Monday, November 30, 2009

Flotsam & Jetsam and Jetties & Gyres

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

I look at a bottle cap and see an unfortunate piece of trash, Steven Beatty and Laurel Kurtz look at a bottle cap - make that several thousand bottle caps - and see art. Beatty and Kurtz started collecting caps in 2006 from friends and family, bins at Portland State University, and even craigslist. Several thousand caps later and they have had four major art installations designed to raise awareness of the environmental impact the small pieces of plastic have.

Their latest installation, Flotsam & Jetsam and Jetties & Gyres, makes reference to cast-off debris - such as bottle caps - that ultimately end up in the ocean and congregate in the North Pacific Gyre. The exhibit at Clark College's Archer Gallery in Vancouver, Washington is a 42-yard spiral made entirely of various colored caps. Visitors enter the exhibit from a single point and stroll through the debris, making their way to the center of the spiral much the same way jetsam at sea enters the gyre.

When I asked the artists how many caps they have collected over the years, the only answer they could give me was, "A LOT". The installation, that took a week to set up, can be viewed now through December 10. If you live near Vancouver and do not have access to Aveda for recycling caps, a collection bin will be on site during the exhibit. The artists only ask that you wash them before donating. "After a while they start to smell like compost," Beatty said. Beatty and Kurtz have spent countless hours bathing the caps in bleach to prepare for the show.

An estimated 80 percent of garbage in the North Pacific Gyre, dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is from land-based sources. The actual size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is unknown. Since it consists of confetti-like pieces suspended below the water's surface it is not visible by aircraft or satellite, but is estimated to be twice the size of Texas. A study in 2001 found that concentrations of plastic in certain areas reached 1,000,000 per square mile.

Knowing that there are people like Steven Beatty and Laurel Kurtz doing their best to keep "A LOT" of plastic caps from ending up there... now there is an impact.

WHO: Steven Beatty and Laurel Kurtz
WHAT: Flotsam & Jetsam and Jetties & Gyres
WHERE: Archer Gallery at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington
WHEN: November 10 - December 10, 2009
WHY: Raise awareness of recycling (or the lack there of)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I'm dreaming of a green Christmas

Bleatings from EnviRambo.


With Thanksgiving snugly under my belt, my focus quickly turns to the next holiday... Christmas. The holidays are a time of indulgence, excess, and unfortunately waste. Lots of waste! Throughout the months of November and December household waste increases by 25 percent, adding up to an additional 1 million tons a week to our landfills.

That was just one of the mind-boggling facts on holiday waste that I stumbled upon on RecycleWorks.org. After reading about all the obscenity come back and check out these links for ways to green your holidays.

Earth Easy gives a great rundown on how to have a green Christmas, from buying less and buying smart to holiday lighting and choosing a tree.

On the subject of trees, there seems to be some debate as to whether real or artificial is the greener way to go. When choosing which version is best for you consider this:
  • place of origin
  • method of production
  • components
  • chemicals used
  • disposal
The National Christmas Tree Association gives a side by side comparison of real vs. artificial. Keep in mind that the source is the National Christmas Tree Association - they promote the use of real trees. The Great Debate: Real vs. Artificial Christmas Trees at scientificblogging goes into more detail. Of course you could skip the great debate and get yourself an aluminum Christmas tree - totally recyclable!

As for what goes on the tree, be it real, artificial or aluminum, Great Green Goods has some sources for fun recycled Christmas ornaments. If you are the crafty type, a little imagination and leftover materials are all it takes to make your own.

When it comes to what is under the tree, Eco Child's Play suggests you get creative and go DIY with your holiday wrapping. For those lacking DIY gene, they also give a list of eco-friendly wrapping you can purchase. If you wish to skip wrapping paper altogether, head to the library and look for the new book The Wrapping Scarf Revolution.

And finally, to play off of yesterday's post Antiques aren't just for Grandma anymore, think outside the big-box when it comes to sources for holiday entertaining. Antique and thrift stores are great resources for holiday decor and table settings, as demonstrated by Thrifty Chicks $4.61 place setting.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Antiques aren't just for Grandma anymore.

Musings from the Greenhabilitator...


Pardon the tardiness of my post today. Mr. Greenhab is the true Superhero this morning for letting me sleep in nice and late. Ahhhh...yawn...streeeeeeeeeeeeetch!

I'll confess to a long day of "retail therapy" yesterday, but it's not what you think at all!

Yesterday I worked in my mom's shop, Patina Antiques & Home here in Denver (Which, BTW, will be featured in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Victoria Magazine!). I have to admit that I wasn't looking forward to working retail on Black Friday, but I did wonder if it would be slow as they don't really offer "door busters" in the antiques biz.

I was so pleasantly surprised!

Not only did customer after customer line up to buy vintage ornaments, quirky decorations, and antique silver place settings for Christmas dinner. They also purchased gifts - lots of gifts. Women walked around with lists, men bought gift cards, sisters yelled back and forth across the store "Do you think so-and-so would like this?"

One woman bought an adorable Lily of the Valley tea set for her mom who is a tea drinker and also has Lily of the Valley planted throughout her yard.


I came home with a set of Nations of the World books from the late 1800's -- the Scott's Scotland editions -- which I'll give to my dad as a Christmas gift. We're of Scottish descent, and my dad loves to read about Scotland and its history. I'll be wrapping it in this vintage plaid Rob Ray box with little Scotsmen on it. I figure he doesn't really need another shirt or pair of gloves this year.

If you haven't been into an antiques store lately, forget what you know about them! Not all antiques stores are created equally. My mom has been selling antiques since I was a wee one, so I've been into about 8 kabillion antique stores in my lifetime: the ones that leave you wanting to take a shower, the expensive ones with tacky stuff that only reeeeeally rich people buy, the ones lined with "I like Ike" buttons and Coca-Cola signs. There's one for every type of antique-lover out there.

