Sunday, May 31, 2009

Superhero Secrets

JessTrev with some Sunday linklovin'.

  • Even Trash Can Be Beautiful: "We all hold trash within ourselves. By trash I mean the things that shouldn’t be there in a perfect world. In a river this means old carpets, broken bicycles and nasty chemicals. In people it means emotional wounds, pent up aggression and toxic thoughts (to name a few). Like the trash in the river, our inner junk affects the quality of our lives." Read on at infinitelearners....
  • "The solution to satiation is to take the time to appreciate all the variety you have," according to a Science Daily review of recent marketing research. In other words, if you're eating your 9 millionth zucchini muffin this summer, it will help you enjoy it better if you remind yourself of all the other muffins you've had all year. Or all of the other wonderful things you've had from your garden. Important mind games for all of us hoping to eat those leftovers and reduce food waste.
Slightly Better Stuff (but it's still stuff)
  • Bt-dunk mosquito traps - anyone used em?
  • Amsterdam tool for careful clothing purchases (currently, 30 companies have signed up): "MADE-BY Track&Trace follows the trail of your clothes. With the MADE-BY code in your garment you can find out where your garment was made and by whom. In this way, MADE-BY brands open up the doors to the production process. They can’t guarantee that all their clothes have been manufactured in a 100% clean and honest way. A garment completes numerous stages before it ends up in a store, and brands do not have the power or resources at their disposal to change all of these stages for the whole collection in one go. But in the meantime, they show their progress. MADE-BY Track&Trace is the very first system to trace the origin of clothes." --Made-By hat tip to Treehugger
  • The Best Time to Buy Guide for 45 Products and Services (cause saving green can help you have the cash to make more expensive eco purchases, right?) Hat tip to Declutter It! author Peggy Rowland
  • Wayyy too expensive for my taste, but I love the idea: fire hose wallets and purses from Elvis & Kresse (via Treehugger).
Yeesh alerts
Foodie Frenzy (must've been hungry this week!)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Summer for Sale

From the bean of Green Bean.

Photo courtesy of Sweet Eventide.

Stepping out of the car, we bent our heads against the wind. My four year old moved closer, burrowing against my side for warmth as I fished out the canvas bags and a tattered sweatshirt. It still fit him and we both sighed as I tugged it over his head.

Rain drizzled over the blue and red umbrellas of the market. Unusual this late in the year. I couldn't remember the last time it had rained in May. I wouldn't complain. Our water starved state needed all the rain it could get but still . . .

The cold weather meant at least another month for watermelon and corn. The dark clouds held off summer's crops with a strong and relentless arm. But we weren't picky, were we, I asked my youngest. We'd missed last week's market and were hungry for fresh produce.

First stop, the stalwarts of spring: English shelling peas poking their sharp faces out of a brimming paper bag. We also loaded up on baby artichokes and fava beans. I planned to make a spring pasta starring all three of my favorite spring vegetables.

Stopping for a half flat of strawberries, we were greeted with bleedingly purple blackberries, tucked into green cardboard boxes like newborns in a nursery. The first of the season. My son smiled with the first bite.

Stocking up on local honey and the unavoidable "honey sticks", we stopped to ooohhh and ahhh at Fifth Crow Farm's blue and golden pastured eggs. We already had ours from a local farm but they were beautiful nonetheless. And we settled for a pound of their locally grown and milled wheat flour instead. I could almost taste the pancakes as I hefted the tight brown bag into my cart.

Next up was Happy Boy Farms with their gourmet lettuce, sparkling Easter radishes and fans of collard greens. We nibbled our way through the cheese and olive oil vendors before blinking at the heralds of summer - stone fruit.

Early peaches lounged across the front table. Moon orange apricots, firm and voluptuous, lurked near the scale. Just beyond them, tucked in between the scale and the farmer, hid red and gold Rainier cherries, peeking out of their plastic clamshell treasure chest. We'd not found watermelons or grapes, but what we had found was priceless indeed.

With a mouth full of summer, we trudged back to the car, warmer than when we'd come.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Green Art

I am delighted to welcome my real life friend, Jessica, for a guest post. Jess is greener than she realizes and takes the most beautiful, thoughtful photos I've seen. Check out her blog, Sweet Eventide, to see her wonderful pictures and to read her inner thoughts.

Good morning! My name is Jessica and I'm a mama, writer and photographer normally waxing on about how dusk inspires me over at Sweet Eventide. When Green Bean asked me to do a guest post here at the Green Phone Booth, I was honored but a bit stumped. I mean, I care deeply about being green but I am not sure I am actually very green. So I've been going in mental circles comparing myself to others and where does that ever lead me? There will always be someone doing better and always someone doing worse. So it's far better to avoid the fruitless chase and focus on myself.

In my circular thoughts though, I did notice a theme for myself: I am the greenest at the cash register. I am a fairly conscientious shopper and I do most of my shopping at the grocery store. I have noticed a lot of changes there in the past six years since I became a mother and more often than not, I can find an organic version of a product I grew up with, like sprinkles for my frozen yogurt or taco sauce for my Noodle's quesadillas. I started years ago by switching to organic produce, then dairy, then meat. Now I've got bread and crackers covered and skin care too.

