Saturday, October 30, 2010

Light bulbs for Haiti - a lesson in empathy

"We need to buy light bulbs for Haiti," my daughter announced one afternoon as I picked her up from school.

Wow. Heavy response from a 5 year old, who usually reports in on what she played at recess. But, as she explained to me, the kids in Haiti don't have lights in their classrooms. And that day, they colored in the dark to see what it's like.

"I didn't have any problems," she reported. But something stuck with her nonetheless. For the first time, she talked about sharing her toys for the Haiti sale and giving away clothes and shoes that didn't fit her - instead of dramatically insisting how "special" each item was.

This week, priests from Haiti are visiting our congregation. And my daughter, just 5, is learning about life an ocean away and a little bit about generosity as well.

In recent years, my parish has made an affiliation with a church and school in Haiti. The wonderful thing about this mission is that they have made it very real for the families. We support it through an annual children's clothing sale, and fundraisers include buying a desk (about $30-40, by my recollection). It makes it real, as few people are actually able to make the mission trips.

But what's impressed me most is what they've impressed upon the children.

The school shared its lesson ideas and preparations with the parents. The creativity in teaching empathy was awesome:
  • Students should spend time sharing books, desks, and chairs and other supplies
  • Haitian children/adults struggle to find adequate footwear, often wearing worn out, mis-sized shoes or no shoes at all. Students and teachers should spend some class time (in the classroom) without wearing their shoes, or wearing worn-out, outgrown or old shoes.
  • Haitian schools do not have electricity, technology, modern conveniences (i.e. restrooms) etc. Blinds should be drawn to mimic the darkened classrooms in Haiti. Lights should be turned off for all or part of the day.
  • Most students walk miles everyday up rocky terrain to get to school. Many grade levels(40+ students) are taught in one room by one teacher. Students and teachers should spend time walking, discussing thechallenges of attending school in partial/no shelter, etc. A“mountain school” will be set up outside and available for use.
  • Have students share books (1 for every 2 or 3 students) for 1class period. Stack ½ of your desks and ½ chairs, then have girls use desks and boys use chairs, then switch after lunch.
  • Push all desks against the wall and have students sit with
  • Have students walk an “obstacle course” through your room without their shoes on. Put some small toys, pieces of paper, etc. on the floor so that they are in the walking path.
  • Use NO technology or electricity all day-no computers, smartboards, lights, projectors, dvd players, etc. Do not use email to contact other teachers (send notes when necessary).
  • Arrange with teachers from a couple of other grades to teach all of your students together in one room at the same time.

This week, we've had a lot of conversations about life in Haiti and about poverty - each sparked by a blossom planted by my child. I'm grateful for those. As she grows, she'll become an amazing member of society!

Counting my blessings,

Going Green Mama

Thursday, October 28, 2010


In which Green Bean hopes for Meaningful Memories.

My five year old's shoulders shook. He turned around, but wouldn't meet my eyes. His lower lip - pushed out to nearly three times it normal size - quivered.

"What's wrong?" I asked. "You choose that. That's what you wanted."

"But, but, is it," he exhaled in a moment of perfectly honed angst, "handmade."

Inside, I laughed. Today, we were discussing party favors for my older son's birthday party. In lieu of cheap plastic or coupons to the local ice cream store, we opted for $4 items off of Etsy. This conversation, though, was certainly a sign of things to come this holiday season. This season, we'd leapfrog over Legos, by-pass Bakugans, and sidestep Sillybandz. This year, it would be all about OOAK.

What's that, you say? OOAK? One Of A Kind, baby! And that is what my kids are craving.

Sure, in an ideal world, they'd only want to spend time baking cookies and hiking in the woods with me. We do our fair share of that, but come Christmas morning, my kids actually want to unwrap something they can hold in their hands.

It may not be as virtuous as going without material gifts or doing it all on your own but if you think your only alternative is Big Box, think again. There is an OOAK out there for everyone, in every shape, size and price range. Because handmade is worth it! And so are we.

To support a local artisan this season, check out Etsy, Big Cartel, Renegade Craft Fair, craft fairs at your school, in your town, or look for your local craft show here. Then celebrate uniqueness.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Buy Organic

The next few weeks of the Conscious Shopper Challenge will focus on greening our groceries. Here's the next challenge:


First of all, what does that organic label mean? The USDA has defined organic crops as those "raised without using most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. The NOP [National Organic Program] regulations prohibit the use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge in organic production and handling."

For animal farms to be certified organic, the animals "must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors. They are given no antibiotics or growth hormones."

A couple other things to note:

  • Products labeled "100 percent organic" must contain only organically produced ingredients.
  • Products labeled "organic" must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients.
  • Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase "made with organic ingredients" and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel.

What Certified Organic Does Not Mean

The system for certifying organics is not perfect. The purpose is to protect the consumer, so you know what you're purchasing when you see the "organic" label. But the organics program is mainly concerned with health issues and is less concerned with sustainability or other environmental issues. For instance:

  • Certified organic is not the same as grass-fed or pastured. Animals on certified organic farms must be given "access" to the outdoors, but the form or amount of that access is vague.
  • Certified organic does not mean small farm. Becoming certified is costly, which means that many small farmers are financially excluded from certification.
  • Certified organic farmers can only use certified seed, so their options about varieties to grow are limited. People who prefer heirloom varieties are probably not going to find much choice when shopping for certified organics.
  • Certified organic restricts the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers but does not provide specific guidelines for sustainable farming practices.

