean.

A banner hangs across the main street of a local town.

Last year, I tried for a Nothing New Christmas, but this year, I admit that I am buying a bit more.  That said, I am trying to make my money count.  Did you know that "$45 out of every $100 spent at small businesses stays local."  Only $15 out of every $100, by contrast, stays local when you shop at national chains?  There are many more reasons to buy local - preserve the character of your area, create local jobs, foster entrepreneurship, and "help sustain vibrant, compact, walkable town centers" to name a few.



To be honest, though, one of the best reasons to shop local for the holidays is because you get better gifts.

1) Toy Stores - In my experience, independent toy stores carry more American and locally made products than chain stores.  They also offer a wider selection of educational and old fashioned toys as well as arts and craft kits and supplies.  If you are heading out this weekend to stuff the stockings, skip the Dollar Spot at Target and peruse your local toy store.  Try some old fashioned wooden airplanes, a wooden top, a jump roper or a bag of magic tricks.  If your elf prefers Legos or My Little Pony, never fear.  Local toy stores will likely carry that too.

2) Book Stores - While book stores - even chain stores - are few and far between these days, we are lucky enough to have a thriving children's bookstore in our town.  Sure, Amazon has the "recommended for you" algorithm but it just ain't the same as a flesh and blood 20-something voracious reader who eagerly takes your child to discover his next new series.  Staff at independent book stores offer unparalleled advice on books for gifts and book stores also carry other little (often local) items from stocking stuffers.  Indeed, a good friend once created a game and this book store sold it for her.  If you don't know where your local book store is or if you prefer to order online, check out IndieBound.

3) Liquor Stores - Yes, I said it. We have a huge liquor store a few towns over that almost went out of business when two Bev Mos went in in neighboring cities.  Local folks rallied and the store is, thankfully, still open.  I stopped by this store this week to buy wine and gift baskets for my husband's colleagues.  While there, I couldn't help pick a half dozen bottles from their huge selection of boutique sodas (including some brewed in my town!) as well as honey from a favorite beekeeper. Try finding that at Bev Mo!

4) Grocery Stores - These might not be the first place you think of to buy holiday gifts but independent grocery stores often carry many speciality items and handmade, local treats - like candy, baked goods and such.  Our local store also stocks local wine and small wrapped goodies that are perfect for hostess or teacher gifts.  You might also fine locally roasted coffee or gourmet tea or hot cocoa. 

5) Bakeries - We often get a Bouche de Noel from a local bakery and sometimes wrapped cookies, breads or granola. The day after Thanksgiving, we visited the small town of Solvang - a tourist destination with more bakeries you can count.  Many offered boxes of their signature cookies which make unique and tasty gifts.

6) Antique Stores and Second Hand Stores - I strongly believe in supporting the second hand retail market. As I found out the hard way last year when a favorite antique store closed, if we don't support these outlets, they will close and all of our items that could have headed for reuse will instead head to the landfill.  Antique and thrift stores are, in my opinion, the best place to find baskets and containers for homemade gift baskets.  You can also find charming gift tags, puzzles, platters for homemade cookies and one of a kind treasures.

7) Farmers Markets - I understand that not everyone lives in California, where we have year round farmers' markets, but if you have any open markets or farm stands near you, these are wonderful meccas for unique, thoughtful gifts such as trail mixes, soaps, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, handmade pasta, locally made chocolate treats, wreaths, dried flower arrangements and more.

8) Garden Centers - Most nurseries do not shut down just because it is cold outside.  Instead, they stock their indoor space with seeds, garden tools, cards,  books, and Christmas decorations.  Us gardeners would delight in almost anything from these outlets!! 

9) Take a Walk on Main Street, in Your Downtown or at a Local Strip Mall - There are numerous more ways to shop local.  You just have to get outside the mall, off the Internet and open your eyes.  Our local downtown also has a kitchen shop which I always visit for my mother-in-law, a balsamic vinegar and olive oil store that carries wonderful gifts for business colleagues, a pet store which stocks locally baked biscuits as well as toys for the furry ones in your life.  The list is endless and much more enjoyable than busting down doors or fighting for toys at a chain store.  Get to know your neighbors, your city, and keep your local economy thriving.

Shop Local for the Holidays ... And Beyond. 



Monday, December 15, 2014

Green Living and Frugal Living: Friends or Foes?

The Climate Crusader is contemplating how green living and frugal living go hand-in-hand...and how they don't.

