Thursday, April 30, 2009

Birthday Party Book Swap

JessTrev writes note to self about the nitty gritty of a successful party trick.

Since my daughter's an avid reader at the moment, it was fitting that we once again gently asked for no gifts at her birthday celebration and suggested that party-goers bring books for a book swap. The result was fewer non-book gifts (and all of those that came in were intensely personal - it's like the bookswap frees people up to give quirky, small, wonderful, heart's desires!). This was our second stab at a book swap in lieu of presents. Other years we tried an outright present ban, which had mixed results. People generally like to show up at a small person's party with something in hand. The book swap? Helps with that desire, since every kid gets to help select a book and bring it along. Plus? Every kid gets to go home with a new book, which makes the birthday girl genuinely feel like she's celebrating all the people we love.

I thought I'd pass along our tips in case anyone's planning a party (and for reference for next year!).

Nitty Gritty of a Book Swap:

  • Ask participants to bring a gently used or new book, unwrapped.
  • Be aware that you can't count on attendees to bring books (too risky).
  • Be aware that some attendees will bring special books they really want to give to the birthday child. It's ok. Honor their wishes.
  • Secure a larger number of books than attendees per above notes (I went with attendees x 3). Remember that children like to have choices. Plus, it is exciting to be able to pick more than one!
  • Procure books that match a wide range of reading levels and interests (match to your group).
  • Provide structure, order, and direction (kids like all of 'em).
  • Make a display of books (we set them out in rows on a picnic table in about 3 minutes).
  • Let the birthday child(ren) go first. Line everyone else up behind them.
  • Each child picks one book, then lines up again.
  • After each child has picked two books, decide what you want to do with the rest: donate to your local school or family shelter, allow kids to pick more books if they're excited, you name it.
Honestly, I was unbelievably lucky and found a church rummage sale the morning of the party (last year I just nabbed books out of our bookshelves). Because I was so spoiled with happenstance, now I want to be able to recreate the score in future years. I'd highly recommend starting to look for used books about a month out.

Happy book swapping!

*The picture above is of our cherry tree - which obligingly blooms every year to provide my daughter's birthday confetti....

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mission Possible

From the bean of Green Bean.

"The ballot needs to be mailed by when?" the voice on the other end of the phone line faded. I could hear papers being shuffled.

"This Wednesday," I repeated.

"Oh dear. I had no idea that it was so soon. Hmmm," more paper being shuffled, "Here it is! I'll mail it tomorrow."

My heart thumped in my ears. "Great." I tried not to shout. "Thank you so much for your support."

It was phone banking night for an important local measure to support the devastated California public school system. I and twelve other parents from my son's school were manning the phones, calling people who previously said they would support the measure and reminding them to mail in their ballots for this mail only election.

My list was several pages long, daunting when I first sat down. But every vote counted. A parcel tax to support a neighboring school district passed last November by one vote.

One single vote.

That one vote that none of us think matters. The drop in the bucket that makes the bucket overflow. The tiny weight that flips the balance.

One vote.

As I hung up the phone, I grinned at another phone banker. I had just won one more vote. This could be *the* vote. This could be the difference between schools with PE and libraries and a manageable number of kids in a classroom and schools without.

Scanning the next name and number on my call list, I realized that it is not just elections where small efforts add up. Where painless shifts or little gifts wield power.

A friend recently started composting her food scraps and watched her garbage shrink by half. Certainly, there is some effort, but it is not so great as to overwhelm. And if everyone did it? The garbage truck could cover twice as many houses, using less fuel. The landfills would last twice as long and emit half as much methane.

A fellow blogger recommends shifting just $1000 in purchasing decisions a year toward greener choices. Small change, really, when you see that it is just a few dollars here for the local, organic milk in the reusable glass bottle or a fiver there for a CFL light bulb. But small change adds up. Suddenly, those shoppers are a force to be reckoned with. Suddenly, they wield a big green purse.

A month ago, my son's public school, devastated by budget cuts, launched an effort to raise $100,000 in 100 days. Unimaginable. Impossible. But necessary. With every $20 donation, though, we find that the goal is not that far beyond reach. That a month later, we are nearly half way there.

Switching to reusable water bottles is easy and, thankfully, now hip. It also saves 100s of plastic bottles a year.

Taking shorter showers, walking to work, eating locally grown and organic food, all those little things, they do all add up. Whether we feel it or not. And we never know when it may be our small choice that skews the outcome in our favor.

Leaving the phone bank that night, I realized that my efforts may be small, unassuming, and personal. But they also make the impossible possible. And that is power.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tree Time!

It's that time of year again, time for me to drool over trees. Last year I had so many big ideas... Ripping out some ancient shrubs to replace them with blueberry bushes. Planting cherry and apple trees in the lower yard. Dragging another 300 lb. maple home from the nursery. Unfortunately my eyes are always bigger than my gardening budget. We ended up with two very small pear trees and a few forsythias. I wasn't happy about it then, but today when I see the two trees boasting tiny clusters of white flowers and the neon brightness of the forsythias in bloom, I am somewhat placated.
This year, I am completely and totally on the world's teeniest gardening budget. We're talking next to nothing, so I am looking to get the most bang from gardening buck. For that, I am turning to the Arbor Day Foundation where right now (if you hurry and order soon, shipping for Zone 5/6 ends in a couple of days!!!) you can get two free forsythias and a free Red Maple for member orders.
I am thinking of trying my hand at a few nut trees. Hazelnuts in particular... I haven't ever grown nut trees and I don't know anyone who has, but I might give it a whirl. Birch trees have forever reminded me of vacationing lakeside with cool breezes and lapping water, so I am considering planting a couple near our lake for some shade. But, I change my mind every few minutes... Right now I have 12 different things in my shopping cart, but I can't make the final click to buy. What should I do?!?

What are you planting this year? And how did you make a decision? Help!

Monday, April 27, 2009


Bleatings from EnviRambo.

In my community Earth Day is not just a day, but a whole week of activities. Earth Week is chocked full of learning activities and fun events geared toward opening your mind to a sustainable lifestyle. There were environmental films daily, introductions to farmers' markets and CSAs, dumpster dives, a green discussion with Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton, a book talk of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, tree planting, sneak peek tours of the new EcoCenter in Myrick Hixon EcoPark, sustainable forums throughout the city, "Veggies with the Legies" - a public Q&A with state legislators over local produce, sustainable home tours, marsh cleanup, local foods fair, and of course the Earth Day Fair - which is a day full of events in itself. All I can say is "Thank goodness Earth Week is over!"

It is not that I am against Earth Day, but as the event coordinator for the week it did little in the way of making my life sustainable. In fact, it had the exact opposite effect. Months of relentless planning led to many meetings and trips into town, many many hours spent at the computer answering emails (upwards of 50 per day), an insane amount of printing, less and less time with my family, stretches of days without stepping foot out of the office, dinners of processed food and eating out, ingesting highly caffeinated sodas in plastic bottles to push through the two stints of over 36 hours with no sleep, increased electrical usage while toiling away until the wee hours of the morning, throwing wet laundry into the dryer, purchasing conventional cleaning products, leaving no time to plan and prepare a garden - Ugh, the list goes on and on.