Here are a few of my favorite items that have come from her store...

Our farm table! The planks of wood on top came from a tobacco barn in North Carolina. They're the shelves that the farmers would lay the tobacco leaves on to dry. The legs are columns from a porch there. It's huge and goes perfectly in our cabin-style home. The antique armoire in the upper left hand corner of the photo is also from my mom.


This old pottery bowl was handmade and has the three prong marks (used to hold it while it dried) on the bottom to prove it. I have a matching tiny-sized one as well.


There are just so many "previously loved" items you can find that come with a history other than "Made in Taiwan".

I can't tell you how pleased I was yesterday to live first-hand the things we've been blogging about lately with regard to community and supporting local business. In Jess' blog post Buy Handmade this Black Friday she says that "...the big box dollars do not stay in your community the way your true local, independent store purchases would." which is exactly what I witnessed yesterday working in the antique store:

1. A couple who had fallen upon some hard times came into the store to sell a few pieces of china, which my mom purchased from them. Maybe that will help them to pay a bill this month.

2. A friend of hers came by to show her logos for the new crepe restaurant that she's opening. My mom will be styling the window there with her antiques.

3. An attorney in the community who is sometimes paid in antiques by her clients came by to sell them to my mom. This allows her to keep helping her clients even if they can't always pay her in cash.

4. A local jewelry artist came in looking for antique spoons, which she turns into necklaces. My mom sells these for her in the shop. She also bought a few from her for Christmas gifts for her girlfriends.

5. A woman who works for the State came by. She said that this is one of her "furlough" days where she's not allowed to work so the state can save money. "At least I still have a job." she said "I thought I'd at least get some Christmas shopping done today and give my money to some local businesses." (To which I silently thought "Yes, yes, YES!")

It was really nice to see all of the ideas we've been talking about here in action. And it gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "retail therapy".

Friday, November 27, 2009

Buy Handmade this Black Friday

Black Friday thoughts from Jess of Sweet Eventide.

Most Americans know Black Friday as the term referring to the start of the Christmas shopping season. And for most Americans, it means heading to their "local" big box store to score great deals. As I wrote here last month, the big box dollars do not stay in your community the way your true local, independent store purchases would. While my last post focused on brick & mortars, today's post will focus on the importance of also buying handmade.



On one of the biggest shopping days of the year, I would like to encourage you to step away from the mall today and take a few minutes to read 101 reasons artists and designers want you to buy handmade. This list was put together by Poppytalk which curates Poppytalk Handmade, a monthly street market to showcase handmade goods.

Being a shop owner and blogger, I figure most everyone has heard of Etsy by now. Their most recent weather report indicated $17 million in sales last month. Yet at a recent fundraiser for my son's school, I met several people who had not yet come across the "world's most vibrant handmade marketplace."



Etsy is promoting sellers via Twitter who are offering Black Friday deals or free shipping. They have all kinds of ways to help you find the perfect gift. Here is a link to search results for sale listings and you can refine it with the categories handmade, vintage or supplies. Here is an article with more information on how to shop Etsy today through Monday.

So please don't fight traffic and spend hours looking for parking and standing in line today simply to hand over another generic, mass market gift to a loved one this holiday season. If you aren't crafty or don't have time to make your own gifts, you can purchase handmade gifts and know you are supporting an artist, someone whose passion is to create and you will know your gift was made with love. Can you say the same for your shrink-wrapped object from Target, et. al.?

Etsy is not the only handmade marketplace out there, by the way. There is also Artfire and Big Cartel. Don't forget that you can get more than gifts from all of these sources, you can get vintage holiday decorations, candles and soaps for guests, a pretty platter to serve your favorite holiday recipes on and clothing as well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What a Kid Wants

Parenting thoughts from The Conscious Shopper

Every time my boys have a playdate, I'm always amazed at how few toys we have compared with my kids' friends. As I've built up my kids' toy collection, I've tried to focus on the classics - blocks, dress-up toys, puzzles, games, art, and music. I've tried to avoid toys with flashing lights and blaring sounds - partly because I'm too cheap to buy batteries. And yet, every night when it's time to "clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere," I shake my head. We have too many toys.

In fact, the longer I've been a parent (six years as of this past week - sniff, sniff), the more I've become convinced that any child could get by with just a handful of treasured toys, some balls, some crayons, and a bike. That's all they really need.

Who needs toys when there's the great outdoors?

Who needs toys when there are playgrounds?

Who needs toys when there are museums?

Who needs toys when there are festivals?

Who needs toys when there are boxes?


Who needs toys when Mom needs help?

If you hope your kids will become so preoccupied with flashing lights and buttons that you never have to see them, then by all means, buy some more toys. Going to museums, playgrounds, and festivals require your time. But in six years of being a parent, I've learned that your time is what a kid wants the most.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Give a Knit

From the bean of Green Bean.

I give a knit.
No really, I do.
No TJ Maxx slippers
Or Walmart gift card for you.

Things are quite different
Under my tree
An assortment you'll find
All hand made by me.

For my son,
For my parents,
Hot cocoa to share.

Stockings hang heavy
With gingerbread men

Friends and teachers find
Granola and jam by the jar.
Bought local, made here.
Not shipped from afar.

I thought of my loved ones
Through cool nights of fall
Knitting and stitching,
Creating for all.

Many look to sales
And call Friday black
Pushing through crowds
To fill Santa's sack.

Not here. Oh no, no.
Not any more.
This season, I give a knit
And, oh, so much more.

