Saturday, January 31, 2009

Crayon You Be My Valentine?

From the bean of Green Bean.

In the spirit of reuse, this is a post from my old blog, Green Bean Dreams. We're knee deep in melted wax right now, doing the same project again this year with a bit more kid involvement as the kids are a bit older. Just as fun the second year as the first.

As holidays go, Valentine's Day has one of the smaller footprints. Yes, there is the chocolate (consumable), the flowers (biodegradable) and the cards (also biodegradable). If you think Valentine's Day is green, though, you don't have school aged kids.

Last year, my boys brought home quite a haul in their heart stamped "mailboxes". Valentines with plastic wrapped gummi hearts. Valentines with decorative pencils and erasers (for my then 2 year old!). Valentines with stickers. Heart shaped lollipops wrapped in plastic. Valentines with tongue tattoos (huh!). Cellophane bags bursting with individually wrapped chocolate hearts or plastic trinkets. In preschool at least, Valentine's Day is big business beyond hearts and flowers.
How then do you ask a class mate, "Will You Be Mine, Green Valentine?" Make your own and make it with stuff you already own.

Last year, I read this article about making crayon heart Valentines to pass out. The project hit on everything I wanted to accomplish this holiday. Reusing or recycling (broken crayons), making instead of buying, involving the children and avoiding commercial Valentines.
Through out the year, we keep a plastic cup in the pantry for broken crayon bits. For me, organization is the key to reusing. Taking our bucket of busted crayons, we peeled the remaining paper and melted them in a glass jar in the microwave.

We then poured the molten wax into an old heart shaped ice cube tray and let it cool. Melting in the oven gives more control over which colors go into each heart but ovens use more electricity than microwaves and, more importantly, my ice cube tray would have been toast in the oven. I could have bought an oven safe heart mold, muffin tray or such but that would have defeated the purpose of the project.

Gathering thicker paper from around the house - poster board, leftover paper for cards, we cut out circles. My oldest neatly printed his friends' names and his name on one side. I printed a Valentine saying on the front and we hot glued the crayons to the paper.

Ta da! A low impact Valentine made from completely reused and repurposed items involving the kids. Eat your heart out!

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Dose of Hope

While I was contemplating what to write about today, I wandered around the internet to catch up on some blogs I wanted to read and to catch up with some friends. I found this post from Arduous and I changed my train of thought. This one's for you Arduous, because there are days we all need a good dose of hope and I'm glad you reminded me to look for it! Lately, the economy and our family's increasingly hectic schedule has had me a little down. But, if we look for it, hope is around every corner.

from the wonderings of... EcoWonder
What gives me hope...

When my alarm goes off at 'o-dark-o-clock and I feel too tired to haul my sorry cookies out of bed, the noisy whir of the grinder spinning the coffee beans my husband prepared and preset to brew for our morning coffee knowing I would be too tired. He helped me keep to my promise to take my trusty, reusable thermos to work each day, filled with my fair trade coffee fix... he gave me hope. (And a little caffeine buzz...)

Listening to my boys joking and laughing in the kitchen, eating their breakfast and helping their little brother eat that last bite of cereal because they know Mom is trying not to be late - again - to work... it gives me hope.

Opening my email and finding an invitation to a ribbon cutting ceremony to a new home built for a recovering homeless family from a non-profit agency my company supports... it gives me hope.

Eating my left-overs lunch out of the glass containers and pretty Crate and Barrel lunch bag that my sister kindly gave me for Christmas because she knew I hated carrying my ratty, old plastic Target bags to work... she gave me hope wrapped in recycled Christmas paper.

Rushing through the preschool, hurrying my son's boots on his feet, hat on his head, mittens on his hands, he stops to show me the pencil character he made from the fabric scraps I collected at work and lugged into the school. I breathe deeply and smile at the googly eyes, scrappy fabric skirt and the feathers for hair and I squeeze my littlest boy tight... because he gives me hope.

Coming home to find my boys have shoveled the driveway free of snow and they're already working on homework (with a side of video games) on their laptops, makes me realize what grown men they are becoming and I hug them (even though they're too big for that)... because they give me hope.

If we look carefully, around every corner - even in these darkest of days - we can find something that gives us hope. We all need a little and it's free for the taking!

What gives you hope?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Joyous Limit: Balancing Belief and Relief

JessTrev plans her garden and thinks about balance and mac 'n cheese (with the help of sage author Gunilla Norris).

It's that time of year again - I've pulled out my books on organic gardening and vegetables, and I'm starting to daydream about seedlings. In years past, I've started my ever-leggy seedlings on a sunny porch but now I'm hankering for some naked 40-watt bulbs in my laundry room. I've been making space, after all. I've polled the five year old (she really wants to grow watermelons and pumpkins in our half-of-a-community garden plot -- why not?) and lovingly perused the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange online catalogue.

This year, I've decided to grow things I'd like to grab daily (like herbs and lettuce) and those that might benefit from containers (potatoes and upside-down cherry tomatoes) on my south-facing back stoop. And I've decided (GASP) not to grow tomatoes or bell peppers in the community garden atall because they didn't ever really ripen last year. I'm sure fried green tomatoes are fabulous (I just threw mine into tomato sauce) and undersized bell peppers are, um, okay, but I think I'm going to go with what thrives this year. My dozen-plus basil plants? Are still supporting my pesto habit as we head into February.

I think this attitude aptly captures my feelings about greening my life at the moment, as well. I've long thought that starting with the low-hanging fruit of enviro action is smart because it builds momentum and, as any teacher knows, feeling successful leads to setting ambitious goals down the road. It turns out there's a lot of low-hanging fruit out there -- so many individual actions turn out to be really quite easy. And it's so interesting to see what thrives.

Recently on DC Urban Moms and Dads (my local parenting listserv), there was a query from a mom asking for easy alternatives to paper towels. Immediately, a chorus of voices chimed in about how easy it is to use rags -- that it doesn't create any extra laundry, or require any purchases (just cut up some old t-shirts). Then WormLady chimed in, noting that her 4-year old had pushed her toward making cloth wipes for their bathroom (isn't that a waste of paper, mom?). I'm not there yet, but I now realize that what seems easy and attainable is always shifting. You make a few changes, absorb them into your routines so they become automatic, and then you're ready for something new. Right now, I'm really into worm composting (which happened with the help of WormLady to begin with), thinking about cooking seasonally, reading up a storm (from cookbooks to environmental nonfiction -- I'll put some book reviews up soon, I promise), and planning my garden.

I've also been pondering the balance that I need to live a simple yet full life in the modern world. No, I'm not saying I desperately need a McDonald's fix. But while my kids had coughs all last week, one saddled with pneumonia, I got them some Amy's frozen mac and cheese because we were all at our limit from lack of sleep and I couldn't bring myself to cook. I can't remember the last time I bought some of that gooey yellow kid carbo-delight. It came packaged in a gratuitous plastic overwrap (just like my cheese, crackers, and pasta -- it's not like I live a plastic-free life). But somehow the convenience food angle, the fact that it doesn't have organic cheese? Just irked me.