Last week I got one of those phone calls that is never a whole lot of fun - I was laid off from my part-time job as an editor. I was planning to leave the position late this summer, because I'm going back to school full-time in September to earn my teaching credentials. I am very lucky in that losing my job now is not the end of the world for me, and simply hastens the inevitable. However, it does mean that I'm losing seven months of income I was counting on. 2015 is going to be a very frugal year for me.

As I was thinking about how I could save money, I was struck by the many ways that frugal living is also green living. I was also struck by the many ways that it's not.

Green Living and Frugal Living are Friends

Here are five ways that living on the cheap also means taking care of the earth.
  1. Thrift Store Shopping - Buying clothes, toys, household items, books and so on second hand saves you money and reduces your carbon footprint. You're reusing something that might otherwise go into the landfill, and saving the earth the strain of having to make something new.
  2. Buying Less - Reducing your consumption trims your budget and your environmental impact. If you don't really need something, then not buying it means that you're conserving the resources that would have gone into making it.
  3. Gardening - Growing food from seed is cheap. It also reduces your food miles, which is good for the planet. Plus, by choosing sustainable gardening practices you're helping to protect the whole ecosystem.
  4. Eating Less Meat - Eating less meat will reduce your food bill. It will also cut down your carbon footprint, because growing an animal for food has a much higher environmental impact than growing vegetables.
  5. Turn Down the Heat - Turning down the thermostat in the winter will save you money on your monthly energy bill. It will also reduce your carbon footprint. Just find a second-hand sweater and you're set.

Green Living and Frugal Living are Enemies

Here are four ways that green living conflicts with frugal living - and suggestions for how to overcome the conflict.

  1. Buying Organic - Opting for organic food is a green choice. However, organic food is more expensive than its conventional counterpart. You can reduce the expense by opting to buy organic where it matters most - look up the dirty dozen - as well as by reducing your food waste and preserving food in season.
  2. Buying Green Cleaning Products - Cleaning your house with toxic substances is not good for the earth or for you. Once again, though, green products are much more expensive. You can reduce the expense by making your own cleaners, or cleaning with inexpensive, non-toxic substances like baking soda and vinegar.
  3. Buying Reusables - In the long run, investing in reusable containers for food, reusable water bottles and reusable bags can save you money. In the short term, though, the price tag can be stiff. I've found that buying a few items when I can afford them, and taking care of them well, has helped to mitigate the expense.
  4. Eco-Expensive Gear - There are some really expensive green products out there - think Tesla cars, fancy kitchen appliances, sustainably-produced high fashion, and so on. It's easy to have eco envy when you see people with very cool and expensive gear. Luckily, most of these products are not really necessary, and there are many more affordable options.
How do you go green and save green at the same time?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Classic Wet Shaving: The New Old-Fashioned (and eco-friendly) Way to Shave

In which the Parsimonious Princess tells you how the men in your life can shave in the new old-fashioned way - and be eco-friendly while they're at it. 




My husband hated shaving. He avoided it. He looked forward to camping and vacations partly just because it meant he wouldn't have to shave. I think avoiding shaving was a main part of his motivation to grow a beard in the wintertime.

However, I've always liked it better when he's clean-shaven. The smell, the smoothness -- all good things. But then I found out why he disliked shaving so much. The various creams and gels on the market really irritated his skin. The razors tugged on his skin, especially on his neck, and left a bunch of little, red bumps on his lower jaw and neck. He would also get ingrown hairs from time to time. Shaving was uncomfortable and unpleasant, but he did it anyway. I could understand why he didn't like doing it.

But this all changed over four years ago. Now he doesn't mind shaving at all. He even looks forward to it a little because he says it's relaxing.

What changed? He learned about traditional wet shaving. Not only does he greatly prefer it, but it also happens to be a frugal and eco-friendly way to shave. Talk about a win-win-win situation (or would that be four wins because I get a cleanly shaven husband more often...)

Now that the holiday season is in full-swing, I thought I'd write a post about the many benefits of classic wet shaving because new (and better) shaving tools would make a great gift for the guys on your shopping list!

I first learned about wet shaving on the now-defunct blog, Simple Organic. Researcher that I am, I used that post as a starting point to read and learn more about the method. I learned a lot of interesting things about the differences between mainstream and traditional methods (who knew there was such science to shaving?). I'll give you a quick overview:

Basically, the mainstream cream and gels use chemical (and cheap) ingredients that weaken the hair on a man's face. From there, when the disposable cartridge razor is used, it stretches the hair from the face and then cuts it. When this happens, the elastic nature of the hair actually makes it spring back, which can cause ingrown hairs and irritation. So, truly, it's the mainstream products that are the cause of many skin problems men experience with shaving (not to also mention the issue of various chemicals in the shaving creams and gels -- you can check out the EWG Skin Deep database for more specific details about different brands' effects).