Please come back on December 10th as The Green Phone Booth hosts the Green Moms Carnival. The topic is Greener Traditions.

Monday, November 23, 2009

100 Mile Thanksgiving

Bleatings from EnviRambo.


100 Mile Thanksgiving

Every Thanksgiving there is only one thing on my mind, what are we going to eat? Who is all coming? Where is everyone going to sit? Do I have enough dishes? When will I find the time to clean the house? How long do I need to cook the turkey? How many times will I hear, "Your house is cold!"? Okay, make that many things, but alas, my main concern is, what are we going to eat? The menu is always given great consideration. I spend days looking for recipes, organizing a menu, making a grocery list, shopping for ingredients, preparing the meal, cleaning up after the meal. A lot of thought, planning, and preparation. With so much going on who has time to stop and think where the food they eat is coming from? I know a few short years ago the thought never crossed my mind. The past two, sure I thought about it, briefly. This year, I focused on it.

Food is increasingly moving up the ranks on my laundry list of environmental and health concerns. Every time I hear of another recall, learn about CAFOs, or read an ingredient list I just want to start growing my own. Since I have yet to master gardening, shopping the Farmers' Market and choosing organic is the best I can do. Add shopping local to that list.

I set out to my local Food Co-op with my lengthy list of ingredients in hand.

dry Riesling - 103 miles
garlic - 37 miles
white mushrooms - 12 miles
apples - 30 miles
cranberries - 48 miles
1 orange - 2,000 miles (California)
carrots - 37 miles
parsnips - 32 miles
celery - 2,000 miles (California)
onion - 37 miles
turnips - 37 miles
butter - 40 miles
porcini mushrooms - 12 miles
slab bacon - 315 miles
sweet Italian sausage - 23 miles
bread - 14 miles
half & half - 40 miles
green beans - 5 miles
french fried onions - ???
sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil - very, very far away
cream cheese - 40 miles
turkey - 40 miles

Thyme, parsley, and chives came from 5 steps outside my kitchen door.

Thanksgiving

It was surprisingly easier than I thought. Due largely to the fact that my Co-op stocks many products from local sources and labels their origin. It did take some extra time to stop and actually read the labels rather then throw it in the cart and go. I also had to ask a few times when something was not labelled. Luckily my Co-op also stocks a knowledgeable staff that was able to answer all my questions. I normally split my grocery shopping between the Co-op and the supermarket; taking advantage of the Co-op bulk section and the supermarket prices. I do not think I would have had the same outcome at the supermarket. Often the labels only list the headquarter address or where the product is distributed from, but not where it was actually grown.

In the Summer buying local is easy, I just shop at the Farmers' Market and purchase directly from the farmer who grew it. What does someone with no access to a Farmers' Market do? Have you ever tried contacting a company to inquire of their sources? I have. Once I called Swanson to ask where the meat used to make their broths came from. Short version - they were unable to answer my question. I want affordable food, from a source I know, sustainably produced. Everything seems to take me back to know your farmer or grow your own. Maybe next year I will grow my Thanksgiving dinner. Until then...

Do you know your farmer? Be thankful if you do.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Superhero Secrets: Just for fun and not for Thanksgiving

Link love from The Conscious Shopper

Since Thanksgiving is coming up next week, I thought about making this a Thanksgiving-themed Superhero Secrets...But that would require finding interesting Thanksgiving-themed posts to share, and my lazy side won out. So instead, I'm just going to list some posts that I enjoyed reading this week with no theme whatsoever and hope that you enjoy them as well.

:: Planet Green has a list of 50 ways to never waste food again. Many of these I already do, but some were new to me...including this idea for pickling watermelon rinds via The Bitten Word. I would never in a million years have thought of pickling a watermelon rind, but I am so doing it next year.

:: Peppermags found some beautiful necklaces with beads made from magazines - and purchasing them feeds children in Uganda. Score. and. score.

:: Also via Peppermags, I discovered Marco Suarez' beautiful artwork and promptly emailed my husband that he should add it to his "things Erin wouldn't mind having" file.

:: Imagine Childhood explains how to make models of mushrooms out of marzipan. The mushroom idea is cool (and as always, the pictures at Imagine Childhood are gorgeous), but mostly I like the idea of using marzipan as playdough. Because then you can eat it!!! (Full disclosure: I ate my fair share of flour and salt dough as a kid. Doesn't marzipan sound so much better?)

:: And because it's Thanksgiving, I'm going to throw in a recipe for good measure...I tried out this Savory Bread Pudding with Butternut Squash, Chard, and Cheddar from A Veggie Venture, only I used sweet potatoes instead of squash. Super yummy, and I think it would be the perfect main dish for a vegetarian Thanksgiving. But this year, this vegetarian is having the extended family over for the first time, so I ordered a free range turkey. Fingers crossed that we can cook it!

(When I told my dad that I had ordered a free range turkey, he said, "Like open range? Like you're going out to shoot your own turkey?" Um, Dad...you do know who you're talking to, right?)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Gobble gobble...

Thanksgiving thoughts from the Greenhabilitator...

Is anyone else feeling the STRESS already this holiday season? It's been a long week, with an even longer one coming up. The kids are out of school, but the husband still has to work, so I get to work at home, fulfill my mom duties, plan and shop for Thanksgiving, clean the house, try to keep the kids from tearing it apart. Please promise you'll visit me in the loony bin!

In an attempt to kill two birds with one stone (no turkey pun intended there) and because I don't have anything else deep and insightful to tell you about this week, I thought I'd share some of my Turkey Day plans.

I've come to the decision this year that Thanksgiving isn't about trying to replicate what we did during my childhood (then failing at it and being grumpy that Thanksgiving just isn't what it used to be), but to make the best memories for my family today. To do that, I'm really trying to incorporate things that everyone likes.