We all have our thresholds. I don't make my own pasta like I'm sure some of you do (and my great-grandmother did). But I *do* usually make my mac n cheese. For this very reason, though, it gave us sweet relief to just grab some from the freezer. And, whoa baby, we needed some relief. So whatever it is that you're about to wear an enviro hairshirt for even contemplating? I'd love to provide you with some virtual absolution. It's all about the long haul. And it's all about balancing belief and relief so we can achieve what Gunilla Norris calls a "joyous limit."

Speaking of Norris, I love her dual exhortation to cut myself some slack and to consider that I've probably simultaneously set the bar too low, made my "intention too small." It's a beautifully complicated message:
"In deciding to grow anything, don't I need to describe the space it needs? Don't I need to limit the scope of what I am attempting?

How often I have taken on too much or found I have failed in trust and made my intention too small. How big is the border, the vegetable bed, the raspberry patch, our work in the world, our capacity to maintain and sustain what we start? Will we let ourselves make proper limits -- to do just what we can do -- and no more?

What we put on our plates can bloat us or starve us. That is true of food and activity. Today, what is a just limit, a joyous limit, a comfortable limit? Can we be helped to know what is enough and to live it?"

-- A Mystic Garden (Working with Soil, Attending to Soul) by Gunilla Norris

News Flash

In case you've been hit by the pneumonia double-whammy like our house? I thought I'd let you know the most astonishing news stories to catch my eye of late:


BPA may stick around longer than we thought, and it's in toilet paper too.

DC officials lied (from 2004 on) about lead levels in children when water lead levels spiked.

There may be Teflon chemicals in your water...and Bush made sure you can't complain.

High fructose corn syrup's usually mercury-laden, and the FDA's known since 2004!

Turns out, the folks selling salmonella peanut butter knew too!

What grabbed your eye in the headlines lately? JessTrev

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Carnival of Nature

Every month I look forward to reading the Affluent Persons Living Sustainably carnival. Topics in the past have ranged from the mechanics of buying locally to the ways we think about our children and future generations when we try to green up our lives. I've really been enjoying all the posts in the new January edition about the mind games we play as we try to live more sustainable lives.

I am honored to be the host for the February edition of the APLS carnival. The topic for the month will be NATURE AND THE ENVIRONMENT.

I think I must be the Last Parent in the World to read Richard Louv's excellent book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Louv's work is complex, thoughtful, and beautifully written. The author argues that a deep connection with nature leads to a calmer mind, a fitter body, and a more socially mature relationship with the world. Yet we are raising an entire generation with "denatured childhoods"--that is, childhoods where entertainment is more about electronic screens than it is about free play in the wild. Louv asked us to consider how these disconnected youngsters can ever become the good stewards of the land that we need in this era of environmental crisis.

I would love to see what connections you see between experiences in nature and your own efforts to live more sustainably.

What is "nature" in the first place? How is our experience of the natural world different in a place of awesome majesty (like the Grand Canyon), a place of more basic but still unstructured land like a local forest, and a more constructed outdoor space like a garden or park? What if we're just reading about an area we may never have seen, like a rainforest or a desert savanna?

What makes nature so powerful or meaningful? How has your experience with the natural world shaped your own environmentalism? Is love of the natural world an essential motivation for sustainability? Have you found ways to share a connection to nature with your loved ones, young and old?

To participate in February's carnival, please submit your posts to aplscarnival (at) gmail (dot) com by February 13. The carnival will be published at the Green Phone Booth on February 20.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make Do, Close the Loop

From the bean of Green Bean.

As lay offs abound and the Stock Market sinks, I find myself more and more drawn to memoirs from Depression era life, weighing the adages of my grandparents' generation and seeking ways to live both green and thrifty. One of my favorite frugal axioms is "use it up, wear it out, make do, do without."

What could be greener? More economical? Adhering to this bit of wisdom will save thousands of dollars and loads of carbon. It will bring dozens of darned socks, a plethora of patched pants, scones made from soured milk, lunches loaded with leftovers, and a new love for last year's loafers. It will make a poor man rich and a warming planet cool.

As much as I love this creed, though, there is such a thing as progress. Not that kind that paves over parks and puts a Target where my elementary school used to be. No. The kind that adjusts and tweaks to make something applicable to the present.

There are a couple parts of this thrifty slogan that I have trouble with. Usually the "make do" and sometimes the "do without."

Exhibit A: My doormat.

After months of tripping over the unraveling coir strands and trying to re-thread them, I think I can credibly argue that I used it up and wore it out.

"Make do"? Not so sure. If I were truly thrifty, I would have crocheted my neighbor's plastic bags into a durable doormat. Or perhaps I would have chopped my husband's high school boogie board down to the right dimension.

Only, I am not that self sufficient.

As I couldn't transform my own trash into a new doormat, I decided to do the next best thing. Convert our global garbage into one.

As Arduous once pointed out, being self sufficient is not synonymous with being green. We are a community - even a global community - for a reason. I may not have the time or skills to tackle a particular problem - be it a doormat, a threadbare jacket, or a new toothbrush - but I do have the ability to close our collective loop. I can buy sustainable products made from our refuse. There is no market for those products unless we support one. Unless, once we've reached the end of our thrifty green mantra, we reach out to small ventures looking to turn trash into treasure.

When my very sad doormat needed to be put out misery, an Internet search unveiled an assortment of eco-friendly options. Doormats made from recycled tires or aluminum. Ones made from renewable materials. I opted for this saucy little number, which is made from recycled flip flops by Filipino women who are paid a fair wage.

As I wipe my feet and turn the key I realize that we have made progress - with a click of the mouse and some of our pennies saved. I realize that "use it up, wear it out, make do, close the loop" would make our thrifty grandparents proud.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Through green-colored glasses.

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

My husband returned late from work as usual, only this time he came home carrying a large cup from Burger King.

"Not on your usual route, I see." I nodded towards the cup.

No, I had Crusher's route today. I hate that route because it has a built in break. That's why I stopped at Burger King," he replied holding up the cup.

Looking at his extra large cup, with plastic lid and plastic straw, I didn't say a word.

"You know you've ruined me," he went on.

Thinking he was referring to the quality of "food" he had ingested, I looked up from the cup. "Oh, how's that?"

"I got one of those combo things," he said. "So I am sitting in my truck and I start unpacking my combo. There's the bag. Inside the bag is another container holding my fries. Then there's my burger in it's own container, with another wrapper around the burger inside the container. And then they give you like five napkins and ketchup packets and oh, don't forget the cup with a lid and straw."

"Uh huh," I nod in agreement.

"So I finish my meal and am left with a lap full of crap that I am just going to throw away," he says exasperated.

Looking to me for an answer; I shrug, "Welcome to the dark side, honey. We have cupcakes."

Friday, January 23, 2009

Finishing What I Started

Wonderings from the EcoWonder...

First of all, thank you to JessTrev & all the Green Superheroes here at the Green Phone Booth for the warm welcome, I am happy to be here!

Awhile back, I stopped blogging. Not because I wanted to, but I simply ran out of time. My scattered, somewhat unorganized last few posts on EcoBurban were a good indicator I was running out of steam. I hadn’t run out of things to say, I still had plenty to say. The economy had me pinned down, I couldn’t breathe, I was struggling to find balance. Going back to a full time career with four boys at home had me beat. I gave up the fight.