Classic wet shaving is actually healthier for men's skin. Shaving soap (which is an alkali solution) is whipped up into a lather with a shaving brush. This kind of soap, instead of using a chemical reaction to make it weaker, makes the hair swell, making it easier to cut. The traditional razor moves over the skin and cuts the hair at the surface -- there's no tugging or pulling of the entire cuticle like with a cartridge razor. Another benefit to using this type of soap is that when the shaving brush is used to apply the soap to the skin, the neck and face are simultaneously exfoliated, removing the dead skin cells.

Once my husband switched to wet shaving, his skin improved dramatically. The razor burn was gone soon after. No ingrown hairs or other skin irritations. The only drawback he told me he could think of was that classic wet shaving takes a little longer -- but even then he doesn't mind because he finds the process of wet shaving quite relaxing.

What I particularly like about classic wet shaving (besides a happier husband) is that it's more frugal because you eliminate the almost all of the disposable aspects of shaving -- that's what makes it an eco-friendly choice, too.


There are two types of razors used with classic wet shaving: the straight-edged razor (like you see barbers and cowboys use in old Western movies) or the double-edged safety razor (which is more like what your grandfather probably used). My husband, though he did consider the straight-edged one, opted for the safety razor.

The one pictured above (the safety razor) was ordered off Amazon for about $28, which may seem a little steep at first for a razor, but it's actually not at all when you consider the cost of the disposable plastic cartridge razors ($8-12 just for the razor, plus $15-20 for the 8-pack of replacement cartridges. At least this is how much they cost when he used to buy them). The safety razor my husband uses is heavy-duty metal and will last for many, many years -- perhaps his lifetime. On top of that, the replacement blades for his safety razor are super cheap -- only $10 for 100.  The waste with a safety razor is minimal because he only has to dispose of the small blade (which can also be recycled. You can find more info on that here). One other plus: no plastic in sight with the safety razor.

The shaving soap used with classic wet shaving lasts much longer than its mainstream counterparts, too. My husband uses a shaving soap that comes in a ceramic dish. Like with the safety razor, it costs a bit more up front (around $20-ish), but it lasts. One dish can last my husband well over a year (at least that -- I can't even remember the last time he replaced it). This also translates to less waste -- not only does the soap last a long time, but there are no cans to toss after a few uses (as with mainstream creams and gels). When he runs out of soap, he buys the replacement bar that fits into the dish.

The shaving brush needed to use the soap can get a bit pricey, depending on the quality of the brush. I bought my husband a badger hair one for Father's Day a few years ago for around $40. Again, that seems a bit pricey, but I've actually read reviews from guys who use their grandfather's shaving brush -- high quality ones can last that long! Now that's reusability at its finest.

This is just a quick overview of classic wet shaving. Google it and you'll find that wet shaving has a devoted following, with whole blogs and forums devoted to it. You can find how-to videos on YouTube (there is a method to it, like how you hold the razor, for example) -- you can find a quick how-to at a post I wrote here. If you're interested in buying new shaving supplies as a gift and want more specific recommendations, you can read about the exact tools my husband uses here or you could check out this helpful post at The Art of Manliness. Badger & Blade is a wonderful resource, too -- you can find more information there about wet shaving than pretty much anywhere else.


Really, you can't find a more smooth (ha ha) way to be eco-friendly.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Last Minute Present: DIY Plastic Free Food Wrap

Queen Composter shares a quick and easy DIY gift to make for family and friends.



I believe in the personal touch for the holidays and I always try to make at least some of my gifts. Sure it takes more effort, and at this busy time of year homemade gifts may be the first thing to go when schedules fill up. But I believe that I have the perfect last minute homemade gift: plastic-free food wraps.

There are commercially produced beeswax food wraps if DIY really isn't your thing, and I do love supporting companies that make environmentally friendly and ethical products. Abeego is one such company, and I am proud that it started as a home-based business in my province. They have many options for food storage including large bowl covers as well as handy snack and sandwich pockets.

In keeping with my DIY spirit, last year I decided to try making some of my own, and they were a hit with everyone. I made a dozen or so in one afternoon, with minimal prep and clean up.

Here's how to make your own reusable food wraps:


Materials


  • various pieces of cotton cloth 
  • block of beeswax
  • metal baking sheet
  • pinking shears
  • clothes pegs or metal clips
  • cooling rack
  • cheese grater

Method

  • Preheat the oven to a very low heat (I set my oven to about 190F but as every oven is slightly different, you may want to play around with this).

