Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The 80/20 Rule for Going Green

A recycled post from The Conscious Shopper, who is still trying to catch up...

I was surrounded by waste and excess: styrofoam cups, plastic straws, paper wrappers, thin plastic placemats, and plasticrap toys. Across the table, First Son and Second Son were filling their toothy grins with french fries (deep fried) and chicken strips (probably full of antibiotics and hormones), eager to finish eating so they would have time for the indoor playground.

It was Second Son's birthday, and we were at Chick-Fil-A. My boys were delighted, and I was weighed down with guilt.

I didn't plan to have Second Son's birthday dinner at a fast food restaurant. We were there because of poor planning on my part, and that was partially the cause of my guilt. But these days I feel guilty about a lot of things. Not just anytime I step foot inside a fast food restaurant, but also when I forget to take my cloth bags to the grocery store, or buy a Coke at the gas station because I forgot my stainless steel water bottle, or make a trip to Target because I've searched in vain for a used belt and can't justify to myself spending $40 on a belt made from recycled materials.

And I spend more than my fair share of over-thinking-it time, like when my flip flops broke, and oh, crap, good shoes are really hard to find at a thrift store, but where am I going to find affordable flip flops made from sustainable materials by someone who's not getting screwed for being born in a different country?

This is the curse of being a Conscious Shopper, and it's at those moments that I can understand why some people say, "It's better not to know" and others say, "I try not to care."

But I have a solution...It's during those extreme moments of guilt and over-thinking-it that it's time to turn to the 80/20 Rule.

The 80/20 Rule Defined

You may have heard of the 80/20 rule of dieting that suggests that if you eat healthy 80% of the time, it's okay to blow your diet the other 20% of the time. Put in practice, this means that if you eat healthy Monday through Friday, you can scarf down a burger and fries on Saturday night and indulge in some ice cream on Sunday.

But the 80/20 rule can be used for much more than just diet. Rephrase it a little, and it could say, "If you live green, 80% of the time, it's okay to blow it the other 20% of the time.

Used in this way, the 80/20 Rule can give you some room to wiggle as you transition to a greener lifestyle.

The 80/20 Rule in Action

A few months ago, I mentioned the 80/20 rule as a Jogging Stride suggestion in my post about using fewer paper towels: 80% of the time reach for cloth first. The other 20% of the time, use paper towels made with recycled content.

Here are some other examples:
  • If I try to feed my family healthy, made-from-scratch meals 80% of the time, it's okay to indulge in fast food for the other 20% of our meals.
  • If I am able to purchase 80% of our food from organic or local sources, then 20% of the time, it's okay to eat hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.
  • If 80% of our clothes are from the thrift store or other eco-friendly sources, then 20% of our clothes can come from Target.
  • If we try to live sustainably 80% of the year, it's okay to take some vacations from green living the other 20% of the time.
The 80/20 Rule of Not Being Too Hard on Yourself

Some people might argue that an 80% effort is not enough. Perhaps they are right...

But as I sat at Chick-Fil-A, unable to turn off my eco-conscious conscience, I could sense an encroaching environmental burnout. And it's at those moments that the 80/20 rule is essential.

80% of the time I give 100%, but 20% of the time, I give myself a little slack.

Can you think of any other examples where the 80/20 rule could apply to green living?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sunday Secrets on Tuesday

Late link love from The Conscious Shopper

Last week I had one of those weeks...I got behind on Monday and never caught up, and my brain was so frazzled that I kept getting confused about what day it was. And that is why if you had been a fly on the ceiling of my minivan as my family drove to church on Sunday morning, you would have heard me exclaim, "Oh, crap, oh crap, oh crap!"

("Why do you keep saying crap, Momma?" says the four-year-old seated behind me.)

Last Sunday's Superheroes Secrets post was assigned to me, and I totally dropped the ball. So I thought I'd make it up to you by sharing some links today on two completely unrelated topics.

Topic #1: Food Waste

For those of you following the Conscious Shopper Challenge (Go Green in a Year without Going Broke) over on my personal blog - if I do it again next year, I'm going to leave out cloth diapers and exchange it for food waste. I can't believe I forgot to include food waste in the trash challenges! Maybe I can slip it into the green grocery shopping section...Anyway, here are a couple links on food waste:
  • One of my favorite frugal bloggers, The Frugal Girl, posts pictures every Friday of her weekly food waste to motivate herself not to have any waste. Readers can join in the fun by linking up their own food waste pictures.

Topic #2: Gardening with Kids

We're planting our first garden this year, and I have sprouts! I may kill them all before we get any actual plants, but it makes me happy all the same.
  • DK Publishing also has a couple of really great books for gardening with children: Ready Set Grow and Wildlife Gardening. We've checked out Wildlife Gardening so many times, I should probably just buy it.
  • I just received a copy of The Green Hour, put out by the National Wildlife Federation, and I'm so, so, so excited to read it. You can bet I'll let you know how it goes, but in the meantime, check out their website.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Vegetarian Pantry Recipes, a Round Up

Regular guest poster Jess of Sweet Eventide is back this week with some yummy recipes and food porn.

I have a little recipe roundup for you today: three wonderful, affordable, vegetarian meals that are simple and easy to make. I am trying to eat vegetarian a few times per week this year and these meals are helping. One is an old standby I read in a magazine nine years ago. My family never tires of it and friends beg for the recipe when I make it for them. The other two I found on blogs in the past few weeks.

Vegetable Chili (aka My Old Standby) via Real Simple

One thing I really love about all of these recipes, and what has already made them successful repeat recipes in my kitchen is they are heavily dependent on a well-stocked pantry. This is something I am fairly good at, it's the storage and use of the fresh produce I buy that I need to improve on. But I've pretty much got the pantry thing down pat.

I invite you to leave a comment here if you try any of these recipes and like them. I'd also love to add more pantry-based recipes to my repertoire. Let's make our meal planning easier this week! Happy eating everyone.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

My Sweet Sixteen

Going Green Mama is still reeling from the Kansas loss last weekend...

In Kansas, and now in Indiana where we live, it's all about basketball this time of year. We've watched the promised teams lose and the surprises come to life, and it's all about the thrill of saying what's best.

The other day, I got to thinking. After reading others complain about their environmental efforts slowing due to lack of money or motivation, I started to think about what are my top tips for staying green and on budget. So here you are. My Sweet Sixteen.

In the Family Bracket:
  1. Get your kids involved. Whether it's growing food and flowers in a pot or teaching them about recycling, kids will absorb the lessons you demonstrate now. And your actions are just as powerful as words.
  2. Keep an eye on clothes (or toys, for that matter). Do you need 2 dozen t-shirts for your toddler? Probably not. Do a realistic check of what you really need to run your home, and donate the rest to charity.
  3. Keep expectations simple. Kids like stuff, and feeding the monster is only going to make things worse. If your child is raised to have a TV with a DS at four, be shuttled to various activities each night and have a cell phone before he knows all digits of his home number, his expectations for "stuff" aren't likely to be pacified with just that. Instead, plan for simpler activities and more relaxing routines.
  4. Give your child ownership. There's a big difference between watching mommy plant some seeds and letting them do it themselves. By giving them a "job" for them to take ownership of, you're helping your child contribute, learn a skill and take pride in his or her "successes" (even if you've helped a lot along the way.) And there's nothing wrong with any of that!

