Sunday, February 28, 2010

Things I Wouldn't Mind Having

Superheroes secrets from The Conscious Shopper

I really love giving gifts, but I'm not so good at receiving them. I'd much rather go out and buy myself something I really want than hope the person buying me a gift makes a good guess. I'm also different from the stereotypical woman in that I loooove practical gifts. When my husband proposed, I tried convincing him that we should buy some really nice couches instead of an engagement ring. He didn't go for it. (Bet he regrets that decision now that I never wear my ring.)

Not surprisingly, my husband doesn't think I'm the easiest person to shop for, so recently I started emailing him "Things Erin wouldn't mind having" whenever I see something I like. This is a little out of the norm for my superheroes secrets posts (not super green oriented), but I thought it would be fun to share some of the things on my list.

  • One of my favorite food bloggers, Smitten Kitchen, wrote a guide to building "your own smitten kitchen" last December. My kitchen is such a sad, sad place...I want every item on her list. And one of those money trees, she mentions.

  • If you haven't seen Lisa Leonard's jewelry, you don't spend much time on the web. She's everywhere these days, and she deserves it. Her custom jewelry is beautiful and inspired.
  • I think I'm in love with these t-shirts from rosiemusic. This one reminds me of the "dates" my husband and I sometimes go on to Borders. I also like the one with boy and girl working on laptops side by side. And the one with girl knitting while boy plays guitar...

  • My husband bought me a couple prints from Marco Suarez for Christmas. I love them because they are so interesting, unique, and amazingly beautiful. Now I just need to get them framed.

What's on your "Things I wouldn't mind having" list?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Great Purge of 2010

Going Green Mama confesses her home will still be trashed when her parents arrive later today...

The Great Purge of 2010 can only be summed up in these words: Chaos.

I confess that organization, in the way the rest of the world seems to see it, and I don't see eye to eye. I'm a self-professed paper junkie, yet I can find most things I need very quickly. I have three layers of stuff in my home: The stuff the kids have drug everywhere. The stuff I'm trying to keep out of their hands. And the stuff I've moved once I realized that the kids have grown yet again.

But the last few weeks, I have reached a breaking point. Despite my wanting to hold the line on stuff in our home, it's built up. And my goal for this spring is to return my home to a more manageable state.

It's no easy task. Deep cleaning - with a college-student husband, a crazy workload, nagging illnesses and two kids under the age of 5 - hasn't left me much time or energy to do so. And past experiences with trying to de-junk have left my home with a line-up of boxes of donations, each with a different home in mind.

But I figured I'd start up with a few easy wins.

1. The kids' clothes. While I've been blessed with ample hand-me-downs to get my family through our rough waters, at times I've been too blessed. Like this Christmas, I was able to give away three bulk diaper-size boxes filled with clothes my son's then-size - simply because we had too much. And those times we were actually on top of the laundry, we still struggled to close the dresser. So my plan has been to not only weed out out-of-season clothes for the used kids shops and donations, but also track how many clothing items of a particular size and style I've got stored in the future. Anything over a specific number goes, no matter how pristine of condition they're in. I think any kid can happily live without more than a weeks' worth of jeans, even if we're potty training!

2. Holiday decorations. While my mother-in-law can happily live with decorations for every season, I'm feeling the space pinch. So I've relegated myself to Christmas items, and a small boxful of Easter and Halloween decorations. The rest I've donated to a group that helps domestic violence re-establish their homes, and they've happily used the decorations to inject a little holiday spirit into their clients' lives.

3. Shoes. Now, I'm not a shoe junkie by any means, but my children grow through them like crazy. I took a few no longer worn pair and sent them to a group that gives them to people in need. Sure beat putting them in the trash.

4. Home items. I'm slowly tackling the kitchen space as well. My current project? Pulling together unused household items for Catholic Charities, which is anticipating an increase of refugees coming into Indianapolis. While a few extra sets of toddler silverware, extra glasses and baby blankets may seem like random things, it will still help out our future neighbors in need.

5. Toys. Perhaps this one shouldn't be on the easy win list. After all, we're threatening another visit from the Clean-Up Fairy. But I've been able to sneak a few items away for donations, and we were able to tearlessly part with a few at Christmas. Others that I know they've outgrown but aren't quite ready to part with have gone to their babysitter's house, where they can still enjoy them. And those pesky junky toys that they got at parties or Grandma's Happy Meals? They're happily waiting in a plastic bag in the closet to be "regifted" to trick-or-treaters this fall.

So I've made some progress, though at an initial glance it may not seem like it. What works for you in cleaning out your home? Any great tricks to share?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Natural Healing

A return to nature with regular guest poster, Jess of Sweet Eventide

This month, we had a few garden variety winter illnesses come and go at our house, nothing major but definitely enough to get you down after awhile. Throw in a clumsy slip & fall by certain guest bloggers (ahem), and the mood was not pretty.

With me curled in a heap of soft tissue injuries a couple of weekends ago, my boys headed out to see the great Mavericks surf contest which is very local for us. They took their bikes, parked a bit away and rode to a bluff with their binoculars in hand, while I watched a wave or two online, more than a bit envious that they were actually there. They came home with a lovely cupcake which helped my spirits a bit, but guess what healed me the most?

"Red Longboard" (Pacifica)

A trip to the coast that included me this time! We headed out to Pacifica on President's Day and after watching my sweet son brave the icy waters of the Pacific ocean, we drove in a meandering way down Highway 1 and stopped in awe over what I later learned was called Devil's Slide.

We parked and climbed down many, many old, wooden stairs and we were rewarded for our efforts with a spectacular show of crashing surf, sea foam and crisp, ocean breezes. My son dawdled in a rivulet for the longest time and it was a pure pleasure to watch him gleefully jump back and forth across it, all the while testing the speed of various sticks as they raced from the top to the bottom. Eventually I abandoned my trusty Danskos and frolicked in the water with my son.

As long as my stress had been building up mentally and physically over the past few weeks, it disappeared in a fraction of a second out on that beach. I was tired walking up all those stairs back to the car, but I had a huge smile in my heart and soul.

I can feel the stress of daily life and responsibilities building up again in my shoulders...but writing this post reminds me of the most natural way to heal myself: get back to nature again as soon as possible. I think I know what to put on our so-far empty calendar this weekend!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

One of those days...

An update from the Greenhabilitator who is currently blushing...

Do you ever have one of those days when you wake up and say "Hold's Thursday? I thought it was Wednesday." D'oh. Sorry I'm late this morning!