I am always learning more and today it occurred to me that I haven't turned my attention to something quite near and dear to my heart: art. I love me some art supplies and I work really hard as a mom to encourage creativity and artistic pursuits for me and my son. This afternoon I felt a surge of creativity so we headed off to the local art supply store (vs. a big box store, although I have been known to go there too). I know there are greener choices as far as paper is concerned, as I've been buying Strathmore's Windpower paper for a couple of years now at least.

Today I wanted to know about paint and ink. A manager was called over. "No," he said, "lots of chemicals involved there, especially with oil paints." I waited for more. "I haven't seen any green options yet," he summarized. I searched the store myself but it was clear, at least from reading the packaging, there wasn't a lot of choices. So I bought a few things because by now, my son was fired up to do some painting and let's face it, I was too. We got two canvases, some tubes of acrylic paint (note to self: do not use a brand new blanket at your next outdoor, mother & child painting party!) and a couple of brushes. But I don't give up that easily and now that I am aware that I haven't greened up my art supplies, you can bet the process is in motion.

The key word in the conversation was "yet" and already a few Google searches have turned up some options like Alease Michelle's list of eco-friendly art supply companies. That list led me straight to the green section at Rex Art, an independently-owned company in the Southeast. I also found Eco Art Supplies which is in California and thereby scores me a local (these days) source.

From Eco Art, I know that the next time I shop for acrylic paints, I will go for Golden, which I noticed is carried at the store I visited today. Golden has an extensive area of their website devoted to safety and the environment. I read their article about cleanup and think it's a good thing I started this post before attacking my afternoon art mess. Now I know to wipe off the paint on our palette before rinsing because it is better to dispose of solid materials, even with water-based paints. There is also an article about children using their products and a company who isn't putting sales above safety is a company I am going to support at the cash register.

All in all, this is how I go about being green. Circular surfing on the web is much better than my circular, judgmental thinking because I can't do it all at once or all the time. But I am seeking out alternative options for whatever it is I am buying or using. I wouldn't call today a success, but it wasn't a failure either. I learned some things that I will apply the next time, and the time after that. I will revamp my art cabinet as time and my budget allow. In fact, I am totally inspired by my new mission and will report an update as soon as the Noodle and I use up all the current supplies. I see a lot of painting picnics in our summer plans.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hot Steamy Love

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

I have over 2,200 square feet of hard floor surfaces to clean.  With a combination of hardwood, tile, and vinyl, it offers the potential for many cleaners, many dollars, and many chemicals.  Cleaners leave my house reeking of lemon, spring rain, or pine trees.  And, companies are always coming out with a new and improved, better performing, make-my-life-easier version that I just have to have.  It eventually leaves me with dirty floors, a smelly house, a cupboard full of half-used toxic chemicals, guilt that I am not the perfect housewife with sparkling clean floors, and an empty pocketbook.  I have found them all to be unnecessary.  

Through the power of water I can have chemical-free sparkling-clean floors you could eat off of.  Yes, by using just water - and a little heat.  Steam cleaning has been around for a while.  Perhaps you have seen the infomercials for the Shark steam cleaner?  Tired of lackluster results and back-breaking scrubbing on my hands and knees, I decided to give steam cleaning a try.  After online research and review reading I decided on the Eureka Enviro Steamer.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover it matched my kitchen.  The only assembly required was screwing the telescopic handle to the base.  I was up and running within five minutes of unpacking.  The instructions were very easy to follow.  The unit only requires 12 ounces of water to work, giving you an operating time of 15 minutes.  A convenient indicator light alerts you of when it is time to add water.  Refilling was easy as well.  I was able to do so without waiting for the unit to cool down.  Just turned it off, unplugged, unscrewed the cap and poured in fresh water.  It reheated within 3 minutes and I resumed cleaning.  The steamer is ideal for ceramic, marble, vinyl, parquet, stone, linoleum and sealed hardwood floors.  It requires no chemicals to clean and utilizes plain tap water.  As an added bonus, the packaging included little plastic.

The unit was supported by cardboard, not sytrofoam.  The only plastic in the packaging was the handle on the box and an unnecessary in my opinion plastic bag around the head of the unit.  There was also the red tag attached that stated "Do not use chemicals".  I do feel the company could eliminate these pieces or replace them with something more sustainable.  The unit itself is plastic and came with a plastic funnel and cup for adding water.

I made short work of the kitchen tile and mudroom vinyl.  It was the wood floors that really needed to be cleaned.  Other than sweeping, I am embarrassed to admit that the wood floors, which comprise 90% of our home, had not been cleaned since we moved in two years ago.  And it was beginning to show.

Dirt, grime, scuff marks, remnants of dinners past, spills from holiday gatherings, reminders of the box elder bug invasion, and other unidentifiable debris littered the floor.  The steam cleaner effortlessly blazed its way through them all.  It is night and day difference as evident by the floorcloth comparison.  The cloths are reusable and only need to be thrown in the wash to maintain.

This machine is streamlined enough for clean freaks to easily use once a week and so speedy that an overburdened mother can whip it out on a moments notice and quickly power through months of grime before her mother-in-law walks through the door.  I love it.

My floors are clean, my cupboard is empty, my pocketbook is full, my ego is intact, and my conscience is clear that my family remains safe in the one place above all other that they should be - home.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bacon Fever

A sniffles and sneezes update from the EcoWonder...

I hear sniffling and scuffling coming from down the hall. Someone is sick, I can just feel it. Footsteps, I can hear them, they're coming my way and when a head pops around the corner, yes, I see it. I was right. The face peeking around the corner has the tell-tale droopy eyes, the red nose and the pale face.