First things first: Dessert

It's arguably the most important part of the Thanksgiving meal.

Most of the people coming to dinner aren't, well.....let's say....traditionalists. For example, my mother-in-law, who lives with us, came home from the store today with a bag of potato flakes and asked if we could "just have these for Thanksgiving dinner" instead of making real mashed potatoes. I tried to keep a straight face.

None of my husband's family likes pumpkin pie. Actually, they don't eat anything orange...or green. You see what I'm up against here. They'd much rather stop and get a chocolate pudding pie from Denny's. Gag.

On the other hand, it's just not Thanksgiving for my mom without pumpkin pie. I prefer pecan, but appreciate the tradition of pumpkin. A few weeks ago I made pumpkin puree from scratch and froze it so I'm planning to try either a pumpkin cream cheese pie, or pumpkin cheesecake a la Martha Stewart. (Photo from Martha's site.)

Turkey

I've heard so much this year about brining a turkey that I had to see what it's all about. According to Martha (BTW - I totally had a dream the other night that she came to Thanksgiving dinner.), "Soaking a turkey overnight in a solution of salt and water ensures moist results. When you add aromatics to the brine, the resulting roast is also infused with a subtle character all its own. Follow our instructions to prepare a perfect brined turkey for your next feast."

In keeping with Jess' post last month about Saving the Brick & Morters, I decided to stop into this sweet little kitchen store in town yesterday. I had 15 minutes before I had to be at school for the kids Thanksgiving luncheon, so I thought I'd take a look around. When I saw the "Gourmet Gobbler Kit" I knew it was fate that my bird should be brined this year. And so it shall be with a spiced brine blend, then seasoned with smoky peppercorn and herb rub.

Sides

My MIL is vegetarian, but not an actual fan of veggies, so that leaves a lot of pasta and starches. Lucky for me she loves my great grandma's pineapple souffle, as do I, so I get to keep that tradition alive. Score! Here's the recipe. Keep in mind that there is nothing healthy, organic, or local about it, but you can switch some of grandma's ingredients for organic.

Great Grandma Boggs' Pineapple Souffle
  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Grease an 8" casserole
  • Tear up 5 slices of white bread into small pieces and put it in the casserole dish
  • Cream together 1 stick of butter and 1/2 cup sugar
  • Beat 4 large eggs then mix thoroughly into the butter and sugar
  • Add 1 cup crushed pineapple, drained
  • Pour this mixture onto the bread cubes, mix gently
  • Bake uncovered for about 45 minutes
If you use organic sugar, butter and bread (and I'm thinking you can use wheat instead of white) it's not all that bad. But good luck finding local pineapple. Last time I checked that wasn't really a popular crop here in Colorado. But man is it gooooood!

Although I think my mom and I are the only ones who eat sweet potatoes, I'm planning to make some (in a small amount) anyway. There's just no way that I can resist Nikki's Sweet Potatoes from 101 Cookbooks made with coconut milk, toasted coconut, macadamias, and freshly grated ginger. Again, not a locavore's dish with the coconut and macadamias (am I losing my street cred here?).

We'll also have some local green beans that I canned a few months ago, bread, mashed potatoes, gravy...all that typical stuff.

Accessories

I found a really pretty, fall-colored table runner at Goodwill last year that will go nicely with my second-hand china. I think I'll enlist the kids in some child labor next week and have them make beaded napkin rings. It should keep them occupied for about 3 minutes while I work. And I thought this was a cute idea from the Elmer's Glue Crew website.
They're made from holiday catalogs and we can alter it to be a place card, or glue a magnet on the back and let everyone take one home with pictures of the kids in them.

Wow, well I'm feeling much more organized now. Thanks! We might just have to change this to the Green Therapy Booth.

I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving filled with good company, laughter, love and some delicious food.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Making Lotion

--from the musings of Jenn the non-makeup-wearing suburban greenmom...



I think I've mentioned before, for me one of the fun challenges of learning DIY stuff is finding out how to make "mysterious" things for myself. I think this began when my mom taught me how to make a roux, with the discovery that flour and oil cooked together made this gorgeous creaminess I'd always associated with Restaurants Only. (Because my mom almost never makes roux-things, because they're so fattening. But Aunt Helen's Chicken Paprikas recipe requires it nonetheless.)

So I've learned to make yogurt. I've learned to make cheese. I've learned to make liqueur. I've learned to make my own echinacea tincture. I've learned to sew. Sometimes I've decided that while it's cool to make something, it's way more work than I'm willing to expend on a regular basis, so I just chalk it up to experience and then keep buying the product made by someone else--but with much greater appreciation. (Cheese is number one in this category, as are most clothing items.) Others were so easy and successful that I grit my teeth whenever I have to buy the readymade stuff for whatever time-management reason. (Yogurt is the biggie here. That stuff is easy!)

Cosmetics are another of the Big Mystery Products...we buy them, they promise that all these unpronouncable ingredients will do magical and amazing things for our looks, our skin, our perceived age, etc and so forth. But...are all those ingredients really necessary? What actually will be healthiest for our skin?

Enter Rosemary Gladstar. Her Family Herbal is one of those books on my shelf that I always keep handy and refer to often. (Right next to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Julia Child's The Way To Cook.) It's a great resource, full of basic herb information and lots of recipes for making your own home remedies and body care products. One of Rosemary's more famous recipes from that book (also available here) is for her"Perfect Cream." It's an all-purpose skin care lotion that doesn't involve any complicated preservatives or scary ingredients, although there are some things in there that I don't generally keep hanging around in my kitchen. Through trial and error, I've sort of adapted her recipe to be a little less work, use a few less ingredients, and be nice and flexible.