What the hell happened? Here I am scheduling events like free screenings of The Future of Food, Fridays at the Farm, and The True Cost of Food, all focused on the importance of local sustainable agriculture and at home I am serving up well balanced dinners of corn dogs, pizza rolls, frozen fish, and french fries. Ketchup counts as a vegetable, right? Wash it all down with an unnatural shade of orange soda and you have your fruit serving, too. No wonder I feel like crap! I never realized how much the choices I made affected my overall well being until drastically altering my lifestyle and then going back to the way it was.

This sugar laden, nutrient lacking, overworked lifestyle used to be my normal. I thought nothing of it. That is just the way it was and I thought I felt fine. Sure I was tired, but that is because I worked a lot and did not sleep well at night. Right? I just took note that before Earth Week commenced I was routinely going to sleep at 11:00, sleeping through the night and waking up refreshed - without a midday nap. Could it be that a home-cooked meal, a moratorium on caffeinated beverages, and a balance between work and family was the cure of my insomnia? Other ailments of my former life resurfaced this past month: back pain, that golf-ball sized lump between my neck and right shoulder, burning calf muscles reminiscent of my retail days, swollen fingers, acne, excessive oil production of the forehead, hair falling out, grey hair, cotton mouth, repeated sties in both eyes, nausea, lack of appetite, irregularity - again, the list goes on and on. What a wreck!

Much of my life is spent on the go as I volunteer a lot and usually have multiple projects in the works, but I have not felt this run down since I left the corporate world and embarked upon a more eco-friendly, simple, sustainable life. If anything, Earth Week has taught me that the everyday choices we make do make a big difference. It took me over a year of diligent meal planning, conscious shopping, mindful eating, resource conservation, and increased awareness to realize that life as I knew it was not "normal" and could be so much better and only a mere month to undo it all.

This past month has been an exhausting and enlightening one. I have become aware of just how fragile our world and lives are. We must learn to take care of each and then they will take care of each other.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Growing a Community

My family has been eating the earliest lettuces and pea shoots and lemon balm from our little garden, eagerly awaiting a few more days of warmth so we can put in tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, and a "three sisters garden" with corn and winter squash and drying beans.

While we wait, we have been entertaining ourselves with a beautiful book by Paul Fleischman called Seedfolks.

When a young immigrant child plants a few lima beans in an abandoned lot in her poor neighborhood in Cleveland, she starts to bring to life not only a few plants but an entire community. Soon, a great diversity of neighbors--young and old, male and female, disabled and not, and of many ethnic and linguistic groups--come together and reclaim the land, build their sense of being part of a collective, and develop pride in themselves as individuals and faith in their own capability. Hispanics, Haitians, Koreans, Jews, and African Americans (among may others) grow in this community garden.

The story is presented in vignettes told by individual characters. They are moving, inspiring, meaningful for listeners from young to old. They are simple tales, but nevertheless, they left me close to joyful tears, over and over again.

We listened to the unabridged audiobook--a fantastic production, lasting about 90 minutes and using different readers for each character's story. The readers are of different ages and ethnicities themselves, giving the audio an immediacy and veracity that is highly compelling.

One of the things I love about this book is its inspiring message that when one person--even a child--does something with great love and hope, that act can ripple out to make huge change, far beyond anything imagined originally.

May we plant our seeds, tend our gardens, and watch them grow.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

National Healthy Schools Day

What you can do to make sure no child’s health is left behind -- a guest post by Janelle Sorensen of Healthy Child, Healthy World.

When my husband and I first toured schools to find the one we wanted to enroll our daughter in, I’m sure I was silently voted one of the strangest parents ever. Why do I feel I was secretly endowed with this title? Because every room and hallway we were taken through, I sniffed. A lot. And, according to my husband, I wasn’t terribly discreet.

I didn’t have a cold or postnasal drip. And, I’m not part bloodhound. I was simply concerned about the indoor air quality. My daughter was (and still is) prone to respiratory illnesses and I wanted to be sure the school she would be attending would support and protect her growing lungs (in addition to her brain). For many air quality issues, your nose knows, so I was using the easiest tool I had to gauge how healthy the environment was.

While air quality is a significant issue in schools (the EPA estimates that at least half of our nation’s 120,000 schools have problems), parents are also increasingly concerned about other school health issues like nutrition and the use of toxic pesticides. Many schools are making the switch to healthier and more sustainable practices like green cleaning, least toxic pest management, and even school gardening. What they’re finding is that greening their school improves the health and performance of students and personnel, saves money (from using less energy, buying fewer products, and having fewer worker injuries among other things), and also helps protect the planet. It’s truly win, win, win.

To highlight the issue, the Healthy Schools Network coordinates National Healthy Schools Day. This year, over three dozen events will be held across the country (and more in Canada) on April 27th to promote and celebrate healthy school environments.

What can you do? Healthy Schools Network recommends simple activities such as:

* Adopting Guiding Principles of School Environmental Quality as a policy for your School;
* Distributing information related to Green Cleaning or Indoor Air Quality (IAQ);
* Writing a letter or visiting your Principal or Facility Director to ask about cleaning products or pest control products;
* Walking around your school: looking for water stains, cracks in outside walls, broken windows or steps, and overflowing dumpsters that are health & safety problems that need attention. Use this checklist.
* Writing a Letter to the Editor of your local paper on the importance of a healthy school to all children and personnel.

You can also help support the efforts of states trying to pass policies requiring schools to use safer cleaners. (Or, initiate your own effort!) There are good bills pending in Connecticut, Minnesota, California, Massachusetts, and Oregon. According to Claire Barnett, Executive Director of the Healthy Schools Network, the key pieces to promote on green cleaning in schools are:

* Not being fooled by ‘green washing’ claims—commercial products must be third-party certified as green (to verify claims);
* Understanding that green products are cost-neutral and they work; and,
* Learning that “Clean doesn’t have an odor.”

She encourages parents and personnel to tune into one of the archived webinars on green cleaning (like the first module for general audiences) at

The fact of the matter is that whether you’re concerned about the quality of food, cleaning chemicals, recycling, or energy use – schools need our help and support. Instead of complaining about what’s wrong, it’s time to help do what’s right – for our children, our schools, and our planet.

What are you going to do? There are so many ideas and resources. Find your passion and get active on April 27th – National Healthy Schools Day.

Additional Resources:

* Creating Healthy Environments for Children (DVD): A short video with easy tips for schools and a variety of handouts to download and print.
* Getting Your Child’s School to Clean Green: A blog I wrote last year with advice based on my experience working with schools.
* Healthy Community Toolkit: Healthy Child Healthy World’s tips and tools for being a successful community advocate and some of our favorite organizations working on improving child care and school environments and beyond.
* The Everything Green Classroom Book: The ultimate guide to teaching and living green and healthy.

Janelle Sorensen is the Senior Writer and Health Consultant for Healthy Child Healthy World ( You can also find her on Twitter as @greenandhealthy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day is for Sharing

You probably expected some sort of big Earth Day post, didn't you? Sorry, this is a green blog and since we pretty much are green 365 days a year today is really not too much different than any other day. Yep, there's a lot of fun events going on around town, movies, concerts, expos and the like, but what I like best about Earth Day is the ability to share with those who might not be green 365 days a year.

In light of sharing on Earth Day, I thought I would share a few of the times I have let my green show around the edges since last Earth Day that inspired people to change their non-green ways.