It's a little worse than I thought. He's got fever, chills, dizziness, congestion, a sore throat and lots of complaining. There has been a confirmed case of Swine Flu - excuse me, H1N1 flu - in our school district, so we are all on alert. The fact that this sick boy is the one who never complains, has rarely had anything more serious than a sinus infection and is now unable to move makes us just a little nervous.

While I'm pretty sure it's NOT the "bacon fever" as my kids call it, we're still taking precautions. Bacon Boy (yes, brothers are cruel) is now in isolation, Mom goes in with soup, medication and tissues and comes out heading straight for the bathroom to wash her hands. And, down the sink go the germs... along with green priorities.

A family of six can go down hard when the flu strikes, so we strike back. Soft, lotion-y tissues replace the fiber-y recycled kind and when used, go straight into a plastic bag and are thrown in the trash. Toothbushes are boiled in hot water, the bathroom is scrubbed and sanitized with cleansers that promise to kill 99.9% of germs. I buy fizzy Sprite - Bacon Boy's favorite - and pour liberally. Hands are washed often and we even splurge for hand sanitizer, but the "green smelly kind" as the boys say. A TV is lugged up the stairs, a DVD player installed so B.B. can watch endless hours of The Simpsons from the comfort of his own bed. Cans pile up in the recycling bin, Campbell's Chicken Noodle mostly. Mom's homemade just isn't the same when you're sick and have a craving and Mom is a sucker for a sick, pitiful face.

And then, a couple of days later, Bacon Boy wakes from a deep sleep and feels better. The cleansers go back into storage, the hand sanitizer along with it, the bar soap reemerges, the empty bottle of Sprite languishes in the returnable bin. The rough, scratchy recycled content tissues appear back in the bathroom and the world returns to normal.

That is, until... Someone else gets sick. My throat isn't scratchy, really it's not. It must be sleeping with the window open. That's why my nose feels a little congested, right? Right?!? What are the boys going to call me? Mama Bacon? I'm going back to bed...

This is The Green Phone Booth's "eco-confession" for June's Green Moms Carnival. The carnival will be hosted at
The Green Parent on June 24th. Come read about the skeletons in our collective green closet.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lagel My Bagel

From the bean of Green Bean.

The kids were at school. American Idol runner up Adam Lambert lamented the Mad World on iTunes. My cat wended his way between my legs. I pushed and tugged, rolled and folded. Ten minutes the recipe said and ten minutes it was.

Then I covered the dough in my new covered bowl, tamping the lid down tightly and eschewing "plastic wrap" forever. The dough grew and swelled for over an hour. When I took it out, it had doubled in size as the recipe has promised. Breaking it into ten pieces, I rounded the dough and poked my thumb through, into a bagel shape. Yup, also easy. A few minutes later, I popped the unbaked bagels into simmering water, one by one, until they bobbed dizzily to surface. Then, into the oven they went.

Thirty minutes later, we had fresh, homemade bagels (click here for bagel recipe).

I'm not sure why I did it.

I had never thought of making bagels until JessTrev linked to an article about them on Superhero Secrets. The article promised that bagels were significantly cheaper to make than to buy. To the tune of $.21 to a $1.20 per round. We do go through quite a few bagels in a week. 'M kay. Great. Making these would save me seven to ten bucks a week. Not too shabby. But I didn't make them because I was being frugal.

Making bagels from scratch also eliminates any plastic packaging. Of course, buying them in bulk from your local bagel store or from the bakery bulk section at your grocery store and putting them in a reused bag does that too. And takes a lot less time.

Nonetheless, doing it my way also allowed me to construct my bagels from organic fair trade sugar and locally grown and milled organic flour. No preservatives or funky ingredients. Thomas' bagels can keep their monodiglycerides? Still, that wasn't the reason I made my own bagels.

Ever since I started swapping homemade snacks with friends, I've been game for baking almost anything. Last week, it was goldfish crackers. A few weeks before that, I tried my hand at graham crackers. But still, I'm not sure that was my motivation.

I did it because I could. Because the article promised that it was easy. That it was worth it. And, biting into a chewy, warm bagel, that was enough.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Carnival of the Green #181

Welcome to the Carnival of the Green! This is the 181st edition of Treehugger's weekly roundup of eco links from around the blogosphere. (Welcome to our Green Phone Booth! Five women write and work together in the 'booth toward a cooler, cleaner, healthier planet. Individually, we face the same frustrations and challenges that you do in trying to live more lightly on this Earth. Together, we’ve created a community that fosters our efforts. All of us aspire to green superhero status. Some times, we are wildly successful and, other times, our capes fail us. But we do try – and we know you do, too. Join us on our adventures! We can always fit another hero into the Booth.)