And then, I got an email. From a green superhero. I was busted. Sooo busted. If I answered the call to join this superhero and her caped crusading friends, it would mean ‘fessing up. I would have to admit that I hadn’t finished what I had started. I let life get in the way of being green. I have a snack bin full of individually wrapped granola bars for my hungry boys to devour after school, my refrigerator holds little tubes of yogurt and string cheese for packing lunches, my dryer hums constantly after work drying loads of laundry I wish I had time to hang instead. I told the superhero my story, certain I wasn’t qualified to wear a green cape, but she insisted my shade of green was just as good as any other.

We’ve still held on to some of our green habits, the really easy and affordable ones anyway. Paper towels are out, dishtowels are in. Recycling is easy, packing homemade lunches much cheaper and turning the heat down even further down means more money in the bank. We asked for zoo and museum memberships for Christmas and we pass on expensive dinners out. Sometimes being green is cheap and easy, other times it is not.

Sure, we can dream of building expensive raised garden beds to grow our own food or getting that fancy under the counter composter to make our own dirt. We wish we had both the time and the resources to tackle a CSA or take part in a community garden. Sometimes I am too tired to catch the shower warm up water, make a meal from scratch or search 17 thrift stores for the perfect black work skirt when I know the Gap at the corner has one on sale and in my size. Today my library books are overdue, I let my four year old take a sudsy hot bath with water all the way to his chin and my boys ate nachos and Gatorade from the school lunch line.

There, that’s it. My dirty, working mom, not-very-green secrets. OK, so there’s more, lots more… But, with your help, I hope to continue to make changes - one day at a time.
Today I’m donning a green cape (OK, so if I actually had a cape, it would probably be some sort of lime green shade, found on the clearance rack at Nordstrom, but it would be organic cotton... I try, I really do! ) and I’m ready to take on the next challenge. The EcoBurban Mom officially has become a superhero - The EcoWonder.

The EcoWonder is a different kind of green superhero. She might throw a yogurt tube in your lunchbox, but she will be the first in line to organize a recycling program for the Little League. She’s been known to bang out 6 loads of laundry in 3 hours - yes, using her high efficiency washer and dryer but with local, handmade, biodegradable laundry soap. She’s not perfect, but she’s juggling 4 kids, a full time career and still trying to find a little time to make a difference on this planet. She’s great at making compromises and understands that the journey you started sometimes comes to a fork in the road.

When I came to that fork in the road, the Green Phone Booth was there at the corner, waiting for me to leave EcoBurban behind and continue on my journey as The EcoWonder. Catch my random thoughts, rants and musings here at the Green Phone Booth each week, together we can finish what we started. I'm looking forward to being part of this wonderful group of green superheroes!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Welcome to EcoWonder

JessTrev welcomes EcoWonder to the eclectic mix of writers at Green Phone Booth.

So, yeah, I could have busted a move and gone on down to the Mall to catch We Are One. I could have faced crushload Metro cars, stood in line for five or six hours and then stood outside in freezing temperatures with my two-year old just before naptime to witness the historic inauguration. Instead, I got in a few workouts (yes, that's me publicly admitting that I am exercising in the vain hope that I will avoid hypocrisy more than I avoid muscle fatigue and sweat) and spent much of my four day weekend (woo hoo, thank you, Mr. President, for the bridge closures and the days off) reading. My kindergartner has gotten into a whirlwind of devouring Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, and in a fit of nostalgia coupled with a windfall of books {unrequited Amazon wish list + the magic of interlibrary loan = guilt free literary consumption}, I have been giving her Abe Lincoln-tired eyes a run for their money.

Oh, the joys of The Woman at the Washington Zoo (look what happens when you blog about the lure of organizational perfection a la Real Simple! My kind neighbor tossed me this gem of an essay: "A mother's lot is the constant beating-back of a tide of things." Amen to that, freecycling sisters!)

But the one I really think you will love to read? Is making me want to be an environmental toxicologist. Oh, to have taken more undergrad science classes. Devra Davis, in When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution, argues that we ought to approach the use of toxic chemicals with a precautionary outlook. She notes in detail that we, ah, haven't been doing that during her time in and around the federal government since people started tracking epidemiology and environmental pollution seriously in the 60s and 70s. Anyways, the book is fascinating -- from killer smogs in London, Pennsylvania and LA to the decades-long battle to get lead out of gasoline, to the dropping rate of male babies being born, this book is one I don't want to put down.

What does all of this have to do with EcoWonder? Well, for much of 2008 I devoured green blogs the way I am currently chewing through the available DCPS collection. And one of my favorite voices out there in the blogosphere belonged to Eco 'Burban Mom. I added her to my reader as soon as she started blogging and I learned much from her as she cemented my readership with her passion and humility. Don't think much of watering the lawn? Check. Heading to a ballgame and hate to buy plastic-encased bags of ice? She's on it. I ate up her posts. So it's with great pleasure that I welcome her irreverent sense of humor, keen research, and honesty when approaching the challenges of living more lightly on the planet to the 'Booth. We are all thrilled that you're stepping aboard! Welcome! EcoWonder makes her debut tomorrow - be sure to check back.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Love of Justice

From Purloined's Pen

I am an atheist--albeit a Bible-reading, theology-obsessed atheist.

I rejoiced when in his address yesterday Obama said that the strength of this nation is its patchwork of cultures and beliefs, including those of atheists and agnostics.

But I was also very moved by many of the Christian images and metaphors used throughout yesterday's inauguration, despite my usual concerns about the blurring of the separation of church and state.

Every time I read Obama's words or listen to him speak, I am conscious of how intensely he seeks to live ethically. He seems to recognize that the support he personally gets from the African American Christian tradition can be provided for others by a myriad of other religious faiths and non-religious philosophies. I don't mean he does not find ultimate truth in his own beliefs and practices--just that he recognizes that that "truth" has many voices.

Many ethical traditions have tried to address the difficult fit between two competing values: justice and mercy. Faiths often imagine God as a representative of one or the other, or both. Within my own tradition of Judaism, we say the Avinu Malkeinu prayer calling on both emanations of God: the Merciful Parent, and the Ruler of Strict Justice. Many other philosophies and religions call upon humans to live up to these values as well.

Christianity within the white community often tends to emphasize the characteristics of humility and mercy a little more heavily. African American Christianity, on the other hand, often places a greater emphasis on justice and images from the Old Testament.

Although of course both traditions discuss both values, this difference was even seen to a degree yesterday. The conservative white Rick Warren spent much of his prayer praising God for being loving to all and asking God for continued forgiveness and mercy. The progressive black Joseph Lowery, on the other hand, asked for God to inspire humans to work toward a more just world.

Fundamentally, the deep link between justice and love seemed to be at the core of the entire inauguration ceremony.

Poet Elizabeth Alexander talked subtly about America's long history of injustice. She spoke of the "thorn and din" of noise that happens as we speak with the history of "each one of our ancestors on our tongues." We think not of what is just or what is right. Instead we think of our struggles: what profoundly divides us, or even just what we have to do just to get through the everyday.

She, following the long tradition of Christians and non-Christians, sees love as the strongest weapon against evil. "What if the mightiest word is love?" she writes. The "love with no need to preempt grievance" is not all-forgiving. Love does not deny injustice. Instead, it is the highest form of justice, and one shaped by something deeper than laws.

