Tuesday, August 31, 2010

You better believe it

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Yesterday I attended a birthday party for my husband's 89 year old grandmother. It was a small gathering of family with food and drink. We were all asked to bring a dish to pass, beverages and eating utensils would be provided. As we sat down to eat I noticed that the family behind us hardly had anything on their plates. Some chips, salad, and beans. No meat. My first thought was vegetarian and I immediately wished I had brought mac 'n cheese instead of pulled pork sandwiches. Then my husband reminded me of Ramadan. Their plates weren't empty because they are vegetarian, they were empty because they are Muslim. Then I really regretted bringing the pork. The only other meat option was hot dogs. Lord only knows what those things are made of, but I am pretty sure it involves some pork. Technically Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink between dawn and sunset during Ramadan, but they were granted a travel exemption, having to make up the missed fast at a later date. Pork however is always off limits.

I made a comment to my husband about wishing I had brought mac 'n cheese so they would have more to eat and he replied by saying knowing the situation they were in you think they would be prepared and bring something for themselves. That got me thinking.

I often run into similar situations with my stance on sustainability. This party being one of them. My mother-in-law hosted the party and knows how I feel about plastic and disposables, yet styrofoam plates and plastic utensils abounded. She made a point to say that she would rather not use them and apologized, but should she have to? It's my belief not hers. I appreciate that she is sensitive to the issue, but should I expect her to cater to it? I did bring my own water bottle, cloth napkin, and bamboo cutlery, but left without a plate thinking the ones provided would be paper. They ended up being styrofoam. Who should I be upset with? My mother-in-law? Or, myself for not being better prepared knowing the situation I was going into?

It was kind of an eye-opening moment. One that will push me to provide for myself more. It is going to be a long time before plastic and disposables become the exception. My internal lamenting and grumbling to my husband is not going to hasten the process, but if I start bringing my own reusables to family functions, get-togethers with friends, restaurants, take-out joints, basically everywhere I go, then maybe someone will take note and do the same. And then another and another and eventually society will catch on and restaurants will make the switch. But for now it is my belief not theirs.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Meatless Monday ~ Comfort food

Good morning Boothers! It's Meatless Monday again already. What's cooking at your place?

My kids have only been back in school for a week and already half of the house is sick with colds. The rest are sure to fall soon. Tonight I'm making some comfort food for all of us -- Pinch My Salt's Potato & Leek Soup with home made croutons. Pinch My Salt is one of my favorite food blogs of all time. I owe my love of pumpkin baked goods - and my ability to make pumpkin puree from scratch - to Nicole.

This is the first season that I've cooked with, or been able to identify, leeks and I can't get enough of them! I don't know that they're even really in season right now, but they were on sale at the grocery store and I just couldn't pass them up.

For the croutons, I buy day-old bread on clearance at the store, cut it up into bite-size pieces, spray it with olive oil and sprinkle some spices on it. Sometimes I also add a bit of Parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven on a low heat until they're crunchy.

What's your favorite comfort food or go-to meal when you're just not feeling well?

Don't forget to share your Meatless Monday recipes with us using Mr. Linky below!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

First fundraisers of the year...

Greetings from Going Green Mama!

The pencils hadn't even been sharpened yet, and there it was: the first fundraising requests for the school.

Yes, it was plural. Requests.

Because as we learned at the school open house recently, it's all about raising dollars for programs. The cynic in me thought that was what tuition was for.

I don't have a problem with fundraisers per se. In some cases they are needed for special projects or endeavors. But I do have a problem with the message we send to our kids: Buy more crap.

And crap is what it often is. It's wrapping paper, or candy, or microwavable popcorn, or candles or buying frozen and prepackaged food that my waistline could do without (but if you buy three, you get a free pie!). Things we have way too much of. Or its coupon books promising discounts so we can buy more, more, more.

Worse, we push peddling these products. And it's not just for discounts to Scout camp like when we were kids. My coworker lamented that her middle school daughter felt pressured to sell tubs of cookie dough so she could earn a ride in a limo-and didn't want to be the only one not going!

And sadly, it's often not even an option to buy out. I asked a neighbor, who was selling coupon books, how much the group made off of the books, offering to make a donation. She appreciated the offer, but had to sell a certain number.

That all being said, I appreciate the ones that at least have put some thought into it. Like the primary fundraiser at the school is the kids making and selling pizzas - and they offer a "cash donation" option for those just wanting to help. Or the programs that offer environmentally friendly products. Or even simple things like can or paper recycling (doubly great in that it gets rid of all those school papers!)

So how does your school - and your children's activities - handle the fundraising component? And how do you address it within your home?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Collective Roots

This is Jess visiting from Sweet Eventide and I am very honored to share with the Green Phone Booth readers that I am off to meet a high school friend at his new workplace Collective Roots. This is a local organization that is doing amazing work about things I am so passionate about: providing garden-based learning by designing and growing organic gardens on K-12 sites and initiating changes in the food system by increasing access to fresh, local, healthy and affordable produce.

I am going to tour one of their wonderful gardens with my camera in tow and will report back with photographs for my next guest post. Meanwhile you can read about their history, the press they have received and of course, being a modern organization, you can follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook. There are multiple ways to support Collective Roots if you like what they are doing for our planet and our children.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fall Reading List

School has officially started here and all three of my kiddos are going this year (cue the Hallelujah chorus). After what seemed like an extremely long summer, this means that I finally have time to, well, have a cup of coffee, complete a thought, go to the bathroom without having to stop a fight or answer a question mid-pee and - my favorite - read!

I did manage to whiz through a few parenting books over the summer. I found myself becoming much more of a yeller and threatener than I'd ever planned to be -- and none of it was working -- so I knew it was time to change my plan of attack. I read The Explosive Child first, hoping to find some immediate relief with my very explosive five year old. I didn't get that, but I did come away with a few new ideas.