Greening while you work - Here's one that I sort of left until last. I try not to be all preachy-green, especially at work. No one really wants to hear the nutritional stats about their frozen Lean Cuisine or exactly how to pack a waste free lunch. However, no one really minded when I sent out an email request asking everyone please use the recycling bin I placed in the kitchen to recycle all those cardboard boxes from the frozen meals, paper bags and cardboard drink holders. Actually, a few people mentioned that they didn't even know that you could recycle frozen meal boxes. My eco-dorkness showed just a little, but no one seemed to mind and one person even thanked me.

Greening your team - I was tickled pink, pleased as punch and as giddy as a school girl at the beginning of this Little League season. Not just because we recycled tens of thousands of gallons of plastic, glass and cans last year. Earlier this week, during field clean up, I busted one of the nay-sayers of the recycling program shoving plastic bottles one by one down the rubber chute of one of our recycling carts. He looked at me and sheepishly shrugged his shoulders. The program worked great, he said, the kids really did a great job. I smiled and said, it looks like the parents did too... Score one for the Trash Lady!

Greening your kids - This one is never easy. Fast food is marketed directly to them, soda is like a drug and the corner store that sells candy, ice cream and potato chips is like their dealer. After almost two years of talking about the evils of corn syrup, fake sweeteners, food coloring, animal testing and processing... They are listening.

Yes, they still take their babysitting cash to the corner market, but they now read labels, they look at ingredient lists and they even compare prices. Does this mean they never, ever drink soda? No. Does this mean they never, ever eat a candy bar? No again. However, my four wise men told me the other day they no longer buy the packaged danishes - 19 grams of fat and almost 700 calories Mom! In ONE danish! And, they opt to only buy one large 2-liter pop to share once in awhile (Mom! It's less plastic!). The rest of the time, they pool their cash for iTunes, movie money and video game rentals. It's only a small victory, but by the age of 13 they're reading labels, looking at fat and sugar content as well as prices. Maybe they will be grown men who know how to shop after all!

Greening yourself - This one is the hardest of all, but the one place you can make the most difference. I'm not talking about whether or not you shampoo your hair, wear organic make up or thrift shop. Nope, I mean doing for yourself. I got a bike last week, I put in a good long 15 miles this weekend and guess what? My four year old kept up on his trail-a-bike hooked to my husband's bike and my three oldest boys were jealous they had plans with their friends and didn't go along. Everyone wanted to bike the trail all the way to dinner, spend time together and leave the van at home. Guess what our plans are for this weekend? A family of six, biking 15 miles round trip to eat dinner at a locally owned restaurant? Now, THAT is as green as it gets people! Those are memories and lifestyle changes I can give my children, for them to give their children and so on down the line.

Take a moment today to share something you do with a friend, a family member or even a co-worker. You never know how it might make a difference!

Happy Earth Day from The Green Superheroes at The Green Phone Booth

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Blog for the Bay!

JessTrev with a call to action in defense of clean water and electrifyingly delicious crab concoctions. response to the call for favorite crab memories, well! I have two, and both are quintessentially DC. First? When we lived in Dupont Circle, we had an apartment in a building with a roof deck. Can you say fabulous summer parties? My favorite one involved a couple of bushels of crabs from the waterfront (ohhh, the Old Bay has my mouth watering at the very thought). You know how DC gets those late afternoon thunderstorms? Imagine a bunch of younguns with no sense and orange-crusted fingers, with hair that stood on end. We thought it was hilarious. And yes, my brother, a scientist who was working at NOAA at the time, was at this party. And no, we didn't realize until the next day that we were all about to be struck with lightning.

The second memory is one of my favorite gustatory delights of all time: a softshelled crab sandwich with hot sauce nestled in the squishiest of white sandwich bread. This one I got on the National Mall during a celebration for Bill Clinton right after his election.

I don't need to tell you that the Chesapeake isn't a haven for crabs or wildlife these days (including humans), although the crabs seem to be rebounding! Shucks, can you imagine the day we can swim in it?! I'm keepin' hope alive. Let's keep the legislative and policy efforts pushing for recovery.

Please sign the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's petition to the US EPA:

"We the undersigned respectfully request the EPA keep its promise to clean up Chesapeake Bay by 2010. The Bay is a national treasure, but it and its rivers are sick. The 'dead zone' consumes 35 percent of the Bay every summer. The Susquehanna runs brown with sediment. Fish kills occur across the watershed. The blue crab has fallen by two-thirds threatening a rich cultural heritage. Unless immediate concerted action is taken, the Bay and its rivers will not survive. In 2000, the EPA promised to restore the Bay's health by 2010. The EPA has admitted the goal will not be met. And now there is talk of a new 2020 deadline. This continued delay is unacceptable. We support the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's legal action against the EPA. The EPA must do everything it can to reduce the pollution destroying this national treasure and its rivers."

Many thanks to FoodieTots and arugulafiles for hosting this roundup of support for the Chesapeake.

Soldiers of the Future

From the bean of Green Bean.

My son's head was bent in concentration. He bit his lower lip as he copied the image on my campaign button, looking back and forth, from button to poster board. His small, kindergarten hand clutched the borrowed marker, slowly eeking out the capital letter B.

He carried that sign with both hands as we walked the five blocks to the meeting place. The site I had read about on a local mothers' club bulletin board this morning.

A fourth grader at our neighborhood school had organized the rally. She and several girlfriends painted signs. Her parents purchased balloons and called the local paper. All because her teacher had received a pink slip.

A lot of our teachers and librarians and counselors and reading specialists received one too. But for this girl, it was one pink slip too many. And she wasn't letting go of her teacher without a fight.

Kids gathered on two street corners at a major intersection. They out-numbered their adults three to one. Blue and orange balloons bobbed in the spring breeze. Signs waved. Childish voices, ringing loud with determination, chanted YES ON B, YES ON B, YES ON B, imploring the adults - the ones with the votes - to save teachers' jobs, keep school libraries open, maintain PE programs, expose students to music and art.

The news has been full of outrage over "spending our children's future." About taxes and recovery plans. About earmarks and secession. We embrace that righteous indignation, secure in the knowledge that our cause is just. It is "for the kids."

But we overlook just who these kids are. How hard times are shaping them as well. Honing their determination. Defining their values. Creating a generation of kids who do not take a challenge lying down.

They mobilize.

They organize rallies to pass a property tax.

They empty piggy banks and collect coins to save a school library.

They round up prizes and sell raffle tickets to their friends.

They cull through their toy chests and sell off their favorite Rescues Heroes.

They sell lemonade, paint posters, and run for funds.

As grown ups, it is our job to worry. To shield our children from loss. To take the brunt of the hard times.

But it is also our job to let go of the next generation. To allow them the freedom to fight for those things that they hold close. To let them know that they can and do make a difference. To offer opportunities for involvement, for leadership, for change. And to get behind them 100 percent.

Standing on a street corner, surrounded by chanting elementary school students, I no longer feared for the future. The economic collapse seemed a mere bump in the road. The melting ice caps and shifting climates adaptable.

It's not that I won't do my part, that I won't shoulder my share and then some, that I won't work each day and night to lessen my carbon footprint or increase the school budget. I will. But I'll do it knowing that the future is in capable hands.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

To Earth Day or Not to Earth Day?

A loving list of Sunday Link Love from the EcoWonder...