Alexander, I think, is taking her image from Corinthians 13: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."

This specific Bible verse continues, "'Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. '"

Lowery drew on exactly this text: "And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance," he said. (Yes--love is a theme of much of the New Testament, but these lines of Lowery's are more clearly linked to this particular passage than any other I can think of.)

Interestingly, Obama was also quoting Corinthians 13 when he talked about putting away childish things.

Obama said explicitly that it is merciful love which will lead us forward: "It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate."

It is love, in its expression through justice and in its expression through mercy, that holds the power to transform. It is agape that can lead us to a better world.

Reverend Lowery ended the celebration with this call to both sides of this our better nature: "Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen."

Crowd: "Amen!"

Lowery: "Say amen!"

Crowd: "Amen!"

Lowery: "And amen!"

Crowd: "Amen!"

Now that is an amen an atheist can believe in.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ringing in the Era of Responsibility

From the bean of Green Bean.

I felt . . . afraid. There was no other way to describe it. Worry gnawed at my stomach - not stopping me from trying to eat it away with an extra chocolate chip cookie. My chest felt tight. My foot tapped on the ground.

Turning to my husband, I asked, "What will we do? What will happen?"

My son's school district - hard hit with budget cuts and the stock market melt down - had just announced that it was a year away from bankruptcy. That, if there was any chance of staying afloat, it would need to make drastic cuts. Programs on the chopping block included PE, class size, and the school library.

I tried to imagine my over-active, inattentive son without PE, with more kids in his crowded classroom. Learning to read with no library. My heart hurt.

"They'll come up with the money," my husband assured me. I felt a bit better. I pushed my concern to the back of my head and finished my cookie. It would be okay. "They" had it covered.

Over the next few weeks, though, I wondered who "they" were? What would "they" do? Then I realized, there was no "they". There was only me and you. Us. Because, as Ronald Reagan famously said "If not us, who? If not now, when."

Today is a day that will go down in history. Barack Obama will be inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States of America. He enters the office on the cusp of disaster - a dramatically changing climate, a collapsed economy, a firestorm raging in the Middle East. Both a crises and an opportunity.

I have read that, in today's address, Mr. Obama will urge us to usher in "a new era of responsibility". As with yesterday's National Day of Service, he will beg us to become citizens again. To claim responsibility for ourselves, for our friends and for our neighbors. To welcome the sacrifice that leaves our children with a habitable planet, a safe food system and decent education. To shoulder the burden that we, as a culture, have sought to shift to the enigmatic "they."

I began this week with my own acceptance about "they." I agreed to head up my school's effort to collaborate with other district schools as we ask our community for help. As we look to pass a parcel tax that will blunt the budget cuts for schools that educate all of our children, that provide our youth of the future with tools for survival and even success, and that will keep our community a valued enclave for quality education.

I hope I am not in this alone. I hope that others realize that I am not the new "they." That I am only me. That I alone cannot stop global warming, rescue drowning polar bears, safeguard our shores from terrorists or reach out to those in impoverished countries where terror blooms. That, by myself, I cannot bypass the corporate strangle-hold on our food system or free small businesses from poorly drafted laws and subsidized competitors.

I have a feeling, though, that there are more me's out there. Others willing to embrace their civic duty. More people ready to get off the couch and into the streets, the shelters, the schools. Many more prepared to sign petitions, pen letters and contribute to Mr. Obama's citizen briefing book. "They" may not be ready to welcome this new era of responsibility.

But we are.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A good mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

As I walk into the grocery store I cannot help but notice all the carts coming out overflowing with paper and plastic bags. My mind recalls the day when I opened the closet door and was engulfed in an avalanche of plastic shopping bags. I drop my reusable bags in a cart and quickly breeze by the aroma-less bread in its plastic prison. My mind drifts to the heavenly scent wafting from my kitchen as a fresh baked loaf is pulled from the oven. I arrive a my first stop, organic produce. Ugh, more plastic. Why must vegetables be suffocated by plastic? I want to smell them. My mind makes short work of compiling a seed list and adds food preservation to my 2009 to do list. While I load up my string bag, the lady next to me rips off one of those flimsy plastic produce bags and puts in an onion. One onion. Rips off another bag and puts in a red pepper. One pepper. When she reaches for the third bag I bite my tongue and make a graceful exit. My mind adds plastic produce bags to my pet peeve list and files it away in future blog posts.

I enter the meat department and search for some grass fed beef. My mind instantly conjures up an image I saw recently of a herd of cows all pooping. Pooping at the same time. Nothing but butts, pooping. It was like a methane fountain of poo. Gross! I look at my list, thankfully I do not need much since we are having meatless meals twice this week. I pick up a pound wrapped in plastic on a styrofoam tray. My mind thinks back to Beth's post about when presenting her butcher with a reusable container, a journalist asked, "Do you ever get embarrassed?". At that moment I realize I am embarrassed for buying the plastic wrapped beef on a sytrofoam tray and decide to start bringing my own container to buy from the meat counter.

Making my way around the perimeter of the store I move on to the dairy section. Pathetically excited to skip the five dollar pound of organic butter, I reach for the glass bottle of cream and look forward to making butter with my daughter. I start to drool as my mind relives the fresh buttermilk pancakes we enjoyed for breakfast. Also on my list is yogurt and sour cream. Sighing, I add them to the cart. My mind adds them to the tally of the non-recyclable tower in my basement awaiting some future use. Learning to make my own also goes on my 2009 to do list. A man reaches over me for a styrofoam carton of conventional eggs. My mind replays the scene from The Meatrix where chickens are being de-beaked so they don't peck each other to death living in such close quarters. I pop open a carton to ensure the beautiful brown, free range, organic miracle nuggets inside are all intact before placing them in my cart. My mind goes back to the tower in my basement. Next to it is a stack of cardboard egg cartons happily awaiting Spring, when they will be filled with seedlings to be transplanted into my square foot garden. Milk is the last dairy item on my list. I grab three gallons of rBGH free milk and make room for them in my cart. Thankful my state still allows rBGH free labeling, my mind wonders what I will do if the labeling becomes outlawed? rBGH free milk already costs more, but organic milk costs twice as much. I cannot afford organic. My mind goes back to a time I believed this. Yet, a family of four living on one income we eat nearly all organic. My mind thinks of the all the receipts I have kept for the past three years with the intent of developing a budget. I decide to add up all those receipts to see just what we were spending eating conventional compared to organic. Perhaps I can afford organic.

In the bulk goods section I have a lengthy list: flour, sugar, salt, pepper, oats, baking powder, cornstarch, dill, rosemary, peanut butter, honey, rice, my favorite chocolate covered raisins (damn no grazing sign!), and Dr. Bronner's. One by one I fill my containers from home and check an item off my list. Reused spaghetti sauce jars, a yogurt container from the tower in my basement, a drawstring bag made from an old camisole, whatever; all with their tare weight recorded in permanent marker on the bottom. I fill the container, insert the appropriate PLU twist tie from a previous shopping trip, and place the item in my cart. Happy to be making use of the stockpile I could not bear to send to the landfill; someone next to me grabs a plastic bag off the shelf, fills it pasta, grabs a twist tie, records the PLU on it and goes about their way. My mind wonders why bother shopping in bulk to avoid the packaging if you are just going to create unnecessary packaging by taking it home in a plastic bag? #3 on my pet peeve list, bulk goods plastic bags.