Love & Logic was next on my list, which really changed my whole approach. In some ways, it built on concepts in The Explosive Child, like working with the child to come up with solutions to problems and disagreements. I also really appreciate the concept of logical consequences instead of just yelling the first threat you can think of. For example, on the way to the library yesterday, my 5 year old was terrorizing his brother. When I asked him to stop he didn't and when I asked him to come and talk to me about it, he refused. Normally I would have taken away the first thing that came to mind. Instead, I used the L&L technique of telling him that I was really upset and I'd have to take some time to think about the consequence for his action. When we arrived at the library, I knew what that consequence was: he was not allowed to pick out a movie like his brother and sister because that was a privilege for children who are kind to their siblings and parents.

I didn't think another book could come close to having the impact that Love & Logic did, but How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk was fantastic. Many of the principals were the same, only How to Talk doesn't use time-outs, which were used (in a way) in Love & Logic. I'd recommend this book to every parent whether you have a difficult child or an angel because it's filled with great insight on how our choice of words affect our children.

Now that I'm armed with a few new parenting tools, I'm turning my attention to some books I've received over the past few weeks:

The Homesteaders Kitchen: Recipes From Farm to Table

In The Homesteader's Kitchen, author Robin Burnside presents wholesome recipes and motherly advice for preparing nourishing meals, tasty embellishments, and luscious desserts. Her focus is on using fruits and vegetables from the family garden or the nearby farmers market. She teaches how to turn these local, organic foods into snacks, meals, and treats that nourish the soul as well as the body. From Multigrain Blueberry Pancakes in the morning, a Creamy Mango-Coconut Smoothie for a snack, a crisp Asian Cabbage Salad for lunch, an evening meal of Grilled Wild Salmon Fillet with Thai Cilantro Pesto, to a dessert of Spicy Pear Pie, Burnside offers mouthwatering recipes that are fun to prepare and a joy to eat.

The author introduces this cookbook in a way that recognizes the connection between body, mind, emotions, environment, and attitude. Since what we eat has a considerable effect on our well-being, this approach to dining takes into account all that goes into the care of feeding humans, including the benefits and consequences of our choices. As consumers, the foods we buy, where they come from, and how we prepare what we purchase must be considered if we are to create a sustainable future for generations to come.
Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens
In her debut cookbook, Jennifer Schaertl tackles the myths about gourmet cooking (you don't need expensive cutlery and a gazillion ingredients!) and shows you how to make delectable meals despite the lack of counter space. Everything from appetizers and salads to soups and one-pot wonders to side dishes and entrees, and of course, dessert is included along with Jennifer's tried-and-true advice for working with limited space, appliances, cookware, and ingredients all on a limited budget.
River House
River House is one young woman’s story about returning home to her family’s ranch and, with the help of her father, building a log house on the property. Sarahlee Lawrence grew up in remote central Oregon and spent her days dreaming about leaving her small town for world adventures. An avid river rafter through adolescence, by the age of twenty-one, Lawrence had rafted some of the most dangerous rivers of the world as an accomplished river guide. But living her dream as guide and advocate, riding and cleaning the arteries of the world, led her back to the place she least expected — to her dusty beginnings and her family’s home. River House is a beautiful story about a daughter’s return and her relationship with her father, whom she enlists to help brave the cold winter and build a log house by hand.

Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat
As nurturers and caretakers of the health of our children and communities, women have the power and ability to transform the way we eat and farm. Farmer Jane profiles twenty-six women in the sustainable food industry who are working toward a more holistic food system in America a system that ensures our health with wholesome natural foods, protects the earth and wildlife, treats farm workers fairly, and stimulates local economies.
I'm also about 2/3 of the way through Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front, by Joel Salatin. It's quite the interesting, yet sometimes frustrating, read. I'll be sure to put up a review soon!

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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Reuse/Repair

The next few weeks of The Conscious Shopper Challenge will focus on developing an attitude of non-consumption. Here's the next challenge in this series:


Image by justinbaeder

To complete this challenge, you can...


  • Take care of your things. This is one of the rules of our household (along with "don't hit" and "obey your parents.") Just like our kids, we adults also need to remember to put away our toys when we're done with them, keep our rooms cleaned, and don't jump on the furniture. We should also perform regular maintenance on any items that need it.


  • Reuse what you have before buying new. This challenge could also be stated as RETHINK. As in, what other purpose could I find for this object? How could I change it so it's still usable? Get really creative, and you may surprise yourself.

To get you started with some ideas, here are a few places around the web where people are getting creative with their trash:

  • Maya*made is the queen of using old materials and repurposing them into something new and beautiful. Her latest, The Reinvention Skirt, is made from thrifted t-shirts. I especially love all of her ideas for reusing cereal boxes.
  • The blogger at Running with Scissors is furnishing and decorating her new home with tons of DIY projects, including reupholstering thrifted chairs, painting and refinishing garage sale bookcases, and even refurbishing old suitcases. She's an amazing model of RETHINK.
  • Every day at New Dress a Day, the blogger refashions one item of old outdated clothing into something new and fashionable. The catch? She can only spend $1 every day.


  • Repair before you replace.When something breaks, it's tempting to throw our hands in the air and head to the store for a new one. The old art of repair has fallen out of style, and I have to admit that it's not something I'm always good at. But like our grandparents, we should strive to "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

When I was on the academic team in high school (yes, now you do know a little too much about me), our coach forced us to warm up with a brainstorming game where we'd be shown an object and then each take a turn thinking up a new use for that object. Amazingly, you can find a new use for just about everything if you get your creative juices flowing.