In the Food Bracket:

  1. Support your local farmers. Sure, you can score high-priced items (like the salmon I splurged on a few weeks back) at a farmers market, but you can find many, many types of in-season produce that were literally picked hours before. They taste far better and are oftentimes better on your budget.
  2. Grow your own. It's surprisingly simple. Have a brown thumb? Relax. Start small with a few herbs or a tomato plant in a pot. Or try easy plants like lettuces or onions, which I've found you can plant and just let them do your thing.
  3. Plan your menus. It's one of the biggest challenges I have - planning a menu. But by incorporating seasonal food and sales into your weekly meal plan, you can save by not buying expensive cuts or out-of-season produce, and even having to not buy meals out of the office.
  4. Drop the convenience packaging. Instead of buying 100-calorie packs, it's simple to repackage your snacks items into small, reusable containers.

In the Living Bracket:

  1. Pull trips together. I read a statistic the other day that says the average mom spends 17 days a year in the car with her kids - and I'm assuming that doesn't include any commutes to work or "time alone." For your sanity's sake and to reduce your mileage, opt to plan your errands to include several stops at once. It's simple, but it's worth it.
  2. Watch your work's impact. Are you guilty of being swallowed by your paper trails? Make smaller changes to how you do business. Take on many of the green tips you do at home. Or take on a volunteer recycling program in your office.
  3. Slow down your nights out. Yes, it's nice to have a dinner out, but loud people and long waits doesn't always make a great combination. And I want to hear my friends when I'm spending time with them! Instead, bring your nights in. Cook a dinner at home, open a bottle of wine and enjoy each others' company.
  4. Watch your spending. Think about that advice you got as kids: Do you want your allowance spent on candy or other junk, or would you like to save up for something bigger? In these tough times, while it's easy to "justify" a treat like an evening shopping or a dinner out, I'd prefer to reduce the amount of clutter around me and not buy things. A trip to see a friend of mine in Puerto Rico is well worth a few hours of self-denial!

In the Home Bracket:

  1. Greener cleaners. I've used baking soda and vinegar for many of my cleaning needs, and frankly, the bottled cleaners I'd bought long ago are still locked under my sink.
  2. Clean out for a cause. Your trash might not necessarily be treasure, but items in good condition can be donated to a number of good causes.
  3. Conserve. I know it's been said over and over, but watching your thermostat, your water usage, using power strips, etc., makes a huge difference on resources wasted - and positively impacts your bottom line!
  4. Simplify your gardening. I know neighbors who invest a lot of time and effort on chemical fertilizers, pruning every bit of their yard, etc. Their yards are green under the snow, I think! But we've taken a more natural approach. Sure, our grass turns browner in late summer, but it always grows back fine, especially after a good rain. You can also lighten up your gardening as well. The best tip I ever got was at a farmers market: The woman recommended that I put a small amount of compost into a seed hole, rather than mix a lot of compost throughout the garden bed. For someone who can't have a compost pile, it was a great idea, keeping me from buying a lot of potentially unneeded compost bags! And I noticed no difference.

So what makes your "Final Four" tips for staying green without losing your head or wallet? Any dark horses I missed?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why? A Reminder to Myself

Regular guest poster Jess of Sweet Eventide shares some of her beautiful photos

As I was thinking about what to write for my monthly guest post in this space, I found myself feeling inadequate, discouraged and tired (among other adjectives). I feel like I have started to slack a little here, but improve a little there and what does it all mean anyway? Then I thought of how much I enjoy being in nature: whether it's at the coast, the forest, or just my local park. I happen to achieve a personal high when I have my camera along with me.

And then it hit me -- isn't this exactly why we work so hard, "inconvenience" ourselves and possibly irritate our friends and families because we just can't shut up about ___________? My endless talking points tend to hover around food: HFCS, artificial colors and sustainable agriculture to name a few.

I found the answer to my questions in my photo library. For me, this is why:

This is why.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On the Go Utensil Wrap

The Greenhabilitator shows off her mad sewing skillz...

After reading the Conscious Shopper's post yesterday on packing your own takeout-ware, I thought it might be a good time to recycle a tutorial I put together for Make it From Scratch. I made a bunch of these utensil wraps as stocking stuffers at Christmas and I hear they're used frequently. I know that Mr. Greenhab uses his at school almost every day. (I'm so proud!)

For this project I used coordinating fabric, a piece of ribbon, and some utensils. You can use utensils you already have, of course, but I found these bamboo utensils on sale for a few dollars at Greenfeet and thought they'd be perfect for this gift.

1. Time to cut! The outer and inner fabric will be 12" square. The pocket will be 4" wide by 9" tall. The ribbon can be 24-ish inches long, give or take an inch or two.

2. First we're going to make the inner pocket. Fold the pocket piece in half, with right sides facing. Pin and sew all the way around, leaving a hole at the bottom for turning right side out. Clip the corners, turn and press flat.

3. Pin the pocket to the lining fabric, wherever you desire, and sew the left and right sides of the pocket to the lining fabric, very close to the edge. I used about 1/8 inch allowance there. You can leave the bottom unsewn as it will get eventually be caught when the outer and inner pieces are sewn together.

4. Using a fabric marker, draw two lines from top to bottom of the pocket. (I did mine 1 and 1/8 inches apart, because that was what fit best with my bamboo utensils.) Then sew down each of the lines. Now you've created three little pockets for your fork, knife & spoon.

5. On the left side, pin your ribbon to the lining with the tails going in.

6. Lay your outside fabric on top, so that the right sides are together, pin.

7. Sew most of the way around, leaving an opening of about 4 inches for turning. Use a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Clip corners, turn, press flat.

8. Top stitch using a 1/4 seam allowance.

Now you can fold the top of the napkin down and wrap it up. I like have the top fold down because then the utensils don't fall out the top.

You can make these utensil wraps using an old shirt, handkerchief, or scrap fabric. I throw this in my purse and always have it handy when I'm out and about, which helps me to avoid disposable plastic ware. As a bonus, it can be used as a place mat or a napkin too!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Take Out With Out Forgetfulness and Shyness

Examples of making your own to-go kits from The Conscious Shopper

Inspired by the TakeOutWithOut campaign, I've been working on eating out without producing waste. Thus far, there have been two factors holding me back from being a waste-free eating Marathon Runner:

Factor #1: My post-kids memory.