Because of these and other considerations, I think it's less important to look at the label and more important to know your farmer. Ask the farmers at your local farmers market about their methods for pest management and fertilization, and make an informed decision, even if they're not certified.

Now that You're Ready to Go Shopping...


  • Start with the Dirty Dozen. According to the Environmental Working Group, these are the fruits and vegetables that have the highest pesticide residue. They include peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, imported grapes, pears, spinach, and potatoes.
  • Look for organic baby food. Studies have indicated that young children, and especially babies, are more susceptible to the negative effects of pesticide exposure than adults.


  • Switch your animal products to organic. Levels of chemical toxicity get more concentrated the higher you get up the food chain. Additionally, factory-farm produced meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs are full of extra yuckies like antibiotics and hormones.


  • Go all organic. Look for the organic label on all of the foods you eat.
Do you buy organic groceries?

*A version of this post originally appeared on my Conscious Shopper blog in June 2009. For more tips on saving money on organics, check out the original post as well as my post "12 Strategies to Save Money on Organics."

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Simple, Green Halloween

The Green Phone Booth welcomes Yancy for today's Meaningful Memories post.

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, as well as my mother’s. I was raised in a household where Halloween was as big a production as Christmas with parties that were so elaborate, they took an entire month to plan. Even today, in my mid-thirties, I have found that I have carried on this tradition of making Halloween the biggest holiday of the year. Just look in my garage – I have three giant boxes of Halloween-themed decorations, and only one for Christmas decorations.

The past two Octobers, however, have found me reexamining the way I celebrate this season. I wanted to find a way to celebrate that felt more authentic – something that made me feel more connected to the earth and to my loved ones. Here are my suggestions for keeping your Halloween simple, cheap and green.

Decorate with natural objects.

Instead of buying Halloween decorations (too many of which are made from plastic), and then storing them for 11 months of the year, get your decorations from your garden, backyard, or the local park. Set out squash, pumpkins, apples, dried vines, twigs, branches, dried flowers, etc. This will cost you nothing, and can easily be tossed into the compost bin at the end of the season (or in some cases, eaten!).

You can also set out small bowls filled with spices like star anise, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods and cloves. These are not only beautiful, but they’ll add a lovely aroma to your home, as well.

Enjoy autumn’s bounty – locally.

Support your local pumpkin patches, which always have fun activities for the entire family. Visit small family farms where you can pick your own gourds, apples or other fall crops, then take them home and get cooking. Make apple butter, pies, dried fruit, soups and crisps. Let your kids help you and teach them the importance of being connected to your food.

Keep costumes simple.

You would be surprised by how many items in your current wardrobe would help you achieve the look you want for your costume. You don’t have to wear a black dress to be a witch – try a cute skirt and cardigan with striped knee socks and a witch’s hat. Always try to use what you already have, first. Ask friends and family members for items you don’t have (borrow, borrow, borrow).

If you have to buy costume items, consider buying pieces from local artisans or handmade retail sites like Etsy. By purchasing from handmade sellers, you will be supporting small (perhaps even local) businesses and can find items made from sustainable materials. Further, these items will last longer, allowing you and your family members to reuse them for many years.

Simplify your parties.

Skip creating those elaborate haunted houses and cooking all the Halloween-themed foods. Pot lucks are easier – or if you want to indulge a little, have a “dessert party” where you only serve cookies, cakes and candies. For entertainment, have your guests sit down by candlelight and read or tell ghost stories. Teach your guests how to read palms or tea leaves and use these methods for a little fortune-telling fun. Play guessing games or charades. Better yet, let your guests know that you will host a costume party with categories like “Most Eco-Friendly,” “Least Expensive,” “Most Creative,” etc. This will inspire them to create green, innovative costumes.

Make your trick-or-treating green.

While trick-or-treating is a beloved Halloween tradition, it isn’t very healthy or eco-friendly. Halloween candies are individually packaged creating an enormous amount of needless plastic waste. Further, they are filled with preservatives, dyes and corn syrup. Instead of buying these items for the trick-or-treaters in your neighborhood, try other options. If you live in a tight-knit community, organize a Halloween block party, where your children can visit each neighbor’s “station” and collect handmade treats – granola, caramel apples, dried fruit or fruit leather, apple cider, hot chocolate, etc. If you want to stick closer to tradition, try to find the greenest candies possible, like Endangered Species Chocolate Bites or items from the Natural Candy Store, though neither of these options address the issue of packaging waste.

Be creative. Try new things. You will be surprised by how easy it is to green your Halloween!

Yancy Wilkenfeldt is a blogger, environmental activist and the owner of Five Seed. You can find her at A Green Spell and Five Seed.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Posts of Halloweens Past

Halloween secrets from the Conscious Shopper

As part of our Meaningful Memories challenge, I thought I'd do a few Superheroes Secrets posts directing you to some of our meaningful memories from holidays past, starting with Halloween. But yesterday, instead of getting that post ready, I cracked open The Hunger Games and spent the rest of the day neglecting my family while devouring the book (though I did manage to get a few jars of applesauce canned, so I think that redeems me). I finished the book at 10:30 last night and then immediately decided that I needed to run to Walmart to get the second book, stayed up until 1:00 reading it, went to church, and then read through the afternoon.