My last stop on this grocery trip is the checkout. I file in line like cattle being herded for slaughter. Waiting my turn I read the tabloid headlines, fight the urge to buy that magazine with all the wonderful recipes in it, compare contents of shopping carts, blush when someone oddly examines mine, and pretend to look at my list whilst avoiding the judgmental gazes. My mind delivers a pang of guilt as I recall I used to be on the sending end of those judgmental gazes. "Hippy." "Freak." All to quick to stereotype. How wrong I was.

The cashier greets me with the ubiquitous, "Did you find everything you were looking for?". Hmm... I will not go there. She rings everything through and gives me my total, nearly the same as always, no matter what I buy. I hand over my reusable bags and the bagger obligingly fills them. While fishing for my keys I do not notice he slips my grass fed beef into a plastic bag before placing it into my cloth bag. Oh bother. Pet peeve #4. My mind asks, "Why do I even try?".

This is my submission for the January APLS Carnival on "mind games". Read all submissions January 22 at VWXYNot?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Waste Not, Waist Full

From the bean of Green Bean.

If I close my eyes, I can smell it - despite two closed doors. The oven churns heat into the cold morning kitchen and the sweet smell of maple syrup, eggs and bread creeps through the house, silent and crafty as a cat. Forty-five minutes earlier, I had shuffled out on slippered feet to transfer the covered casserole dish from the fridge to the oven and then scurried back to cuddle with the kids and Mr. Green Bean. My efforts will soon be rewarded with a cinnamony-sweet breakfast that spewed not a single dirty pot or pan this morning. Bread pudding.

It is a lazy Sunday and we were doing our best to live by the adage: "Waste not, want not." Did you know that "more than 40% of all food produced in America is not eaten." That is just wrong - no matter how you look at it. Moreover, times are tough and we are scrimping where we can.

In truth, stretching meals and reducing food waste is not much of a sacrifice. It only requires a pinch of organization and a teaspoonful of effort.

Bread pudding is one of the ways we don't waste food around here. Old bread gets chopped up and baked with something sweet (usually local honey). Suddenly, it is a delicacy with the kids begging for seconds and thirds.

Vegetable scraps likewise take a round-about trip to the compost bin. They travel from the cutting board to a year old plastic ziplock in the freezer to a boiling pot of water. An hour later, I've got cups of vegetable broth without a can or tetra pack to show for it.

Fruit syrup is another favorite tactic for "not wasting". Mushy strawberries, overripe persimmons, nearly done blackberries. Cook any and/or all of them down with a bit of honey or maple syrup and they become the best pancake topping imaginable. Even better, fruit syrup freezes for eons and tastes like summer in January.

Our efforts to reduce food waste have resulted in a slimmer food bill, a lighter landfill load, and a cut in compost. The only thing we haven't shrunk are our waistlines. Why? Because not wasting food is delicious.

Here are some other great ideas for stretching a meal. How do you stretch a meal?


By request, here is my bread pudding recipe from The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook: Your Guide to the Best Foods on Earth.

4 cups loosely packed bread cubes

2 large eggs

2 large egg whites

1 cup milk

1/4 cup maple syrup or honey

2 Tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Place the bread in the bottom of a casserole dish. In a mixing bowl, mix all other ingredients until well blended. Pour mixture evenly over the bread. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bake at 350 until gold brown and firm to touch, about 50 minutes.

Suggestions (that I've not yet tried) for making the pudding differently include adding 1/2 cup pureed fruit, pumpkin or sweet potato in lieu of half of milk or adding 1/2 cup of dried or fresh fruit to the bread mixture.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Corn to feed your car?

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

I am calling on your superhero powers to please take action on this matter. Click the link at the bottom of this post, fill in your name and email address, and urge the USDA to rethink its "Food for Fuel" Policy.

USDA is poised to deregulate the world's first genetically engineered (GE) industrial crop. Similar to GE pharma crops that use corn for producing drugs, Syngenta's "Event 3272" is genetically engineered to use corn for energy (ethanol) production and not for food. This unprecedented, industrial application of a GE technology poses a variety of environmental, health, and economic risks that must be carefully evaluated to determine whether the widespread use of this GE industrial corn crop should be allowed on farms across our nation.

Event 3272 corn:

  • Raises serious environmental and human health concerns. It contains an exotic enzyme derived from "thermophilic" (heat-loving) microorganisms living near deep sea hydrothermal vents. This enzyme might be capable of causing food allergies in people who inadvertently consume this corn. Humans have never been exposed to this form of alpha amylase before (no history of safe use).
  • While meant for fuel and not food, this corn will enter the food supply. USDA admits that if Event 3272 corn is intentionally or accidentally diverted into the food supply, it could negatively impact food quality. But instead of reviewing the foreseeable negative impacts of biological contamination to organic and conventional corn from this unprecedented new industrial crop, USDA has improperly relied on Syngenta, the creator of the GE corn, to protect non-industrial corn from contamination. If we learned anything from the StarLink episode, it is that voluntary, industry-led agreements to curtail contamination do not work in the real world.

  • Is not needed "to help the U.S. meet its goals for ethanol production" as USDA has erroneously suggested. Ethanol production from corn surpassed the 2012 target (7.5 billion gallons) in 2007 (8.2 billion gallons)! And with 10 billion gallons of ethanol produced in 2008, we're well on the way to achieving the mandate for 2022 without the introduction of Event 3272 corn.

  • Is engineered for fuel, not food. The dramatic worldwide surge in food prices last year--which has already pushed 100 million more of the world's poor into hunger and poverty--has caused a radical rethinking of how biofuels are produced, especially the use of corn for ethanol. Food experts from academia to the World Bank have decried the massive diversion of corn from food to fuel, blaming it for at least part of the steep price increases in food staples like corn, wheat and rice. Event 3272 corn will only exacerbate this situation.
The USDA is accepting public comments on its cursory impacts assessment of the corn until January 20th. The Obama Administration’s USDA could then approve the corn or postpone any final decision until a proper, comprehensive assessment is prepared. In the latter case, the corn could continue to be grown under USDA regulatory oversight, as at present.

“The Bush Administration’s USDA rushed this GE corn to the brink of approval without giving any serious consideration to its potential impacts on human health, the environment, or the economy,” said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety. “Syngenta’s biofuels corn will inevitably contaminate food-grade corn, and likely trigger substantial rejection in our corn export markets, hurting farmers. We urge the Obama Administration to give this first-ever GE industrial crop a careful and thorough assessment before making a final decision.”

“In addition to all the other problems with this biofuels corn, it is perverse to engineer a staple crop to feed automobiles rather than people in the midst of a food crisis,” added Freese.

Tell USDA to halt this approval until a full EIS has been completed that addresses the human health, environmental, and economic impacts this industrial corn presents. USDA is accepting public comments until January 20th--Send your comment today!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Obamas: Make Our Lives Safer and Easier, Please

JessTrev's musing about the Obamas (Michelle, really) as she steers clear of the Inaugural Metro crushloads and hangs someplace warm with her kids to celebrate.