Here's what greenies worldwide submitted for this round:

Gardening Reflections/Musings
  • Alan Kneidel presents Animal parts galore, for sale at Bargain Beachwear, posted at Veggie Revolution. Says Alan, "Ever notice how many animal parts are used in the souvenir industry? In this post, Alan Kneidel reports on the array of animal parts he finds for sale as souvenirs in one South Carolina beachwear shop. The post includes a link to World Wildlife Fund's "Buyer Beware" webpage, which tells how you can help stop the overharvesting of these creatures for pointless souvenirs."
  • Siamak Partovi-Deilami presents Nature technology the grandest of all posted at Japan Technology Information. It's a reflection on modern technology that's inspired by nature, including crash gear inspired by bumblebees!
Cutting Consumption
New Green Products
Healthy Lifestyle/Nutrition
General Carnival Tips
Make Your Own
  • Wren Caulfield presents DIY Project: Bike Panniers posted at True Adventures in Money Hacking. There are actually a bunch of different ideas for making your own bike panniers in this post - and if you've got another method, leave yours in the comments!
  • RecycleCindy, Author and Owner of My Recycled Bags (a website dedicated to recycling & crafting) says: "This week I offer my latest recycled bag which is crocheted from old tee-shirts. It's a great way to repurpose your old t-shirts into a cool crocheted purse. Here is the free crochet pattern link. Thank you and happy green crafting to you!
Alternative Energy
Many thanks to last week's host, Ethical Superstore. And I know you can't get enough of the Carnival of the Green, so head to Green Building Elements next week for the June 1st edition!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Knitting Things Together

Many of us in the green-blogging movement also think of ourselves as Knitters, with a capital K.

Just as our green status affects our cooking of slow food, our environmental commitments lead us to love our handmade "slow clothes."

Some of us are committed to finding responsibly-raised sheep and spinning their fleeces without added chemicals and without the use of fossil-fuel-based power. A spindle or a spinning wheel in our own hands can give us such a sense of pleasure and appreciation. Natural dyes--made from plants we raise in dye gardens or we collect wild--add to the low-impact nature of natural knitting.

What a joy it is when I see other people finding ways of combining their love of fiber with their love of the environment:

(This example of "a-knit-mation"--along with a little bit of information about this film and also a few other examples of aknitmation--can be found over at TikkunKnitter.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Recycle Old Baby Gear at BabyEarth

JessTrev with a quick tip on how to recycle old car seats (or any other kid gear).

Recently one of our horrifically expensive Britax car seats bit it. It wasn't salvageable. No freecycling in its future. Let's just say there was a little bit of jumping, and a lot of pulverized styrofoam.... Even if ours hadn't hit an early demise, car seats are apparently only safe for about five years anyways, even if they haven't been in an accident (materials degrade, making it less stable in a crash). What to do with that hulking piece of plastic, metal and cloth?

Thanks to sage: green frugal parenting, I kept our costly mistake out of the landfill. We mailed it to BabyEarth. They're taking care of recycling all the materials, and sending me a $5 coupon to boot. I'm surely buying our next car seat from them in gratitude. Not for the five bucks -- but for the sense of responsibility they are showing by taking care of the proper disposal of all of that kid gear. Here's their spiel:
Because landfills are icky

Babies grow up quickly and your beloved car seats, strollers, swings and highchairs end up as junk, collecting dust in the garage. Sadly, many of these items are thrown away, ending up in landfills. Well, not anymore. That’s why we’ve launched BabyEarth RENEW, a hassle-free baby gear recycling program.

The program is simple. If you’re done with your car seat, stroller or high chair, send it to us. We’ll make sure everything is properly disassembled and all usable parts are sent to accredited recycling centers. For example, fabrics will be shipped to developing countries, and metal, plastic and foam will be used for construction projects. In the spirit of renewing, if the item is in excellent condition it will be donated to and enjoyed by another family who needs it.

How it works
You pay shipping costs. We take care of the rest.

Ship to:

RENEW Recycling Program
21 Cypress Blvd Ste. 1120
Round Rock, Texas 78665

What we accept:

Car Seats
High Chairs
Diaper Bags

Great program, BabyEarth! Just wish there was one closer to my home (shipping costs on my hulking seat choked me up a litle bit). Here's wishing for the global expansion of your company....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eco-Hospitality in the Summertime

A Memorial Day musing by the EcoWonder...
You're more than welcome to drop by my home anytime... No, really you are. My door is always open, there is a jumble of bikes on my front lawn, a jumble of boys on the back lawn and dogs running helter skelter everywhere. We will welcome you with open arms. It's just that I should prepare you... Our version of hospitality is often different that what most people expect.

Chances are our air conditioning is switched off and fans are steadily blowing cool air throughout our 80-year old lakefront home with it's original windows open and dehumidifier humming.

We won't offer you a soda, a juice box or a bottle of water. Our fridge is stocked with fresh lemonade, a pitcher of ice cold water, some juice and milk in curvy glass bottles. My boys will happily offer you some, breaking out a washable marker to ink your name on the side of your glass, which we will wash after you leave.

Snacks will appear in mis-match glass bowls, chipped and well worn, but filled with delicious treats. The homemade kettle corn, made from the pretty red kernels bought from last year's farmer's market will be crunchy, salty and sweet. My youngest will proudly serve you the cupcakes or cookies he made - straight from the cookie jar, some large, others small and some slightly too-brown around the edges. There won't be any packaging to drift away in the wind from our back yard patio perch and clean up will be a breeze.

Giggles and shouts will reach your ears from the backyard while the TV, game consoles and stereos all sit quiet and dark. Children will roll down the hill, splash in the lake and play many games of pickle - all with their own two hands - not a video game or remote in sight.

My lawn, speckled with dandelions and clover and awash with white daisies run amok is the perfect place to put down your toddler to crawl and inspect the crickets, lady bugs and rocks. It's not the greenest or the prettiest, but it is chemical-free and perfect for chubby fingers and toes!