Hmmmm... I know a lot of you are probably somewhere on the fence with the idea of Earth Day - after all isn't Earth Day supposed to be every day? Read on, read on...

This is a list of 18 environmentally themed flicks to celebrate Earth Day with - you provide the organic, local and wholesome popcorn of course!

Think Earth Day is a Hallmark Holiday? Well, then, head back over to Grist for their Screw Earth Day celebration. Sign up and receive a free download of their book "Wake Up And Smell The Planet" and keeping the greening going all year long!

And then, if you decide Earth Day ain't so bad after all... Check out Low Impact Living's round up of Earth Day events going on all over the country. While, yes, I believe that Earth Day should be every day, I don't mind taking an extra day to celebrate the good we are doing with my kids, friends and neighbors.

Now that I have strong-armed you into celebrating Earth Day, how about cooking a meal? The Earth Dinner by Douglas Love has loads of great inspiration - from menus, to downloadable action cards and innovative ideas, this is a wonderful resource to complete the celebration.

You're all probably on the Earth Day bandwagon now, right? No? OK, one more! Treehugger, as always, has an ingenious post of all things Earth Day. Freebies, concerts, movies, crafts - you name it, they have it. Have a little fun with one of their ideas!

What about you? To Earth Day or Not to Earth Day?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Wherefore of The Eggs

JessTrev with a bit of reverence for those incredible, edible orbs.

So, I am a huge eater of the scramblers. Or over-easies, poached Benedicts or Florentines, deviled ovals begging to be slurped up in one bite. Oh, baby, I love me some eggs. Aaaand, I'm lucky enough to live near enough to the drop site for Polyface Farms. So when a friend got pregnant? My first thought was, "Hell, yeah! I need to send that woman some Eggmobile goodness." I'm sure y'all can empathize, cause life is busy, and I didn't get around to wrapping them up with a cute little card. So this tribute will have to suffice.

When I'm pregnant, I am many things. Ravenously hungry, a hair's breadth from retching agony, filled with fear and loathing of the horse-pills known as prenatal hair-shirt vitamins, and a-craving of the comfort food. For me? That means a lot of scrambled eggs on toast. So, without any clever invocation of obvious fertility symbols, I'll just say that a dozen of the best eggs I've ever tasted in my life seemed to be in order. Others have mused about farm-fresh eggs. I won't say more, except to say that they're right. These golden yolks? Are without compare.

The kicker, though, is the crazy folic acidity goodness of these eggs that Polyface just bragged about in their January newsletter:

"A quick testimonial - when I was pregnant with Lauryn last year, I was having a really hard time keeping pre-natal vitamins down. I was just too sick and they just seemed to add to the troubles. I took a copy of this article to my doctor. She looked at it and said, 'Throw the vitamins in the trash and eat the eggs! This is abolutely amazing! Where can I buy them?'" -Sheri Salatin, speaking of Polyface Farms eggs on Polyface Yum in January '08

The below compares Polyface Eggs with the USDA standard egg:

Polyface Farm vitamin E: 7.37 mg
USDA vitamin E: 0.97 mg

Vitamin A: 763 IU
USDA vitamin A: 487 IU

Beta carotene: 76.2 mcg
USDA beta carotene: 10 mcg

Folate: 10200 mcg
USDA folate: 47 mcg

Omega-3s: 0.71 g
USDA omega-3s: 0.033g

Cholesterol: 292 mg
USDA cholesterol: 423 mg

Saturated Fat: 2.31 g
USDA saturated fat: 3.1 g

What's your favorite way to acknowledge a much-wanted spark of life in a friend?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Doing for Yourself

It's a cold, damp and dark Sunday morning. I'm awake, but barely. I roust the sleeping 4-year old, layering him with t-shirts, coats, hat and mittens. Coffee goes into a thermos, orange slices into a lidded container and I slip a couple of organic suckers from Trader Joe's into my coat pocket. A bribe, I think to myself. I'm going to need them, it's going to be a long wait.

The two of us barely say a word, we buckle into the van and start the 30 minute drive just as the sun starts to break the horizon. About 20 minutes into the ride we start to see the route markers, a police car or two and groups of people gathered along side of the road. We keep driving, winding through neighborhoods looking for the best parking place, close to the finish line. I look at my watch, worried we might miss it and my son notices my sense of urgency. Mom! We're missing it, hurry!

Like it was meant to be, the small parking lot across the covered bridge that leads directly to the park has many open spaces left and we turn in and park near the front. Moving quickly now, the van doors open, I pop the stroller open and we briskly cross the bridge. There are cables to navigate the stroller over, throngs of people blocking our path and curious dogs interested in the sucker my son holds. We're on a mission, there's no time to stop to pet soft doggies or peek at all the cool electronic equipment and TV screens, we need to get a good spot.

We maneuver into position, wrap ourselves in a blanket to stay warm and hunker down and we wait. I wonder how long it will be now, already a sleepy boy up too early is getting fidgety. Watch, I say, you don't want to miss it! Keep watching, it's going to be fast!

All of a sudden, we spring to our feet. We see a familiar face, a lucky T-shirt we've carefully hung on the drying rack many a Saturday, a new pair of shoes that look like a blur. It's Daddy I shout, hurry, yell loudly! He's going to pass us by! With a big smile my husband flies past us, picking up speed now. The finish line is near. Cow bells clang in my ears, deafening the voices. I see the back of his head disappear into the crowd of people bunching up in the gates.

There's a flurry of confusion as I push the stroller through the crowd as my son looks for his Dad We're shoving our way to the end of the gates, not so politely now. Can't they tell? We're trying to get through - we don't want to miss it!

At 40 years old, my husband completed his first half-marathon. He wasn't first, not even close. But, he wasn't last, not even close. His smile is so big, his cheeks are bright red and there's sweat running down his forehead. A tiny 4-year old hand gives a high-five and reaches for the medal his Daddy lets him grab and slip around his neck. My husband reached a goal, one he set for himself and kept his promise. He ran for himself, he ran when the lawn probably needed a good raking, he ran when the bathroom needed a good scrubbing, he ran when he needed to and it was OK.

As I watched him congratulate friends that crossed the finish line with him - some who came in before, others that lagged behind - I felt a twinge of sadness. Not for him, but for myself. I often choose to scrub the bathroom, rake the lawn or get the groceries instead of doing something for myself. From the look on my husband's face, I can tell I'm missing out. I need to start doing for myself.

This weekend, I pick up my new bike. I've thought about it for years, getting back into running, cycling and yoga, but always told myself that I didn't have enough time, I was too busy. I make time for my four boys, their sports, their homework, their hobbies. I make time for my husband, his running, his training, his work. I make time for dogs, dentists, work, cleaning, community, schools and even this blog. Now, I need to give myself the same limitations, give myself room to breathe.

It's a small thing, but a bike is my ticket to finding myself, spending time with my family and enjoying the outdoors. It's green, not only in color, but in lifestyle. Now that it's there, there won't be an excuse not to cycle to the market at the corner, to the library down the street or to the diner at the end of the trail with my family. Doing something for myself, doing something for the environment, doing something for my family, that's the best kind of doing.

I am not too busy today, I am doing for myself and it feels good.

Of Schools and Cilantro

From the bean of Green Bean.