  • Cut the pieces of cloth into desired sizes using the pinking shears (so that the edges of the cloth do not fray; no sewing required). I suggest measuring the different types of food containers that you may wish to cover with the wraps. I had some old quilting fat quarters in my crafting stash so I cut each one into fourths. This is a great way to use up fabric scraps you may have lying around.


  • Place a piece of cloth on the baking sheet. Some people suggest using an old baking sheet because it may ruin the sheet for other purposes. I don't have any extra, however, so I just used one that I have. After thoroughly cleaning it in hot water I didn't have any beeswax residue left so if you are like me and only have one, it will be fine after usage, but if you are concerned, use an old baking sheet.


  • Grate the beeswax. The amount depends on the size of the wrap you are making. There should be enough wax to lightly cover the cloth. Too much will make it too stiff to use and too little will not completely cover the material. You may need to play around with this a little bit to see what amount works for you. My advice is less is more; you can always add more grated wax and remelt in the oven if you haven't added enough.

  • Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for a few minutes until the wax looks completely melted onto the cloth (stay close and keep an eye on it).

  • Carefully peel the cloth off the baking sheet and hang over a cooling rack that is standing on it's side, like a clothes line. Use clothes pegs to hold the cooling fabric in place. 

  • Remove from the wrap from the cooling rack when it is finished. I did mine like an assembly line and by the time the next wrap was melted in the oven (grating the beeswax for each individual wrap), the previous wrap was cooled and ready. 


To Use the Food Wrap:

  • Place the wrap over the bowl or food container. Rub your hands around the edge to warm up the wax with your hands and mould the wrap to the shape of the container. 

  • Get creative with your wrap and use it for cheese and other oddly shaped food.
Sometimes I use elastic bands to keep the wrap tight on the container.

  • Because the wraps are made from beeswax they must be washed in cold water and a little bit of dish soap if required. Obviously warm or hot water will melt the wax, make a mess in your sink and ruin the food wraps. I have had no difficulty caring for my wraps in this way, and after a year of use they are still in very good condition. 
This wrap is well used but still in working condition. 

  • If the wrap becomes used looking with the wax cracking (visible white lines and marks) simply repeat the melting process in the oven so that it looks as good as new. 



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Building A Better Advent Calendar

From the bean of Green Bean



"We'll get the Christmas decorations down this weekend," I tell my boys.

"I wonder what will be in the Advent calendar this year," my younger son ponders, grinning at me.  I wonder indeed.  In fact, I wonder aloud - because my kids are 10 and 12 - whether we still want to do an Advent calendar.  That question is met with a look of outrage from my oldest.

"I always want to do that Advent calendar," is the tearful response from my youngest.  "Until we are grown ups!"


When I bought the wooden box twelve years ago, I don't remember what I had in mind.  An occasional nickel or a sweet?  My parents teased that, as the boys grew older, they would want more and I would be reduced to trying to cram a credit card in there.  After years of filling this puppy, though, I am happy to say that I have got it down to a science - all without breaking the bank account, cluttering the house or turning my kids into greedy monsters.

Here are my tried and true successes for filling the Advent calendar:

  • Heirloom items you can give again and again.  A lifetime ago, I invested in two sets of Thomas the Train holiday trains.  The first year, I stuffed the trains into the numbered cartons, thinking that would be the end of it.  When I packed up the Christmas goodies at the end of the season, though, I wondered why I wouldn't also pack up the trains.  They were seasonal after all.  Since then, it has been a tradition.  Every year, I put the trains in slots - six slots in total.  They are usually toward the front of the month which gives mom a chance to get organized.  Petite wooden dolls, fairies, snowman, ornaments and so on could also fit. Anything seasonal and lasting that is small enough to fit can become a family tradition.  
  • Small sweets. Fair trade chocolate, mints, bubble gum and the like fit easily into the calendar cubbies.  They can account for any allergies and brighten up a dull winter day.
  • Let Your Children Be Santa's Elves. What feels better than giving?  Why not share this with your children.  Every year, I put a note in the calendar for a farm animal. It is not for us, though. Rather, the boys and I log onto Heifer and peruse the ducks, goats and bees for families in need on the other side of the globe.  There are an endless number of similar charity ideas - adopt a seal, plant a tree, help out a family farmer.  We have also adopted families/children in the past, gone shopping for a Toys for Tots, and, this year, will fill two grocery bags for Second Harvest. Another option is a coupon for a family outing to volunteer at a soup kitchen or gift shop for the less privileged. 
  • The joy of Christmas.  Looking back on my childhood, I recall few specific gifts.  Instead, I remember baking cookies with my mom, watching a favorite Christmas movie with my dad or walking to see the Christmas lights with my grandparents.  It is these experiences that have become the meat of our Advent calendar.  The promise to watch Elf with popcorn.  A walk with hot cocoa down Christmas tree lane.  A visit from grandparents or a holiday tea with cousins.  Often, I incorporate events that will be happening regardless - and just do not mention them to the boys until they open the note. 
  • Music and games.  Coupons for iTunes happily fill a day or two each December.  My boys enjoy music and love the opportunity to download a new song for free.  If your children have their own electronic devices, you could also include a coupon for a new app.
  • A wish. The 25th day of the calendar always holds a simple wish for a Merry Christmas, printed on a slip of paper. In the beginning, I would save the best items for the last slot but found that the gift is usually overlooked in the hubbub of the holiday itself. A wish is enough.
Do you do an Advent calendar at Christmas time?  If so, what do you put in your calendar?  What has worked and what hasn't?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Thoughts on World AIDS Day