(I'm sure some of you can relate...)

So now here I am, finally forcing myself to come up for air so I can pass along a few posts from past Halloweens. At least it's still a week until the big night o' fun.

Halloween actually isn't a hot topic around here, but there've been a couple posts of note:
  • In Simple School Party, JessTrev posted some tips for planning a school Halloween party that didn't involve "making the leaning tower of Pisa out of non-GMO, organic, whole-grain breadsticks." Her advice: keep it simple!
  • In Getting Trashed on Halloween, Green Bean gets trashy. The kind of trashy that involves digging through her recycling bin to make amazing costumes for her two little ones. I mean amazing.
Tomorrow we'll have one more post about greening your Halloween before the big day next Sunday, and then next Monday, we'll have a Halloween costume parade to show off our creative, homemade, thrifted, or recycled Halloween costumes.

Happy Halloween! (now excuse me while I return to my book)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Reclaimed Halloween Costumes

Wishing you an admittedly early happy Halloween from Going Green Mama!

Buying Halloween costumes is something I struggle with a lot, especially since your imagination and a second-hand shop can do so much.
But if you're looking for some last-minute inspiration for your Halloween costume, check out these ideas I found online:
Filth Wizardy worked some magic on a milk jug or two and created a Storm Trooper costume:

and bat masks:

Other ideas I stumbled on online:
Watch for more reclaimed craft ideas on the 3rd Saturday of the month!

Friday, October 22, 2010


The Green Phone Booth welcomes back regular guest poster Jess of Sweet Eventide.

The week before last, I heard about a job, applied, interviewed and got an offer for it. All in 28 hours. "Can you start in two days?" they asked. I had been looking, needing and wanting a part-time job out of the house for many reasons for two years. But now that I've got one?

I'm feeling rather frazzled.

With basically no time to prepare myself or my family for a fairly big transition, we're in sink or swim mode. I've only had one job in my son's life (he's almost 7.5) and it was mostly working from home and about 5 hours per week. This is part-time, more like 20 and mostly out of the house. We ran out of milk the first week. This week I've managed to keep the fridge stocked but please don't look at my floors. (I have a high-shedding lab).

I have high food standards, a blog that I miss and an Etsy shop that is centered around my dream career. I haven't opened the mail in 10 days and my husband has done almost all the dishes. I don't want to knock big things off my life to-do list because of a job. I still want to volunteer at school as I committed to do before this job fell into my life. I still want to blog and take photographs and market my Etsy shop. In fact I want to grow my photography business, not give up on it because I'm overwhelmed.

I want to have good energy to connect with my husband and nurture my son each day. I want to keep up and grow my friendships. And what about exercise? Come on, I was barely managing to do that before juggling an intense new job! What about all the things I wanted to work on like starting to grow a few of my own vegetables? (My husband and I have kept a basil plant alive for six weeks now, a record!) I have fallen in love with amigurumi too and I don't want to stop crocheting little lopsided bunnies.

Are my expectations WAY out of line? Is it possible to do all this? And the holidays are coming! I am a handmade holiday kind of gal! I know lots of parents work in and out of the home and have some of this figured out. I am hoping lots of you will share your tips on keeping your standards and ethics for your life but doing it more efficiently. Excuse me while I go collapse in bed until I hear from you wise folks.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Darker Days

From the bean of Green Bean.

It happens every year. The days get shorter. The sun slants lower, an amber haze lighting the spiderwebs. And I get the itch. . . to create.

I don't know if it is because the weather is colder and there's more time inside. If it is because the garden calls me less. Or maybe it is the brightness of the holidays bearing down on us. But every fall, without fail, I get crafty.

There are plenty of quiet evenings with knitting needles in hand but just as often, I decide I'm not going down alone. I bring the boys with me. Into the joyful mess of autumnal crafts.

We go for walks foraging. Unlike any other season, fall offers up art materials aplenty - colored leaves, acorns in all sizes, bare twigs, pine cones.

We dig through the craft bin at home - an old laundry basket where recyclables with that je ne sais qoui go.

We pull out the sewing kits, the felt and the fabric.

We invest in some new paint, markers and clay.

We lurk around The Crafty Crow, the Long Thread and other craft websites, gleaning inspiration.

And then we get dirty . . . and joyful.

Happiest fall. The season of creation.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Buy Local

The next few weeks of the Conscious Shopper Challenge will focus on greening our groceries. Here's the next challenge:


My farmers' market. Isn't it amazing?

Last week, I challenged you to eat seasonally, so this week's challenge may seem a little redundant. It was intentional, I promise. Although the last challenge and this one are related, they are not the same, for two reasons:
  1. You can eat seasonally without eating locally. For example, the produce at the grocery store Aldi is almost always in season, but it probably wasn't grown by a small local farmer.
  2. Eating seasonally is all about produce, but there's more to local eating than the fruits and vegetables.

I think seasonal eating is a good entry point into local eating. You start with one portion of your overall diet, get used to shopping at the farmers' market, and then branch out into other food categories. So once you've completed the last challenge, here's how you can start on this one:


  • Locate your nearest farmers' market. Find out when it opens in the spring and when it closes in the winter, and make a point to make regular visits throughout the growing season.