So I thought it would be fun to play a little game. My husband and I brainstormed a list of trash:

  • socks
  • pillowcases
  • broken dishes
  • plastic pots (the kind small plants come in)
  • CD cases
  • t-shirts

How would you reuse these items?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Compost Happens

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Fall is a great time to start a compost pile. Not that it is autumn already, but it will be here before you know it and now is the time to start planning. As summer winds down our gardens ramp up and bear their full harvest. Mine is producing more than I can keep up with! We have had an abnormally wet season causing many of my tomatoes to crack and rot on the vine, zucchini and squash seem to get gargantuan overnight, and there are plenty of weeds to pull. All garden waste that need not be wasted. Not long from now the garden will have given all it has to give and will leave me with one last gift, lots of dead and dying plant material that needs to be cleared for next season. This is all excellent nitrogen (green) compost material.

With the garden cleared no doubt the leaves will have started to fall. These are compost gold! Leaves breakdown all on their own, but are a superb carbon (brown) source in a compost pile. You want to get your hands on as many of these as possible. Don't have a large lawn or hate to rake? Not a problem. Just drive around any town in October and you will find bags and bags of leaves already raked and sitting on the curb free for the taking. Score! Hey, one man's trash is another woman's treasure.

Speaking of trash, we all have it, lots of it. Did you know you can compost much of your trash? Including your junk mail? Yep, non-glossy paper is a good source of carbon (brown). This includes: envelopes (you must remove the plastic window) and the letter that came in it; newsprint (I stick to the non-colored kind); shredded bank statements; napkins, paper plates (no waxy ones please) paper towels and tissues (if you haven't kicked that habit yet); empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls (if you haven't kicked that habit yet); cardboard food packaging like cereal boxes, etc.; paper shopping bags (please tell me you have kicked that habit); the kids graded homework; magazine subscription cards; the list goes on and on. Then there is the obvious stinky stuff in your trash - food waste. All those vegetable scraps, moldy bread, rotten food from the refrigerator, egg shells, banana peels, tea bags, coffee grounds... do not throw them in the bin to stink up your whole house. Take it outside to the compost heap! Our garbage got a lot less stinky once the food waste went away. Lighter too!

There is other waste around the house that you could be composting too: 100% cotton cotton balls; cotton swabs with paper sticks; hair cleaned from brushes (both human and animal); loofahs; the contents of your vacuum; lint from the dryer; the stuff you sweep up off the floor; your Christmas tree (chop it up with some pruning shears or a wood chipper if you've got it); old worn out wool and cotton clothing; dead houseplants (I tend to have a few); nail clippings; again the list goes on and on.

There seems to be no shortage of material out there. Humans are super compost creators, we just do not put it to good use. We need to start thinking about our waste differently. Perhaps it is not really waste, but can be used in some other way - like compost. Something that could be used to replace our eroding topsoil, keep suburban lawns looking beautiful, grow the acres and acres of crops in America or the small plot in our own backyards. What if municipalities started producing compost? Large scale. Instead of paying to ship our waste off to some unfortunate country or bury it in our own backyards they started composting it and selling the compost? Turning an expense into revenue. What if farmers dedicated an area of their land and started doing the same? They could be spreading compost on their fields and our food instead of toxic fertilizer/herbicide. How much money would they be putting in their own pockets rather than lining those of Monsanto? They do not call compost black gold for nothing. Just think if manufacturers started producing products with this in mind. Creating products and its packaging to be biodegradable with the end goal of being composted. Wow. Imagine the possibilities!

Piqued your interest? I do have a compost pile and a worm bin, but am by no means an expert. I often have issues with mine and am still fumbling my way through it. So rather than have the blind lead the blind I will steer you to more knowledgeable resources.

Lists on what can be composted:

Tips on how to compost:

How to build a bin:

Anything and everything compost:

Composting blogs:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Meatless Monday ~ Beans from Scratch

In the kitchen with the Conscious Shopper.

When I read Kellie's post last week about how her husband refuses to eat beans, my jaw dropped. Oh, man, I love me some beans. I could eat a burrito every single day, and I'd still never get tired of them. Thankfully, this opinion is shared by several other members of my family - my five-year-old often boasts, "Remember that time when I ate five burritos for lunch?"

One way we save money on groceries around here is by purchasing the dried beans from the bulk bins. This saves a little plastic too, so win, win!

My method for using dried beans is pretty simple:
  • Put three cups of beans in a crockpot. Fill with water.
  • Let the crockpot sit overnight (turned off!) while the beans soak.
  • The next morning, drain and rinse the beans. Then put them back in the crockpot, refill with water, add a tablespoon of salt, and cook until tender.
  • The cooking time varies from bean to bean. I start tasting after 8 hours on low, and then sample a bean every now and then after that until they taste right.
  • After they're done cooking, I let them cool, spoon them into canning jars, and then put them in the freezer. Then I use them just like I would canned beans.
  • Dried beans will double or triple when cooked, depending on the type of bean. With three cups of dried pinto beans, I get four pint jars of cooked beans plus some change.
To make refried beans, some people add garlic and onion to the cooking water of their pinto beans before processing them. I tried that and didn't like the taste, so here's the recipe I came up with:

Vegetarian Refried Beans

COST: $0.60 for 2 cups*

2 cups cooked pinto beans
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. cumin
  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Process until smooth.
  • Heat the beans, either on a skillet or in the microwave.
*Note that all costs are estimates based on prices in my area. Your costs may vary.

Don't forget to share your Meatless Monday recipes with us below, and check out every body else's posts. I'm very interested to try Sense of Home's sauerkraut recipe from last week.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Superheroes Secrets: Who needs math lessons?

Some link love from The Conscious Shopper.

Without any common theme, I thought I'd just share a few links that I really enjoyed in the past few weeks.