The basic principle is that you have your waters and your oils in just about equal parts, and the oils need to be at about a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of liquid to solid oils. Coconut oil, cocoa or shea butter, and/or beeswax are good choices for the solid "oils"--I started out with just beeswax, and have gradually tried some other oils in there too. Essential oils for fragrances are up to you.

This lotion is one of my staples for teacher gifts for the kids at holiday time. Even this "easier" version is time-consuming and will make a big mess in the kitchen; almost no way around that. But it's sort of fun, and in a few hours you can make lotion for yourself for six months or more (If you make your own stuff in several smaller containers and store them in the fridge till you're ready to use them, it may even stay good and usable for a full year), and knock out all your teacher gifts in one swell foop.


My Lazy Variation on Rosemary's Perfect Cream (Note: it mixes better if you double it!!)


waters

  • 1 cup distilled water (important: any impurities could cause bacterial growth. It's cheap; you can get it from the local grocery store.)
  • 5-20 drops essential oil of choice (lavender, chamomile are my favorites for this cream. I have some alternate recipes on my blog...)

oils

  • 3/4 cup grapeseed oil (or other oil; more below)
  • scant 1/4 cup organic beeswax pastilles
  • optional: add cocoa butter or coconut oil, up to 1/3 cup total solids. (You can reduce the beeswax a little here too; this is not an exact science.) (Note: coconut oil is solid at lower temps but melts at about 76 degrees F--so I use it sparingly, since if the lotion gets too warm it is too runny. Northerners in winter--go for it. Everyone else, coconut is lovely but will make a runnier cream if it gets warm.) (For your first effort, I'd recommend going with straight beeswax! It's more of a failsafe.)

Directions


  • put oils into pyrex glass--I use a measuring cup or double boiler in pan of lightly simmering water. (Water should come about as high as the oils in the pan.) Stir, preferably with a wooden chopstick, until all the solids are melted. Let this cool a little, just until it starts solidifying around the edges of the glass. Stir like crazy to keep it from turning into a salve, which is what usually happens to me. Once it starts to cool, it cools quickly.
  • Put water and essential oils into blender. Turn on high speed. (Don't forget the lid.)
  • Slowly drizzle warm oil mixture into water mixture. At first it will thicken, then it will glop, and then probably enough of the layer just above the blender blades will emulsify (mix and thicken) that the higher level stuff won’t reach the blades. When this happens, turn off the blender, stir it down with a chopstick, and try again. Repeat until the whole thing is one nice creamy blendage that looks suspiciously like cream or lotion, which is of course what you're going for. (When enough water mixes with the oils, it shouldn’t clog the blades any more and it’ll just blend nicely.)

  • Pour into clean, dry cosmetic jars. (If you're me, at this point you'd pause, go take a shower, and then come back to the kitchen naked to rub the stuff you couldn't pour or scrape into jars all over your body, because you now know how much work this was and hate to waste the probably 3 weeks worth of cream still around the edges of the blender that otherwise would get washed down the drain...it's very decadent and feels lovely.:-) (Er...make sure the kitchen blinds are closed.) If you're making this lotion primarily for yourself, you can probably use any jars or containers you've saved from other products, or even small tupperware kinds of things. For gifts, conservation aside, I'd still recommend buying clean new cosmetic jars from a company that supplies them. Specialty Bottle is my favorite company for this, but there are many out there...Write or print up pretty labels and give to friends, family, or whoever, and enjoy being fairly sure no one else has given anything quite this personal or handmade. :-)
  • To clean the blender: After what you just did, this is a serious business! Put about 2 cups of the hottest water you can into the blender, with some serious dish soap. Turn the blender on HIGH for at least a couple of minutes. Pour out, rinse, repeat. Then send it through the dishwasher. This should take care of any residuals, assuming the next thing you are planning to use this blender for is margaritas or something. If you don't use a dishwasher, you might want to then give it a good scrub, again with the hottest water you can manage--beeswax melts at about 144 degrees F, which is pretty hot, and that's probably what it'll take to get it all out. Then repeat the hot water-soap-blend on high thing a couple more times.

Notes about essential oils: use only pure, therapeutic grade essential oils. Lavender and chamomile are great for children, Rosemary is good for oily skin, Rose Geranium is good for mature skin. Avoid citrus and spice oils—they smell lovely but are irritating to the skin. Genuine rose essence is frighteningly expensive, so much so that I’ve never tried it, but it’s supposed to be amazing. Helichrysum Italicum is another really expensive EO that’s supposed to help skin heal almost anything from scars to crows feet, but I save mine for serious medicinal stuff, not face creams. I get all my essential oils from either Natures Gift or Mountain Rose Herbs. (Natures Gift is a one-stop aromatherapy school--check them out! Their products are beautiful, too.)

Note about liquid oils: Almond, Grapeseed, or Apricot Seed are all good basic oils for use in this cream; they absorb quickly and are not greasy. Olive oil is thicker and doesn’t absorb as well, and is good for really dry problem areas (NOT the face!) A really nice foot cream can be made using a combo of, say, half grapeseed and half olive oil, with peppermint and rosemary essential oil. For a face cream, I use grapeseed almost exclusively, though almond and apricot are also good...those with chamomile and lavender essential oils, or rose geranium, are good for the face. For oilier skin, rosemary (astringent) mixed with lavender would be good. For hand lotion, just do what's going to smell nice!

Note about texture: if all went well, the oil-water-emulsion will remain stable almost indefinitely (I find that's one of the reasons beeswax is superior to other solids; it holds its emulsion really well.) If the oil and water start to separate, and everything still looks and smells pleasant, you can just re-stir it to blend it again.