There are any number of items on the incoming President's agenda that matter to me. And, frankly, I've been loath to chime in with recommendations for the transition team since so many people are flocking to DC to weigh in with their ivory tower degrees and decades in the trenches. But Michelle Obama's unscripted comments about organic food during the campaign have had me musing about the ways in which this administration might change the perspective in Washington, and tilt it towards issues about which I am passionate.

Here's what Michelle had to say about feeding your kids to Lauren Collins in the New Yorker in March of '08:
“You know,” she said, “in my household, over the last year we have just shifted to organic for this very reason. I mean, I saw just a moment in my nine-year-old’s life—we have a good pediatrician, who is very focussed on childhood obesity, and there was a period where he was, like, ‘Mmm, she’s tipping the scale.’ So we started looking through our cabinets. . . . You know, you’ve got fast food on Saturday, a couple days a week you don’t get home. The leftovers, good, not the third day! . . . So that whole notion of cooking on Sunday is out. . . . And the notion of trying to think about a lunch every day! . . . So you grab the Lunchables, right? And the fruit-juice-box thing, and we think—we think—that’s juice. And you start reading the labels and you realize there’s high-fructose corn syrup in everything we’re eating. Every jelly, every juice. Everything that’s in a bottle or a package is like poison in a way that most people don’t even know. . . . Now we’re keeping, like, a bowl of fresh fruit in the house. But you have to go to the fruit stand a couple of times a week to keep that fruit fresh enough that a six-year-old—she’s not gonna eat the pruney grape, you know. At that point it’s, like, ‘Eww!’ She’s not gonna eat the brown banana or the shrivelledy-up things. It’s got to be fresh for them to want it. Who’s got time to go to the fruit stand? Who can afford it, first of all?”
Pretty much sums up many of the dilemmas I face as a parent. How can we all afford to feed our children fresh, healthy, nutritious food? And why is it that the supermarket is a minefield? I just hope that Michelle has a wake-up moment about the shampoo her kids are using and the water in which they will soon bathe. I'm not sure how we'll get to the end goal of being able to trust that our personal care products, food, and toys are safe, but it sure makes me happy to know that there may very soon be an occupant of the White House who's wondering the very same thing.

I'm dreaming of a city where I don't have to tote my Green Beauty Guide with its list of 100 toxins to avoid and my PDA hotlinked to Skin Deep and the EWG Dirty Dozen. I'm hoping and dreaming that the CSPIA won't have to shut down all the indy crafters to make sure I don't have lead paint in my kid's toys. And, of course, I'm hoping that I can stop emailing Trader Joe's to get them to stop suffocating cucumbers in plastic and styrofoam and Whole Foods to get them to sell anything besides stale granola in bulk. Not to mention, I'd like there to be less gratuitous plastic around so that I don't have to worry about nurdles while I consult my guide to leaching. Basically, Obamas? I'd like you to make it easier for my family to live my life safely and lightly on the planet. That's all.

P.S. Check out this roundup for the Green Moms Carnival members' takes on a Prevention Agenda for the Obama White House.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Controlling My Impulses

From the bean of Green Bean.

"Isn't it cute?" My mom held up a light brown vest with a faux fur collar.

I shrugged. I already own a vest. Why would I need another.

"For fun," she persisted. "It's really cute," she added, wiggling the vest in my direction.

Long gone are the days when I think about buying something just because it's cute. Sure, I did walk out of that store with a new hat - a handknit one made from organic cotton - but only because I don't have a hat, it's been super cold and we're headed to the snow later this winter. And it was a REALLY cute hat. But, if I'd already had a hat, well, I wouldn't have thought twice about buying it.

Two years ago, when I steered my cart full of kids and knock-offs through the gleaming aisles of Target, I never would have guessed that I would one day NOT shop recreationally. That I would buy only what I needed and not whatever caught my eye.

How did I reach this nirvana of a full bank account, an empty cart and a non-wistful heart? It wasn't easy. I played a few "mind games" to break my shopping addiction.

First, I educated myself on the impact of "shopping". We all see the items we throw away. The plastic packaging. The broken toys. The torn clothes. The scratched Teflon pan. We see how things on our end land in the landfill . . . or the thrift store. What we don't see is what happens to bring that toy or sweater or pan to our home. Watching The 11th Hour, I learned that for every truckload of product sent to the stores, 32 truckloads are headed to the dump. From The Story of Stuff, I found out that only 1% of the stuff we buy is still in use six months later.

After that, my stomach hurt whenever I thought about buying something new. I envisioned in my mind the impact that I couldn't see. The trees cut down to make this product. The holes dug, the habitats destroyed, the villages polluted, the beaches littered with plastic. When people sent my children gifts or offered them goodie bags at party filled with landfill fodder, my head ached. When a "free sample" of something landed at my door, my heart cried. All I saw was the impact.

Guilt is a powerful thing. But guilt can be overcome, overlooked, tamped down. So I also avoided temptation. I stopped going to Target or the mall. If I wanted something, I went to a second hand store. If I needed something and I couldn't find it used, I went to a source that offered less selection and therefore less temptation. Often that source was a locally owned business. Sometimes, it was an online site. Since I didn't have all those impulse buys in my cart, I bought less.

The less I bought, the less I wanted.

The less I wanted, the more I emptied my house of clutter. The less I had, the less time I needed to spend cleaning and maintaining.

Suddenly, without all that recreational shopping and subsequent material maintenance, I found myself with more time. Time for building a Lego city with the boys. Time for laying sheet mulch and planting a pollinator garden. Time for writing a green task force newsletter and this blog. Time for making yogurt from scratch, for hanging laundry, for walking instead of driving downtown. And time to be a bit more picky about where I shop.

It's a happy circle. One that is less cluttered and greener. And one that no longer needs mind games to keep spinning.

This is my submission for the January APLS Carnival on "mind games". Submit your post on the same topic by January 19 to aplscarnival(AT)gmail(DOT)com to be included in the January 22nd carnival at VWXYNot?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Be Kind In Kind

From the bean of Green Bean.

"So somehow I got roped into this marketing group for the school, ya know, to try to raise money for the budget shortfall."

My friend huffed. "I'll tell you what schools should do. Find other ways to get way they need. Try new techniques that require less money. Think outside the box." Her chin jutted upwards as she looked away from me and back toward her daughter playing on the swings.

Huh? I couldn't understand my friend's reaction. She too had school age kids. And every school around here is facing major shortfalls due to stock market losses and budget cuts.

She sighed and looked back at me. "Nobody has any money to give," she enunciated. And she was right.

Recent economic events leave all of us - even those who are still gainfully employed - with a gnawing ache, a fear that lurks just out of sight. What if it happened to us? What if we lost our jobs? Our savings? Our house?

And so we all hold on to our wallets just a little bit tighter. We watch the balance on the checking account with an eagle eye and look for any way to trim our budgets.

But we all also want to pull together. We still want our children to have a quality education. Our elderly to enjoy stimulating activities. Our cities to offer meaningful recreation classes. Lost pets to find shelter. Theaters to provide entertainment. Artists to be nurtured.

For most non-profits, the downturn in the economy has hit especially hard. Giving is down and need is up. It is time to get creative. It's time to be kind in kind.