An op-ed piece in the New York Times earlier this week caused quite a stir in the blogosphere: Math Lessons for Locavores.
Did you weigh in on this controversial topic? Add your thoughts or a link to your post in the comments below.

Enjoying popsicles made with stainless steel molds from the Tickle Trunk

Now on to a few not-so-green-related posts just for fun:
  • All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting...This article in New York magazine takes a fascinating look at those studies that claim that people with kids are less happy than those without. I've always wondered who those scientists are asking because I have three kids that make me incredibly happy...and also incredibly angry and tired and irritated, etc, etc, etc. And that's basically the conclusion of the article: people without kids have more moment-by-moment happiness, but people with kids have more of an overall feeling of contentment and purpose. The real question is which type of happiness matters more.
  • In the Distance...Thanks to Jenn, I've been loving this Indietutes blog. Not for the patterns because I barely sew and have no daughters. No, it's her photo-filled philosophical rants that really get me. This one on creativity vs. waste is my favorite so far.
  • Princesses Drive Me Crazy...The Artful Parent rants about why she hates little girls' obsessions with princesses. Check out the comments for a very interesting discussion.
  • An Awesome Book...The Artful Parent also led me to this children's book, which you can read in entirety online. I want it.
  • And last but not least: Shrimp and Grits...Joy the Baker is my current blog crush, and this letter to her future husband is my current favorite blog post ever. Check out this little sample:
Here’s what I’d like to do, Future Husband. I’d like to make you a giant bowl of shrimp and grits. I’d like for you to come home from work, sit in front of the television and watch ESPN… I’m assuming you like that sort of thing. I’ll be in standing in the kitchen eating the other half of the shrimp and grits directly from the pan while reading Martha Stewart magazine. I like that sort of thing. A lot.
What peaked your interest in the blogosphere this week?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Summer, it was good to see you

Going Green Mama is off for a hike at the national forest, before we hit that promised 93 degrees.

I know I am never very good at goodbyes, but Summer, it was good to see you.

I won't miss the weeks of unseasonable 90-degree temps, nor the lack of rain. But you gave us a sweet taste of that with light drizzles this morning, so I can forgive.

I will miss the evening farmers markets, soon coming to a close after the weather's resulting in smaller crops for many of the vendors.

I will miss my time in the garden harvesting my wares. I wonder if we're too late for a fall planting - it's nearly September, you know.

I will miss our rare walks and hikes with the family. We plan to sneak one in today. And I regret that we never got to camp to test out our new tent. Thankfully, autumn still beckons.

I will miss the evenings at the community pool, crammed in between dinner and bedtime. I'm always amazed how few people take advantage of this light-hearted (and cool) way to get to know your neighbors, though.

I will miss the lazy mornings, when I wasn't lazily letting kids sleep in until 8 on those rare days, waltzing into work at 9. Now, everyone is still surprised to see me right after the school bells ring.

I will miss my children sneaking strawberries and blueberries as they walk into the house.

I will miss the neighborhood kids playing in the streets, regardless of how it aggravates me when it's the littlest ones.

I will miss my daughter's intentions of wearing "tink tops" each day. She's already well into the routine of uniform life.

And I will miss most the colors of Summer, and the joy it brings. But autumn brings its own pallatte too.

What will you miss most about this summer?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Call to Power…

Okay, I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here today and talk about…a computer game.

No, seriously. This is a game I got about 10 years ago and for a few months I was fairly addicted to it. If you’ve never played it, it’s one of those ongoing empire-building games. You start with a little “Settler” guy in a couple thousand BC, and you build him a city, and you set the city to build more things, and eventually you get more settlers who go out and build more cities. Most people choose to have a “mayor” for each city, because otherwise you have to scroll through every single city every single turn to figure out what needs to build something new, and it takes forever. So you tell the “mayor” that you want to maximize this city for making money, or production, or food, or happiness, or what have you.

You build more guys for each city, to defend it from other empires or wandering marauders, and eventually (if you’re bloodthirsty enough or tired of waiting for your own cities to generate enough settlers to build new ones…or if you’re a guy) go out and start conquering other empires. You build up a good army, go attack someone else’s city, and if you win that city becomes yours. You set up a mayor there and leave some troops stationed there so no one conquers it back. All the while you are studying to gain “advances” in civilization: first it’s things like iron working and horseback riding…eventually you progress to things like gunpowder and advanced shipbuilding and all kinds of things.

So you keep playing.

And somewhere along about the mid 20th century, if your cities have been producing well and you haven’t been conquered into oblivion, you start to notice that some of your lovely green farm squares on the game board have turned the dark brown of cracked dead earth. Suddenly…you’ve hit upon Pollution.

You keep studying your advances, and realize that you can work for the “Conservation” advance. It takes a bunch of turns, and in the meantime your cities are losing more and more of those squares. You start getting pop-up messages that say things like, “The citizens of Rio de Janiero are not producing enough food to survive” or “the people of Edinburgh are revolting!” (er…as in having a revolution, not that they’re gross or anything. I happen to think the Scots accent is highly sexy, myself…) and then your Diplomacy Manager starts coming up with messages like “The queen of the Aztecs demands that you reduce your pollution by 25% or her people will declare war on your empire!” and you’re getting more and more frustrated with every turn, because until you’ve gotten to the point where “Conservation” can kick in, you can’t really do a damn thing except tell your cities to stop producing. (Only if you do that, the people starve even more and the Conservation advance takes even longer.)

So finally it happens: “You have discovered a new Advance! Your civilization has discovered Conservation.”

You go into every city and immediately have it build a recycling plant and public transit. You buy every conservation-related advance you can possibly find, and figure you’ve solved your problem. Right?

Well, no. Not really. Because your cities have to keep producing, and you’ve probably got 25 or so by now and you can’t quite keep track of all of them, and it seems like every time you turn around one of them has built another factory when you weren’t paying attention. And even so, with everything already built, you can’t build enough recycling centers to really solve the problem. You keep working for more conservation-related advances: solar power, terraforming, matter decompilers, and such.