Isn't it a scientifically proven fact that once a woman has kids, she loses half of her brain cells? I can remember to take my grocery bags to the store because I go every week, and it has become a habit. I can't remember to take my own napkin and utensils to a restaurant because I go so infrequently and most of the time spontaneously.

Solution #1: To-Go Kits

Because there are five of us, I decided it would be easier to pack one big Family To-Go Kit rather than individual kits. I scrounged up an old free tote and filled it with two thermoses, an extra set of utensils, cloth napkins, a plastic container for take away items, and one Glass Dharma straw.

The kit hangs out in my trunk where it's handily accessible for even the most spontaneous evenings out.

If you don't have a large family, you may want to consider individual kits a la Mindful Momma:

Place your eating utensils and straw in a napkin. Fold the top and bottom over, and then roll up like a burrito, securing the utensils inside the napkin. Tie with a ribbon. (And forgive my grungy napkins. They have been well used.)

Factor #2: I'm EcoShy

I'm happy to be green, but I don't always like to draw attention to my greenness. To me, bringing your own napkin to a restaurant is like announcing to the world, "Hi, everyone, look at me. I'm the weird eco-zealot nut!"

Solution #2: Get over it!

I'm working on it...Last weekend, my husband and I went on a date (holy cow, no kids!) to a local restaurant, and when the server brought us our drinks, I told her, "No straw, please," and pulled out my glass straw.

A few minutes later, a different server came over and told me the whole serving staff was abuzz about my glass straw. She asked me where I got it and why and seemed pretty interested in the whole concept. Later, my original server came back and told me she'd wondered about the straw but had been afraid to ask. See! Shyness works both ways!

Refusing a straw at a sit-down restaurant is pretty noticeable, but even if you're eco shy like me, there are plenty of ways to use your To Go Kit discreetly. I'd bet that a server wouldn't even notice if you pulled a small container out of your bag, packed up your leftovers, and slipped it back into your bag. And at a fast food restaurant, no one will even glance your way.

And the more of us that do it, the less nutty it will seem.

Have you used your own items at restaurants? What kinds of reactions have you gotten?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Waste Free Lunch Ideas

A compilation of lunch ideas from The Conscious Shopper

A couple months ago, I asked all of you for help in a few categories that I wanted my family to work on this year, and one of those categories was packing waste-free lunches. We had the "waste free" part down, repurposing various food containers we already had around the house; our problem was the lunch part...What to pack?

I'm happy to say that thanks to all of your suggestions, we've been branching away from our usual (cheese sandwiches with a carrot or celery and a piece of fruit). And both for my sanity and in case anyone else is looking for lunch ideas, I thought I'd gather everyone's suggestions into a nice organized list.


Sandwich fillings (served on bread, bagels, tortillas, or pitas)

  • cheese
  • cream cheese
  • hummus
  • other bean spreads
  • egg salad
  • chicken salad
  • peanut butter
  • soy butter
  • sunflower butter
  • tuna
  • lunchmeat
Other main dishes:
  • homemade granola with yogurt
  • cold pizza
  • muffins/quick bread
  • pasta salad (vary the dressings and vegetables)
  • cold sausages
  • cold chicken drumsticks
  • leftovers
  • fruit
  • vegetables (dip helps make them more appetizing)
  • dried fruit
  • fruit leather
  • kale chips
  • yogurt
  • smoothies
  • soup
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • deviled eggs
Anything else I should add?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Why is it so hard to make a difference?

Guest blogger Jaime laments the lack of support for eco-friendly initiatives simply because they aren't common.

I’ve come across the term “upcycling” a few times in the past. And I’ve found it interesting. Some upcycled projects are beautiful and fun: jewelry from Coca-Cola bottles, purses from juice boxes, and door mats made of left-over flip-flop material

These products sometimes seem a little contrived. Isn’t it more eco-friendly to stop using juice boxes rather than look for a new use for the trash? But I do love the idea of upcycling.

And I want to share an article that showed me a whole new level to upcycling. Contrived or not, this could make a huge difference to landfill volumes, if it were to catch on.

Homes made from trash. People’s homes. In the developed world. $250,000+ homes.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article describing homes made from trash:

  • One home is made from blocks of compressed tires — approximately 17,000 tires
  • Another used 50 tons of paper beer packaging for insulation

But the article wasn’t about environmental pioneers in the construction industry. No, the article discussed the financial difficulties faced by the property owners, who can’t get permanent financing because there are no comparable home sales that can be used in appraisals for these “odd” homes.

I understand that the mortgage industry is under a great deal of stress and banks cannot risk being saddled with a risky loan or a home they can't sell. But how can we encourage the resourceful upcycling of trash if we punish the pioneers?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Superhero Secrets: Spring Reading

Spring reading from the Greenhabilitator...

I have no business asking for book recommendations right now. Judging by the stack of books on my nightstand and windowsill, I'll be ready for a new book sometime in the year 2012. That doesn't seem to stop me from requesting new books on a weekly basis at the library though. I just can't help myself!

Right now I'm about 3/4 of the way through Coming Home to Eat by Gary Nabhan. What a terrific book - I highly recommend it! Nabhan's accomplishments are as long as my arm - he's a PhD, an ecologist, a lecturer, food and farming advocate, conservationist and has recently accepted a tenured professorship as a Research Social Scientist at the Southwest Center of the University of Arizona. Coming Home to Eat chronicles his year eating local foods - not just foods grown locally, but foods that are native to his area. It's given me a whole new perspective on "local foods" and has truly been a fascinating tale as well as a geology, geography, history and agriculture lesson all tied up in one.

I'm simultaneously reading Your Right to Know: Genetic Engineering and the Secret Changes in Your Food by Andrew Kimbrell and the Center for Food Safety. It's a good companion to (and the copy at the library actually comes with the movie) The Future of Food. It's all the things in the movie that you wished you could remember - from what GMOs do to farmers, crops, your body, etc. to what you can do about it. There are sample letters you can send to your grocers, lists of GE-free food brands, a list of related organizations and websites, and a list of US food companies and their policies on GE ingredients. It's a great resource.

At the library I just reserved Siesta Lane: One cabin, no running water, and a year living green by Amy Minato. Minato left the city life to spend a year in a cottage with no electricity or running water. In the book she documents this challenging but inspiring experience, filled with new friends, heartbreak, interactions with nature, and self-discovery. I've heard it's quite a page turner, so I hope to sneak it in next week.

I'm also eager to read The Vanishing of a Species: A look at modern man's predicament by a geologiest by Peter Gretener. From the book's website...

The author...starts his exploration by putting man in context, both in terms of space and time. We find that in either case, man is not as pre-eminent as he may be­lieve. While man is the most accomplished toolmaker this planet has ever seen, his technical progress is overpowering his social progress—an imbalance that sets the stage for his vanishing act, absent quick, corrective action.

The author makes a compelling case that society’s unrestricted material growth is the challenge of our times. Modern man’s predicament refers broadly to man’s collision course with nature—his attitude of ruthless exploitation leading to depletion of non-renewable resources, pollution of the environment, overpopulation, with its accompanying increase in human aggression, and other effects.