Note about moldy ickiness: oil+water+dark warm environment=bacterial all-inclusive resort. Your essential oils will impede bacterial growth a little, but they won't be a true preservative. So the best thing is just to not introduce bacteria into your lotion. The good news is that if you used distilled water and very clean containers, and if you usually stick only pretty clean fingers into the container to scoop lotion out, the odds of your getting anything nasty in there are pretty slim. The other good news is that if anything does start growing in there, you'll know pretty quickly--it'll change color and/or get a funky smell. (Again, separation alone doesn't indicate that it's going bad, but do pay attention!)


Once I tried this using electric beaters instead of a blender--it still worked, the oils and the waters mixed, but what I got was more like a "whip" than a cream. I didn't like it as much...but it was a heckuva lot easier to clean up. The beater version I am more likely to make just for myself, and for gifts I'll do the blender version since it is more stable.

Since learning to make lotion on my own, I've pretty much stopped buying it at the store. My formerly acne-prone, dry-patch-forming skin has had exactly zero problems since making the change; my face is smooth, my elbows and hands are much less scaly, and in general I feel great. (I have some wrinkles, of course, but they come with time. I wear them with pride, trophies of war, like my pregnancy stretch marks and the one-of-these-days-going-to-be-Bride-of-Frankenstein grey hairs coming in only at my right temple...)

Over on my own blog, I've put some more specific recipes for different kinds of lotion recipes...enjoy!

[UPDATE: then there was the year it totally blew up in my face; click here to visit my blog and read about some of the gooier mistakes I made, and how to avoid them yourself!]

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

From the bean of Green Bean.


We make our home on the crowded San Francisco Peninsula. Our houses and shops press together like clothes in a too-full closet. Our streets are a flurry of trucks, cars, bicycles, and buses. Farmers markets abound and a pristine, double decker train, CalTrain, totes us up to the City or down to San Jose. When I worked in San Francisco, years ago, I took the train regularly. On the ride, I'd prepare for work, read a book, or close my eyes and listen to the rails click gently past. More recently, I've turned to the train for regeneration as another year ticked by or loaded my boys on it bound for adventure and ball games.

CalTrain is tame. It is less empty than it once was but the seats are spacious, the upper decks peer over the Bay, green fields and scrap yards as the train lumbers toward San Francisco. In Disney-speak, CalTrain is the Monorail. It is clean, considerate, conciliatory.

If CalTrain is the Monorail, then BART is surely the Matterhorn. At least, that is what my boys dubbed it when we boarded BART for the first time last weekend. BART is dark and jerky. It screams and hollers - like the Abominable Snowman - as it rockets through black tunnels. Riders are stuffed together, packed in like thrill-seekers on a roller coaster ride, jolted at each stop and corner. Stations are dimly lit and hint at the dark, mysterious trip ahead. The tunnels stretch further and further until you are thundering under the opaque waters of the Bay and then, mystically, emerge into daylight. Your ears pop and your children wonder when we can ride the BART train again.

It is difficult, after such adventures, to usher everyone back into the car, the strapped seats, the smooth rolling ride where only other cars, not legendary monsters, lurk out of sight. Here, we are shielded from one another with closed windows and separate lanes. There is no people watching, no shared smiles as a boy on the opposite side of the train waves his Thomas toy in your direction, no reading books with two boys snuggled in your lap. You simply move from destination to destination. The journey is not worthy of mention.

Our trips by CalTrain and BART take only moments longer than by car. They yield much more though: gas saved, carbon emissions curbed, a sense of peace that cannot be located behind the wheel, and days of discussion about planes, trains and automobiles.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Are You Smarter Than a Tenth Grader?

Test your recycling knowledge with The Conscious Shopper

My mom runs the virtual lab at a high school (that's the computer lab where students can take online classes), and she sent me the following email today:
I've got a student assignment where they have a list of products that can be recycled and have to tell what those products can be recycled into. I've spent a half hour on google and can't find a good website. I'd like one that covers most of the products. Know any? The products are--food waste, yard waste, plastic, metal, glass, paper, and cardboard.
I sent back a quick reply and then started thinking...Do I know what those products are recycled into?

So here's a little quiz for you...Do you know what happens to your recycling after you drag your blue bin to the curb?

Take a mental note of your answers and then read on to learn all sorts of interesting facts about recycling, courtesy of earth911.com (the website I sent to my mom).

Photo courtesy of chrissatchwell.com

FOOD WASTE = COMPOST

Consider yourself lucky if you live in a city that has a curbside composting program. Almost 13 percent of the municipal solid waste generated in America comes from food scraps, and less than 3 percent of that is recovered and composted, according to the EPA.

YARD WASTE = COMPOST and MULCH

Most local governments have instituted yard waste collection and drop-off points. Remember though that the most energy efficient way to recycle your yard waste is to set up your own backyard compost system and use the yard waste in your own yard.

PLASTIC = COMPOSITE LUMBER

Most curbside recycling programs in the U.S. only collect plastic bottles because they are the easiest type of plastic to recycle, but grocery stores commonly have recycling stations for plastic bags. Recycled plastic is rarely turned back into a plastic bottle or bag - most often it becomes composite lumber, a mixture of plastic and sawdust, which is used to make things like benches and decking.

Producing plastics from recycled material uses 66% less energy than making plastics from virgin material, but only 1% of all plastics are recycled.

METAL = ALUMINUM AND STEEL CANS

Most curbside recycling programs collect aluminum and steel cans. Recycling aluminum uses 95% less energy than making cans from virgin materials, and recycling steel uses 75% less energy.