The next time you go on a cleaning, reorganizing, de-cluttering purge, take a look at what you are getting rid of. Is there a local non-profit that can use your cast offs and thereby save a buck or two? Those old towels and pillows can go to the animal shelter. The theater company can take unique clothing and costume jewelry. The school needs a filing cabinet, musical instruments and extra notepads. Yarn and knitting needles go to the senior center which is also looking for DVDs and puzzles. Check your local non-profits websites to see if they have any requests for in kind donations and see Organic Needle's list for more ideas. Many communities, like mine, also have a central non-profit wish list that is easily unearthed by an Internet search.

The list of needed items is endless and the process does take a bit longer than tossing everything into "Goodwill" bags or leaving it on your front porch for a freecycler. Like those other options, being kind in kind does keep your clutter out of the can. But it does something more. It provides homeless cats with a bed, children with an imagination, seniors with pastimes, and a school with enough money to hopefully keep P.E. going.

Enjoy the thrill of giving no matter the condition of your bank account. Even if you cannot afford monetary donations, you can still afford to be kind in kind.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Feeling Von Trapped

So long, farewell, auf weidersehen, goodbye - Burbanmom attempts to climb ev'ry mountain and become an upbeat, singing governess / postulant. Or something like that.

Ya know, when I started my Going Green Blog in June of 2007, it was simply a way to keep myself accountable. I wanted to ensure that I finally did something more than just lament the state of our planet and instead tried to "be the change I want to see in the world". And so I emailed a bunch of my friends and family and said, “Hey, I’m going to green my life and I’m going to write about the changes I make so you all can see what I’m doing and encourage me. Alternatively, if I stop posting, you can get on my ass about being a lame-o quitter”.

And so I made one change every day toward a greener lifestyle and chronicled that change on my blog. And my mom or sister would call me and we'd talk about the change I'd made, or my other sister would leave me funny notes in the comments section and I'd tell her she was a dork. It was all very comfortable. Too comfortable. Odds are I would get bored and quit within a month.

Well, the interwebby is a crazy place and the next thing I knew, perfect strangers were reading about my adventures and offering their support and encouragement - and criticism. Well, now I had an audience and, like Mary Martin, I love to perform. Now there was no way to stop it and so I continued making my changes and I also made a bunch of online friends (including a lonely goatherd) and learned even more about environmental causes.

But now sixteen - going on seventeen - months later, I feel like I have reached my initial goal of become a more ecologically responsible person. I am happy with the changes I've made and I have transformed from a "keeping up with the Joneses" suburban soccer mom to a much more mindful consumer. In short: I'm about as green as I'm gonna get.

Now don't get me wrong - if money starts falling from the sky and I can finally afford to put solar panels on my house or install an on-demand water heater - you can bet your sweet ass I'll do it - after all, these are a few of my favorite things. But as far as making the daily changes - that's it. I'm finished. el finito. Do-Re-Mi-Done.

Also? Too? I just can no longer commit to the time necessary to blog. I am heading back to college - starting today, in fact - wish me luck! I am also looking forward to working on the new environmental committee in our subdivision (did I ever mention that they DID pick me to serve?!?!). On top of all that, I have given up my CSA in favor of a 20’x20’ garden plot at a local county park. And I'm pretty sure I still have two little kids running around here somewhere... hmmmm.


I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm done writing online about eco-issues and will now begin introducing my wacky lifestyle to those in my “proximity community” as opposed to the “interwebby community”. Hopefully, they’ll be as accepting as the wonderful people I have met online.

But I doubt it.

So keep on keepin’ on. You guys have been a great support during the past year and a half and I appreciate all the kind words, criticisms and conversations we have had. Thank you all.

Much love, respect and admiration,

Erin AKA Burbanmom

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sayonara Second Hand

From the bean of Green Bean.

My heart was pounding. Was that what I thought it was? I glanced to around to make sure no one was looking and then crouched down, tugging the stuffed bear over. A pair of black and grey snow boots. I gingerly turned the left one over to look at the size.


It was my son's size exactly and, at $3.99 a pair, a total economic and environmental bargain from my local second hand store.

The manufacture, use and disposal of consumer goods has had a heavy imprint on our planet. Anyone seriously considering a lighter lifestyle must, by definition, consume fewer new goods. The easy eco-answer has been buying second hand.

There's nothing more satisfying that finding exactly what you are looking for used and at a fraction of the cost. Not much can describe the thrill of a pristine item in a dirty thrift store, of a fall wardrobe for $40, of a closet-full of second hand games that will find their way back to the resale store once you've outgrown them, or of finding your child's snow boots for $3.99.

Unfortunately, that thrill will evaporate on February 10, 2009 - also known as National Bankruptcy Day.

That is the day that the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (the "CPSIA") goes into effect. The law was designed to protect consumers against the rash of recalls over lead-laced Thomas trains and Mattel toys that we experienced two winters ago. The law, though, is so poorly written that it does much more than simply "protect consumers." It requires extremely expensive independent testing for all items to be sold to children under age 12.

JessTrev wrote here last month about the laws implications for small manufacturers of toys and the handmade toy industry. Short answer: bankruptcy. The law will also prohibit the resale of toys, children's clothes, children's furniture, electronic devices and even children's books. The Smart Mama has been all over this. (Yesterday, the CPSC issued "guidance" for resale stores. UPDATED: The "guidance" is so vague that most children's resellers will still have to close their doors. Moreover, it is only a press release, not law, and does not apply to ebayers, Etsy, and the like. Please see comments).

Everything on store shelves that has not been tested by February 10 will be landfilled - as if we need more trash. All the children's clothing, toys and other items in your home cannot be donated to second hand stores and have no value whatsoever. Say goodbye to library sales. Ebaying your children's wardrobes - both buying and selling - will be a thing of the past. Homeschoolers looking to buy used curriculum books on Amazon? Not any more.

And the fine for disregarding this new law, for selling used children's items without the lead test - a felony charge with up to $100,000 and 5 years in jail.

This is a full scale green super hero alert, people.

If you have any desire to buy a child a handmade or second hand item in the foreseeable future or if you would like to see millions of items saved from the landfill, please don your cape and take action.

1) Email or call the CPSC Small Business Ombudsman - Contact information is here. Comments can be left here through January 30, 2009.

2) Contact your local representatives. For their contact information, just enter your zip code here.

3) Make your voice heard by voting on this issue! The top 3 in each category will be presented to President-elect Obama through

4) Sign the petition.

5) Spread the word! Forward this post. Send an email. Post about it on Twitter or Facebook. Write about this on your blog. Tell others about this issue and encourage them to do the same.

Obama has said that he wants a country full of involved citizens. Let's give it to him.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Vegetable Orchestra

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Since the seed catalogs are rolling in, Melinda has posted a new Growing Challenge, and everyone seems to be lusting for the sweet smell of soil during planting season, I thought I would pass on a little more inspiration to plant a garden this year.

And your mother told you not to play with your food!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Lightening My Load (Freecycle Rampage)

Musings from JessTrev on getting rid of the junk that ails me.

So, I've been offline quite a bit in the past few weeks and scurrying around my house. I've been boasting that it's like the metaphorical clutter equivalent of dropping about ten pants sizes. And I've got to say, I've never felt better! Most of you probably are addicts just like me, but if not, check out Freecycle to see if there's a way to pass on stuff you don't need to someone who'd be delighted to use it.