After the agricultural and industrial-scientific revolutions, it is now time for the Human Revolution—a more realistic attitude on the part of man towards the universe, the earth and other forms of terrestrial life

Having moved from being a biblical history believer to more of a scientific history believer over the past few years has opened up a whole new area to me that I've never studied before. As I look at the earth being billions of years old instead of thousands, well, that puts global warming (as well as a lot of other things) in a different perspective for me. I can't wait to read this and learn more. (And hopefully that isn't offensive to anyone. I sincerely respect everyone's beliefs.)

Green Living Online has a nice little slide show of spring time reading they suggest and I also just discovered Grinning Planet and their extensive list of green book reviews. The website EcoBooks also offers books on all environmental subjects from living simply to clean energy to gene tampering.

What are you all reading these days? What's on your list?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dyeing to be natural

Going Green Mama admits to still getting a little nostalgic seeing the Paas Easter kits in the store....

On an errand the other day, my daughter was thrilled to find packages of brightly colored plastic eggs. You know, the kind that get separated and stepped on within hours of the great hunt. There were plain ones. Flowered ones. Football ones. She was hooked.

And I said no.

Granted, in nearly five years of parenthood, I've yet to succumb to buying plastic eggs. For one, my mother has a set she's willing to part with each spring. For another, it's just another thing to store - or step on. (If you haven't guessed, it's a problem in our home.)

But as my children get a little older, I'm starting to wonder if this isn't the year to try dyeing Easter eggs. I remember year after year fighting over who put their eggs into which color with my brother, and, about as vividly, the vinegary smell the room took on as those little colored pellets dissolved. And I remember my parents complaining about the mess.

I wondered if the "natural dye" method is a better way, and started to look into it last year. It may be less smellier, but it seems a bit more complicated. You either are working many pots on the stove, each boiling eggs with its natural color dye of choices, or you soak those eggs overnight with the natural dyes. Either way, you run the risk of having "off-flavored" eggs - such as onion or spinach - if you eat them after the hunt. And it doesn't seem to have the instant-gratification factor that preschoolers desire.

So I leave the question to you this morning. When you're getting ready to dye eggs in a few weeks, what method to you choose? Commercial? Natural? And why?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Do you e-read?

Jenn the Greenmom would really love to start reading more again...someday...when there's time...

It's sort of fascinating to we all are, Greenfolk who want to get back to what's real and natural and of the earth, cooking real food and obtaining what will last and not throwing things away, caring for the planet and for ourselves (and realizing we can't do one without the other!), focusing on what's solid and tangible and simple...and yet our medium of conversation and communication is virtual and highly technology-dependent. I have absolutely no difficulty embracing this quasi-paradoxical reality wherein I sit at a computer for hours but won't buy grocery store bread, but I sometimes look at my self and go, "Hmmm. What's this about?" And the book thing seems to be where the two realities sort of clash sometimes; we blogger-types love the technology, love communicating via the written word in real time anywhere we choose, but so many of us--myself included--feel this real connection to books in print, on paper. Solid, tangible, and simple.

This article over at Eco-Salon intrigued me:

E-Readers: Cute as a Button, or a Real Page-Burner?

For the record, I do not yet have a Kindle, or a Nook, or any of the various e-reader formats available out there. I do have an iPhone, for which I did download Kindle for iPhone as well as a few other readers (Stanza is another free reader app with access to a huge number of free books), and I do use it quite a lot. But that's still sort of different from the actual dedicated e-reader gadget.

The Eco-Salon article details a lot of the pros and cons of the machines, so I won't go into that here...but I'm curious if any of you have them, and what you think of them?

I have to admit, I really enjoy having the ability to read novels and stories on my iphone. The little Kindle app is very intuitive and easy to use, and I love the ability to download samples of books before actually buying them. I'm trying to not go crazy on it, or buy too much, but I recently purchased the latest Stephen King short story collection (honestly, I have loved King's short stories since college--there are some real gems of writing in there, amidst the Grossness) and have gotten a couple of other things as well. I'm not a complete convert--my bedside reading usually involves paper and actual typeface, as does my schoolwork and research (though I'm finally getting better at reading articles onscreen and not automatically printing every pdf I run into), but there are enough times when I'm just Out somewhere and need something to read--the dentist's office, the airport, whatever--that I really love having the app.

I love books, real books...but I semi-secretly covet my neighbor's Kindle.

I was intrigued to read this Eco-geek article about LG's solar-powered e-reader, which is not only a plus in terms of carbon footprint in production but doesn't need the grid to charge (unfortunately it's not due for release till 2012 or so, and between now and then the iPad will be appearing and probably doing to/for our expections for e-readers about the same kind of thing the iPhone did for our expections for cell phones)...and this Cleantech Group report about the actual carbon analysis of the units is a good thing to read too...

If the e-readers weren't so bloody expensive, I'd probably go ahead and get one. But at the moment spending $250 on something that will enable me to spend more money on books rather than using my public library is not something I'm prepared to do.

Which brings us to my other area of interest: how public library lending of e-books works, and whether anyone lives someplace where they can take advantage of it. Project Gutenberg is one very cool site where lots of great material is available, and I've downloaded a buttload of material from them. The World Ebook Library has an annual membership fee of $8.95/year (yes, that's per year) for access to their collection; I may go for it to see what it's got, although it looks like what you download from them is in the form of pdf files rather than e-book formats. A number of public library systems seem to have e-book lending in their capabilities, although mine does not yet. Anyone use a library lending e-book kind of system at the moment? How does it work? Are books under copyright actually included as possible downloads, or is it only public domain stuff?

--Jenn the Greenmom

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Just say no to GMO

Food musings from the Greenhabilitator...

My family's journey to a more sustainable lifestyle is now in it's fourth year - The Year of Food. Along the way we've touched on food here and there (I've learned to can and preserve, we try to eat seasonally...kind of, I buy organic when it's affordable.) but it's truly a drop in the bucket compared to so many of the environmentalists and foodies I know and admire.

So, this is the year that we focus on food - seasonal food, locally grown food, foods native to our region, growing our own, preserving more, making more from scratch, and eating whole, real food. We're turning our backs further away from processed, packaged, unrecognizable junk and genetically modified biology experiments. And it feels good!

I'm currently reading Coming Home to Eat by Gary Nabhan which has been an inspiration as we rapidly approach growing season. I feel as if I have a new appreciation for native foods, which I'd never really pondered before. I mean, obviously I don't try to grow oranges in the mountains of Colorado, but Nabhan seeks out plants long forgotten and goes as far as eating bugs that used to be a staple in his area of the country.

He makes light of "nutraceuticals" -- of which I saw many last weekend at the natural products expo -- and makes my heart break for the loss of biodiversity (among other things) caused by the genetic modification of our foods.