Things have been nutty in the Greenhab household this week. The engine blew in our big ol' "family car" (Explorer) and is going to cost an arm and a leg to repair. As in, I'd rather cut off one arm and one leg than pay the bill they're talking about. I'd love to use that as an excuse to get something a bit more eco-friendly, but a) I think it's more eco-friendly to repair than purchase something new and b) we really need a car that will fit our gaggle of kids and get us through 6 months of snow each year and c) buying a newer, more eco-friendly car would actually cost more than just repairing this one. I guess I look at it as a necessary evil, then try to concentrate on the areas of life that I can better food!

My goal for 2010 was to finally buck up and concentrate on greening our food. This was made easier -- and harder -- when we decided to put our son on a gluten-free, casein-free diet. Our meals are not as weird or restrictive as we thought they'd be IF I make things from scratch and put a little more thought into them. I used to say "Oh it's an hour until dinner, I better think of something to make!" Now I plan at least the day ahead, if not a whole week in advance. I started doing that mostly for him, but have found that it really helps me to plan the most nutritious, least process, most recognizable meals.

We don't eat out all that much anyway, but EnviRambo's post earlier this week about the Week of Eating In inspired me to join the challenge. Cooking has always been my least favorite chore (right behind scrubbing toilets) but I'm *whispering* that I'm actually beginning to enjoy it just a little bit. I think it makes me feel good to see that I can cook a nutritious meal for my family that doesn't break the bank and doesn't come from a box. If this is the aspect of your life that you've put off greening, take it from someone who is NOT a foodie - jump in, the water's finer than you think!

And here's our latest project...

We started our seeds last weekend and they are sprouting up already. Mr. Greenhab let me sleep in late one morning and, upon waking, I found them doing a little gardening at the kitchen table. Notice anything wrong with the photo above?

Yeah, no labels. So I have only a vague idea of what any of these are. Makes it hard to decide where to plant them when the snow finally melts. Sigh. He tried, bless his little heart.

That's all the news that's fit to print from the Greenhabilitator. Forgive my tardiness today. Even Eco-Heroes forget what day it is sometimes.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pretzels and Bagels and Breadsticks Oh My!

Lots and lots of bread baking with The Conscious Shopper

This month, I've challenged myself to make all of our food from scratch. No cold cereal, no crackers, no mac and cheese, no ramen noodles, no tortillas. These are the last lingering processed foods in our diet, and I wanted to do a trial run for a month to see if we could live without them.

Before the month started, I would have said it wouldn't be hard to give up those foods because we didn't eat them much anyway. Cold cereal on weekends. Two boxes of crackers a week. Mac and cheese or ramen now and then. Okay, we ate a lot of tortillas...

But now that we're three quarters of the way through the month, it feels like those processed foods were the pillars holding up the rest of our diet, and when we took them away, the whole precariously balanced system came crashing down. I feel like I'm in the kitchen all the time, and I still can't keep up with my family's food needs! We keep running out of bread and snacks, and ironically we've ended up eating more mac and cheese this month simply because there isn't anything else to eat.

Finally, I decided that the solution was to start making bread twice a week instead of just once. My bread recipe makes four loaves of bread, so that means we'd have eight loaves of bread a week. Yes, folks, eight loaves!

I don't think this is an ideal long term solution - someday I will most likely get a job outside of the home and won't have so much time to spend in the kitchen. But for now it's working, and we're producing a little bit less trash, eating less junk, and staying in the budget.

And after a lot of experimenting, I've figured out how to use my recipe to make a huge variety of bread products, so we don't get bored eating so much bread. Half of the bread ends up as regular sandwich loaves. One loaf ends up as pizza or pitas. And then I can choose from:

English Muffins
  • Sprinkle a counter with cornmeal. Roll out one loaf's worth of dough on the cornmeal to about 1/2 inch thick.
  • Cut rounds with a biscuit cutter or glass, dust tops with cornmeal, and set aside to rise for about a half hour.
  • Heat a greased griddle.
  • Cook muffins on the griddle for about 10 minutes on each side.


  • Divide one loaf's worth of dough into 12 pieces.
  • Roll each piece like a snake and then twist into a pretzel shape.
  • Pour a 1/2 c. of baking soda into a pot of water and heat to boiling.
  • Place each pretzel in the pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds and then place on a baking sheet.
  • Sprinkle liberally with coarse sea salt.
  • Bake at 450 degrees for about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Note that every recipe I've read says to put parchment paper on the baking sheet. I don't do this and the pretzels definitely stick to the baking sheet, so you might consider using the parchment paper.


It took me a long time to figure out how to make bagels using my bread recipe. Following the regular bagel directions left me with soggy bagels every time. Finally I decided to make my bagels similar to the pretzels, and it works out great. But they might be a little different than the bagels you're used to.
  • Divide one loaf's worth of bread into 12 pieces.
  • Shape the pieces into bagel rounds.
  • Let rise 30 minutes.
  • Put a tablespoon of sugar into a pot of water and bring to a boil.
  • Place each bagel into the boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute.
  • Place the bagels on a baking sheet.
  • Bake at 450 for 10 to 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Cinnamon Twists

  • Divide one loaf's worth of bread into 24 pieces.
  • Roll each piece out like a snake, and then twist two pieces together so you end up with 12 twists.
  • Place the twists on a baking sheet. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Flip and do the same on the other side.
  • Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes while you're baking the rest of your bread.

You could also make:
  • cinnamon rolls
  • pita chips
  • bagel chips
  • croutons
  • cinnamon croutons
  • rolls
  • breadsticks
Any more ideas?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Save Money with Cloth Diapers

The Conscious Shopper shares her math skills

When my youngest was about six month's old, my husband and I decided we were probably maybe most likely not having any more kids so there was no reason to hang on to all of our baby stuff. So as my little guy grew out of each phase of babyhood, I thrifted, Craigslisted, and Freecycled the clothes, shoes, bottles, toys, mobile, bedding, bouncy seat, and exersaucer that had gotten me through three babies, and then I stored the rest in a box in my attic.

You know what's in that box? The treasured baby possessions that I just couldn't bear to part with?
  • the outfit all three of my boys were christened in
  • the Moby wrap I got for my last baby that sparked a Moby wrap fad among my friends
  • two sizes of Fuzzibunz diapers and Thirsties wraps
As strange as it may sound, I couldn't let go of my cloth diapers.

Cloth vs. disposables is one of those never-dying green arguments, and you can find studies to support whatever side you're on. For the record, I'm a fan of cloth, but I'm not diehard cloth for two reasons:
  1. There are enough reasons to feel stressed out and guilty as a parent without having to worry about what's on your baby's butt.
  2. We're not full time cloth users - we use cloth during the day and disposables at night.
But I am The Conscious Shopper, and one of my objectives as a blogger is not just to help people go green, but to help them go green without spending a lot of money. And when it comes to cost, cloth is the clear winner.

How much can you save by using cloth?