If you get cold, you might want to borrow a jacket or blanket from our mis-matched collection of hand-me-downs and thrift store finds. Don't mind that the beach towels have holes, some are almost vintage (do you remember Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? We do!) and some most likely belong to someone who left their cast offs at our home, which we gladly took into the fold.

We will offer you a drink as the sun sets, most likely a local Michigan brew or a locally roasted cup of coffee with some organic cream and raw sugar. The kids will most likely want a treat and my boys will run for the freezer to share popsicles on the reusable sticks that hold a sticky sweet mess made from organic yogurt and blended strawberries from the U-pick place down the road.

At the end of the night, we will say good evening and we hope you've had a pleasant time. We know that you went without soda, chips and beer from Mexico. Your children had to survive without ice cream bars, video games and fancy beach toys. Maybe you didn't mind, or maybe you think we're crazy fools who live like treehugging nutters. Either way, we hope you will come again!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cheap Thrills

From the bean of Green Bean.

The hangers clicked quietly together, like keys on my grandmother's typewriter. Red, green, blue, black and finally white sifted past. I ignored the film gathered that over my fingers as well as the cries echoing from the next aisle over. Someone else's kid. Suddenly, something flashed. I stopped. Squinted.

White peasant top. New with tags. Anthropologie. I tossed it into my cart, on top of a slimming black tee, a pair of Ralph Lauren capris, and a flirty summer skirt, and continued down the aisle.

I used to shop like the rest of the world. At Nordstrom's. Target. In malls and super stores. After pseudo-compacting for several months, I shifted away from mainstream shopping. I discovered thrift stores, consignment centers, second hand shops. And I never looked back.

You see, those stores - the Macy's and Old Navy's of the world - are clean, brightly lit. There is no graffiti in the fitting rooms and only helpful, fresh faced folks assist you with your purchases. Those stores stock multiples of the same thing, in every size under the sun. If it doesn't fit, you grab another size. One up, one down, from the row of jeans and blouses lined up like horses on a merry go round. And, if you cannot find it there, you can get it online or they'll order it from another store. You can have the same outfit as the model in the photo, the girl helping you or your neighbor.

Those stores offer no adventure. No shiver of discovery. No uber flattering pair of Lucky jeans in just your size for $4.99. You know what you'll find. It's safe, reliable, reassuring.

Not so a thrift store.

It is darker here. The hangers don't match. Sizes are strewn through out the store. Some of the clothes are stained or torn or just plain ugly. Almost none of them are your size and there is no two of anything. If that pretty peasant top doesn't fit, you're out of luck.

But if you'd like to look like just yourself and no one else, if you want options for your kids that extend beyond Power Rangers and Princesses, if you'd rather buy second hand and avoid the first hand guilt of shopping, if you're brave enough to paw through piles of wrong sized clothing made ten years ago, you just might find what you are looking for.

Pay less than you should for it and carry it home in a reused plastic bag from some grocery chain. Enjoy it and all that it says about the individual that you are - but only after washing it in really hot water first.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hunt and Gather

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

I rose early excited with anticipation.  Pulled on the longest socks I had, jeans, tall boots, and a long sleeve shirt.  Grabbed my raincoat and threw on a hat.  Two mesh bags and my walking stick would complete the ensemble.  I was ready.

We drove to an undisclosed location in the woods and exited the vehicle.  Made a quick plan as to who would go where and then disappeared into the thick green underbrush.  Even as early as Mother's Day the underbrush is quite dense; getting a jump-start before the leaves of trees completely shade the forest floor.  I crawled over fallen trees, ducked under branches, and plowed my way through the brambles, stopping occasionally to tip my hat and survey the horizon for the tell tale sign - the dead elm tree.  

The first half hour was riddled with disappointment.  All the signs were there.  It had rained recently and the weather warmed, the forest was littered with elm trees beginning to lose their bark, there was a buzz in the community, and errant cars were parked randomly along side the road.  They had to be here.

Along the way I stopped to identify a wildflower, listen to the call of bird, and answer the far off call of, "Anything yet?".  I was beginning to lose hope.  Maybe we are too early?  Perhaps I should have went left instead of right?  Maybe just around the corner?  Eyes trained to the ground I pressed on, sweeping my walking stick in swaths ahead of me.  "Anything?"  "No."  I called out.  Then it happened.  There at me feet, peeking out from under the brush, I nearly stepped on it.  How did I not see that?  I bent down to claim my prize and could not believe my eyes.  They were everywhere.  Some standing tall like soldiers, others hiding here or there like children playing peek-a-boo.  I was surrounded.

Morels!  "I found some!"  I shouted into the wilderness.  Dropping to all fours I gleefully began to gather a bounty of mushrooms.  Everywhere I turned there were more and more.  I could not even move for fear of crushing my elusive find.  Clearing one section I moved onto another, carefully looking under leaves and fallen bark.  I did not want to miss any of this special treat!  I quickly filled one bag before getting half way around the tree.  Wow!

I was beginning to wonder if two bags would be enough.  They were both heavy and I still had more to pick.  What a stroke of luck!  Nothing for the first half hour and now it is taking me a half hour just to harvest one tree.

Nothing beats the satisfaction of securing your own food, especially when it is free.  Call me crazy, but I swear food tastes better knowing that you provided it for your family.  Not the working 40 plus hours at a job you hate to pay for anonymous food during the obligatory trip to the grocery store kind of provide, but the primal hunt and gather kind of provide.  Grown with love and harvested from you backyard kind.  Prepared with time and care to invest in your family's future kind.  That is the good stuff.