  • Shop at the farmers' market. Start with your produce, then move on to eggs, and finally meat. If there are few options for sustainably raised meat at your farmers' market, check out other sources such as Eat Wild.
  • Get to know the farmers and their growing methods. Ask questions: How do you manage bugs? How do you fertilize? How big is your farm? What do you grow? In my opinion, the number one reason to shop at the farmers' market over the grocery store is that you can really know where your food comes from.


  • Look for local sources for the other categories in your diet: dairy, nuts, and grains. One caveat here though - not everything grows well in every area. If you can't find locally grown rice, it may be that rice doesn't grow well where you live. And if you do finally find rice, it may be that the farmer used environmentally-taxing methods to get it to grow. Be realistic about how local you can eat, or be prepared to cut some foods out of your diet.
For more information on local eating, check out these past Booth posts:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It's in the bag

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Last week I announced a Seventh Generation recycled trash bag giveaway in honor of my 100th post.  Well without further adieu, the winners are....

Congratulations everyone!  Please email me at EnviRambo [at] midnightmaniac [dot] com with your shipping address to claim your prize.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Green and Merry Christmas

The Green Phone Booth welcomes Isabella for today's Meaningful Memories post.

For me, the preparation for Christmas is as much fun as the holiday itself. I admit that though I don't like seeing Christmas in the stores come October, it has been on my mind since the middle of summer. I insist on getting a head start because not only is it much less stressful but I also have the time to put more thought into the gifts, more time to enjoy a party or two, (and perhaps even have one!) and I also inevitably end up spending less by not making hurried decisions.

For the last 6 months I have been committed to living an eco-friendly lifestyle. Not only do I have a concern for our environment, but more importantly I have a 6 year old son and the constant studies about the harmful effects of chemicals, food contaminants, air pollution – you name it - is something I am dedicated to protecting him from. So anyhow, I have decided to make this year “A Green Christmas,” in every way possible. I've come up with a few eco-friendly but also low stress and budget friendly solutions.


  • Edible: Since it is hard to go wrong with food, I've decided to give a number of my friends edible gifts. By narrowing it down to two recipes I like, one for apple-pumpkin bread and another for cheddar focaccia, I have streamlined the process. I am going to check with my local market first to make sure they have everything I need and then buy in bulk to save time, money and travel expense back and forth. I am packaging each in an organic cotton napkin tied with a piece of twine.
  • Giving Back: For those who are further away, I have selected several charities and am giving to them on behalf of these friends and family. I am making the donations online and sending them the information in an email as well.
  • The Tree: I bought an artificial Christmas tree this year so I don't have to cut down a fresh one. Not only does it save the tree, but think about all of the fuel and energy consumed to transport those trees from farms to cities where they don't grow naturally.*
  • Ornaments: I am using a combination of natural ornaments. While you can be creative depending on where you live, I have access to seashells and pinecones quite easily so those will be my garnish. I have also made one or two with my son using a new method of wheat-weaving which a friend had mentioned to me. It was a little harder than it looked, but my son and I had fun and got to be frustrated together!

  • Lighting: Instead of the normal string lighting around the holidays, I am going use real candles. I have bought a variety of beeswax candles of different heights and plan on having small groupings throughout my home. With a small piece of greenery tucked between, it looks quite stellar.
Christmas Eve Dinner: For our annual dinner with the family:
  • Invitations: In order to be both chic and green, I have found one really great invitation from a local artist. I had her add all the event details and such and scan it into the computer. I am going to send it out via pdf.

  • Thrift Store Find: I found a great vintage dress at a local thrift store; I also donated a few of my old pieces.

  • Placecards: Instead of more paper, I am going to go out the day of and collect a few large leaves which I can then write the guest's name on. If you live in a climate where this is difficult, pinecones with a small piece of twine used to secure a paint sample card (from hardware store) also work well.

  • No More Disposable: Styrofoam or plastic plates and utensils are out and traditional silverware is in and will be cleaned in our Energy star certified dishwasher. There are now a great biodegradable alternatives but I have the silver and like to make use of what I have when possible

  • Meat Free and Local: A Tofu Turkey will be the main dish. I am going to prepare one vegetable to accompany it using what is delivered from my co-op membership, but I am also asking every person to bring one small dish, home made using local ingredients. I have emphasized this doesn't need to be complicated. Everyone loves baked apples which are easy to find at any farmers market or some grocers even have a local food area.
Isabella York is a mother dedicated to living a greener lifestyle year round. Along with raising her son, she works for Balsam Hill, a purveyor of artificial Christmas trees.

* GPB Note: Isabella works for a company that makes artificial Christmas trees. Whether or not artificial Christmas trees are a greener choice than real trees is debatable. For another option, check out EnviRambo's post on her aluminum Christmas tree.

Image by hussainshafei

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The End of Farming

From the bean of Green Bean.

Long before I kept four little chickens on my own, I enjoyed the firm yolks and soft whites of a wonderful, local ranch that sustainably raised pastured hens and hogs. I stopped buying their eggs when our own hens started laying but have kept track of their journeys. The ranch distributed its eggs through a local CSA that I recently signed up for and adore. Just a week or so, ago, the ranch decided to close its doors.