What have we gotten rid of in the last month? Lots and lots of stuffed animals. They breed in my children's rooms late at night. Lots and lots of cars and trucks (including the noisy flashing one my evil older brother passed down to me last year!). My late grandfather's garment bag which we've never used. A floor-length wool jacket and a thrift store leather jacket. A couple wooden rice boxes that I thought were beautiful. All of the packing supplies that our Christmas gifts came in. Chargers for a seltzer maker I used to have that broke. Baby nail clippers. The cover to our old carseat (which expired because it's closing on six years old - couldn't find any way to recycle--anyone know any better?).

We also trekked over to Best Buy and handed off old electronic appliances to be recycled. Got 'em out of the attic!

Lest you think I'm completely altruistic, I also sold some baby stuff for cold, hard cash on craigslist. I gave up on using the Kelty pack or the Stokke chair with the two year old who thinks he's ten.

Moooore space! What can we do in it? Love our little house. Keep the place neater with less effort. Have more time to do the stuff I love. Like add a second worm bin to our laundry room cause I had a whole nother shelf free. Woo hoo! I am so excited about the prospect of a year filled with less (cluttery) stuff!

P.S. Apparently, one of the things I want to do in this new year is teleport to someplace with better bulk stores. I dreamed last night that a Whole Foods competitor came to town and woke up as I was lovingly filling a glass jar with shampoo!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Yesterday in the comments, Amber asked if anyone has tried to make vinegar from scratch.

I have!

My partner and our 9yo son went apple picking one gorgeous autumn day this fall. With their incredible harvest, we made crisps, baked apples, and apple sauce. We also dried hundreds of slices in the dehydrator. Some of them we packed up as holiday presents. Some we enjoyed as car snacks on our interminable winter drive to our families. And others we'll enjoy, cooked into pies, as the winter proceeds.

As we cut up the fresh apples in preparation for those treats, we put all the cores and skins and seeds in a big jar. When it was about two thirds full, I topped it up with water and then covered with a tea towel. The mixture stood on our indoor porch for a while, waiting for fermentation.

I checked out it occasionally, never quite sure what I was supposed to be checking for.

And I just harvested the results:

...a lovely harvest of blue-green mold.

Most blue-green mold won't kill you. If it is Aspergillus, it can cause ear infections. If it is Penicillium, it can cure them. But even in the best case, antibiotic salad dressing is pushing the term "health food" too far for my tastes.

* * *

What is the wildest thing you've found yourself doing in the name of sustainability?

The Sustainable Dozen

We may have lost the battle with Tom Vilsack as the Secretary of Agriculture nominee but we can still win the war. If you care about the food we eat, the state of the land used for agriculture, increasing biodiversity, ensuring cleaner water, humanely raised animal products, fair trade, battling obesity, then you'll want to sign this petition asking Mr. Vilsack to appoint the sustainable dozen - twelve undersecretaries to the USDA who can change the face of our food system. Join the ranks of Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, and Wendell Berry and sign now.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Kicked to the Curb

From the bean of Green Bean.
It's that time of year. Time to rehash 2008 and make promises and predictions for 2009. I'm jumping on the bandwagon and am going to propose that, this year, we kick our bottles and cans to the curb.

And not in a recycling bin.

Which is often downcycling. And is often done in some rural Asian village submerged in a toxic soup.

No. I'm talking about dumping single use containers for good. They are wasteful, unnecessary, cheap-looking, and oh soooo last year. Let 2009 be the year we all enter into a long term, meaningful relationship with our food and beverage containers.

First Date

  • If you haven't already, invest in a quality reusable water bottle. At $20 or so a pop, it is an investment but one that will pay back itself when you can stop wasting money on bottled beverages and refill at will. Don't settle for a cheap knock off that tastes like aluminum and is lined with BPA. Go for a Kleen Kanteen or a Sigg. As a mother of two young'uns, I prefer Kleen Kanteens. Unlike our Siggs, the Kleen Kanteens have withstood the hard knocks of childhood lunches while retaining their youthful appearance.

  • Bring your own coffee cup. Many stores give a small reward but you'll feel your own reward when you put your lips to a well loved coffee cup instead engaging in a one-cup stand with some styrofoam.
Goin' Steady

  • Repackage yourself. Kiss individually wrapped packages good bye. Now that you've taken the plunge, you no longer need those itty bitty wrappers and can put your crackers and carrots in their own reusable container for lunches and snacks.

  • Hook up with containers that can be returned for reuse. You know the ones. The shapely glass milk bottles that remind you of your parents' childhood. The solid, reliable yogurt crocks that belong in a glossy European kitchen.

In It For the Long Haul

  • Bulk up. It happens to the best of us. We get into a long term relationship and, well, the pounds just suddenly appear. In this case, bulk is a good thing. Take some ziplocks or reusable bags to the bulk section and forgo the packaging all together. You can often find nuts, dried fruit, beans, grains, flour and maybe even something crazy-green like beeswax.
  • Make your own . . . granola bars, crackers, yogurt. It's not as hard as you might think and then you can package however you like.

  • Make date night a regular thing. Don't find a sitter for those reusable containers. Bring them with you for restaurant leftovers and give the styrofoam take out containers the cold shoulder.
Being a single use container is so 2008. This year, I'm ready for commitment. Are you?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

On The Seedy Side of Town

Get your mind in the gutter with the 'Burbs.

Well, another holiday season has come and gone. The past month is now just a blur of fancy dinners, drunken cocktail parties, peppermint lattes and errant pine needles. The great thing about the magical month of December, though, is that all the merriment distracts you from the fact that it's bitterly cold and dark as a frickin cave out there.

But what now? Now that the distraction and mayhem is gone? What keeps you going when the temperatures plummet and warmth of spring feels so far away? Presidents Day? Puh-lease! I need a little more than that to take my mind off the chilly, depressing weather outside. And you know what does it for me...

Bom chicka wah wah chicka wah wah....

That's right. Seed porn, baby.

My Dad always planted a large garden, usually an acre or more, and for as long as I can remember, a Burpee's catalog on the counter reminded us that winter - even in Upstate New York - couldn't last forever. Dad would get a twinkle in his eye as he pulled out paper and pencil and started making his list.

Well things have changed a bit. Dad no longer has a big garden and I am now the one lusting after the seed porn. I also am straying from tradition in that I won't be getting my seeds from Burpee's or down at the local Agway store. Instead, I'll be checking out, a non-profit organization that saves and shares heirloom seeds. Or maybe I'll check out one of the many seed exchanges out there and see what other gardeners have to offer. I've even been able to find a local seed exchange in my area whom I'm sure I'll be purchasing from.

Why opt out of the commercial catalogs in favor of heirloom varieties? Well, there are a number of reasons to do so. But the reason I choose heirlooms is because these varieties tend to have more flavor. Others choose heirlooms because they're just plain old suspicious of greedy, corporate, Monsato/ADM, lab-created, GMO, nutrition-deficient, disease-ridden, Frankenstein foods.

OK, maybe I am too, a little. But really, it's mostly for flavor. Plus, who doesn't love a purple tomato?

So here I sit, with my seed catalog, a pad, and a pencil. And a feeling that spring is just around the corner.


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