Aluminum cans are highly recyclable - it takes as little as 60 days to turn a used can into a new aluminum can. Steel is also a valuable and highly recyclable material because it doesn't decrease in quality no matter how many times it's recycled. Almost all steel products produced today contain some percentage of recycled content.

GLASS = GLASS BOTTLES, TILES, COUNTERTOPS, AND ROAD MATERIAL

Curbside recycling programs only take glass bottles, but most will take bottles of any color. Like aluminum and steel, it's a valuable recyclable material because it's infinitely recyclable, doesn't lose its quality, and has a turnaround time of about 30 days. Plus, it takes 40% less energy to make glass products with recycled material than with only raw materials.

PAPER and CARDBOARD = ALL SORTS OF PAPER PRODUCTS

Most curbside recycling programs have extensive mixed paper collection including newspaper, mail, printer paper, cardboard, and paperboard - as long as it's not contaminated with food or oil. Paper recycling uses 60 percent less energy than paper made from all virgin material.

****

Note that every city has its own recycling guidelines, and one wrong item can contaminate a whole batch, making all of those collected items useless. Check your city's website for information about what's recyclable in your area.

And please remember that recycling is the last step and should only be considered after you have REDUCED and REUSED.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Make Like a Tree, and Leave

Fun with leaves from The Conscious Shopper

"My husband spent three hours getting the leaves out of our yard last weekend," a friend told me. "An hour to blow them all into a pile, and then two hours to bag them all up."

"Wow!" I replied casually, but inside I was screaming. Why, oh why, did he waste time getting the leaves out of his yard??? I want more leaves in my yard! We don't have any trees, and although we got enough leaves from our neighbors' trees to do this...


...it wasn't nearly as many leaves as I'd like. When I add a garden next year and start working on our landscaping, I'm definitely going to need more leaves for my stockpile. I'm sure my neighbors will be happy to share.

Don't have a proper appreciation for leaves? Try these fall projects:

For you
  • Mulch your garden. Instead of bagging up your leaves, pile them in your garden and around your shrubs, flowers, and leaves. Why buy mulch every year when your trees provide it for free?
  • Mulch your lawn. If you don't have a lot of leaves, you can simply mow over them with your lawn mower. They will decompose right where you left them and add beneficial nutrients to your lawn.
  • Leaf mold. Decomposed leaves are a great addition to a garden. You can let the leaves decompose on their own or add them to other organic material to make compost.
For your kids
  • Play house. When I was a kid, we would mound leaves into rows to make the floor plan of a home, and then we'd designate a mom, dad, and kids for a game of "house." I really wish there were enough leaves in my yard to pass that tradition on to my children.
  • Identify leaves. I love picking up a leaf and quizzing my kids on the type of tree it came from. How many types of leaves can you find in your yard? You can also press leaves and keep them as a memento.
  • Catch leaves. My son's teacher told their class, "If you catch a leaf as it's falling, you'll be holding a leaf that has never touched the ground." My son thinks that is so cool.
Now get out there and enjoy your leaves!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Recycle Caps with Aveda

Bleatings from EnviRambo.




You recycle paper, glass, and even plastic bottles, but what do you do with their pesky caps? Unfortunately the answer for millions of Americans is throw them away. But, they do not have to.


Aveda has a program for recycling plastic bottle caps. Recycle Caps With Aveda is a campaign that collects caps to be repurposed into new packaging. The program accepts caps that are rigid polypropylene plastic - #5. Not sure what that is? It includes hard plastic caps that twist on a threaded neck such as caps on shampoo, water, soda, and milk. As well as flip-top caps on tubes and food product bottles like ketchup and mayonnaise, laundry detergents and some jar lids such as peanut butter.


Have an Aveda store near you? Not sure? Click here to find out. Once you have located an Aveda near you, call to confirm they participate in the Recycle Caps With Aveda program. If they do, start saving those pesky plastic caps and simply turn them in. If not, you can mail them directly to:

DISTRIBUTION CENTER
AVEDA CAP PROGRAM
ATTN: CESAR SOTO
475 WEST APRA STREET
RANCHO DOMINGUEZ, CA 90220

Even better yet, you can get your or your child's school to act as a collection point. Once completing the enrollment form, Aveda will partner with your school providing shipping labels for your school's cap-filled containers. The school just needs to call UPS when a container is ready to be shipped. For more information on enrollment email capcollection@aveda.com or call 1-877-AVEDA09.

No Aveda near you? Well, you could always turn your plastic caps into refrigerator magnets.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Secrets

Hi everybody! It's JessTrev here with a few links I've been reading here and there while recovering from a bout of H1N1 in the fam. Unsurprisingly, many of them are food-related! Hope everyone had a great Halloween (ohmigosh, one of our neighbors made cotton candy! Why mess around with all the other stuff when you can just caramelize straight sugar, eh, and no plastic, Beth!). Also hope that you're easing your way into fall with a stash of pumpkin puree on hand. Ifn you don't have 100+ pounds by your back door like Green Bean!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saving Money Through Green Means


Go green, save green with the Greenhabilitator...

As wife to Cheapest Man on the Planet (yep, official title there) I know a thing or two about saving money through green means, which is the topic of next week's Green Mom's Carnival hosted at Condo Blues.

My husband doesn't go for things like "going green" if it comes with a high price tag. Don't get me wrong, he loves the earth, but he also loves living a simple life where he doesn't have to work two jobs to afford living green. So tell him it will save him money though and he is ALL.OVER.IT!

Give it up.

One of the first things we did to live more sustainably was to give up a lot of the wasteful convenience items we used. We traded our paper towels for wash cloths and paper napkins for cloth and stopped using dryer sheets in our laundry. These might not be things that will change the world, but they're good first steps and a good way to save a little money.