If you care at all about sustainable agriculture, small family farms, preserving farmland or the future of farming, please please read the post here where the farm announces it is closing shop. It is both heart-wrenching and eye opening. What can we do to preserve our options for good, clean food?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Diabetes sucks

Diabetes sucks.

And lest you wonder why I'm talking about it on a green blog, let me share you how:

In a given month, I go through 120 test strips to check my blood sugars. 120 lancets. 2 1/2 pens of insulin. 60 pen needles and alcohol wipes. Four bottles of pills. And a few faxes to my M.D. And that's when I'm being compliant, remembering to check my sugars regularly and not scrimping corners by reusing needles or lancets.

Multiply this by 23,599,999 other Americans who have diabetes, and you've got yourself an environmental problem to go along with a health crisis. The CDC says that $1 of every $10 of health care dollars is attributed to diabetes. Yes, diabetes costs a lot. It costs a lot of time, a lot of worry, a lot of money (thank goodness I have a decent health plan) and a lot of daily medical waste.

I wish I could turn back time. Though I doubt I could have prevented diabetes (I was showing signs even when I was thinner, plus I have a parent with type 1), I could have done more to prevent things from getting worse. And, 14 or so years later, I'm now telling my child things like "See, mommy doesn't cry when she gets her shot."

Diabetes sucks. Of course, anyone with any chronic condition would tell you the same. But I'm trying to do more to fix my health. Eating healthier. Drinking more water. Getting regular rest. Squeezing in exercise, even if it's a few minutes of marching in place while I'm waiting for the next load of laundry to get dry.

But there's a lot a person can do to reduce their risk of following in my footsteps. Here's a few common-sense things to remember:

Watch your weight. And even if you're fighting a battle on the scale, know that even a 5 or 10 percent weight loss can help your health.

Eat whole grains, fresh produce, etc. Besides the fact that whole grains are closer to "real" food than processed, they have fiber and have a lower glycemic index, making it easier on your body.

Fit in fitness. Start small, like I am. Take a walk, work out at home, do what you can do and work up from there. (And get your kids involved; it's a great way to set a lifelong habit.)

Enlist support. Whether you're a diabetic or at risk, enlist people who care about you to help you stay focused on lifelong changes. Because this is a battle you will fight for life. But it's a battle that is worth it.

- Going Green Mama

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dry Shampoo--anyone ever try this?

(Edit: OH CRUD! I totally spaced that it's Blog Action Day 2010. So instead of submitting some lovely and pertinent post about water, I post one about my greasy hair. Which I guess is sort of peripherally related, since it means I don't have to wash my hair as often nor use as much water, but it's still a poor excuse.

So anyway, even though I didn't get my act together enough to participate this year, I'll at least suggest to y'all that it would be a great site to check out, see what others are saying, or even get on the bandwagon on your own blogs!)

(And now, back to our regularly scheduled inanities...)

A Search for Shortcuts from a stringy-haired Suburban Greenmom...

I have these days when I really don't have time for the full-out shower. Between packing lunches and making my coffee and guarding every last precious moment of sleep...But without intervention, my hair gets oogy if I don't wash it every morning.Or more to the point, my hair gets oogy if I don't wash it every 36 hours. Which means I could wash yesterday morning, and then again tonight, and then skip a get what I mean. But my schedule seldom allows that, because I still need to look respectable at 9pm on many days and don't necessarily have time for a shower at 7, so the practical math eludes me here.

Yes, I've heard that if you get your hair out of the habit it gets used to less washing and produces less oil, but I don't have the luxury of looking like a greasy smelly hippie at my professional engagements for 2-3 weeks to find out if that's true. [UPDATE: a couple of people took issue with this comment; I apologize if it sounds like I'm anti-hippieness, I'm actually very pro-hippie. I included the comment because I found the photo on someone else's site as an example of why she was scared to go no-poo, and it made me giggle, mostly because I'm a pretty big hippie myself, or at least the child of two pretty big hippies who sort of brought me up in their image.] And I know that some of my esteemed Boother colleagues and our lovely readers have gone "no-poo" --Erin, and Kathryn, and the Utah Lawyer on whose blog I found the picture of the greasy smelly hippie, which made me laugh (unless that's a picture of one of our readers' significant others or relatives or something, in which case I'm sure he has a great personality...)--and many others. Even Crunchy Betty, one of my Absolute Favorite Bloggers Ever, just took the pledge 3 days ago. But I'm just not there yet. Someday. In the meantime...I wanted something a little less dramatic, and I wanted to not wash my hair every day.

So I started looking at some of those "dry shampoo" things--you know, where you spray it on your hair, brush it out, and presto your hair no longer has that stringy oily "oh look she didn't shower today" vibe. There are plenty of on-the-market ones, mostly aerosol sprays...but enough people comment on all those sites that the make-your-own recipes often work better than those anyhow and use the same ingredients minus the chemicals, for much cheaper. I'm all over that, of course.