The seven year old smiling up at me smelled like onions. Spring onions from the local farmers' market to be precise. Popping another slice in her mouth, she sawed the child-proof "knife" back and forth across the cutting board and lopped off dog-eared chunk of onion, adding it to the pile.

"He's not doing it right?" reported the brown-haired girl to her right. I glanced at the energetic kindergartner, my son, pounding away at the chopper, slicing and dicing with glee. We opened the container and dumped out the red cabbage. Four of the five students sampled and two even asked for seconds of the raw cabbage.

The idea was not mine but a local-loving friend of mine whose daughter is also in the class. She spent spring break re-vamping the cooking center for our children's K/1 classroom to include more "real food." Seasonal produce. Whole foods. Less sugar, more variety. No Pillsbury pre-made biscuit.

Today, spring rolls with carrots, cilantro, cabbage, bean sprouts, spring onions, rice noodles, and roll wrappers were on the menu. The thirty minute center flew by as children cut, chopped, mixed, stirred and assembled their own, made to order, almost all organic and local spring roll. A total of ten kids made their way through my station. Nearly every one of them tasted something different. Something fresh, healthy, and whole. Sure, most kids left out the onions. The cilantro - after smelled and parsed - was ultimately abandoned in the bowl. And only a few ventured to add sprouts to their spring rolls. But they all learned something new about what we eat.

They inspected the dirt caked on a fresh onion.

They discovered that shredded carrots taste as good as Easter candy. Or very nearly.

They ate something with no preservatives. Minimal packaging. Little fat. Ingredients that our grandparents would readily identify. They ate real food.

And for that, I was grateful. Even as I spent the next thirty minutes cleaning up shredded carrots and chopped cabbage while the kids were back to vowels and addition.

*To read more about the movement to reintroduce our kids to fresh, local and healthy food, check out the Healthy Schools Campaign's Fresh Voices for Fresh Choices series.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Acceptance through Awareness

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

In my former life I was a shoe observer.  When meeting someone for the first time my attention was immediately drawn to their shoes.  What brand were they?  Were they heels, flats, casual?  Did they complement their outfit?  Were they well taken care of?  I was a shoe store manager working 60 hours a week.  Shoes were my life.  With a change in jobs my focus switched to apparel.  Now it was the clothes on their backs that caught my eye.  Mostly if what they were wearing was the brand I worked for and if I could recall what collection it came from.  Then came the life change.  My whole mindset was altered.  Not only did I notice the shoes on people's feet and the clothes on their backs, but also what those items were made of, where they were sold, how they got there, and what went on in manufacturing.  But it does not stop there.  Do they buy bottled water or carry their own container?  Fill their cart with organic or conventional?  Pack their groceries in disposable or reusable?  SUV or compact?  Library or bookstore?  These days I measure people with a green yardstick.

I know, I know...  It is wrong to be judgmental, but I am.  Surprisingly, I am most critical of those who are the same shade as the yardstick I measure them with.  The gas-guzzling SUV driver idling in the fast-food drive through with a vehicle full of processed frozen food packed in plastic shopping bags just does not know any better.  But the Prius driving activist who orders a latte that comes in a styrofoam cup?  Egads!  Surely you are aware of dioxins and what happens when polystyrene is burned?  Or the young volunteer who takes mass transit and is always sporting a SIGG?  It never ceases to amaze me when she pulls a plastic bottle of body spray from her backpack and proceeds to bathe it it.  *cough*cough*  Are you trying to poison me?  Do you even know what that "fakegrance" is made of?  It is like a crop duster just flew over.  Even the older much wiser than I founder of a local environmental non-profit is not immune to a slap on the hand with my green yardstick.  Paper napkins and paper towel?  Are you kidding me?!  Don't you know how much paper is wasted everyday in the U.S.?  And don't even get me started on the chlorine used to make it white!  

Lately I have caught myself all too often thinking remarks like these.  Then I start to wonder what others think of me?  What image do I portray?  

I can't believe she ordered a soda!  Surely she knows of HFCS and the implications of the U.S. becoming a giant corn monoculture?  - But, I asked for a glass and no straw!

Is she wearing makeup?  And mascara no less?!  Does she even know what's in that stuff?  It could contain mercury! - But, it is organic and I hardly ever wear it.

So, let me get this right.  You don't use any lights during the day and have everything on power strips that you switch off when not in use, but you sleep with a fan on all night?  You're asleep!  It's not like you can hear it running.  How much unnecessary CO2 is that causing? - Well, yes... But, I can't sleep without it and I save way more than most people.

Do you ever feel the need to go through life wearing a disclaimer? Or the need to explain your actions?  I do.  It makes me realize that I should not be so judgmental of my peers.  They are trying just as I am.  Judge not lest ye be judged.  Before jumping to conclusions over someone else's slight indiscretions, I should first look at my own shortcomings.  

This newfound awareness of environmental impact has led me to a greater acceptance of my fellow mankind.  Most people are just trying to survive their day, so lighten up and give them a break!  Instead of criticizing I will go forth and compliment the positive.  

You were very wise to invest in a Prius.  I should have put more thought into my last vehicle purchase.

Hey, nice SIGG.  I really need to get me one of those.

I think the work you are doing in the community is wonderful.  How can I help?
Perhaps through positive reinforcement people will be encouraged to do more.  Besides, a compliment always makes my day a little more survivable.

Friday, April 10, 2009


During Passover, Jews are asked to acknowledge the history of slavery. Not only should we "acknowledge" it: we should act as if we were personally enslaved and personally freed.

This year, I'm making a point to remember that I was also personally a slave owner as well. Somehow this thought makes me feel more responsible for change, for working to heal the world.

Passover has an inherently political edge. It is a time to think about the changes we must make, to consider the revolts and rebellions that may be necessary to create a world rooted in justice. It is a time to devote ourselves to tikkun olam, the repair of our damaged world.

Many Jews ask what things in our selves and in our surroundings keep us enslaved now. Then we think about ways we might loosen those bonds and step away from our own Mitzrayim, our own narrow place--no matter how safe and cozy it might seem at any given moment. When we are able finally to make that first step, we will begin to see how constrained we have been. Only at that point is an end to freedom--and a start to independence--possible.

I spend Passover thinking about how to become ready to make a change, how to be ready to abandon the things that hold us back even if they seem to put us in such a secure place right now.

Many parts of my own personal narrow place are internal personality traits--parts of my self that hold me (and those around me) back from where we could go. One is my sometimes-extreme shyness. Another is my fear of anger, whether it is in myself or in others (anger towards me or towards others). Yet another is my reluctance to do or say anything that could make me stand out too much. And a biggie: I think about big issues until they are fully dissected, get depressed (too often in a too serious way), and do nothing about whatever the issues are.

Now is the time to put down our backpacks of heavy bloatedness. Now is the time to walk forth, away from the sometimes-comforting tightness of the Narrow Place and into the broad open fields of freedom, that place that sometimes seems too scary to enter.


So what is your own narrow place which you need to escape in order to be liberated and whole? What do you need to put down to create a better future for yourself and for all the world? How will we create our own wide open fields? What will they be like?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Green Recessionista's Home

A wondering from the EcoWonder...
There's always a lot of buzz about the green home of the future. Here's what mine looks like in light of the recession and green living...

Kitchen: Coffee shop, fast food restaurant, food processing and storage facility, specialized tutor and study skills center, crisis management center & pet care salon.