To save a bundle, I gave up shopping as a fun thing to do on a Saturday afternoon or just because a store was having a sale and started to differentiate between want and need. The things that I need (or really reeeeeally want) I look for second hand.

Clean it up.

I make my own laundry soap (recipe here) at a cost of about $0.10 per load. Not a phenomenal savings, but a savings over many traditional brands and "green" brands nonetheless. The ingredients are natural, biodegradable and come in recyclable paper or cardboard boxes. No plastic containers to be manufactured or downcycled. No chemicals going into the ground water.

I use vinegar & water as my all-purpose cleaner (kitchen, bathroom, windows, you name it). One large jug of vinegar runs $2.57 and lasts me about 6 months. I save at least $4 per month on a regular store-bought spray cleaner...plus all those other things I used to use: tile cleaner, and toilet bowl cleaner, stuff for the tub and stuff for windows.

Make it From Scratch.

From cupcakes to clothing to gifts I'm slightly surprised, yet happy to say, that I've started a love affair with making things myself. I've never really liked cooking, or been good at it, but suddenly I'm actually enjoying making things from scratch - soups, spaghetti sauce, baked goods...sometimes I surprise myself.

Tonight my little girl attended her first birthday party (Tinkerbell themed!). I made the birthday girl a sweet little Tinkerbell outfit, complete with crown, for a total cost of about $5. And it was *really* darn cute!

Drive it home.

We downsized to a smaller car which was used by the person who had to drive the farthest each day. I took public transportation some days and, finally, I started working from home. Less money spent on gas and car repairs, less CO2, more time at home with family.

To be honest, there are very few steps we've taken along this path to a sustainable lifestyle that have cost us more than our old ways. I may spend a few extra dollars here and there on organic foods, but I spend less on groceries overall by making more food from scratch.

I could go on and on about all the changes we've made that save us money. In fact, I was able to leave my full time position to work part time and be home with the kids. We're not living the high life, but we do get by on a teacher's salary and a part time pittance.

The biggest validation of our lifestyle came a few weeks ago though, when I got a call from my son's preschool. My heart sank immediately expecting to hear "Fletcher broke his arm." or something equally horrific. Instead, they were calling to offer us a free, confidential Thanksgiving basket as well as help with Christmas dinner and gifts. They said that they offer this to a select few families each year who might need some extra help.

I think my response was something like, "Uhhhhhhh..... Us?" since we actually head up an effort each year to collect Thanksgiving baskets for families in need.

After hanging up, my wheels started turning. You see, our annual income qualifies us to pay a reduced rate for our son's preschool, which we gladly accept. (I never look a gift horse in the mouth...whatever a gift horse is.) Evidently that would normally mean that we are a family in need.

Ah-ha! I almost called her back to say "Wait! We're not poor -- we live this way on purpose!" Instead I use the story to remind myself how far we've come.

Friday, November 13, 2009

"Peas, not petunias"

From Truffula.

How do we get good food to our tables? On Wednesday evening, I hopped on two buses and headed to a panel discussion titled "Getting Good Food to Our Tables". Over the course of two thought-provoking hours, we heard from the executive directors of two local mission-based CSAs and a volunteer from our local Extension Service's food gardening network.

The introductory remarks brought us heart-warming anecdotes of learning about history through eating the impressive, organically-grown produce from a museum garden, of developmentally-disabled adults finding meaningful community connections (and better nutrition for themselves) through farming, and of the unparalleled pleasure and pride of eating food harvested from your very own garden.

The health benefits from this consuming such good food almost went without saying - this was a committed audience, fully appreciative of nutrient-packed greens; crisp, just-picked apples; and sun-warmed-off-the-vine tomatoes.

Then, our discussion took a tack, exploring that at the intersection of our tummies and the healthy food we want to put into them lies... an opportunity for putting our mouths where our money votes are.

For example, we heard that officials are busy working on creating markets for healthy food, but... that expanding access to healthy food is actually not about markets. (As the Green Phone Booth community can attest, getting a CSA slot or scoring delectable raspberries at the farmers' market can be pretty darned challenging because there are quite a few folks vying for them! And, one speaker told of an area food bank, eager to buy as much fresh, healthy goodness as his farm could provide.) Instead, the shortage is on the production side: there are not enough farmers.

The kicker is that there are young people interested in farming (and to be sure, less younger ones, also!), but access to land is all-to0-frequently a deal-breaker. Buying land is expensive, and coming up with the necessary dough can be nigh unto impossible.

We talked about fact that growing healthy soil is at the heart of producing healthy food. Together, we recognized what hard work that is, how the time to achieve fertile soil is measured in years, and that only long-term land-use arrangements create the conditions to make this feasible.

Food growers are a practical bunch, and neither the panel nor the audience allowed the evening's rain to dampen its spirits or optimism! Some of the "next steps" we headed home with included:
  • Engage in food activism, for which the timing has rarely been better - talk to politicians about things like "growing more farmers" and "relocalizing food", using and reinforcing terms which have emerged in the national vocabulary. Encourage them to support ideas like long-term leases of public land to smaller-scale farmers.
  • Envision food growing in less conventional places. Adopt Woody's motto of planting "peas, not petunias." What if your community's maintenance crew went from tending lawn to cultivating an edible landscape?
  • Educate yourself about your foodshed.
  • Grow something, whether you have an acre, a yard, a sunroom, or even a windowsill. Experience the transformative nature of growing food.
  • Share something - a vegetable from your plant(s), seeds you've saved, a meal you've prepared, a story, etc.
To kick things off, will you share with me? Taking the Raven's lead in participating in the inaugural No Impact Week, I'm fixing to participate in the next round, which begins on Sunday, November 15, 2009, and will let you know how it goes. Wednesday is Food Day :-)

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