I sat down last night and did some math, and according to my calculations, here's the breakdown:

A disposable-diapered baby goes through appproximately 5,715 diapers in three years.
  • If you're a Huggies fan, you would spend roughly $1,285 on diapers over three years.
  • If you used the Target brand, you would spend roughly $971 on diapers over three years.
  • If you chose Seventh Generation, you would spend roughly $1,657 over three years.
There's a huge range of prices and styles for cloth diapers. Here are a few possibilities:
  • If you used only Fuzzibunz Perfect Size pocket diapers, you would spend roughly $1,242 on three sizes of diapers.
  • If you went with Fuzzibunz One Size diapers, you would spend roughly $684 on diapers.
  • If you chose Chinese prefolds with Thirsties wraps, you would spend roughly $282.
  • If you used organic prefolds with Thirsties wraps, you would spend roughly $333,
  • If you went with Chinese prefolds with wool soakers, you would spend roughly $354.
  • If you chose organic prefolds with wool soakers, you would spend roughly $405.
The savings are even greater if you use your cloth diapers with multiple kids. The amount you would spend on disposables doubles, but the amount you spend on cloth stays the same.

These prices are rough estimates, and in the the cost of cloth, I haven't included the extra water, energy, and detergent you would use to wash the diapers. On the other hand, I also haven't included the fact that most cloth diapered kids potty train much earlier than kids in disposables or the cost of the Pull Ups many of my friends have had their children sleep in for a year or two after potty training. I've never once bought a package of Pull Ups, and I've potty trained two boys.

I also didn't include that cloth diapers last and last and last. I've used mine on three kids, and they could easily last a couple more kids. And our old Chinese prefolds make the best cleaning rags.

My husband and I didn't go the cheapest cloth diapering route, we started using cloth halfway through having babies, and we still use some disposables. And yet, we've still managed to save a lot of money by choosing cloth. So while the jury is still out on whether or not cloth diapers are the greenest option, they are definitely the cheapest green option.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Week of Eating In

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

I just received a copy of Cathy Erway's new book The Art of Eating In: How I Learned To Stop Spending & Love The Stove. Then shortly after, I received an email from Huffington Post announcing their Week of Eating In. Is the universe trying to tell me something?

We actually do not eat out much. Since starting to make most of our meals from scratch, I have become disenchanted with restaurant food. But I know that plenty of Americans do eat out, in fact, some rarely eat in. And then there are those that do eat in, but do not cook their food. Sure they "cook" it, as in apply heat, but they do not really "cook" it, as in prepare it from whole ingredients. HuffPost is challenging participants to do just that.
We encourage you to use basic, whole food ingredients to prepare food, avoiding pre-packaged, pre-made food, like frozen dinners and ready-to-eat canned goods, but there are no strict rules. Make the rules for yourself. If this experiment for you means making your own bread and eating locally, so be it. If it means turning on your stove for the first time in your life, that's great too.
The Week of Eating In starts today, February 22, running through the next seven days. Along the way HuffPost is offering encouragement, articles, recipes, and even apps to help participants out. If I had a cell phone the Locavore and Good Guide Apps would be on it. Think your kitchen is too small to prepare a good meal in? Think again. Check out these tiny kitchens that still manage to crank out the homemade goodness. HuffPost is even offering a spreadsheet to track your savings from eating in compared to eating out.

Eating in not only brings monetary savings, but also savings for the environment too. Just think of all take-out packaging, disposable plastic, styrofoam and paper that will be avoided by preparing your meals at home. Eating in comes with the added bonus of knowing exactly what is in your food because you put it there. At restaurants you have no idea and no control over how much salt is used, the type of oil food is fried in, where ingredients come from, whether food is prepared fresh or reheated from frozen, or the price. Cooking at home makes you much more mindful of all of these. It also makes you more aware of just how much you eat. It is way too easy to rip open a bag of candy and eat all of it without giving it a second thought! But, spend an hour baking a batch of cookies and you will most likely savor every bite. Eating in will have you eating healthier overall, even when it comes to sweets. One of Michael Pollan's Food Rules is eat as much junk food as you want, as long as you make it yourself.

Take back the control over what you put in your body and join me along with the Huffington Post community in The Week of Eating In.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Natural Beauty...

Superhero Secrets from the Greenhabilitator...

Call it the winter blues, but I'm feeling very "blah" these days - dry skin, dull hair, my clothes are a little (okay, a LOT) snug, and I'm just feeling like one of the moms they put on What Not to Wear (minus the mom jeans).

Earlier this winter I got my long hair cut about shoulder-length. It was a cute cut, not quite right for me, but made me feel a little younger. I've since cut it again in a style that's slightly less trendy, but works better for my hair and face. I've also been thinking about coloring it so that it's closer to the blond shade it was when I was younger. The way I'm going now, I'm going to have to change my color from blond to brown on my driver's license - when did this happen!? has many "natural" hair dyes for sale, but I was more interested in the list of (really) natural ingredients -- like cinnamon, lemon juice, and chamomile tea -- from Nature Moms. I'll definitely be trying the tips for blond hair. Since I've never colored my hair before {GASP!} I feel a bit safer trying something like that first.

By this time in the winter season, my skin is begging for moisture. A few weeks ago I looked at my hands and had to laugh. I had two band-aids on my left hand and three on my right. They just crack open, no matter how much hand lotion I use. Pioneer Thinking has a great (very simple) recipe for a hand exfoliant that leaves my hands feeling so smooth and moisturized. I use Safflower oil and organic turbinado sugar.

Natural Living for Women also has a huge list of ingredients that can be used for exfoliants as well as recipes and tips for how to use them.

We know that good food keeps our bodies and minds healthy, but we don't often think about how it keeps our skin looking nice too. Holly at Nourishing Wisdom had a great blog post this week on winter skin care and how you can keep your skin glowing using items from your kitchen. (I love a girl who suggests more butter in my diet!)

Do you have any winter beauty tips, tricks or recipes you'd like to share? If so, please leave us a comment below!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I am the wierd neighbor

A 95% recycled post from the still-sick and exhausted Going Green Mama...

Every neighborhood has its share of quirky neighbors. I guess I never realized before that I'm the local representative!

Sure, everyone leaves their cans on a kitchen counter to recycle after a get-together. But here, we have the cans and usually lots of dishes to do as well after a party. There's a set of Stonyfield yogurt kiddie cups on the counter, washed and drying to mail back for recycling, not to mention the daily line-up paper bags of newspapers, mail and assorted papers, and plastics, tin cans and aluminun to recycle. That's for my household and my workplace, mind you. Yes, I lug home big black plastic bags packed with my coworkers' slobbered-on cans and bottles. Makes for a great sight leaving work in the evening.

Heck, my husband even washes and balls up the aluminum foil to recycle after cooking, to make a poor three-point shot into the bag.