(Two bags was not enough.)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Superhero Secrets

JessTrev's Sunday linklovin.
"What I am that the more I am able to slow down, to open my eyes to what is around me, the more in awe I am of life and nature and beauty.... I am moved by the new mother I hear trying to console her crying baby down the street; the sight of people going to work each morning—to jobs they hate or jobs they love—in order to support their family; the hope and faith that lies in the small brave act of planting a garden. It is all beautiful to me.

...My life may have me tied to the computer for the moment, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find wonder in my own driveway, on my street, in three blocks I’ve walked a thousand times before. I'd like to think that the familiar and worn paths of our lives could become beautiful to us again. As Marcel Proust once wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fish Food

From the bean of Green Bean.

Every month, a group of friends and I swap homemade snacks of some sort or another. It started out as an effort to reduce plastic packaging, save money, eat healthy and pack a waste free lunch in less time. Our third month in, the snack swap has done all that.

It's done quite a bit more though. It has exposed my family (and, I'm assuming, the families of my friends) to try new foods and pushed us to expand our palate. It is also challenged my inner pasty chef.

Exhibit A:

Oh yeah! I went ahead and baked me some goldfish crackers.

Pepperidge Farm's ingredients are not particularly scary (though I do wonder about their "rainbow" colored goldfish): Unbleached Wheat Flour , Flour , Niacin , Reduced Iron , Thiamin Mononitrate Vitamin B1 , Riboflavin Vitamin B2 , Folic Acid , Cheddar Cheese , Pasteurized Milk , Cheese Culture , Salt , Enzymes , Water , Salt , Vegetable Oils , Canola Oil , Sunflower Oil , Soybean Oil , Salt , Yeast , Sugar , Yeast Extract , Leavening , Baking Soda , Monocalcium Phosphate , Ammonium Bicarbonate , Spices , Annatto Color , Onion Powder.

The recipe I followed, however, boasted far fewer: local and organic cheddar cheese made from happy cows and purchased at a locally owned, independent grocery; locally grown and milled organic flour from the farmers market (within a 30 mile radius!!); local and organic butter from happy cows with a methane digester; and a little S&P.

Top that off with the kick-booty flavor and the lack of plastic packaging, and Pepperidge Farm can keep their Goldfish. My families' lunch boxes are full of fish food.

Friday, May 15, 2009

On Potluck Lunches and Aiding Memories

A special guest post from Planting Truffula Trees, aka the Worm Lady!

Could an elegant multi-family potluck “leave no trace”? An intrepid mama dared to give it a whirl.

At a recent parent meeting, I was “volunteered” to organize our celebratory potluck lunch for this week. The group didn’t bargain for what came next: after a moment of indecision, I glanced around the room, took a deep breath, and… suggested that we ditch the typically used disposables to bring our own cups, plates, and utensils.

And why not? In those seconds before speaking, I had a vision of a post-potluck trash can, full-to-overflowing with foam plates and plastic cups, not to mention food scraps and paper napkins. I was going to pack reusables for my family anyway; rather than just “doing our part” within our family, and attempting to set an example for our fellow potluck-ers, why not help them set up for their own enviro-success?

When I talk with people about using durable shopping bags, mugs, cloth napkins and the like, they often smile and say they’d be happy to use them. Only, the catch is their remembering to bring the items along to the point of use. So, I thought, a no-waste potluck might just work if I planted the seed, and then helped the participants remember…

Happily, my suggestion fell on fertile ground. The other parents nodded their heads in agreement and immediately started thinking about what glasses, silverware, and other items they had available for our shared lunch. I agreed to bring a bucket for compostable items.

My who-will-bring-what email, and my subsequent reminder notes all included a line about please supplying your own plates, cups, and utensils, ideally with a few extras for guests and others who may not be able to bring their own.

Enough about the planning… how did it turn out?! This is what I took home:

Our group of about 50 people generated a fraction of a can of trash (mainly plastic wrappings), a bunch of recyclable bottles, and… a 5-gallon bucket’s worth of compostables. My no-waste aspirations settled for low-waste reality, and… some lessons for the next time.

If one mama hadn’t brought a stack of disposable plates, we would have run short. Silver lining: the plates she brought were paper, so they fell into the compostable category.

Embarrassingly, our boys were among the paper plate users! While I was busy checking on my compost bucket, they “forgot” about the ceramic plates I’d packed. Silver lining: we got their utensil wraps and stainless steel bottles to them in time. (Yes, we’ve had a thorough chat – again -- about the need to first check with a parent for their plate before heading over to the food table at future events.)

I purposely didn’t put a sign on the compost bucket, outlining the do’s and don’ts of what to put in there. Silver lining: going from table to table explaining the bucket’s purpose was a nice chance to say “hello” to lots of people.

There was no blue recycling bin. As a result, three glass bottles slipped into the trash can. Silver lining: When I sweetly extracted bottles from the can, explaining that I’d take them home, the “offender” realized that, of course, he could do the very same thing, and graciously retrieved the errant items from me.

So, that’s the news about our potluck, where our tummies were filled with tasty items but the trash can was left wanting, the cute little three-year-old who deftly lobbed her watermelon rind into the trash redeemed herself by admiring a huge nightcrawler out in the garden with me, and the bulk of our “waste” vanished in one of my compost piles without a trace:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Reuse Those Produce Stickers!