While I'm not exactly new to the world of GMOs and genetic engineering -- I've seen The World According to Monsanto, felt outrage over the patenting of food and the harm it does to farmers and, quite possibly, our health -- I haven't really made changes or spoken out about it until now.

Did you know...
"According to the USDA, in 2007, 91% of soy, 87% of cotton, and 73% of corn grown in the U.S. were GMO. It is estimated that over 75% of canola grown is GMO, and there are also commercially produced GM varieties of sugar beets, squash and Hawaiian Papaya. As a result, it is estimated that GMOs are now present in more than 80% of packaged products in the average U.S. or Canadian grocery store."

"In 30 other countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production of GMOs, because they are not considered proven safe. In the U.S. on the other hand, the FDA approved commercial production of GMOs based on studies conducted by the companies who created them and profit from their sale."

~ Source: The Non-GMO Project
I know that many of our Booth readers are already well versed in the ins and outs of genetic engineering (and I hope you'll add your thought and experience in the comments!) but, if you're less mature in your green journey, you might want to read the article Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful? It's a bit dated, but concisely lists many of the pros and cons of GE.

I had the pleasure of meeting a rep from the Non-GMO Project last weekend and learning more about their quest to develop a standard definition of "non-GMO" as well as a third party verification system.

Personally, I think we need to step up and demand, at the very least, all GE food be labeled as such, so that consumers know exactly what they're getting.

In the meantime, here are a few ideas and tips for you~

On the Non-GMO Project's website, you can search their database to find non-GMO certified products including the Annie's line, Whole Foods' 365 Everyday line, and Earth Balance, among many others. They even have an iPhone application to help you out while you're shopping! While you're there, take the pledge to look for the Non-GMO Project seal on products.

Buy organic. If a food is genetically engineered, it cannot be labeled as organic. As we know, there are different versions of the term "non-GMO", which the aforementioned Non-GMO Project is aiming to change. For now, your best bet is to buy organic - especially when it comes to products that contain any sort of corn or soy.

Look at your produce labels. Those little "PLU codes" aren't just for your cashier, they actually tell you how the product was grown. A four digit code means it was conventionally produced. A five digit code beginning with an 8 means it is GE. A five digit code beginning with a 9 means that it is organic.

Visit the Center for Food Safety and sign up for their newsletter, then go to the "to-do" tab on your account where you'll find several actions you can take including asking Congress to support the labeling and testing of GE foods.

We just re-joined our local CSA and are counting down the days until we can get our own seedlings into the ground. I hope to very rarely see the inside of a grocery store this summer!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

There's More Than One Path to Green

Ramblings from The Conscious Shopper

Did you all catch the article "The Femivore's Dilemma" in the New York Times Magazine last week?

In a nutshell, the article describes "stay-at-home moms, highly educated women who left the work force to care for kith and kin" and have transformed homemaking into a new form of feminism.
Femivorism is grounded in the very principles of self-sufficiency, autonomy and personal fulfillment that drove women into the work force in the first place. Given how conscious (not to say obsessive) everyone has become about the source of their food — who these days can’t wax poetic about compost? — it also confers instant legitimacy. Rather than embodying the limits of one movement, femivores expand those of another: feeding their families clean, flavorful food; reducing their carbon footprints; producing sustainably instead of consuming rampantly. What could be more vital, more gratifying, more morally defensible?
I hate the label femivore, but overall I found the article very interesting. It definitely describes me.

My first job after college was with a private investigation firm. On paper, it sounds like a cool job, but in reality, it was long commutes, long workdays stuck in an uncomfortable office chair staring at a computer, lots of overtime without overtime pay. Two and a half years later, we moved to Maryland, and my very generous employer offered to let me keep my job working part time from home. Two years after that, they changed their minds, and I found myself in my new (and current) career as a full time stay at home mom.

At first, I was terrified to be completely unemployed. What would I do with all my time?...Turned out that there was plenty to do, and I loved it. Let me say this loud and clear: I love being a stay at home mom. I love being a homemaker. I love baking bread and I love being with my kids and I even get enjoyment out of cleaning my house. Most of all, I love the freedom of deciding when and what I do all day. The thought of ever having a boss again completely freaks me out.

But I also recognize that this career choice is not for everyone. Some women would go crazy spending their days on the floor with two preschoolers instead of in an office with other grown-ups, and some women might like to stay home with their children but financially don't have the option. This is the path that my life has taken, but that doesn't mean it's the right or only path.

Image by Sbocaj

The other day, someone said to me, "I keep following your blog, but...if I lived the way you do, I would go crazy."

My response is, "Why do you have to live the way I do?" This is the way that I choose to go green because this is what makes me happy. But there's more than one path to green.

If the mention of cooking from scratch and digging in the dirt and raising chickens makes you want to run screaming from the room, find a different path to green. If your financial circumstances limit what (if any) organics you can buy, don't sweat it - focus on the things you can do. If you're passionate about recycling but zone out when someone mentions water conservation, that's okay - we still need your energy and passion in whatever area you want to give it. If the circumstances of your life limit you to doing only the Baby Steps, well then, high five, my friend - thank you for doing what you can.

So whether you're an environmentalist, a conservationist, an activist, a femivore, a frugalista, an APLSOS, an NPSLE, or a person who hates labels, be proud of whatever path to green you've chosen to take. We can all use fewer limitations, less guilt, and a lot more acceptance.

Winner of the Conscious Kids Giveaway

The winners of the Conscious Kids giveaway are Jen and Lina!

Congratulations and please email your addresses to consciousshopperblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cooling Things Down

or, Purchasing an Extremely Energy Efficient Refrigerator
...and reducing our electric bill by almost 40% overnight.

A Purloined Letter from the Raven

Since my partner David and I moved into our house a dozen years ago, we've been thinking about the day when we would have to replace the 1970 refrigerator. As the years passed, the old white Kenmore continued to work perfectly--but it was incredibly inefficient, using about 1800 kilowatts per year.

Because the refrigerator was relatively small and surrounded by cabinets, our choices were quite limited. Unless we wanted to redo that entire half of our tiny kitchen, we would need to stick with a super-small model. When we first started looking at our options, their were no Energy Star models made by the major companies that could fit into the spot. Despite this fact that they were not Energy Star, the energy use of these small refrigerators was still less than the large Energy Star fridges with ice-makers.

We waited for a few years. The next time we looked, we found that Energy Stars in the size we needed were being manufactured by several mainstream companies. But all the refrigerators that fit in the spot were actually significantly smaller than our original 1970 fridge--and we now have a 10yo son sharing that fridge with us. Stepping down in size did not seem like an especially easy transition.

We made a commitment this year to consider how we could reach the Hanukkah Standard (1/8th the typical American consumption of energy). We're pretty frugal with our electricity: no desktop computer, no televisions or game systems, no air conditioner, no always-plugged-in coffee maker, no hair dryer, etc. But we were still a long way from our goal. We realized the only way we could get anywhere close to 1/8th of the American standard was by finally unplugging the inefficient little hog sitting in our kitchen. Our refrigerator alone accounted for more than 40% of our household energy usage.