Upstairs, in the loft, there's another line-up of boxes. What outgrown kids items to sell back. What to give to a friend. What to donate to the next drive.

But the neighbors can absolve me of my wierdness. After all, that's within my home. It's that whole "outside" thing that's making them shake their heads.

Not that long ago, I mentioned the compost bin situation to a friend of mine in an attempt to commiserate with her over her trampoline issue. Her reaction? Crinkling up her nose in disgust. Come on, this is vegetable bits, not manure! And if you do it right, there's little or no smell at all. (Interestingly, as this gardening season approaches, she brought up the question of whether we could do it. She was not impressed with my consideration of vericomposting.)

Once we ran into another neighbor as we're meauring out where to put the raised bed. She sort-of accepted the veggie bed (though I've found some great plans in some of the books I'm reading!), but her eyebrow definitely raised and I think I saw a "I'm so glad I'm moving" expression when I mentioned the dwarf blueberries we were thinking about adding to our yard to help meet our bush quota. Nevermind that my home is one of the most landscaped on the street.

When you break out of comfort zones of the people around you, you become the wierd neighbor. And I think I'm OK with that.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Taking the plunge...and getting rid of paper towels.

A vow to action by a trepidatious suburban Greenmom...

Okay, it's official, and I'm trying it. After taking the past year to methodically and deliberately excise most processed, artificially flavored, and convenience foods from my kitchen (with the exception of pasta and white flour; I can only do so much!), it's time to take the next step.

Paper towels. We use too many of them. It's nuts. We use them as napkins, we use them to mop up the counter, we use them to wipe up spilled milk, we use them to blow our noses, we use them way too much. To our credit, we have cut down to the "select-a-size" ones, and we each only use half of one of those as a dinner napkin, but even that's just dopey beyond belief. You'd totally laugh if you saw our dinner table with these little 5x5 pieces of paper towel.

So today, here, publicly, we are taking step one: table napkins. Napkins are weird things--unless you're a really messy eater, often you can get through an entire meal without touching it, or maybe touching it once or twice...and yet we tend to sort of put them out automatically, without thinking. (For the record, I'm a fairly messy eater.)

When I first came to Chicago I did one of those volunteer service year things--lived in an old convent building with 14 other recent college or grad school graduates, each of us with a job in an underserved neighborhood in the city somewhere, for room and board and something like $100/month. (Even in 1992 that $100 didn't go very far.) We cooked and cleaned on a rotating schedule (some of us who were better cooks got out of some of the cleaning duties...) and ate in this giant dining room with a huge table. And we used cloth napkins every night. The system was actually pretty cool--each of us as sort of a "housewarming" gift got our own distinct and somewhat funky napkin ring. (Mine was a pewter pig. Very cute. I still have it.) We had a napkin in that napkin ring, and that was our napkin for the week or until it got too grimy and we wanted a new one. On taco night most of the napkins got replaced, needless to say...We put dirty ones into the laundry basket and got a new one as needed, but often you could get through a week on one napkin without even trying, and you knew no one's germs but yours were on your napkin. And again, this was in 1992, long before we were paying attention to cutting back on garbage--I think it was primarily a cost saving thing.

So I'm trying a variation on this with my family. Not the napkin rings per se, but individual napkins in specific prints, stolen from my fabric stash. I cut about 20" squares of four different fabrics--butterflies for my daughter, moons and stars for my son, funky sunflower batik for me, and the aztec print for my husband--and hemmed the edges. I'll make four of each (so far I've only done two apiece, but it doesn't take too long once I get going), and we can each use our napkin until such time as it's goopy and needs replacing. We have a few miscellaneous other cloth napkins around, for guests as needed (we seldom have guests anyway), and hopefully this can cut down on the biggest use of the paper things.

The second big area we'll need to deal with: cleaning rags. I am thinking I can cut up and edge-finish some of our old beat up towels for bigger jobs, and/or some of my husband's sub-shredded t-shirts for small ones. Once we find a storage space for these, I figure we can start using them for basic mop-ups, and create a hanging laundry bag in the kitchen somewhere so they can be tossed in there as easily as we currently toss paper towels into the garbage, and periodically washed. If we had to work hard to dispose of the dirty ones, I know no one else in the family will go along with this...

The switch to "real" food took us probably 4 or 5 months to make official and automatic, and the months after that were when it settled in to the point where we don't even really notice that we're doing it. (Except when the kids see the brightly colored "Go-Gurt" packages on our rare trips to the regular supermarket, and of course they beg for them...) I figure it will take us at least as long to make this adjustment...but here and now, I'm starting it. Not all at once, and I won't beat myself or my husband up if it doesn't go easily right off the bat. But we'll do it.

Y'all who've already taken this plunge--does this approach sound sensible? Any other ideas or thoughts, pitfalls, whatever, that might drop added challenges our way?

--Jenn the Greenmom

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Real Food for Real Kids

Food for thought from the Greenhabilitator...

Mmmmmm....remember school lunches as a kid? Cardboard pizza, macaroni and glue, barf-a-roni.

I'm a bit too young to remember (ha - I love saying that!) when lunch ladies actually prepared lunch (scrubbing and mashing potatoes, sifting flour to make biscuits). Mine opened cans, mixed a bit, boiled, baked, and did a whole lot of clean up. We used those lovely trays and real silverware you see above.

These days my kids are lucky to go to a school where they get to choose from three entrees every day including things like Cuban Pork Sandwich, Mandarin Chicken Salad, and Chicken Teriyaki with brown rice. Sounds fancy (and tastes much better than mac & glue, I'm sure) but it's still processed, cooked, and bagged long before it ever reaches the lunch table.

It's also packaged sort of like airline food now: each individual item in its own plastic dish with plastic wrap on top, sauces on the side in a tiny plastic cup with plastic lid, disposable plastic utensils and napkin in a plastic bag. When the kids are done eating, everything -- including the styrofoam tray -- gets tossed in the trash so that there's very little for anyone to have to clean up.

Did I mention these are the "lucky" kids? If you're an inner-city student where Mr. Greenhab teaches, they give out cereal bars for the kids to eat for breakfast. How can you give a kid a Cinnamon Toast Crunch bar for breakfast and expect him to focus and learn until lunchtime?

As green moms, we make the time to pack nutritious lunches in reusable containers for the health of our kids and the planet. But for the millions of other kids who have to eat processed, unrecognizable food each day, Lunchbox Advocates is stepping up and demanding more.

Lunchbox Advocates, based in the beautiful (and crunchy to the core) Boulder, CO, is a project of the F3: Food, Family, Farming Foundation which believes that all children must have access to healthy food to grow their bodies, minds and future.

The seeds for the Lunchbox Project were planted by "renegade lunch lady" Ann Cooper. In 2000, Ann and her colleagues started collecting knowledge about how to transform school lunches so that kids could grow up to be healthier and more productive adults. They started working on an idea called The Lunch Box and, in 2009, it finally became a reality.