JessTrev with a practical tip for those of us who buy supermarket produce. Go to the farmer's market! Ahem. Upcycle those annoying stickers.

So, all the chitter chat about banana stickers reminded me to share the info for Sticker Man. Since I read about this upcycling artist about a year ago on Green LA Girl's blog, I've been saving all of our produce stickers in a little baggie on my kitchen shelves above my sink. You know how some things just go on autopilot? Well, I have little spots in my kitchen to save random stuff: eggshells for the garden, peels for my compost tumbler, bottle tops to bring in to Aveda (which I haven't tried yet, but am thrilled to hear they've started), Brita filters to send to Beth's living room bring in to Whole Foods if they ever start recycling them here in DC (Tenleytown and Georgetown? not so much - I am going to have to mail those suckers in), corks for lord knows what, and a waxed paper bag for produce stickers. Apparently, I had a few zillion up there in amongst my cookbooks 'cause when my good friend visited from Montana, he chuckled a bit about my little project, reminding me to send them in. Not like this particular friend can talk. Bozeman doesn't recycle glass anymore so he saves it in his garage and drives it East with him to recycle here when he visits. Quirky is as quirky does, my friend.

Anyways, I sent my stickers in and whaddya know? Produce Man sent me a postcard back! He got 'em! How cool is that? Way cooler than sifting through beautiful compost and seeing a bazillion plastic stickers, I'd say.

Also? I'd forgotten this info about produce sticker codes, and was delighted to see it posted recently at Healthy Child, Healthy World:

Three easy rules to remember:

1. Organic produce always starts with the number 9.
2. Conventionally Grown produce always starts with a 3 or a 4.
3. Genetically Modified produce always starts with the number 8.

Lastly? Anyone have an update on whether or not they're going to shift to laser fruit tattoos instead of stickers?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cycle Sunday

A two-wheeled wonder by the EcoWonder!

There is an evening Michigan chill in the air as we leave the restaurant. Without coats, it's going to be a chilly ride home. That's one area of thinking you have to adjust when you switch to pedal power. You don't have air conditioning, heat, automatic windows, heated seats or a stash of extra coats and blankets hidden in the stow-and-go. You've got the clothes on your back, some cash, maybe a lipstick in your pocket, a helmet and some water.

We coast out of the parking lot, hugging the right hand side of the busy street as we push for home. We've got a lagging child and I cycle back, moving to the end of our caravan of 5 cycles and 1 trail-a-bike pedaler, to find him huffing, puffing and sweating a little in the cool breeze. He's tired, winded and uncomfortable. Getting around by pedal power is much harder than it sounds, especially when you're not used to using those muscles. I help him adjust the gears of his mountain bike and pedal onward, hoping we get home before the temperature drops too much further.

About 6 weeks ago, I made the commitment to cycle more, get back to taking time for myself and my family. We ride a few times a week, putting in anywhere from 20-30 miles a week. Our youngest son, pedaling his trail-a-bike behind Dad is thrilled. We've dubbed Sundays - CYCLE SUNDAY, and either ride to breakfast or lunch and sometimes again for ice cream in the evenings. Early on Sunday mornings, he races into our room telling us he's ready to bike to breakfast, let's go, let's go!

Deciding if we should eat out, take the kids for ice cream or grab a morning coffee takes a little more thought and planning when you are heading out on two wheels (or in my family's case 11 wheels!) Everyone needs a helmet! Did anyone put the dog in the crate? Who needs a water bottle? Yes, you need a jacket - it's going to be cold by the time we head for home. Remember! Stay to the right, watch for cars, stay together!!

Yes, our trips take longer. It takes a good hour and a half to grab and ice cream or a coffee, but what we get in return was worth the time. No cell phones, no radio blaring in the van, no arguments over who's going to ride "shot gun". We smell lilacs, we guess how many miles it is to the local library, the older boys dare each other to jump the speed bumps by the golf course, but no one has actually been nervy enough to give it a go. Our youngest is getting so comfortable pedaling behind Dad, he barks out directions to the older boys. We're going to turn here! Watch out for the pot hole! Not too much longer now!

Cycling is good for the environment, yes. It's good for your lungs, your heart and your muscles too, of course. We started the adventure to get a little exercise, save a little gas money and do a little good for the environment. What we got back was so much more! Why not start your Cycle Sunday (or Monday, or Tuesday...) today? You never know what adventure you will find around the next corner!

Falling for Favas

From the bean of Green Bean.

It was spring. May was upon us, peeking around the door like a child up from bed too early. White butterflies danced over the bolted cauliflower while cucumbers, pumpkins and zinnias sprouted and jostled for position.

The last stand of front yard cover crop - fava beans - tilted every so slightly. Ready to retire for the season. Purple flowered vetch and bell beans tangled in their midst, pulling the favas gently to the ground.

It was that, and my desire to plant sunflowers in their spot, that hastened the favas' demise. One sunny afternoon, we plucked every last pod from the stalk and carried them into the kitchen.

Fava beans make a fantastic winter cover crop. They inject the soil with nitrogen, edge out the weeds, provide winter shelter for beneficial insects (and, unfortunately, slugs) and, if you don't rip them out right away, will decorate your spring plate with their pale bellied wonderfulness.

If you've not eaten favas before, they are a bit laborious. Once mature, you must not only remove them from the fuzzy pod but also peel the outer layer of the bean. Certainly, it takes a bit of time but, finding it as an excuse to sit my over-active boys down before dinner, we piled our favas on the table and began slowly peeling, discarding and talking.