We almost bought a new one at the local big-box store. But before we signed on the dotted line, we decided to look a little further at an option we had dreamed about years before: ordering a Sun Frost refrigerator.

Sun Frosts are unbelievably more efficient than standard refrigerators. When choosing between a Energy Star store model and a Sun Frost of roughly the same size, there is often an 80% reduction in energy use!

While Sun Frosts are more efficient, they are also quite a bit more expensive. If you live off the grid with a solar photovoltaic system, purchasing a Sun Frost might actually save you money by allowing you to get by with a smaller solar system. But if your house is "on the grid" as ours is, Sun Frosts are really not a decision to make if all you're after is savings on your electric bill. It will take you forever to make up the cost.

But were we really doing this just to lower our bills?

When we realized that we weren't hesitating about the idea of spending the extra money on a hybrid car when we have to replace our family car (a great 12yo red Honda Civic hatchback), we began to see that investing in a super-efficient refrigerator is not that different. And reducing our fridge's use of electricity might give us the ability to plug in our car some day and still only use our fair share. (We purchase wind energy from our electric company, but there is not enough renewable energy produced in this country for all of us to rely on it if we don't make substantial conservation efforts as well.)

And there was only one way we could figure out for us to keep the same size refrigerator without having to redo the kitchen:

Get a Sun Frost refrigerator without a freezer. Sunfrost sells a small unit fridge-only model which is usually installed over a base with a couple of drawers or over an existing cabinet. This model is even more efficient than their regular refrigerator-freezer units.

I should fess up and tell you we do have a relatively small chest freezer in our basement. Our old fridge was so small that we only had enough space to make ice and freeze a few leftovers--not put away anything from our garden, our wonderful CSA (which we share in common with follow GPB guest Truffula, the farmer's market, or our local Amish meat-and-dairy supplier.  But a decision to get a freezer-less fridge would mean we would have to run down to the basement for ice any time we wanted a cube. Could we do this?

We bit the bullet.

The refrigerator arrived--shipped in a box with no plastic tape or wrapping, no styrofoam, and and remarkably little packaging--from a small company in northern California where they assemble each refrigerator to order. It made a very long trip across the country to us. The nice man from the delivery company wheeled the little box into our living room. David and I, neither of us especially strong, easily positioned the refrigerator ourselves.

It took us a few days to adjust to the boxier style of the Sun Frost--and especially to the fact that the front is not magnetic! (Oh, even now I miss the clutter of our old fridge, covered with everything from our son's artwork to grocery lists to magnetic poetry.) But I immediately loved the quality of the glass shelves (rather than the cheap plastic of the store models from the mainstream companies). And we love that even totally unwrapped vegetables seem to last for weeks because the humidity in the refrigerator is higher. And it is so quiet! Our old fridge kept up a might hum, a background noise which exacerbated my hearing difficulties. And when the old unit cycled on and off, the lights flickered in our 1930s house. Now, everything is quiet and stable.

What we love even more is that this model uses only about 62 kilowatts per year. That is a 97% electricity savings over our old Kenmore. (Nothing against Kenmore. Its numbers were almost identical to other refrigerators of its vintage.)

Some of us have trouble thinking about spending a lot of money, even when we're know we're not scraping the bottom of the barrel. Being frugal often leads to being green, as the brilliant Conscious Shopper shows. Simply NOT buying is usually the greenest thing to do. There are times when we have to make purchases, though, and being conscious about that shopping is important.

When we started making the commitment to be "conscious" and green (now many years ago), I had been living on a graduate student wage for a long time. I found it hard to shell out the extra dollars for organic and fair trade. I still struggle with big-ticket items, even though we're out of grad school and lucky enough to be doing fine financially.

I think often of Diane at the Big Green Purse, a fellow resident of my little activist community right outside of Washington, DC. She has called upon us all to try to shift $1000 or more of our spending to purchases of things that are the greenest available. People do it in all sorts of ways, with small steps and large. For those of us with very little expendable cash, looking for a way to purchase organic dried beans and rice may be all we can do right now. For those of us with more, we need to make the steps we can.

Thanks to all of you who keep me company on this journey!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Superhero Secrets--Greening the Workplace

A paper-wasting Greenmom attempts to turn over a new "leaf"...

When I did a Google search for "greening the workplace," I immediately got over 1, 250,000 hits. (As opposed to when I did a Google search for "itunes sucks," which got nearly 3,000,000 hits...we must have perspective, I guess.)

Planet Green's article on "How to Go Green at Work" has some good ideas--not just the corporate stuff, but little things people can do in their own lives to green their employment. None of them are brain surgery, of course--avoiding garbage, printing only when necessary, buying professional clothing at resale, stuff like that...good ideas!

Another interesting site, TheGreenOffice, sells green office supplies and holds green workplace webinars. (Which you have to pay for, of course, so naturally I haven't done that.) Another place I've now bookmarked for future shopping, though they're not necessarily "workplace" oriented, is The Green Depot--just what you'd expect, they carry a whole bunch of green building-and-maintenance kinds of stuff.

Tips for the break room are sort of helpful...

I loved this: GreenPrint software will automatically kick in whenever you print a document, enabling you to not print all those pages you didn't realize were in there, and which you don't need to print anyway. I don't know about you, but I get nailed on this one every time...

This is a fairly old post, but I never saw it before, and it is the kind of thing that resonates a with my own "do the small things I can, and don't immediately lie awake nights knowing that I can't change the world" way of thinking--Catherine Porter of The Green Life challenges us to make one change for the greener in our workplace, whether it's de-styrofoaming the office or setting all printers to print double-sided as a default.

Then there's my favorite: Utah's experiment with the four day workweek for state employees. A four day workweek...doesn't that sound grand?

Telecommuting in a lot of ways sounds even better--think of the gasoline, the CO2, the construction, the road infrastructure, the number of cars made, the everything that could be saved by eliminating the cubicle and having people log on from home, would be unbelievable, wouldn't it? This is also alluded to in a really interesting Time article about "the workplace of the future..."

Considering how much time the majority of adults spend in the workforce in one way or another, it does sort of seem like it's time to think outside the (100% post consumer recyclable) box, don't you agree?
--Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Making your match

Going Green Mama sees herself as a NPSLE and a Green-Frugal this week.

The other day a colleague sent me a marketing article on targeting the green moms, which it claimed was "an emerging market." In it, the author rightly states that not all green parents are created alike.

Wrote the author:

Many of the green mom bloggers who are on the more radical or fully
committed end of the spectrum are perhaps not the nutty margin you’d
assume. ... through their blog post writing, these moms have been sharing
higher expectations and actively challenging their readers toward significantly
uncomfortable levels of green scrutiny and commitment. No slackers need

While it doesn't take a lot of research to realize there's a spectrum of "greenness" - from the peeing on your plants variety to the casually concerned - the researchers came up with five types of green mommies.