Now up and running, The Lunch Box is a "a systemic change initiative that makes available for free all the hard-fought lessons and tools needed to make school lunch healthier for our kids." In a nutshell, they tell you how to transition your school lunch, step-by-step, into a healthy, more environmentally friendly program. They cover everything: menus, recipes, techniques, shopping lists, budgets and everything else you would need to be successful.

Can you imagine a school cafeteria where boxes of red leaf lettuce are brought in from a local farmer instead of having pre-packaged iceburg lettuce shipped from whoknowswhere? How about whole wheat pasta with freshly made tomato sauce?

Well, I'm sure those of you in Boulder can :) but, for the rest of us, The Lunch Box makes it seem like less of a dream and more of a real possibility.

If you're a noise-maker in your school or community, I would urge you to read through the Lunchbox Advocates' website and pass the information along to your school district. The organization is also working on a letter-writing campaign to encourage Congress to spend $1 more per student, per day on school meals, saying:
"Millions of kids every day eat lunch, and sometimes breakfast, at school. Yet the U.S. Department of Agriculture invests only $2.68 on average per day for each student’s school lunch. We are growing a generation of Americans who think healthy food is cheap food, and who don't have the skills to make better decisions about what they eat. This year, Congress has a chance to transform the way America eats when it reauthorizes the Child Nutrition and WIC Act. Join me and lunch box advocates from across the country in asking Congress to invest $1 more dollar in every child."

I'm not much of a foodie (yet) but I would be willing to bet that $2.68 could still get you a pretty nutritious meal, even if the $1 increase is not approved. But we'll have to think past the convenience of processed, packaged food and think about how much more our children can accomplish with the proper nutrition.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How to Store Produce without Packaging

Produce storage tips from the Conscious Shopper

Last Monday, Freakonomics had a post called How About Them (Wrapped) Apples? suggesting that packaging on foods is a good thing because "in addition to protecting food from its microbial surroundings, packaging significantly prolongs shelf life, which in turn improves the chances of the food actually being eaten." Later in the article, the author suggests that Americans waste half of all the food they buy.

The same day, Arduous took up the argument with the assertion, "If the waste trade-off is either the plastic bag for a bag of pre-washed lettuce, or an entire head of lettuce that rotted before you got to eating it, I would probably say to go with the bag of lettuce."

I have all sorts of opinions that I could toss into the discussion (none of them on the side of food packaging), but for me, one of the main issues seems to be that Americans don't know how to store produce. Why buy lettuce in a plastic bag when you can keep it crisp for just as long in your fridge without a bag? If you know how...

I bought this head of lettuce last Wednesday. On Monday when I took the picture, it was still in perfect condition. The carrots came in my CSA box last Thursday. By Monday, they were getting floppy, so I chopped them up and put them in a bowl of water. They crisped right back up.

How to Store Specific Vegetables

Cut the tops off of carrots and store in a container of water. Periodically change out the water. We generally buy carrots once a month, and they will last all month if stored this way.

Celery can be stored the same way.

Wrap lettuce in a damp cloth and store in a container with a lid.

Keep kale, collards, cabbage, and other greens wrapped in a damp cloth. The outer leaves will go bad first - simply peel them off and eat the inner leaves.

Potatoes should be kept in a cool, dark place.

should also be stored in a cool, dark place, preferably not touching. One tip I've seen is to store onions in old panty hose, twisting the hose in between onions to keep them from touching.

Cut the greens off of root vegetables. Store the greens separate from the vegetables.

Extra Random Tips

Most vegetables will last longer if you wrap them in a damp cloth.

Plan meals so you eat the most likely to spoil veggies first.

If you get fresh vegetables from a CSA or farmer's market, it's best to hold off on washing them until you're going to use them.

On the other hand, if you're more likely to choose fresh fruits and vegetables as a snack if you can grab and go, take 30 minutes after your shopping trip to peel, cut, and store your veggies. Put carrots and celery sticks in a bowl of water. Wrap cucumber slices and broccoli trees in a damp towel. Wash fruit and put it in an easy to access bowl on the counter.

If That's Not Enough

Fake Plastic Fish recently linked to a huge document about how to store fruits and vegetables without plastic: HowTo: Store Fruits and Vegetables - Tips and tricks to extend the life of your produce without plastic (at the bottom of the post)

What tips do you have for storing fruits and vegetables?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sign the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act Petition

Lisa Frack of the Environmental Working Group sent a couple links in response to my book review of The Body Toxic -- first, Lisa's great (and timely! Sept. '08) review of Baker's book after she met up with her in Portland. (I'd bet you a rubber ducky that her review is what led me to read it!).

Second, she reminded me that EWG still needs signatures for their petition to get legislation passed to help remedy our passive stance on chemical exposure.


EWG tested the umbilical cord blood of 10 newborn babies and found nearly 300 chemicals, including BPA, fire retardants, lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and pesticides that were banned more than 30 years ago.

Speak up for change. Our kids deserve it.
The Kid-Safe Chemicals Act would require that all chemicals be proven safe for children before they can be sold. But lawmakers in Washington need to know that you want them to reform our broken toxics law.

Please sign this petition to demand that Congress take action to make chemicals in consumer products kid-safe."

Book Review: The Body Toxic

JessTrev weighs in with a review of Nena Baker's book, The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-being

I've been meaning to read this book for a bit (it came out in 2008 -- I'm happy to say that tagging books on my Amazon wishlist and then using it to place titles on hold via my library's online catalogue works perfectly, but a bit slowly!) Before I return it, I thought I'd share some of Baker's key points so you can be intrigued enough to check it out.

Like me, you may avoid BPA in canned goods and search EWG's Skin Deep database before you buy mascara.... You may eschew nonstick for cast-iron cookware, and skip the carpet stainblock. If so, you'll be amazed by the extent of the research Baker cites about how affected industries were well aware of potential health concerns and stalled government intervention as long as possible in order to keep selling chemicals to consumers eager for (costly) convenience.

Baker's book traces the path of atrazine (a common pesticide), phthalates, flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), bisphenol-A, Teflon (perfluorinated chemicals) through their impact on humans and the environment, and through any relevant (though mostly absent) government regulation.

It's an eye-opening read.

Baker delves into the history of the Toxic Substances and Control Act of 1976, which grandfathered in thousands of chemicals (ensured they could be used without any safety testing) and basically set the stage for industry self-regulation.

She shares current research on what's called our chemical body burden -- the traces of chemicals that show up in every person on earth these days, regardless of where you live or how much organic produce you eat.