I started poking around. Patrice, here, has recipes which involve ground oatmeal/herbs/baking soda, or cornstarch or cornmeal with a few drops of essential oil. Beyond Jane has some similar ideas, as does this sort of generic Essortment site. Beauty with Brains is one of the only ones I've found so far that actually reads like someone who's actually tried the different recipes and come up with something she likes, as opposed to the vaguely "I need something to blog about how about this" feel the other sites kind of have. (Then again, she could be faking, I guess!) Crunchy Betty is another who tests before she posts. All the bloggers caution about mess, which seems valid...and one mentions adding a little unsweetened cocoa powder to your dry shampoo if you have dark hair and don't want to risk the white flecks sticking around if you didn't get it all out! (This seems...creative. I'm not sure about it, though, if for no other reason than I'd smell like chocolate all day and get hungry.)

So, not wanting to be one of those bloggers who posts recipes I found elsewhere and doesn't try them myself, I embarked on a Grand Adventure. I visited my local Home Economist (do you have one near you? Seriously, look around! It's the original "everything in bulk, nothing but bulk" store where you can go in and get two tablespoonfuls of rice flour if you want, or as much as you want, or whatever. Lots of spices, way too much candy--my kids go crazy in there--and nothing organic or free trade that I've seen, but on the other hand you cut WAY down on packaging. And it's cheap!) and got a little of a bunch of things: cornstarch, oat flour, rice flour, and cornmeal. And went to work, every other day. (The even numbered days got the basic Natures Gate Herbal Shampoo.)

(N.B.: my hair is medium brown with a smattering of grey around the hairline, fine but thick, utterly straight, oily at the scalp but tending to dry at the ends. It's just past my shoulders and slightly layered. Obviously your mileage may vary.)

My results:

Day 1: I did equal parts cornmeal and cornstarch, since those were the ones most-recommended by the sites I visit. Added a little lavender, chamomile, and orange essential oils. VERDICT: lovely smell, but it wore off by the time I brushed the stuff out of my hair. My hair looked nice all day, though I gave it a little touch-up in the evening--but I had absolutely no desire to yank it back into a barrette or ponytail to hide the oily roots, at any time. The only problem: the cornmeal was (contrary to what I saw in recipes) more difficult to really brush out, and when I would run my fingers through my hair all day I felt this weird grittiness at the scalp. Aside from that, though, I didn't have much problem with mess--but I didn't shake it all over my hair, I pinched bits and sprinkled them directly onto the roots of the hair in the places that needed it most, and pretty much all over right by the scalp, rubbed it in, and then brushed it out.

Day 3 and 5--I mixed equal parts cornstarch and oat flour, with a few drops of orange and ginger essential oil. Again, the oil smell never lasted into the actual post-shampoo hair, but I liked it. This was messier than the cornstarch-and-meal recipe, and it lumped a lot more. But the results were even better--so much better that I almost ditched the experiment and just stayed with this as the recipe. But as a diligent blogger, I still had rice flour and baking soda to try...

Day 7--since cornstarch seems to be the constant in all this, I went heavier on it: I did two parts cornstarch to one part baking soda, with a little lavender oil. No clumps, less mess, no grit, brushed out very easily. I will probably try the rice powder next, just to say I did (and besides, having bought the stuff, what else would I do with it?), but I have a feeling the straight cornstarch or cornstarch mixed with baking soda will be my final favorite. Glad I didn't stop at Day 5. (And when I'm done, I can brush some onto my armpits as a nice deodorant powder. :-))

Day 9--I ditched the cornstarch completely and just did rice powder. And my kids were in the other bathroom, so I couldn't get at my fragrance oils, and this was unscented. VERDICT: yuck. Rice powder has the same kind of grit as the cornmeal only smaller pieces, my scalp feels all gritty, and the hair isn't smooth or soft at all and still feels oily. Plus it's all over my ears. I feel like I've been to the beach, without the fun of having been to the beach.

Day 11--I decided to make a longer-term mix of cornstarch and baking soda. After I put it together, I realized I'd used baking powder instead...but since the two main ingredients in baking powder are baking soda and, you guessed it, cornstarch, I figured what the hey. Works just fine.

FINAL VERDICT: Honestly, cornstarch alone is probably going to be the best bet, maybe with a little baking soda added. If you have oat flour in your kitchen, a little of that won't hurt either, but certainly don't go out and buy it. The essential oils are nice, though they don't seem to last very long--I mean, you're basically brushing it all out of your hair anyway, and they don't linger much. My hair is fairly dark medium-brown, but the cornstarch/soda blend did not seem to dull or mask its color at all. (The rice powder sort of did.)

A boar-bristle brush would be, I surmise, pretty essential for this exercise (is there a vegan alternative?)--you need something with the close bristles to get all the powder out, and either be prepared to wash or rinse the powder off it it daily or have a dedicated brush for dry shampooing.

I'm officially now an every-other-day-shampoo person now. I challenge any of my friends to be able to tell which day it is by looking at my hair--you totally won't be able to tell, because it looks genuinely clean for two full days now. I haven't tried to go three yet, but that's the next step, and after that, whenever I have an empty shampoo bottle to store the stuff in, I'll try the no-poo combinations of baking soda/water and apple cider vinegar rinse and see if I can get off the chemical stuff all steps. In the meantime...well, remember the picture of the greasy smelly hippie. No one wants to see that.

Jenn the Greenmom

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Taking a Bite Out of Second Hand

From the bean of Green Bean.