Super Greens - deemed the most radical in their views and furthest from the mainstream in their lifestyle choices, filtering most choices through a green lens.

Eco-Moderates - who offer a somewhat compromising attitude. They are very concerned about the environment and the realities of juggling career, family, home, etc.

Mainstream Greens - naking "baby steps," they're often on the lookout for greener versions of the products they already buy.

Natural-Parenting/Simple-Living Enthusiasts - a mix of Super Greens and Eco-Moderates, NPSLE's are interested in such topics as breastfeeding, cloth diapering, homemade, organic meals and locavore tendencies.

Green and Frugals - who often eschew consumer trends and are on the lookout to save money and the environment.

So, pick a label. Where do you see yourself on this environmental spectrum?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Emerging from Winter

An almost-Spring dispatch from Truffula's corner of the world...

Snow: Yes, it’s all but melted. But, there are still bits on the ground here and there. Since I’m in want-to-garden mode, I’m chronically evaluating shady vs. sunny spots just about everywhere I go, even when they don’t belong to me. I'm ready to move on to the next season.  Yet, those snow remnants have a purpose even now -- they let me know that their locations are not so well suited for planting: too shady.

Snow damage: Yes, my poor garden has some.The beautiful little dogwood next to our driveway lost a significant branch. I fear that another large-ish limb may have suffered a terminal snap, too. (It appears well-connected, but there are some tell-tale splits in the bark.  For the time being, I will conveniently ignore this finding.  Please indulge me.)  I mourn for the bracts which might have graced them in about a month’s time. And, I rejoice: the pieces I clipped and put into a vase on the kitchen table are showing white tips. Maybe I’ll see those bracts yet!

Books: Thanks to Erin, I’m reading Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. I was too cheap frugal to purchase it. A quick search revealed the book in our public library system. I wasted no time in putting a hold on it, and retrieved it the moment I got the notice that the book was waiting for me. This “light bus reading” has my mind swimming. I’ve had a number of little epiphanies among the pages, with author Ellen Ruppel Shell giving me facts for the feelings I've developed towards mainstream shopping, the pounds of sales circulars in my newspapers, land use, etc.  I'm in the middle of the chapter about Ikea, hoping that Ellen doesn't burst my bubble.  I feel guilty enough over my obsession with their catalog and wares as it is!

Dirt: As of last weekend, it’s back under my fingernails… and I’m so happy about that! I promise that I didn't do any digging in the soil so water-logged with snow melt!  All I did was a bit of superficial leaf cleanup here and there, treading carefully, so as not to compact said water-logged soil too much.  I’m basking in the warmer temps, and have dared to venture out without the hat and gloves which have been part of my daily uniform for the past months.  My compost piles are cookin', moisturized with the snow I purposefully piled on top of them.Yippee!

How are you emerging from Winter in these longer and longer days, punctuated with gorgeous bursts of color from flowering bulbs?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Out of the office!

A quickie with the Greenhabilitator who can hardly contain her excitement...

Mr. Greenhab and I have been whining talking about how much we could use a vacation away from, well, everything - work, stress, kids, you name it. Alas, we've tightened the purse strings and there is no vaca in sight for a long time to come.

Enter my job (big smooches to iVillage) who needed green-minded folks to sit on a panel at the Natural Products Expo West in LA this weekend.

Oh, oh pick me!!! {Dances around with her hand in the air.}
"...Natural Products Expo West is the premier trade show for the healthy products industry. Co-located with SupplyExpo, the Nutracon conference, the Healthy Baking Seminar and the Fresh Ideas Organic Marketplace..."
As a panel member, I'll be able to give my input on so many things. And, let's face it, I have a lot to say for us eco-conscious consumers! Some of my main concerns today are plastic packaging, labeling, genetically engineered ingredients (and how that relates to labeling), manufacturing process, costs...I could go on and on. Of course, I'm sure there will be many "Would you buy this product, or this one? What if this one was a dollar cheaper?" type questions, but a girl can dream.

So, dear readers, tell me: What would you say if you had the chance to sit down with representatives from the natural products industry? What are your concerns? Desires? What would you like to see more / less of?

Can't wait to fill you in when I get back!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

So You're Making Your Own Compost...Now What?

Composting with The Conscious Shopper

Has this ever happened to you? Trying to live a simpler, greener life, you pick up a new skill, only to find yourself asking, "Now what do I do with this?"

For example, I learned how to make my own yogurt, but to make sure I have a fresh starter every time, I have to make a lot of yogurt - more than my family wants to eat on a regular basis. Now what do I do with all this yogurt?

I gradually discovered that there are lots of ways to incorporate yogurt into our regular meals without making us sick of yogurt - but still have fresh homemade yogurt on hand for those times when we do want a bowl of yogurt and fruit.

Someday I'd like to write a guide called So You're Growing Your Own (fill in the blank)...Now What?, answering all the questions that run through my head when I encounter a new vegetable: What is this? How do I cook it? Can I eat the greens? Do I eat the stem? etc.

But today's subject is compost. So you've started composting your food and gardening what do you do with it?

Find the statement that best describes you for some tips on how to use your black gold:

I have a large plot of land set aside for gardening...

  • Mix four to six inches of compost into your soil before planting.
  • Add a one to two inch layer of compost around fruits and vegetables as a mulch.
I have a very tiny yard...

All of the ideas above, plus:
I have no interest in converting my lawn into a vegetable garden.
  • Spread a one inch layer of compost around trees, shrubs, and flowers. Keep compost six inches away from the trunk of trees.
  • Sprinkle some compost on the soil of your houseplants.
I live in an apartment with a balcony...
  • Use on houseplants as mentioned above.
I live in an apartment with no balcony...
  • Use on houseplants as mentioned above.
  • Donate your compost to a friend, farmer, or community garden.
I have no interest in having worms in my house or a smelly, decaying pile in my yard...

After battling fruit flies and a leaky bin all winter, I can definitely understand this perspective. (Talk to me again in ten years when I've become an expert vermicomposter, and I might have a different opinion.)

Home composting may not be for everyone, and that's why we need city compost collection along with our trash and recycling. Write a letter to your city leaders expressing your opinion or get involved with a group advocating for city composting.

What other ideas do you have for using compost?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book Review and Giveaway: Conscious Kids

A book review from The Conscious Shopper

A few weeks ago, I stumbled on a review of Jessica Purdy's new book, Conscious Kids, at Progressive Pioneer. I have to admit that the main reason I was drawn to the book was the title. After blogging as The Conscious Shopper for almost a year and a half, I feel an irrational ownership of the word conscious, so when I see someone else use it - especially in the title of their book - my first thought is, "Are they doing justice to my word?"