Baker shares the steps she's taken to limit her exposure to hazardous chemicals in her everyday life (like not eating microwave popcorn because of the fluorotelemers in the packaging) and gives tips for our everyday lives, many of which will sound familiar (no Teflon cookware, no stain repellants on carpet, no BPA in her water bottle). I don't want to share the whole thing 'cause the book is so well worth reading.

I loved hearing the backstory on all the familiar toxic chemicals we've learned to avoid, as well as the historical precedent for why our government's not practicing the precautionary principle when it comes to chemicals and our health (unlike the European Union). Really, reading Baker's book just made me want to have an update about any legislation pending that might flip the burden of proving chemical safety onto industry -- financially, of course. This time, I'd like the legislation to have some teeth....

Monday, February 15, 2010

Throwing in the towel.

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

I just returned from a wonderful weekend away with my husband and I am exhausted. Why is it that when you return from a vacation (even a mini-vaca) you feel like you need another one to recover from the one you were just on? Anyhoo... I am throwing in the towel on trying to write a post tonight. Instead I offer up this post recycled off my personal blog. Sometimes it is fun to look back at a moment in time. I originally composed this post in January of 2009. In it I mention switching from disposable paper to reusable cloth over a year prior. That means I have not purchased a roll of paper towel in over two years! There was a time when I believed it to be a necessity. Funny how our perceptions change. Think back over the changes you have made. What is one thing you changed that seemed insurmountable at the time, but now you do not even notice it?

Throwing in the towel

Household paper goods are so ubiquitous we do not even think about them anymore, but there was a time when towels and napkins were made of soft, reusable cloth. Nowadays the equivalent of about 270,000 trees are used and discarded each day worldwide. The average North American churns through 50 pounds of paper products a year, including napkins, paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper. While some of these goods are made from sustainable tree farms, native forests are still a primary source. This leads to erosion and loss of animal habitats. Plus, papermaking is a toxic process that is hard on the environment. Many paper products are whitened with chlorine-based chemicals - which are not as harmful as chlorine bleach, but still release carcinogens and toxins into the water. Others are scented, dyed, or treated with "lotion" made of petroleum, silicone, and chemical surfactants.

Thinner paper is more environmentally friendly than thick or quilted varieties. Use paper towels sparingly and reuse them when practical; some brands can be rinsed numerous times. Buy only plain, unscented, white, lotion-free toilet paper and tissues, which are better for the environment.

Help reduce chlorine-related dioxins in the air and water by purchasing paper products that have been whitened with hydrogen peroxide, oxygen, or ozone bleach. "Totally chlorine free" (TCF) is best, "processed chlorine free" (PCF) is at least made without the most harmful type of chlorine, and "elemental chlorine free" (ECF) is the least desirable, but better than conventional paper goods. Unbleached paper products are the best choice.

Look for products made of recycled paper. Among the recycled papers, a high postconsumer waste (PCW) content is best, because it keeps paper out of landfills and reduces the need to use virgin wood fiber. Recycled papers usually list the amount of PCW on their packaging; look for varieties with the highest PCW percentage you can find.

Use cloth napkins and wash them when they are soiled; they are more absorbent than some of the "eco" paper brands. Substitute sponges, dishcloths, or kitchen towels for paper towels. A good way to start is to throw a dish towel over your paper-towel rack, as a reminder to dry your clean hands, countertops, and dishes with a reusable cloth towel instead of a disposable paper one.

Our everyday napkins.

Over a year ago I purchased two packs of dish cloths. We have been using them as our everyday napkins ever since. They have survived spaghetti sauce, BBQ sauce, ketchup, mustard, butter, chocolate milk, many spills, and many messy eaters.

Hand drying towels.

How many paper towels does it take to dry your hands? One, two? One never seems like quite enough, but one cloth towel is all it takes to get the job done. Our hand drying towels consist mostly of the flour sack variety. They are thin and therefore dry fast. I like to throw one over my shoulder while working in the kitchen for quick access. Otherwise, one is always hanging on the oven door pull - which acts as a dryer while baking.

Cleaning towels.

I prefer cloth versus paper when cleaning up spills - no matter how messy and disgusting they are. With cloth one is enough to clean my entire kitchen, it holds up to scrubbing, rinsing is not a problem, it is far more economical, does not come packaged in plastic, and I never run out. These "bar towels" are just the right size for wiping down counters, scrubbing the stove top, cleaning the refrigerator, and catching spills.

By investing just a few bucks I have drastically reduced our waste, my trips to the store, dioxins in our air and water, trees being cut for virgin wood fibers, and plastic packaging; all while getting a far better return on my investment than the one time use and disposal of paper towels.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Superhero Secrets: Valentine's Day

Superhero Secrets from an Anti-Valentine's Day Greenmom

Anyone want to know when I had my first February 14 date? High school? College? Nope. What about the 12 or so years between college and meeting my husband? Uh uh.

My husband and I married on February 9; the first EVER Valentine's Day when I had anything like a date was during my honeymoon. (And what a date it was...) Every other February 14 of my existence was sort of an exercise in fighting the alleged scourge of singleness in a studiously coupled world. Which was sort of stupid, because there was a lot of really great stuff about being single that I missed in my moaning about not being part of a couple. (I mean, I love being married to my husband, and I wouldn't change for anything, but there's a lot you give up when you attach your life to someone else's that you just don't know to appreciate until it's gone.)

So, on principle, the greenest superhero secret I can possibly give regarding how to celebrate Valentine's Day in an eco-conscious manner, is this: ignore it! Skip it entirely! Live your whole life with all the chocolate and flowers and jewelry you choose, in healthy moderation--fair trade chocolate, of course, and organic flowers, and if you choose jewelry make sure the gold is eco-friendly and the diamonds are of the conflict-free variety--but don't wait for some arbitrary date to honor yourself or your loved one(s).

However, that's not much help for my monthly Superhero Secrets post, is it?

So here are some thoughts:

Green Living Tips has a pretty good basic site for anyone not acquainted with the simple ins and outs of things like conflict diamonds, fair trade chocolate, and so forth. It's the site I'd recommend to friends who are new to the whole greenage idea. This blog entry at also has some good info. So does this site, at Organic Consumers.

The Sierra Club has a good article about the "Secret Life of Cut Flowers" that everyone ought to read, and has a lot of information about what happens in the gold production process. (Where jewelry is concerned, honestly, I would probably be looking in antique stores and resale shops, rather than buying new anyway.) And Simply Gold Rings have some gorgeous items; I happened upon the link from the Chic Ecologist, and now I totally want one. (Even though I hardly ever wear rings.)

Global Exchange has a pretty good list of organic/free trade chocolate companies (coffee too!) which is something I've bookmarked for the future. GreenAmericaToday has another list... Divine Chocolate looks yummy too...but then, it's chocolate, how not? And if you really want to do it up, buy fair trade ingredients in bulk and make your own homemade liqueur-flavored truffles for your sweetie. Even if that sweetie is yourself.