The Climate Crusader is considering our interconnectedness on World AIDS Day.


Today - December 1 -  is World AIDS Day. This day has been set aside since 1988 to raise awareness and call for action in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS. The good news is that massive strides have been made in the past 26 years. An HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. Also, HIV transmission rates have decreased and stabilized, even as more people are living with the infection.

The bad news is that HIV/AIDS continue to disproportionately impact marginalized groups worldwide. Here in Canada, where I live, aboriginal people comprise four percent of the population, but make up twelve percent of new HIV infections. In the US the CDC says that African Americans and Latinos are at greater risk from the disease. Globally, the vast majority of people living with HIV/AIDS are in low and middle income countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

What does this have to do with green living? The same people who are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS, are also disproportionately impacted by environmental issues. A report from the World Health Organization says:
Socioeconomic status is an important determinant of the likelihood that individuals and populations are exposed to environmental and other risk factors for health.
In fact, the United Nations Development Programme is advocating that the impact of large-scale projects on HIV rates be included in the environmental assessment process.

Okay, but what does this have to do with us? I don't know what your life is like, but I'm a suburban mom of two. I am not on the front lines of the fight against HIV/AIDS, and no one is consulting me about how to assess large-scale development projects. What can I really do?

For me, the key point to remember is simple. In fact, it's the kind of thing I say to my kindergartner: we are all connected. The choices we make about what to buy, what organizations to support, and so on, can impact the lives of people we'll never meet halfway around the world. This is just as true whether we're considering how being exposed to pesticides impacts the health of the farmers who grow our food, or whether we're thinking about how the wages that workers receive impact their ability to access health care. When we inform ourselves, make conscious decisions and vote with our dollars, we can help create a better world for everyone.

When we fight for a healthier environment and a more just world, we're also helping to fight the diseases that are associated with socioeconomic marginalization, including HIV/AIDS. The trends show that we can make a difference. Let's not give up the fight.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mindful Mopping and Sweet Sweeping

Mindful Echo gets swept away. 

A little while ago I was complaining to one of my nearest and dearest about my struggles to keep up with the never-ending mounds of fur that accumulate on my floors. The combination of cat and dog fur reveals itself in new piles MOMENTS after I've dusted, swept, mopped, or vacuumed. I turn around and it's there. ALL THE TIME.

Guiltily I'll admit that I often succumb to the ease of disposable cloths, rags, and wipes in many of these cases. It hasn't been for lack of effort - my purchases of reusable devices have proven fruitless either by virtue of inferior product design, poor manufacturing, or ease of use.

So, hearing my complaints, I was gifted with a no-more-excuses kit that will allow me to maintain my hardwood without piling on disposable purchases.

Behold, the All Purpose Wipes and Swiffer Wet Kit:


It couldn't be more simple.

Items Needed:
  • Plastic container
  • Several facecloths
  • 6 cups water
  • 4 cups vinegar
  • Dash of dishwashing soap
1. Fill the container with the water, vinegar, and soap.
2. Place the facecloths in container to soak
3. Use as needed. 

With some minimal effort on the front end, having these rags handy eliminates virtually any reason to go the disposable route. The best part is that the cloths actually fit perfectly as Swiffer wipes too. When the cloth is dirty, just toss it into the wash with the rest of your laundry. Replenish the vinegar/soap solution and cloths as needed.

In my opinion, this is one of the best gifts I've ever received. A good friend empowers you to live the life you strive for. For me, it's about living gently upon the earth while NOT being covered in dog fur. But, you know, to each her own.

Happy cleaning! 




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