Eventually you are able to get things more under control. Eventually you get rid of those dead tiles. And eventually you may even be able to build the “eco-ranger,” a deadly terrorist whom you can sneak into enemy territory, send up to your enemies’ most polluted cities, and just blow them up so they are beautiful pristine greenness once again.

Okay, so this is not necessarily the plan we want to follow in real life. But it’s gotten me thinking…aside from the whole “eco-ranger” thing, and the fact that we don’t have matter decompilers yet, this game seems to actually take a fairly realistic approach to how pollution and lack of planet care sneaks up on us. (And I’m told that if you completely ignore the pollution problem long enough, global warming will kick in, ocean levels will rise, and you lose all your coastal cities.) And how even once you see it, once you know it’s there and it’s a problem, it’s not something you can press a button and just sort of solve. It’s a long process, it’s discouraging, and at times it really feels like one step forward and two steps back—knowing that without that step forward you’d now be three steps back doesn’t make you feel much better, you know?

And yet it’s not realistic enough. Because in a game, you can take control of everyone else at least on your side of the board, and force them to do what you know is necessary. You can un-click that “mayor” box and manage it all yourself. You can harass other empires to no end if they are polluting too much, until they give in or you conquer them. You can even, if you don’t want to deal with it, go to the Options box in the beginning of the game and click “Pollution Off” and poof! You don’t have to deal with it.

In Call to Power II, there are no dialogue boxes that pop up and say, “The people of Shangri-La believe you are a socialist because you planted an organic garden!” Once you click a box in a city telling it to build a recycling plant, there’s no one who’s going to go in there and say “no! build another oil refinery instead!” or veto your spending plan with a partisan filibuster. You don’t need to elect anyone to a congressional seat so they will create a climate bill that then gets dumped. And when you get tired or need to concentrate on something else, you hit "save" and go do something else for a while and come back when you feel like it. You actually have control—and even then it’s bloody hard to solve the problem.

And we don’t live in a game. This is our planet, and it’s all we’ve got. And we have way too much to lose.

--Jenn the Greenmom

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Keep Your Cool

The Conscious Shopper is doing her best to stay cool.

In May, I challenged my family to go all month without turning on the air-conditioning. At the beginning of the month, when daytime temps were still hovering in the mid to high 70s and the nights were still dropping down into the 60s, the challenge was a breeze. I thought, "Forget May. We could go all summer without AC, no problem."

Then I remembered that I live in North Carolina.

By the beginning of June, daytime temps were in the upper 80s and rising, and nighttime temps were creeping up into the 70s. And the humidity! Oh, the sticky, heavy, temper-inducing, patience-killing humidity! As soon as the challenge was over, the humidity won out, and the AC came on...but I stubbornly set the thermostat for 82 degrees, and that is where it has remained.

Why keep your thermostat turned up in the summer?

The EPA, Department of Energy, and utilities around the country toss around the magic number "78" as the temperature you should keep your house set at during the summer. For most people, 78 degrees is a fairly comfortable temperature, and for much of the summer, it's high enough that the air-conditioner will run less frequently.

But I find that if you use the tips below, you can keep your AC turned up even higher, saving energy and money. For every degree warmer that you set your thermostat, you'll save about 2% off your energy bill.

image by cat's_101

How to Survive a Warm House in a Hot Summer
  • Keep an eye on young children and your pets. As grown-ups, we're pretty good at self-regulating, but young children and pets need some extra help. Remind them to drink water throughout the day and to dress appropriately.
  • Use your fans. They don't actually cool a room, but they make it feel cooler.
  • Keep your blinds or curtains closed on the side of the house where the sun is shining.
  • Drink cold water.
  • Dress appropriately. Obviously this means fewer layers, loose-fitting clothing, short sleeve shirts, and shorts or skirts. But lately, I've also been thinking about how fabrics like lightweight cottons and linens can keep us cooler.
  • Avoid using your oven. Now you have an excuse not to cook. :)
  • Go outside. Inevitably after spending any amount of time outside, the first thing I say when I walk into my house is, "Wow, it's so cool in here!"
  • Avoid air-conditioned buildings. After spending time inside the frigid air-conditioning of most public places, it feels like the outside temperature rises 10 degrees. Because I've been so cold indoors, it suddenly feels SO HOT outdoors. When I go outside from my 82-degree house, it feels hot, but not SO HOT. I really think it helps my body become acclimated to summer when I don't subject it to the extremes of really cold air-conditioning.
  • Find an air-conditioned building. Now to completely go back on what I said above...Some days, it's so freakin' hot, you just need an hour or two of relief. Go to the movies or a restaurant and soak up the cool air while you can, or hit the pool.
  • Change or clean your air filter once a month. Your air conditioner will be much happier.
  • Keep an eye on the temperature. When nights start dropping into the 60s again, use that to your advantage: turn off your AC and open your windows to cool your house naturally at night.
What tips do you have for staying cool in the summer?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Buy Used

The next few weeks of The Conscious Shopper Challenge will focus on developing an attitude of non-consumption. Here's the next challenge in this series:


Image by IseFire

Two years ago, my husband and I were trying to sell a house in Maryland in the middle of a very bad housing market. We had already moved down to Raleigh for my husband's job, so half of our belongings came with us and the other half stayed in Maryland to stage our house. It took a year before the house finally sold. A year in which we lived with only half of our belongings, sleeping on a mattress on the floor in a room with no curtains and barren walls.

In that year, I learned that most of what I owned was superfluous. But when our house finally sold and I got all of my belongings back, I also learned how much I love my stuff. And the day all of our belongings were back in one house and put away was the very first day in a year that the place I was living in felt like home.