Dining Room: Laundry drying facility, project management center, second office & fine dining restaurant.

Living Room: Theater, playground, casual dining restaurant, video game arcade, hotel, daycare & date night.

Home Office: Blogging HQ, Little League recycling HQ, financial advisor's office, school project & craft center, advertising agency and communication central.

Basement: One-stop grocery store with canned goods in aisle 1, frozen foods in aisle 2 and root vegetables in aisle 3, a laundromat conveniently located in aisle 4 and gym with yoga center in the lobby.

Garage: Bike repair shop, vacation rentals (hockey sticks, snowboards, sleds, tennis rackets, basketballs, baseball bats, backstops, bases, soccer nets & roller blades), compost center, recycling center and home hardware store.

Bedroom: Bookstore, video store, dry cleaner, therapist's office, doctor's office, shoe store, clothing boutique and occasionally, a place to sleep. Oh, yeah. And date night, almost forgot about that one.

What about you? What home design changes have you been willing to make in light of tighter budgets and greener living?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Green to Dream

From the bean of Green Bean.

We sat around a metal picnic table, three grown ups squished on to each bench. "I'm thinking solar panels, all across these flat rooftops," the one with the curly hair said. She held up her hand and gestured grandly toward the roof behind her.

Squinting, I could practically see those dark panels. I imagined them glistening in the September sunshine, the meter churning backwards. I jotted some notes to myself. Grants were a possibility. Perhaps the school might have some extra money lying about someplace that we could tap for this greater greener good.

Eight months later, I passed a father and son doubled over in front of three upended garbage and recycle cans. They methodically separated plastic from metal, hardly noticing the passersby who filed out of the school library. Finally, the son, a teenager, glanced up at me. "We're doing this for the school, not ourselves," he explained, blushing. His father straighted and looked at my friends' and me. "We made over a hundred dollars this week," he grinned.

How wonderful, we gushed. Keep up the good work, someone encouraged. I saw a fourth grade throw a can over there, a friend remarked, rushing to dig it out of a trash can - only to find that the father and son team were steps ahead of us. We thanked them for their hard work and dragged our borrowed ice chest of donated sodas back to the empty locker room.

These sodas were bake sale leftovers from the school-wide rummage sale we held last week. We were selling them for $1.00 a piece and they were far too valuable to simply give away. Sell enough of them, recycle all those bottles and, heck, we might be able to fund the volunteer-led music program for another year.

Last September, I had grand green plans for my son's charter school. Composting and recycling were not enough. I wanted to take it to the next level. But the economy didn't cooperate. The choice between solar panels and a PE program was an easy one. Even for me.

I don't think that solar panels, as dark and elegant as they may have been, however, could have delivered to me the heart-wrenching hope I felt last week. In six weeks, we filled abandoned locker rooms with donations from school families. People who had lived without jobs for months found books and clothing and old bicycles to donate. Families fighting foreclosure gave up toys, kitchenware and baby strollers. Still others, who could not donate things, came to haul, sort, clean, and price. Bleary-eyed at 1am the night before the big sale, I turned to look back at the gymnasium that had been my home for the last three days. The place where I'd made new friends, where I'd shared gardening tips and learned school secrets, where I'd felt dizzy just by looking at the amount of items donated for our school, and I felt hope - true and tingling.

We raised over $17,000 the next day for our little school. An amount almost unthinkable in its enormity yet one that pales compared to the companionship, the community, the collective drive to save something so many people believe in.

We may not have installed solar panels. Our school lunches may not be made of local ingredients. There are no aerators on our bathroom faucets and the paper towels are made from recycled paper only if donated that way.

But we did save thousands of items from the landfill and recycle all of our bottles and cans while doing it. We did allow hundreds of people to acquire new to them goods without the environmental footprint or high price. We did pass on those things that didn't sell to charities - to people who need dress clothes for job interviews, to babies whose parents cannot clothe them, to families freezing in the wilds of Afghanistan, and even to the cats and dogs who sit, lonely and ready for a home, at the local shelter. And we did revel in the generosity of community, the heady elixir of effort and hope. We did raise that money for our school and we did it the only way we could. With hard work and friendship.

And, that mixture, I think, will not only save our community. It will save this planet.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Free yourself!

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

With several deadlines looming, three events approaching all too quickly, and one hell of a messy house, this recycled post off my personal blog seemed fitting for today.  Many of you have or are about to embark on a major spring cleaning.  I wish I was among you!  Where did all this stuff come from? And, where did the maid go? Unfortunately, until my schedule clears I am unable to free myself from this pigsty I call home.  Until then I am lusting to be FREE!

At least once a year our home goes through a major purge. It is amazing the amount of crap one can collect in a year's time! Even if you do not buy much, there always seems to be unwanted gifts, something your relatives guilted you into taking, toys or clothes your kids have outgrown, and even things you may have outgrown yourself. Like the lamp that was too good of a deal to pass up a few years ago; only now, you have come to the realization it was such a steal due to its sheer hideousness. Yeah, you know have something similar in your house right now.

All of that compounded with items we gave up in pursuit of a "greener" lifestyle
the clutter has reached critical mass in our household and it is time to purge. I have slowly been clearing out my clothing collection, the chitlins have purged their bedrooms, we organized the basement, and cleaned out the garage. A small mountain of castoffs now stood before us. I highly value my time and can think of a million other things I would rather do than load up all this stuff and make multiple trips to the local thrift store. Not to mention the cost of gas! Likewise, spending the entire weekend haggling over fifty cents for a garage sale does not sound like much fun either. Admittingly, we probably could have made a couple hundred bucks having the sale, but spending time baking with the chitlins or taking a family bike ride is much more valuable to me. Free table it is!

We set a FREE table out by the road and over the course of the weekend got rid of everything! You would be amazed at what people will take if it is free. While replenishing the table I met lots of interesting people. Everyone was very polite and overly thankful for the items they took. I heard many stories of how the items were going to help So and So, about troubles people were having in their lives, answered many questions as to why I was giving away so much stuff - No, I am not moving, and learned how my items were filling a gap in theirs. It was wonderful. The many thanks and smiles will always out weigh the potential dollars.

Some of things that went to good homes:
  • cleaning supplies I quit using over a year ago in favor of vinegar and baking soda
  • plastic cooking utensils replaced with bamboo
  • tupperware and ziploc food containers
  • excess serving bowls
  • many coffee mugs
  • reusable lexan water bottles
  • a small fryer
  • dish drainer
  • partially used cans of paint
  • half burnt candles
  • Christmas decorations
  • picture frames
  • shoes
  • all of my purged socks and bras
  • tons of toys
  • doll house
  • Barbie cars
  • remote control cars
  • transformers
  • moon sand
  • coloring books
  • crayons
  • children's books
  • vhs and dvd movies
  • snowpants
  • swim suits
  • clothing
  • aquarium and everything you would need, minus the fish
  • vacuum cleaner
  • bathroom trashcan
  • shower curtain hooks
  • toilet brushes
  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste and mouthwash
  • tampons - I'm a Diva
  • cosmetics
  • many lotions
  • shampoo
  • bath salts
  • air fresheners
  • razors
  • hotel toiletries
  • pictures
  • curtains
  • entertainment center
  • bookends
  • books
  • magazines
  • chafing dishes
The list goes on and on. I realize this is not exactly a way to be thrifty yourself, but if you take into account the time and gas it would take to haul everything to the thrift store or the enormous undertaking of a garage sale you might have a different perspective. Plus, keeping all of this out of the trash is a great way to help the environment and others. On man's trash is truly another man's treasure.