I've long been a fan of second hand. Indeed, we've furnished much of our house and most of ourselves with other people's cast offs. A quilt from a garage sale. A wine rack free on the side of the road. A fall wardrobe from the thrift store. An Etsy purse made from repurposed sweaters. Here in the Green Bean household, we really sink our teeth into the idea of "reuse."

But a recent development has turned second hand into spooky: Bed Bugs!

Oh, I'm sure much of the bed bug invasion is media hype. Many of the infestations occur in hotels, first use retail stores and such. However, nearly every article I've read about the bloodsuckers mentions being careful when you buy used. That's gotta take a bite out of second hand shopping sprees.

A little grossed out but not easily deterred, I grabbed some garlic I did some research on how to avoid getting bit by my second hand scores.

Sealing your item in a plastic bag and then taking it to a professional cleaner topped the list of preventative measures. Wrapping anything in plastic, though, takes some of the green out of second hand and professionally cleaning sucks the bargain out of bargain hunt. Next try.

Steam cleaning is said to kill bed bugs so perhaps a used rug is cool if you are going to steam clean it. But how do you get it home or to the cleaners? In your car? Where those creeps can hitch a free ride? Maybe pass on the used rugs.

Upholstered furniture that is "baked" (in a cauldron?) should be fine but this would come from a furniture re-seller and not Joe Blow selling stuff on Craigslist. Okay, maybe skip on the upholstered furniture and stick with wooden or metal.

Putting an item in the dryer (for at least 30 minutes) or in hot water wash in the washer and then the dryer again apparently kills bed bugs. Alternatively, placing the item in the freezer for one month and then washing it supposedly annihilates the beasts. Both of these tactics seem to put clothes, some shoes, costumes that could stand up to the washing or dry cleaning, and bedding in the clear. They also seem a little more eco friendly and affordable.

Maybe I'm just being paranoid, I tell myself, as I stroll the dimly lit aisles of my favorite second hand haunt. I pass the rugs with hardly a glance, stop to dig through the stacks of pots and pans, flip through some books, wander by the stationary section, and then head to the aisle for women's clothing.

There's a cute cardigan. My size. My color. Excellent condition. $3.99.

Should I bite?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Eat Seasonally

The next few weeks of the Conscious Shopper Challenge will focus on greening our groceries. Here's the next challenge:


In this day and age of instant gratification, when you can find any type of food any time you want it at your corner grocery store, one might ask, "Why should I eat in season? Why I should I deprive myself?"

My family does not eat completely seasonally: we keep carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, avocadoes, and bananas in our fridge year round, I buy tropical fruits as a treat when they're on sale (and have no clue when they're actually in season), and in the winter I branch out to add some diversity to our dinner plates. But the majority of the produce we eat is fresh and in season, purchased directly from the farmer. And I rarely ever feel deprived. In fact, I love eating seasonally. Here's why:

  • Seasonal food tastes better, hands down. Sure you can buy a tomato in January, but it could never compare to the one freshly plucked off the vine in July. Produce picked at the peak of ripeness also has more nutritional value than produce shipped halfway across the world.
  • When I eat in season, I feel more gratitude for the food I have. I relish every bite of every strawberry (or peach or watermelon) because I know the season is short and it will be another year before they appear at the farmers' market again. And after a long winter of sweet potatoes and cabbage, I dance with glee at the sight of tomatoes and cucumbers.
  • Seasonal eating keeps me in tune with the seasons in general. It's one more way to keep us connected to nature and our beautiful world.
  • Eating in season has forced us to branch out of our comfort zones and try vegetables that might otherwise never make an appearance at our dinner table. Some of those have been a total FAIL (turnips!), but others have become some of our favorites (kale and collards).

This month as you Green Your Groceries, challenge yourself to eat more seasonally.


  • Educate yourself on when food is in season. Google "in season produce" and your state.


  • Set a goal to make a certain percentage of your produce seasonal. What that percentage is can be up to you and may depend on the season. For example, from late spring to early fall, my family eats about 80% seasonally, but in the winter, it drops to about 60%.


  • Join a CSA. I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, I know. You might be thinking, "Erin keeps telling me to join a CSA. I don't want to join a CSA!" Well, here's the thing: We've been part of three CSAs now, and honestly, we probably won't join another - I do prefer being able to plan ahead with my groceries. But I can't stress enough how valuable an experience it is when you're first experimenting with sustainable eating. CSAs force you to eat in season (just like they force you to learn to cook). You've already paid for it, there's no backing out, so you learn how to do it. And once your CSA season is through, you'll be an expert. (And I'm probably going to repeat this same thing next week for the Eat Local challenge. I'm serious - join a CSA!)

Have you tried eating seasonally?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

100th Post! {And a celebratory giveaway}

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Hey, guess what?  Last week was my 100th post here at The Booth!  My how time flies when you are having fun.  I joined the caped crusaders just 16 posts from the GPB's inception, two years ago, back in October of 2008.  Crazy, huh?

I have learned a ton from fellow posters since then and continue to do so everyday.  Your comments have been enlightening and encouraging too.  I would like to give something back to the dedicated readers of the Green Phone Booth so I am having a little giveaway.

As you know I have a surplus of black Seventh Generation recycled-plastic trash bags and only a few weeks left to use them.  There is no way I can even make a dent in the amount of bags we have on hand by November 1.  We simply do not produce that much trash.  Several people suggested donating or giving them away, so that is what I am going to do.