And this has to be one of my favorites...this is a Valentine-timed campaign to raise awareness of endangered species that has got to be one of the most innovative and unexpected I've ever seen. Cracked me up.

So...that's what I've got. Doubtless dozens of other green bloggers are talking about the same thing this week; if you're one of them, drop a link in the comments and we'll come check it out!
--Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Grow local: My challenge to you this spring

Going Green Mama is wondering where she's actually going to plant all the seeds she scored...

Living the vida local has been the rage these days. Whether driven by the economy or just a desire to reach out and get to know where your things come from, supporting the local little guy has taken a heightened importance.

This spring, though, I give you a challenge. Don't just go local. Grow local.

Instead of buying tomato plants from the Home Depot, shop your local garden shop, farmers market or gardens gift shop. Even better, get local seeds.

I know what you're thinking: This girl has too much time on her hands. But visit your winter farmers market, contact a seed exchange or find a local seed producer, and you might find some produce that's tried and true in your not-so-perfect soil.

It's not nearly as hard as you might think. A few weeks ago, I was able to find rainbow chard, cucumber and tomato seeds at our winter market. A friend of mine shipped up some herb seeds from her local botanical gardens. And I recently learned of a local company that's now selling heirloom tomato seeds that have been grown in our state for seven decades.

And the best part? This fall, save a few seeds back from your plants, and you'll have saved yourself the hunt next spring.

Friday, February 12, 2010

... then I'm civic-minded enough to help!

In which Truffula finds a silver lining to all of the white stuff which fell from the sky...

We've had just a little bit of snow in the past few days.

Snow is an interesting phenomenon. It can bring out the worst in people (for example, here's where I leave out several paragraphs about two flame wars which occurred on an email list I help moderate). But, as we shoveled ourselves out to recover sidewalks, driveways, and cars, I learned - once again - that the ephemeral white stuff (re)weaves concrete connections to community.

In the past few days, I've spoken more to the man next door than I have in over 8 years of living next to him. And, for the first time, I phoned his wife, as we'd made tentative arrangements to commute together on one snow-filled morning.

Two doors down, I helped another neighbor excavate his car from behind the icy berm left behind by a plow. We chatted about our children, their education, community service, and his very interesting job. As I left, he offered that I should simply come get him if I needed anything; he'd be happy to help.

One of the boys and I had a lovely visit with two other neighbors, who were joining forces on a driveway. We exchanged notes about snow removal in different parts of the country and the world; one of the men is from the Ukraine, and he told us about his snow experiences there.

Yesterday morning, in the bright post-storm sun, the kids and I headed out for a dual mission. Task #1 was to go sledding. What fun! Afterwards, the boys peeled off for home, as I set out to accomplish Task #2: to dig out my bus stop.

The plows did a great job of clearing the roads. The problem there was that the snow had to go somewhere. When it ended up at the curb, it left us hapless bus riders either either the prospect of climbing through and over mountains of crusty curb ice, or of hanging out in the street. And, with the snow piled several feet high, that climbing part wasn't so exciting.

This is why, armed with a shovel, I marched over to the bus stop flag, bent over, and started digging. And digging. And digging.

I noticed a man making inroads on a nearby snow bank, and felt him glancing at me. A few minutes later, he came over. "If you're civic-minded enough to do that, I'm civic-minded enough to help!", he announced. We both worked silently, he from the street-side in, and me from behind the bus flag out.

Having hefted many shovels-full, my helper spoke. He apologized that he could do no more. I assured him that every scoop he'd moved had been a blessing, and we briefly talked about shoveling snow, and the ways in which the need to keep fire hydrants clear of snow had been engrained in him. As he turned to go, I introduced myself, and he himself.

Ken, thanks so much for your lesson in kindness. You've cemented it for me: I will not only adopt my nearest fire hydrant in a snow, but henceforth, I'll add a bus stop to my snow-clearing duties whenever the accumulation warrants it. If you're civic-minded enough to help, then I'm civic-minded enough to keep paying it forward.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Book review: Green Metropolis

A book review from the Greenhabilitator...

Mr. Greenhab and I have always been city-folk. In our younger days we were actually known as The Downtown Browns. We lived in a loft in downtown Denver where we could walk just about anywhere, including work.

A few years after we started "going green" as they say, Mr. Greenhab and I found ourselves in a position to move. With one child, two more on the way, and a desire to be closer to nature, we started looking for houses with an acre or so of land. We weren't intentionally looking in the boonies, but that's where we ended up: a place in the mountains with 3+ acres, a barn, and a forest full of wild animals. We were in heaven.

Now as we approach 2 years of living here we're starting to fall out of love with the bitter cold winters, the high electric bills, the long drive to get anywhere, the lack of cultural diversity, etc. Our kids go to one of the top 3 schools in the state, which is a huge plus, but we're really starting to feel a pull back to the city.

When I saw David Owen's book Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability mentioned in a magazine I requested it at the library right away. I wasn't consciously thinking it at the time but, now that I stop to ponder it, I suppose I was hoping for a well-written book that would tell me "You need to move to the city. It's more sustainable for the following absolutely true reasons, which are backed up by scientific evidence."

That's not exactly what I got though.

In short, I feel about Green Metropolis the same way I felt about Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods -- agree with many of the ideas, hate the way the book was written.

In Green Metropolis, the author seems to want to convince you not only why "living smaller, living closer, and driving less are the keys to sustainability" but also why New York City is the best city ever. I understand that he lived there, so that's where he draws a lot of his knowledge, but perhaps giving examples from some of the other cities he mentions (like San Francisco, for example) would have made him seem less obsessed with NYC.

I actually found myself daydreaming at one point, wondering who bad-mouthed his city so much that he erupted and spewed out this book. It seemed to be written in haste without much organization, as evidenced by the fact that Owen brings up the same points again and again. Much like my review of Louv's Last Child in the Woods, I think Owen's points could have been addressed clearly and pointedly in 30 well-organized pages, rather than 300 rambling ones.

As much as I disliked Owen's writing style, I could certainly see many of his points - people in NYC live in smaller spaces, consume less, use less electricity, they take mass transit or walk everywhere. Business in NYC are greener because their employees take the subway to work, they're all in the same building which is built up (as opposed to sprawling out). It all makes sense.

One of the things that really got under my skin when reading this book is that Owen seems to be one of those people who knows everything. The guy at work who, when you see him coming, you pick up the phone and pretend to be talking to someone. The guy you never want to have a conversation with because he'll point out how wrong you are about everything from global warming to what you had for lunch.

Owen brings up the Rocky Mountain Institute - "one of the most respected environmental organizations in the world" - the goes on to tell us how it's really an environmental nightmare because it's not near an airport. He brings up the LEED certification program and tells us why it's flawed. He talks about everything from HOV lanes to locavorism, then tells us why they are ridiculous.