Next time you purge consider setting up a FREE table. Free your home of clutter, free your valuable time, free your sanity and free yourself!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunday Linklove

JessTrev weighs in with her interwebby delights from the last week:

"...from a commercial perspective, less bad is not a positive selling point. It's just a reason for people to feel less guilty about a product until they finally find a way to avoid it. Figure out how to honestly make them feel good about the product--so it does more good instead of less harm--and they won't need to avoid it." Baby care product makers, are ya readin'?!
  • Loving the looks of these instructions for natural Easter egg dyes. Let's just say that ours were, ah, faintly perceptible last year so I'm hoping that Crunchy Domestic Goddess can help me achieve her vivid blues.
  • Been wanting to whip up some of these quick little skirts for my big girl for spring, so I've gotten sucked into the vortex that is Etsy organic and vintage fabric (smile). I'm also daydreaming of whipping up some cloth Easter eggs. Any other ideas for fabric sources? Lay 'em on me!
  • Speaking of the tiny girl person and being oh-so-ready-for-warm-weather, she talked me into a joint haircut!
  • I'm loving this what-to-plant-now guide...and what I really need to sow asap is Easter basket grass!
  • I really want to make this candy sushi -- talk to me about some alternatives to all those dye-and-additive-filled treats, folks!
  • Randomly? I just ordered some Skoy cloths and am excited to check them out. Also? I'm loving my switch to a Misto sprayer for olive oil instead of disposable bottles. Although, now that I poke around for a link, I see that I have an aluminum one and they now have a stainless steel model available. Wonder if I should have concerns about aluminum for storage....If you've been wanting to read up on biochar? Check out Arduous and EcoSpheric.
  • Check out this EPA site that tracks water quality issues for specific water suppliers (thanks to The SmartMama).
  • Finally -- a Polyface neighbor took up the challenge of making ice cream with the delightful eggmobile yolks. When I picked up our delivery yesterday, we got cookies 'n cream and chocolate (in the interests of research, of course) and the sweet woman checking off my order said, "Oh! I remember your name! I made your ice cream!" Doesn't get any better than that! Yuuuuuuum! Now, that's the kind of beyond-local-beyond-organic transparency I'd like to see more of....

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Punishment for Putting The Automakers in the Naughty Chair

A wondering from the EcoWonder...
In case you haven't heard, the national unemployment rate is 8.5%. Around here in Michigan, that sounds too good to be true. Why?

Our statewide unemployment rate is 12%, but if you're like me and live in the metro-Detroit area? Recently our unemployment rate rocketed to over 20%. That's right, 1 out of every 5 people are unemployed in my hometown. 1 in 5 of my neighbors, 1 in 5 of my kid's friend's parents, 1 in 5 of the faces I see at the middle school, 1 in 5 of the parents I see withdrawing their kids from preschool to save money, 1 in 5 that can't afford to sign their son or daughter up for sports this spring season and so on and so on. It's heartbreaking. Everyone has a resume for you to pass along, a college student that can't find an internship or even a summer job, everyone has a story to tell.

For those against the automakers getting a bailout, I can understand. They made bad decisions, they made cars and trucks no one wanted to buy and they completely ignored peak oil, carbon emissions and rising gas prices. They should be punished.

Unfortunately, a by-product of putting the auto makers in the naughty chair is the shuttering of local businesses. That is the true national crisis. Not the automakers getting or not getting a bailout. While the major news outlets dwell on the national anger and outcry that The Big 3 might be getting a bailout, the local business quietly closes its doors, turns the sign to "closed" and sweeps the floor for one last time. When the Big 3 lays off workers, closes plants or cuts a shift, local businesses pay the price.

The candy store that had been in business since 1945, the hardware store that had been on main street since my father-in-law was a small boy, the little hole-in-the-wall diner with the best stuffed french toast ever and even the train depot that ran a mystery dinner event in the evenings and affordable field trips for kids by day? For rent signs in the window, dust gathering on the remaining shelves and broken glass in the parking lot. They have all closed, along with hundreds, if not thousands of pizza places, bowling alleys, dentists, clothing stores, insurance agencies, movie theaters, drug stores and gift shops owned by my friends, my neighbors, my fellow community residents.

Metro-Detroit is a ghost town. A land of vacant storefronts, empty homes and broken dreams. Buying local never meant so much to so many. The family that scrapes together a few extra dollars to go out to dinner and leaves an extra large tip for the waitress with only one table. A trip to the farmer's market in the middle of winter to buy flour from the local mill even though an unopened bag already sits at the ready in the pantry. Pizza, that costs $3 more than a pie from the big franchise hawking them for $5 each, tastes so much better when it's from the little store at the corner.

I beg you to buy local, the businesses in your community beg you to buy local, the environment and the green movement begs you to buy local. No matter where you are, from east to west coast, there is a small business counting on you. Your unemployment rate might not yet be 20%, but take precaution today. Instead of being angry at the big banks or the Big 3, leave a nice tip for your waiter, buy some bread from the corner bakery or get your new tires from the little mechanic down the road. They need a bail out too.

Friday, April 3, 2009

"The Play's the Thing"

Eating Locally!

Using less plastic!

Trying to avoid toxic substances [at least when they are not in used books (grrrrrrrrr--sign the petition here)]..!

Planting a bigger garden!

Yes, these things usually inspire me, motivate me, are part of me--especially in the spring, when eating locally gets easier and the garden begins to sprout.


Right now there are other things taking my mental energy.

Around here, it is Shakespeare, 24-7.

THE PLAY is tonight!

My 9yo son is playing the drunkard Sir Toby Belch in a homeschooler production of Twelfth Night, directed by a homeschooled teen from our community. While my son was practicing his lines, he created this very short video of his finger-puppet animals putting on the beginning of the play:


The play tonight was received with lots of laughter, wild applause, multiple hugs, and flying rubber chickens.

And now, sweet prince, to bed!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Plastic Ponderings

JessTrev ponders plastic: confessions of a recovering Ziploc-aholic. I'm sure many of you are avid Beth Terry aka Fake Plastic Fish fans just like me. A woman who single-handedly got a huge corporation to recycle and take responsibility for their environmental impact? Must be larger than life. I had the pleasure of meeting Beth at last year's BlogHer in San Francisco, and was so impressed by her calm, peaceful demeanor. I often think of her when confronted with gratuitous or excessive plastic packaging and wanted to join in the Green Moms Carnival she's hosting about plastic consumption.

Why the frack is there so much plastic around? I'm no engineer, but among the many purposes I can spot seem to be: plastic helps to prevent theft, retard spoilage, keep costs down, minimize breakage, circumvent rust, and performs unique functions (ie siphon hose or iv). Multifaceted material. Too bad about the giant plastic garbage patch in the ocean (plastic outweighs surface zooplankton 6:1!), the fact that it doesn't biodegrade, and the pesky leaching issues. Seriously. It's an adaptive material. That's why I don't completely rid my life of plastic, I just try to get rid of the foolish (in my humble opinion) uses.