There are a lot of reasons why we shouldn't buy more stuff: It's a waste of resources. It takes energy to produce. It takes labor - often performed by people who are overworked and underpaid. It forces us to have larger houses than we need. It puts many people into debt. I could go on...But instead let's talk about the positive. Stuff makes us happy. Clothes and books and movies and video games and paintings and knickknacks of every shape and size. They are our stuff, and so we love them.

Does that mean we have the right to fill our lives with the latest brand new thingamajig to be tossed aside as soon as it's out of style? To buy whatever we want whenever we feel like it? To ignore the negative impact because stuff makes us happy?

Of course not. But just because there's a negative side to stuff doesn't mean we all have to live a minimalist lifestyle if that's not our thing. As in all things, there's a way to find balance.

For me, buying used has been the key to balancing my want for more stuff with my need to live lightly on the earth. I remind myself to buy what I need, keep my wants to a minimum, and if it's something I really want (and have the money to buy), try to find it used. In fact, because used items are so much cheaper, sticking to used products has made certain categories of my budget feel like they've doubled. For example, if I get tired of an old but still good shirt, I take it to the thrift store and swap it out for a new one, and rather than putting a $40 whole in my pocketbook, I'm only out $3 or $4.

For all you thrift newbies out there, I've listed below a bunch of places you'll want to get familiar with in the world of used shopping. For the Baby Steps, I start with places like thrift stores because there's a certain amount of reliability since the products there have been screened and found worthy for resale. In the next section, I list places you can find used products online. These are Jogging Stride simply because there's a certain amount of trust/risk involved when buying directly from a person rather than a store. The final category includes places where the used goods are likely more expensive (but also likely higher quality).


  • thrift stores
  • consignment shops
  • used media stores (for books, movies, video games, etc.)
  • Habitat for Humanity Re-Stores (for building materials leftover from Habitat for Humanity builds)
  • flea markets


  • garage sales
  • Craigslist
  • Ebay
  • Paperback Swap (and other sites like it)


  • estate sales
  • antique shops

I'm a Jogging Stride used shopper. Although estate sales intrigue me, I have yet to work up the courage to go to one, and antique stores simply terrify me because I always have three children in tow.

Experienced used shoppers - what tips would you give to the newbies out there?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How to grow FRESH air

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

With Healthy Child Healthy World focusing on clean air and water for the month of August and Going Green Mama suggesting houseplants as a step to cleaner air in our homes, I thought this post would be appropriate for today. It was originally published on my personal blog way back when I first started, but is still relevant for today.

The air inside your home may be up to 10 times polluted as the air outside. Considering we spend 65% of our time in our homes and up to 90% of time indoors all together, the quality of air we breathe is something to think about.

Pollutants enter our homes in a variety of ways. Attached garages can bring automobile exhaust inside. We track pesticides and other chemicals in on the bottom of our shoes. Heavily scented laundry products waft toxic chemicals. Gas cooking appliances vent carbon monoxide. A Teflon treated non-stick pan overheated on the stove releases PFOA/PTFE's. Automatic dishwasher detergent containing chlorine combines with heat to create dioxin, a probable human carcinogen. The paint on our walls off gas VOC's. Cleaning supplies and personal care products we use host hoards of dangerous chemicals. Dry cleaning hanging in the closet discharges PERC. Burning candles/incense and air fresheners do more than scent the air we breathe. The furniture we sit on and the mattress we sleep on are laden with flame retardants containing PBDE. We surround ourselves with a lengthy list.

One way to combat the constant barrage of self inflicted pollution is by adding a little green to your household. Green plants that is. Plants influence air quality within a personal breathing zone of 6 to 8 cu. ft. In 1980 NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center first discovered that houseplants could remove VOCs from sealed test chambers. Houseplants are effective in removing Acetone, Methyl alcohol, Ethyl acetate, Benzene, Ammonia, Trichloroethylene, Formaldehyde and Xylene as well as bioeffluents. Plants also release phytochemicals that suppress mold spores and bacteria found in air. Research shows that plant filled rooms contain 50 to 60 percent fewer airborne molds and bacteria than rooms without plants.

According to the book How to Grow Fresh Air, 50 Houseplants that Purify Your Home or Office by Dr. B.C. Wolverton here are a few of the top rated plants.

Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) rated 8.5 out of 10
Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa) - 8.5
Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii) - 8.4
*All require semi-sun & 65-75 degree home temperature. The two palms pictures above are of my 8 foot tree.

Rubber Plant (Ficus robusta) - 8.0
*Semi-sun to semi-shade & 60-80 degrees. Especially effective at removing formaldehyde. It is the taller plant on right side table top, deep green/burgundy leaves.

Dracena "Janet Craig" (Dracena deremensis "Janet Craig") - 7.8
*Semi-shade; will tolerate dimly lit areas, but growth will be slow. 60-75 degrees.
It is one of the best plants for removing trichloroethylene.
Little plant pictured above to the right of the rubber plant.

English Ivy (Hedera helix) - 7.8
*Semi-sun to semi-shade. Day: 60-70 degrees; night: 50-60 degrees.

Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata "Bostoniensis") - 7.5
*Semi-sun. Day: 65-75 degrees; night: 50-65 degrees.
It is the best for removing air pollutants, especially formaldehyde, and for adding humidity to the indoor environment. Shown above on left table top, back side.

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum sp.) - 7.5
*Semi-sun to semi-shade. Day: 60-75 degrees; night: 55-68 degrees.
The peace lily excels in removal of all alcohols, acetone, trichloroethylene, benzene and formaldehyde.

Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) - 7.5
*Semi-shade to shade & 65-75 degrees.
This plant is damn near indestructible! It can withstand severe neglect. Great for those with black thumbs!

Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum) - 5.4
*Semi-sun to semi-shade. Day: 65-75 degrees; night: 55-65 degrees. Again, a good plant for the growing challenged. (Shown further down.) I have had this one since I moved to college over 14 years ago. It has survived drought, famine, no sun, all sun. Hell, it even froze a time or two! Very hardy.

Green plants are a fairly inexpensive addition to your home. Plus, they are an easy way to decorate.

They also serve more than an ornamental purpose.

Herbs in a sunny window provide a kick to your cooking.

Flowering plants provide color and hope during the long winter months.

Aloe vera soothes sunburn and minor cuts.

Many plants can be easily propagated from cuttings. Perhaps a friend or relative would give you a leaf or small cutting to start your own plant. Or, maybe you have some to share. Leaves from African Violets can be broke off, stuck in dirt and will grown into a new plant.

Jade cuttings can be placed in water until roots form and then planted.

The off shoots of Spider plants are easily rooted to transform into their own plants as well.

Consider adding a plant to the areas you hang out in the most. Next to the couch, on your computer desk, near your bed, in the kitchen. No room is off limits, think bioeffluents!

Plants are cheap or free if you use cuttings. They improve the air quality, comfort and overall aesthetic of your home. They are quiet and require no electricity.
How pure is the air you breathe?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Meatless Monday ~ Black Bean Hummus

If you've seen any of my previous rants posts about the food situation in my household, you know that my husband is a complete carnivore. When it came time to green up our eating habits, it was understood that my family would step outside their comfort zone and try new foods, but that I would also make foods they like, so they didn't go hungry on any particular evening.

One thing my husband refuses to eat is beans. Growing up, his family never made them. Ever. As in not even one single time. In fact, up until we started dating, he was under the impression that beans were only for poor people. I, on the other hand, like beans of all kinds. As part of our understanding, I make them on evenings when my husband has his night classes, or I make them at lunch time.

This afternoon I'm making a black bean hummus recipe that I found on All Recipes. I've made hummus before, but never with black beans. This sounds like it would be perfect with a fresh salad from the garden.


    * 1 clove garlic
    * 1 (15 ounce) can black beans; drain and reserve liquid
    * 2 tablespoons lemon juice
    * 1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
    * 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
    * 1/2 teaspoon salt
    * 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    * 1/4 teaspoon paprika
    * 10 Greek olives

Mince garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Add black beans, 2 tablespoons reserved liquid, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, tahini, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper; process until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Add additional seasoning and liquid to taste. Garnish with paprika and Greek olives.

Are there any foods or meals that lead to revolt in your home?

Don't forget to share your Meatless Monday recipes with us below. We love reading through your recipes each week.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Superhero Secrets: Can you do the Can-Can?

Jenn the Greenmom indulges her newest obsession...

According to the Seattle Times, canning is now cool and trendy. (Which is almost disappointing--I don't want to be trendy, I want to be countercultural, dammit!) But as anyone's noticed who's been reading my blog lately, clearly I've been bitten by the bug—so why not just go ahead and devote my July offering of Superhero Secrets to this lost-and-found art?

A couple of weeks ago here on the Booth I posted a review of Williams-Sonoma The Art of Preserving--a really good book in its own right, with some very cool recipes, and then a bunch of commenters put their own favorite books down below. If you missed it, check it out! But obviously books are only the tip of the iceberg, and as with almost anything you can think of, there's an abundance of information on the internet to teach you to do...almost anything.

The USDA complete guide to canning, very sensible and easy to follow, is downloadable as pdf files--or here's another link to the same information. Simple, no-frills, but very comprehensive and heavy on the safety concerns, which I appreciate. Or there's the FAQ—I've found answers to a couple of my dilemmas here...but the official government sites (as with most things on the internet) barely scratch the surface of what you can do.

Here are a few more sites I've bookmarked and had reason to go back to:

  • PickYourOwn.org --A site dedicated to telling us what we can do with that too much fruit we went over the top buying at the local pick your own place
  • Ball Jars' commercial site—also full of good info!
  • Another bajillion links...after a while, they sort of run together, don't they??
  • Food In Jars blog--Thanks to EnviRambo for this one! Post after post that makes me want to break out the canner and hide in the kitchen with a sweaty face for a few hours. Added to my reader.

Then there are a few really lovely-looking recipes I ran across:

Greek nectarine preserves with cognac--yumm!

Nectarine-Raspberry preserves

Blueberry Spice Jam

Zucchini pickles --A site I could have used last summer when my zucchini patch actually was going a bit berserk...but there's a nice-looking gingery zucchini pickle recipe halfway down.

And then over here are recipes for both sweet AND dill zucchini pickles—the sweet ones are sitting on my counter right now. I'm hoping they bear as much gustatory resemblance to watermelon rind pickles as the recipe sort of looks like it might...

Canning being so trendy and all, I could go on for days...but this should get you started. As always, have at the comments! Anyone got any other great home canning links they'd be willing to share? Or favorite, tried and true recipes? (Like plum jam with a teaspoon of lavender flowers added during the simmer?)

--Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, August 14, 2010

5 cheap steps to cleaner air in our homes

From the cluttered mind of Going Green Mama...

It's a sad statement that clean air and water has become an industry. In our desire to return to a safer lifestyle, we've put at a premium gadgets galore to remove chemicals from everything we put into our bodies.

So here's the scoop. It's probably little surprise that we don't have an air purifier or filters beyond what's in our furnace. We haven't bought disposable filters for our faucets or extra containers for our water. We haven't invested in bottles upon bottles of natural cleaning products, chucking our old chemical-laden ones.