Before long, the naked beans filled a pot. We add a bit of local olive oil, salt and pepper - perhaps even a snip of thyme from the yard - and cook them until soft. Ever merciless, the boys take turns grinding the cooked beans into a thick paste and then, devouring the dip on baguettes or stabbing it with carrots. (Here's the actual recipe).

Come summer, my front yard favas are just a memory. I forget all about their fabulous flavor, their fantastic usefulness and their fall planting. But, every spring, I inevitably fall for favas.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Reel Deal

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Ahh, Spring.  The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, plants are blooming, and grass is growing - and growing, and growing, and growing.  Somehow, practically overnight I swear, my lawn became a hayfield.  Crap.  I have not even  taken the snow blower off my lawn tractor, let alone remove the tire chains, weights, and put the mower deck back on.  Plus, it is leaking transmission fluid.  What's a girl to do?  

I do not know about other girls, but this girl did what she does best.  Play dumb and pull the pity-me-I-am-just-a-poor-girl-whose-husband-is-deployed-overseas card to sucker some poor sap into doing the work for me.  No, not this time.  I thought I would try a different route.  I do not really feel like dealing with the mower right now, nor do I feel like reeking of gas, inhaling exhaust, and losing my hearing.  I bought a real reel mower.  You know, one of these?

The Scotts Classic 20".  Isn't she a beauty?  One mean, lean, green piece of people-powered machinery.  It was super easy to assemble, only taking 10 minutes.  I used the pity card a little bit and conned the sales associates into assembling it for me at the store.  I watched and timed them.  Online research stated it would take 30 minutes.  From cutting open the box to me taking it for a test drive on the grass outside the store was under 15.  It was the only model I could find with a cutting height range of 1 -3 inches.  It was the 3 inches that I really wanted.  Adjustment could not be simpler.  You just move the lever on each wheel to the height you want.  The Scotts Classic 20" gives you nine options.

I set the blades to high, gave everything a once over with WD-40 and commenced cutting - and cutting, and cutting, and cutting.  Did I tell you I have a half acre?  Yeah...  I know I mentioned my lawn had become a hayfield.  The grass was 8 inches long is some areas!  Not exactly the easiest to push through.  I managed, but not without getting a blister for my efforts.  It took two passes to get a good cut.  And at that I would not call it clean.  It is best likened to shaving with a safety razor for the first time.  Slow and steady, takes multiple passes, and still you miss strips.

One day later, half the lawn is mowed with less than stellar, but acceptable results and I have received one helluva workout.  It takes a long, long time.  It is not easy, but not torture either.  I suspect it would not have been as laborious or time consuming if the lawn had not been allowed to pasture.  That goat seems like a better idea every day!

From this:

To this:

It was a beautiful day and wonderful to be out enjoying it.  After months of hibernating inside under five layers of clothing I could use some sunshine - and exercise.  It was pleasant to come in smelling like sweat and fresh cut grass rather than gasoline and exhaust.  I even worked barefoot.  Not that I advocate operating machinery barefoot!  But, it is pretty hard to cut a toe off with a reel mower unless you stick them directly on the blade, which does not move unless you are pushing forward.  Being barefoot in the grass brought out the little kid in me. 

Another positive note is no fear of projectiles.  I have half a lawn full of pine cones, the other half littered with walnuts, and the entire thing blanketed with sticks.  Any one of these exiting a gas mower become missiles capable of impaling people, busting windows, and denting cars driving by.  Been there, done that.  You can even mow while laundry is hanging on the line to dry.  No cloud of dust and grass clippings!  No gas to buy, very little maintenance, and ease of storage make the reel mower something to consider.  If you have a small city lot, this is definitely the way to go.  Even if you have a half acre like me, do not rule it out.  It is doable, costs less than a gym membership, and may even inspire someone else to give it a reel real try.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Onward to Victory

From the bean of Green Bean.

Photo courtesy of Sweet Eventide.

Earlier this week, I wrote about some vicious attacks on my front yard garden. We've been under attack for over a week by one enemy or another - slugs, deer, sowbugs, stray children, you name them, they've been in my victory garden.

So is it any wonder that this Sunday's Superhero Secrets focuses on gardening. Specifically, edible gardening.

Earlier, this month, I stumbled upon Hip Chick Digs. A great blog about edible gardening, yes, but my favorite part? The before and after photos of of her front yard. When I first decided to plant edibles in the front yard, I yearned for photos such as these - that show the beauty and design of a true Victory Garden. Will my yard ever look like hers? Depends on if I can withstand the war at home.

For advice on how to do just that, I turned to gardener extraordinaire, Melinda at 1 Green Generation. She conveniently posted on just this topic late last month. Melinda offers all kinds of advice for keeping unwanted critters out of your edible garden. Planting around the perimeter didn't work so well for us but the interplanting . . . knock on wood.

Just when you get one, ahem, pest under control, however, it seems another one kicks in. We'd had some major slug sieges and (I know most wouldn't qualify them as a pest but I swear they are attacking my seedlings!) sowbugs. Yet another gardening superhero to the rescue with Fast Grow the Weeds. Seems I only need to apply a little sex-ed to save my struggling seedlings.

So, with all the constant front yard battles, is it all worth it? Accordingly Eat.Drink.Better., the answer is a resounding and economical yes!


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