I'm happy to report that Jessica's use of conscious was just right. She begins the book by defining a "conscious kid" as one who is aware, compassionate, kind, generous, and proactive. From there, she has tons of ideas for fostering those traits in your kids, from holiday and birthday celebrations to community and environmental involvement.

For example, here are Jessica's ideas for making Easter less focused on candy and Easter eggs and more focused on compassion and generosity:
Save the Whales:
I make the connection to animals for two reasons: one, spring is all about baby animals, and two, the Easter Bunny. You can sponsor an animal through the World Wildlife Fund and give that as an Easter present or have your child choose an animal that he or she would like to sponsor.

Easter Change:
You can have the Easter Bunny bring more than chocolate and gifts. What if the Easter Bunny brought a big, beautifully decorated jar of change, one that you had secretly been collecting and saving up over the course of the year? Have your children decide what charity or cause that jar of change should go to. It may be the same each year or something current that has touched the family in some way. Santa and the Easter Bunny are wonderful characters that can be whatever your family wants them to be, so why not have the Easter Bunny bring change?
It's obvious that Jessica has a background in education. Many of her ideas include the purpose of each activity along with step by step instructions for carrying it out. For all of you educators, you could easily translate many of Jessica's ideas into lesson plans to use in your classroom, such as the following activity from the chapter on media:
Guess Who?

Purpose: To highlight important people in the world and learn more about them.

Step 1: Write the names of people with some positive historical or social importance on cards, as well as some key information about that person. Some suggestions: Dr. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Terry Fox, and Stephen Lewis.

Step 2: Give everyone a card and some time to read about their person. You can include some time to do a quick search on the person online if you'd like. Next, have each person take on the identity of the person on their card. They must either act out who that person is or give away important clues until someone is able to guess the identity of the person.
My only criticism of this book is its length - only 118 pages. Luckily, Jessica has caught the blogging bug: you can find more of her ideas at Conscious Kids.

This is usually the point in my book reviews where I say, "Now I'm ready to pass my gently used copy of this book on to another reader." But this time, I don't want to! I plan to keep this book in my collection and reference it often for ideas on how to help my Conscious Shopper kids become conscious kids.

Luckily for you, Jessica is offering two copies of her books to two readers of The Green Phone Booth. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post by next Tuesday at midnight. I'll randomly pick the winners and announce the results next Wednesday.

The contest has ended. The winners of the Conscious Kids giveaway are Jen and Lina!

Congratulations and please email your addresses to consciousshopperblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Monday, March 8, 2010

APLS Carnival: Green musings from a mere Padawan

This month's APLS Carnival posting from Jenn the Greenmom, who is not a Jedi yet

APLS stands for Affluent Persons Living Sustainably--but what exactly does "affluent" mean? I sort of grew up thinking that "we" were ordinary and "those people in the big houses" were affluent. But when I come right down to it, considering how many people in the world do not know where their next meal is coming from, the fact that I have time and opportunity to sit at a computer and write blog entries probably qualifies me as "affluent" to some way of thinking. I get to make choices. It's all too tempting to say, "Sigh, I really wish we had a 40" tv and could afford to just go out and buy the new iPads the day they come out, too bad we're not affluent or anything," or be woebegone because we live in the "poor" side of town and frequently take our kids to playdates at friends' houses that are probably worth easily three times what ours would go for even in a good market. But that would be sort of disingenuous, know what I mean? Sort of like when Some People put up their noses at families with two working parents and go, "well, we chose to tighten our belts and give up some of the luxuries so that Our Children Could Have One Parent At Home" with the tacit--or not so tacit--assumption that those families with two working parents are doing it because they would rather have the luxuries than put the children first, not because without the two incomes some of us, not to mention our children, Wouldn't Have A Roof Or Food, and stuff like that...(sorry, personal sore spot! Opinions expressed here not necessarily representative of the Booth collective and all...) The point being that everyone's situation is different, and any assumptions any of us make about the choices and priorities of someone else, especially when we assume the next person's life/priorities/choices necessarily resemble our own. "Affluent" is a word that can have a lot of meanings to a lot of different people...but it honestly doesn't keep me up nights.

Then there's the other half of the title: "living sustainably." That's the one that keeps catching me.

This month's carnival topic is about the things that we choose as our green priorities, the "must do's" and the "let this one go's," the things we go to the wall for and the things we let slide. And as I thought about it, I realized there are a LOT of things I let slide, and I honestly feel hardly worthy to wear the cape of a Boother most of the time. Last week in a fit of hungry exhaustion I pulled into a drivethrough and ate an ammoniaburger. (Fortunately for my future, it was kind of gross, so I don't think I'll do that again.) Our composting efforts pretty much went to hell in a handbasket when our kitchen became infested with fruit flies that seemed to never go away. We're trying to get rid of paper towels, and we're making progress, but it's slow going, and I live for my ziploc bags. We pretty much never use public transit.

Okay, compared to some women in my circles who drive Escalades and go shopping every other week for the latest and most fashionable clothes they will probably never wear and shop at Those Stores and order takeout every other day and go through a twelve-pack or two of bottled water every week and have never heard the words "fair trade," I'm probably comparatively sustainable. (See? I'm judging other people's choices too. It's a slippery slope. Must stop.) I buy clothes on ebay, I cook from scratch, I turn thermostats down and lights off. I buy organic, especially dairy products. But I have such, such a long way to go.

Which got me to thinking. APLS. With the lovely image of that sweetest and most wonderful of Whole Natural Foods, the thing that has been a symbol of health and goodness since long before the green movement woke up to what we're eating. The apple. And especially in late winter like this, when most of the springtime greeningness is out of reach and the only sustainable choices are the ones that feel way too hard core (no pun intended) for me to manage right now, I don't really feel like I qualify to claim that symbol. So I thought about it...

And thus I am now, completely unofficially and without any sanction from the original APLS creators, probably in violation of some copyright but meaning it only in good humor and admiring homage, claiming title to an APLS splinter group, one for those who try but can't manage to stay quite as unprocessed as the apple itself but who are trying their best. Our name and logo:

Applesauce. Processed and preserved, yes, but with such a continuum of levels that just knowing it's applesauce doesn't really tell you that much about it. Did you make it yourself in your crockpot and use a hot water canner for it? (The jar above can answer yes and yes.) Did it come from the store, but is it made out of organic apples and with no added sugars? Did it come in a big glass recyclable or reusable jar, or in little individual plastic cups? And do you have any clever thoughts for how to use those cups after the applesauce is gone from it? (Seed-starting, maybe?) And most important, perhaps, do we know the answers to those questions?

As my seven-year-old would intone in as deep a voice as he can manage, "The Force is strong with me, but I am not a Jedi yet." Am I living sustainably? Really? I don't know...and I'm not sure I want to know, because at the moment I'm doing my best. But I'm doing better than I was last year at this time, by a long shot, and hopefully next year I'll be doing better still. I guess that's the best I can hope for, right?

--Jenn the Greenmom


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