Instead, our steps to cleaner water and air in our home are fairly rudimentary. And they're simple solutions, that no matter where you are in your financial situation, you can take on for your own. Here are five easy ways to get started today:

(1) Our furnace filter is cleaned regularly, but it's a reusable one. While the initial cost was higher and we did need to trim it to fit, we have saved in the long run, and never need to make an unplanned trip to the home improvement store for a new filter.

(2) We kick our shoes off at the door (at least 90 percent of the time), which limits the dust and chemicals from the outdoors from getting tracked throughout our carpets and home.

(3) Rather than invest in chemical cleaners, we rely heavily on vinegar and baking soda, not to mention a little elbow grease. It's a no-brainer, really, as we can buy a year's worth of baking soda for less than the cost of a bottle of one commercial cleaner. And we don't have to worry about fumes, chemicals mixing and causing toxic fumes, or the children getting into the cleaning products.

(4) Clean your air naturally. Invest in a few houseplants, which clean up the carbon dioxide in your home. And don't forget to take advantage of the weather to open the windows and let fresh air back inside.

(5) Watch for mold. Keep on eye on any place where mold might be a concern - in a door seal, by a leaky faucet or window, in your bathroom, in your humidifier in the winter. And be sure to watch your humidity levels, no matter what time of year. (The American Lung Association recommends keeping it under 50 percent). I know keeping your a/c on may seem not that green, but we use it (albeit at a somewhat higher temperature on with a fan) to cut humidity when levels are excessive outdoors and reduce the likelihood of mold.

My solutions may be cheap, but it's not for nothing. The cost of not having clean air to breathe is far too high.

This post is part of the August Healthy Child Healthy World carnival on Clean Water and Air Solutions. You can find a wrapup of these articles online on Aug. 24.

Friday, August 13, 2010

"When it roars, go indoors"... and then what?!

In which Truffula wonders about ways to deal with power outages...


Photo via Flickr: JeremyOK

Our wack-o weather this year has continued into the summer.  What's happening now? Storms. Strong storms. With varying combinations of buckets of rain, fierce wooshes of wind, and lightning strikes, our area has had flooding, big trees snapped, and even people killed by said lightning. It's also had more power outages, for more extended periods of time, than I can remember.

Three weeks ago, the glamor of flashlights soon gave way to air-conditioner-less discomfort in high temperatures with high humidity. The contents of refrigerators and freezers were no longer so palatable.

My family was grateful to be spared (so far). Still, the situation (and its repetitions) have gotten me thinking...

About food disposal... When a storm hits on Sunday, trash pickups are once-a-week, your collection day is Monday, and the stuff in your fridge goes south on, say, Tuesday or Wednesday, it can be a long (stinky) set of days before collection day rolls around again.  But, what if you didn't need to rely on your trash pickup for whisking your no-longer-edibles away?  What if all you needed to do was take your items out to the food digester you made for your yard? Or to your trench composting area?  Or to your worm bin?

On cooking... When your electric stove and microwave stare you coldly in the face, what are the alternatives to lots of PB&J sandwiches (before your bread goes moldy)?  We use our SunOven often, especially to keep the kitchen cooler on steamy days.  Still, it's kind of a fun novelty for us.  On cloudy days, you'd still be reaching for those sandwiches, but when the storm clouds blew off, what if more people made use of the sunny spots on their property, even if just to make a relaxing glass of mint and lavendar sun tea to take the edge off of their electricity-free stress?

On food preservation... It's painful to lose everything you've socked away in your refrigerator and freezer.  What if we relied less on these appliances, as well as on our water bath and/or pressure canners?  What would/could that look like?  From our "egg lady", we learned that unwashed eggs can sit out on the counter (or in a bowl or basket on the table, where they are just beautiful). You've read about my various ferments before -- milk kefir, water kefir, kimchi, and new to the bunch, Piimä yogurt -- which also hang out at room temperature.  (Yes, horizontal space for my jars can be hard to find, especially since the ferments are supposed to be kept some distance apart.)  With what couldn't be better timing, I discovered that Jenny at the Nourished Kitchen is running a Preserve the Bounty challenge this month. (In light of the topic at hand, we'll politely overlook the inclusion of freezing techniques!)  What "alternative" preservation methods have you tried?  Have any fabulous recipes or instructions to share?

On transportation... I'll just say that taking public transportation with portions on foot can be alarming during these storms.  And when the weather alert lets you know that that a tornado warning was just issued while you're standing there waiting for the bus, you're about ready to give the bus driver a big hug when he shows up to take you that last bit of the way.  Once the storm passes, though, and car drivers are white-knuckling it with traffic signals out, it's fantastic to ride on a bus, reading or knitting, oblivious to the backed-up streets around you.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Simple, reusable napkins for school lunches

The Greenhabilitator gets crafty...

Last year, two of my three kids started school and we were lucky enough to get samples of the CitizenPip and Kids Konserve lunch box kits. Both were great, but I found the CitizenPip to be more kid-friendly. The only problem I encountered was that I constantly ran out of cloth napkins. Let's just say I'm not a huge fan of doing laundry. I'd end up folding their dirty napkins inside out and hoping none of their teachers noticed.

This year, all three kids will be in school {Haaaaaaaallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!} so I took some time to make a few napkins for them. I have a ton of adult-size cloth napkins, but I found that they're 1) bigger than the kids really need, and 2) take up too much room in their lunch boxes.

Instead, I used some scraps of flannel that I had left over from another project.

I cut out 8" squares in coordinating colors - blues and greens for the boys and pink for the princess. Pin the squares with right sides together and sew all around, leaving a 3" opening for turning.

Once you've sewn all of them, clip the corners, turn right side out and iron so they lay flat.

Top stitch all the way around so the two layers don't shift too much when you wash them.

This is a very quick and easy project you can do with any scrap fabric you have in your house. I chose flannel because it was soft, but you could use a man's dress shirt, old sheet, or just about anything else you can find.

Happy sewing!


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