At the Trev house, we do the usual things to minimize plastic packaging: buying in bulk, bringing reusable grocery and produce bags, avoiding take-out containers (by bringing Tupperware) and skipping the disposable cups, plastic food wrap, and resealable baggies (we do have a few coveted ones we wash and reuse, particularly for freezer use). I occasionally buy products just because of their packaging. For instance, I recently sought out ketchup in a glass bottle since the idea that something can't truly be organic when it's leaching plastic out of its container stuck with me (heh heh). Sometimes I avoid buying products altogether (read: rotisserie chickens packaged in plastic clamshells, which used to be a staple in our house). Or I make my own (ie, salad dressing) or do without. I would say I do this about 75% of the time. Next step I need to take: following Beth's lead and writing all of these companies (I've sent a few letters but need to get on this!) to let them know the rationale behind these purchasing decisions.

I also try not to buy things gratuitously packaged in plastic. If I do, I get a really big size. For instance, I get my kids California Baby fragrance-free bubble bath. I got tired of the cost and pile of containers in my recycling bin a while back and decided a while back to pony up the $$ to get a giant gallon-sized bottle from the manufacturer. It lasted us for three years! And the containers (with a pump) were fiercely contested on freecycle! This one is tricky, though. I clean with baking soda, and recently found giant bags of it at Costco. Smaller boxes are cardboard and therefore recyclable. But bigger bags? Last longer, are cheaper, probably use less energy to create and ship, and keep me from using more toxic ingredients to clean. For now, giant bags o' baking soda stay in. For product materials, I try to avoid plastic (ie I got a glass cutting board recently) but if I do get plastic (ie painting tray liners for my recent house refresher) I go for recycled plastic content.

At Casa Trev, we do love our electronics. One way to skip the planned-obsolescence hamster wheel in that regard is to follow my honey-geek personal MacGyver's path and relentlessly research new tools while saving useful items (cough: pack-ratting away every cable and piece of functional electronics you've ever possessed). Recently, we got a really cool (but plastic!) wireless music player which said tech guru hooked up to an old-ish (circa 1990s?) boom box in the kitchen and a spare laptop. Music while I am cooking! Woooo hooo! And, as my friend noted with amusement, should y'all need to play any of your old cassette mixed tapes, our kitchen is the place to go! So: new plastic purchase, but re-use of old, unused plastic item. Possible avoidance of many plastic items (cd clamshells) since I'm currently addicted to Radio Paradise, which beautifully enough, is advertising a ceramic travel mug (no plastic taste!) on its website...but I digress.

When buying new, I consider alternatives to plastic. Does the item's plastic confer some advantage? Since I just broke a small storage jar of vinegar on the tile floor of my shower, I'm betting that breakability is going to be high on everyone's list. But all I needed to do to avoid the breakage was to change a habit -- to keep the jar on the floor of the shower instead of up high on a shelf. Does the item's plastic pose a threat to human health (ie, will the plastic leach as was the case with BPA? if food contents, are they acidic or fatty?) Then I avoid plastic use altogether. And I keep in mind what my father --at age 70--responded when I talked to him at length about toxins leaching into food: "Honey, I am seventy. A slow-leaching plastic is the least of my concerns." So, for my dad, his personal health is not a top issue when it comes to plastic like it may be when I'm thinking about my still-developing babes in arms. My dad's a birdwatcher and naturalist, so he does use a reusable metal water bottle. Just, in his case, he won't stop using his plastic food containers. In my case, I often end up giving useful plastic items to someone like him who has different concerns so that the item will end up in use rather than in a landfill. My local listserv and freecycle have all taken in plastic items I'd rather not use but didn't want to chuck (and a few of my neighbors chuckled when reading my 'this is not bpa-free' disclaimer lingo).

Then there's the reuse of packaging - we love classico jars in our house because of their screw tops and seeking out plastic alternatives. I use glass jars to freeze soups, pesto and stock. I have found all-glass food fridge storage containers, and all-metal snack containers for my kids' lunchboxes (which are neoprene, but multi-use). That's not to say that we don't have some plastic -- quite a bit of it -- lingering around. But I've made sure that the plastic that stays in kitchen circulation is BPA free and that it gets limited use.

In general, I'd say I probably use half the plastic I used to, but still have a long way to go. These days, I am struck by small things: a strip of plastic on a glass spice bottle. And the omnipresence of the material: yogurt tubs used to be made from wax coated cardboard, right? and weren't cereal boxes in the day lined with wax paper? I wonder now about why so-called progressive and green companies aren't returning to older, pre-plastic packaging options - cost? lack of awareness that their target market cares deeply about this issue? If it's the latter, I have a bunch of letters I need to go write. Many thanks to Beth for making me think more carefully about a substance that's toxic to create, doesn't degrade, causes environmental pollution, damages wildlife and natural habitats, and threatens human health -- and is absolutely everywhere.

P.S. My favorite trick for purging of cheap plastic toys, courtesy of Green Bean? Stashing the most offensive of the lot in a designated spot and dropping them off at my (enthusiastic) kids' dentist's office. She has a ready supply for her treasure chest -- and I only have to bring two items back to my house.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Low Impact Little League

A wondering from the EcoWonder...
For those who don't remember me from over at my old blog, I am the "trash lady". Last year our little league baseball program didn't recycle. I thought that should change, so in working with the league and our trash provider we changed all that and introduced simple plastic, glass and aluminum recycling carts. I had to haul around a wagon with signs telling people about the program, make an announcement on opening day and randomly check fields and look inside trash cans for recycling materials. Hence the name "trash lady".

There were nay-sayers to the program. Mainly a few adults that thought kids would never take the time to sort their trash and the carts for recycling would end up full of trash and vice-versa. What those nay-sayers didn't realize is that kids are perfectly comfortable sorting trash, looking for the recycling symbol on the carts and understanding what can and can not be recycled. It was the parents who needed a little training. Within the first week our 15 carts, each holding 96 gallons, were stuffed to the top, brimming over with plastic. Our 30 trash carts? Some barely half full, others almost empty.

In preparation for my upcoming board meeting for the league, I did a little math. Not my strongest subject, but by my calculations we saved:

23,040 gallons of plastic, glass and aluminum were diverted from the landfill to the recycling center. IN 16 WEEKS!

These carts remain at the park year-round, meaning the travel leagues that use the park all summer long after regular season? They now recycle. The men's softball league that uses the park in the fall? They now recycle. The girls softball team at the park adjacent to ours? They tried to roll a couple of our carts over to their side of the park. Of course, I busted them and requisitioned my carts over to our side. However, I put the softball league president in contact with the trash company and guess what? This year they are going to recycle too!

By my calculations, if the park is used spring through fall, with both the softball side and the little league side recycling we have the opportunity to save:

80,640 gallons of trash from a landfill each year! I have no way of converting this into pounds or tons, as the cans are mixed with glass, plastic and aluminum, but I still think it's not too shabby for first year program.

This year I am proposing a paper and cardboard recycling program to attack all those pizza boxes and paper bags from the corner take out restaurant. I would also like to address the concession stands use of styrofoam cups for the sale of coffee and hot chocolate. Do you have any ideas for alternatives? I might as well tackle these while I have the chance - I'm pretty sure my nay-sayers will be fairly quiet at the next board meeting!


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