What I haven't figured out is this: Is Owen really one of those guys who thinks he knows more about everything than anyone else? Or does he facetiously poke at every idea we have about sustainability to get us to at least think about the other side?

Meaning: As environmentalists, we think that being a locavore is a good thing. It allows us to know where our food comes from, we're able to support local farmers, or grow our food ourselves, we become less dependent on others and more self-sufficient, we avoid the environmental impact of shipping our food from other countries...the list goes on and on.

BUT... I have to wonder, does Owen really just want us to look at locavorism (or any other idea) with a more critical eye to see the potential down (or "brown") side? Instead of seeing an HOV lane as something that helps to ease traffic congestion and idling time for cars, should we be looking at it as something that eases traffic, making people happy to keep driving their cars instead of taking public transportation?

Owen definitely makes some good points and observations in the book. It was just his know-it-all attitude that was such a turn off to me.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Love Love Kiss Kiss Blah Blah Blah

A DIY eco-friendly facial from The Conscious Shopper

My husband is not only the man of my dreams but was in fact my very first real boyfriend. Which means that until we met, I spent many a Valentine's Day nursing a pint of Ben and Jerry's all by my lonesome. Back then it seemed like Valentine's Day was specifically designed to remind me how much I sucked. Not to mention all that pink and red and hearts and plush toys. Gag me!

Eating an entire box of chocolates while wallowing in self pity may have made me feel better momentarily, but it probably wasn't the healthiest option. So for any Valentine's hating readers out there, here's another suggestion:

Host a Home Spa

Invite a few single friends over, put on your favorite movie, and pamper yourselves. To get your party started, here's a step by step guide to an eco-friendly, do-it-yourself facial:

  • coconut oil
  • grapeseed oil
  • lavender essential oil
  • chamomile tea bags
  • avocado
  • apple cider vinegar
  • aloe vera gel
  • vegetable glycerin

Mix one ounce of coconut oil with 1/4 ounce of grapeseed oil. Add in 5 drops of lavender essential oil. Dab onto your face with your fingers. Wipe off with a warm, dampened washcloth.


Place a couple chamomile tea bags in a pot of water. Bring to a boil, then place the pot on a potholder on a table. With hair secured, lean your head over the steaming pot. Make a tent over your head with a towel and stay there for 5 to 10 minutes.


Mash an avocado with 1 Tbsp. of lemon juice. With slightly damp skin, apply the avocado to your face. Leave the mask on for 10 to 20 minutes, then remove with a wet washcloth and cold water.


Mix one part apple cider vinegar to one part water. Apply to face with a cotton ball or washcloth.


Combine 1/2 c. distilled water, 1/2 c. aloe vera gel, 2 tsp. vegetable glycerin, 2 tsp. grapeseed oil, and 10-20 drops essential oil of choice. Apply to face with your fingers and rub in to your skin.

Giving credit where credit is due:

Most of the recipes in this post are modified from my DIY homecare bible, Better Basics for the Home, by Annie Berthold Bond.

The title of this post is the name of one of my favorite Alkaline Trio songs. To be honest, I wrote this post for the sole reason of being able to use that phrase in my title.

And the Cheap winner is...

Thanks to everyone who entered my Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture book giveaway. The winner is...AnnMarie, who wrote:
Count me in as an interested reader too. DH is hoping to build out own bookcases for quality, tho hr first has to learn to make them.
Congratulations, AnnMarie, and I'll get that shipped right out to you!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Smile and Happiness Will Follow

An exercise in positive thinking from The Conscious Shopper

I've decided that there's far too much negativity floating around the greenosphere right now. Believe me, my finger is pointed directly at moi, but I'm feeling it from other sides as well.

Sure we could blame it on February, that seemingly never-ending, dark and gloomy month. Or we could could blame it on Congress - could any group of people move any more slowly? Or we could crawl back under the covers and hibernate until spring (oh yes, if I could find a way to feed my family without getting out of bed, I would certainly spend the entire winter under the covers).

Or we could focus on the positive.

When I was in high school, my church leaders were always saying things like, "If you want to be happy, just smile, and then you'll start to feel happy." My response was always, "That is ridiculous." (Of course, I never said that outloud, being a very quiet and polite teenager.)

Then soon after my first son was born, I caught a virus called Bell's Palsy that basically paralyzed one side of my face, making it impossible to smile. I discovered that what my youth leaders had been saying was true - or at least the opposite was true. Not being able to smile made it hard to feel happy, and frowning all the time certainly made me feel depressed.

After a month or so, I was able to smile again, but I've never forgotten that lesson. Smile, and happiness will follow. Count your blessings, and you'll discover even more blessings. When you feel discouraged, focus on the positive.

With those thoughts in mind, I want to do a little exercise. I'd like you to take a minute to note all the changes you've made since you started on your green journey. Don't just think about it...write them down - either here in the comments, on your own blog, or on a piece of paper.

Then when you get discouraged because you've gone back to using your dryer, your public transportation is a pain in the rear, or you had an impulse buy at Target, push aside the guilt and whip out your "List of Changes."

Yes, the winter is dreary, the root vegetables endless. Yes, the long, gravelly path to sustainability is the road less traveled. But, look how much we have done!

This post is the Green Phone Booth's submission for February's
APLS carnival on "winter motivation." Discover more ways to stay motivated to live sustainably during the winter at Going Green Mama on February 18.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I didn't even know I was pregnant.

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Back in August I purchased a 5-tray Gusanito Worm Composter. I assembled it immediately upon receipt and then proceeded to stare at it for the next few months, wondering if I was up for the task. In October I finally got around to ordering the worms for it. On the advice of more skilled worm wranglers (i.e. you all who left comments on my original post) I started with 500 worms.

Still unsure I was fit to be a worm farmer, I held out little hope that the Red Wigglers would live through Christmas.

In the beginning I did little more than throw some food scraps in and maybe stir them around a bit. It did not take long for me to figure out that was not the best way. I think the potato peels I threw in that first week are finally starting to disappear four months later. Now what I do is run our food scraps through the blender, wrap them in damp newspaper, and bury in the worm bin.

Notice all the potato peels!

I have not figured out a feeding schedule yet. I just save food scraps in my "worm food" container and store in the freezer until full. Much of our food scraps still go to the outdoor compost pile which is currently frozen, but we add to it nonetheless.

It has been going well so far. There have been no escape attempts, no flies, no smell, and no genocides. I have collected about half a spaghetti jar of "worm tea". I add it to my watering can when watering the house plants. My Christmas Cactus loves it!

I have noticed a few new tenants taking up residence in my worm condo. Potworms, mites, but more excitedly baby worms!

And I did not even know I was pregnant!


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