I will send out one box containing 20, 30-gallon black trash bags to 5 randomly chosen people.  To enter leave a comment telling me one thing you have learned from reading The Green Phone Booth.  I will choose the winners Monday (Oct. 18) and post the results next Tuesday (Oct. 19).  Good luck!

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Frivolous and Green! Halloween

The Green Phone Booth welcomes Lisa Nelsen-Woods, who writes about green living, DIY, and saving money at Condo Blues and presents real food, real quick for real budgets at The Lazy Budget Chef.

I do not practice a nature-based spirituality so when Fall comes around I think of two things.

Pumpkins are in season! Pumpkin flavored everything, especially craft beer, is quickly becoming one of my favorite Fall foods.

Halloween is coming! Yippee!

Some may look down their nose at Halloween and call it a frivolous holiday.

That’s exactly why I like it. Because Halloween IS a frivolous holiday!

Halloween is the one day out of the year that you can pretend you are a superhero (because really what woman with all of her responsibilities, isn’t?), your favorite childhood profession (dressing up as a mad scientist is so much easier than all of the schooling and degrees and tragic situation that drives you mad), or parenting idol (Children’s Services may not appreciate my Mommy Dearest costume but the costume committee at the last Halloween party I attended did enough to award me the prize for Scariest Female Costume!)

I have one closet full of adult Halloween costumes I made and old clothes, wigs, and props that can be turned into costumes. Most are leftovers from my husband’s and my historical reenactor days. I also have a small box of dog Halloween costumes because we attend several rescue Halloween events.

Depending upon our twisted sense of humor sometimes these items are abandoned for other DIY ideas. For example, by wearing my brown pencil skirt upside down, grabbing a colorful scarf, a thrift store pin and a few items I would never normally wear all at once (because they just don’t go) I have an accurate Little Edie from Grey Gardens costume. I guarantee you won’t find that at any Halloween shop!

Of course, if there is something specific that you are looking for, and you can’t sew or borrow, you can always rent a costume. Everyone forgets that green Halloween option.

Shopping Green for Halloween

One of my favorite Halloween activities is to go to stores and look at Halloween decorations and costumes. My husband and I go several times during the season, not to shop the aisles for plastic gewgaws, but to shop for ideas. It’s fun to look. Just because it’s in a store, doesn’t mean I have to buy it. It’s cheaper and sillier than a haunted house, which lost its appeal after spending my teenage years volunteering at a local haunted mill.

When I do buy a Halloween/Fall decoration, I’m thoughtful about it. If I buy something, I make sure it’s a Halloween decoration that will last for several holidays to come. I seriously doubt that everyone throws out all of their Halloween decorations from one year to the next and buys every single thing new, do they?

I layer in live and found objects like real pumpkins, seedpods, and fall leaves with the store bought items. After Halloween, I remove the Halloween themed items and keep the fall items out until it’s time to decorate the outdoors for Christmas. With the exception of the pumpkins, those I bake, puree, and freeze for cooking.

I like that Halloween is a time for me to stretch my creative muscles and now that I have more time for it, to get my Halloween craft on. The best, in my opinion, decorations and costumes are the ones you make yourself. I don’t like to look like everyone else in my everyday life and I don’t want my home to look like everyone else’s at Halloween either.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What can you live without?

Going Green Mama ponders our priorities...

Ever have one of those days when you're feeling down on yourself? And then God slaps you back to reality?

I've had more than one of those moments lately. But one in particular I want to share. It's about an employee at our company I've never met.

This person had the misfortune of losing every possession in her home last week. Every item, as her family watched their home burn to the ground.

The cool part was watching how employees came together to help this family, people that they've never met. They brought diapers, and clothing, and shoes. An empty office stored items that were being catalogued by a coworker to make sure the family's needs were being met. It was an amazing thing to see, and I felt humbled and apologetic for my two bags of baby gear, plucked from the stash for my sister.

But the whole experience got me wondering. If I was in her shoes, what did I really need?

My library of books crammed on the shelves? Fun, but truthfully collecting dust. My stamp collection from when I was 11 that I've kept for years? Stealing space in my storeroom. Those extra clothes in my closet, waiting for a size change? Held captive from a person who could use them.

In the end, it's about keeping my family safe from harm. The other things are just ancillaries.

Friday, October 8, 2010

When life hands you Virginia creeper, make baskets!

In which Truffula looks on the bright side, and gets creative.

Slowly, but surely, I've been trying to go more native in the garden.  When I noticed that birds had gifted us with Virgina creeper, I thought "Great!  Ground cover!"  I'd heard about its beautiful red leaves in the fall, and looked forward to seeing them.  Wherever I saw the characteristic bunches of 5 leaves, I happily let the (then) little plants carry on.

This spring, the ground was nicely covered:

What I didn't fully realize (I should have done my research!) was that this was not only a ground cover, but a fence cover:

And, not too long after that, it became a tree cover:

Oops!  That was not quite the effect I'd been going for!

I remembered going to the home of a friend about five years ago.  At the time, her teen-aged son was making baskets out of kudzu.  Why not, I asked myself, try to do the same thing with this out-of-control Virginia creeper?  With my garden clippers in hand, I headed outside to cut some proof-of-concept pieces of creeper.

The leaves stripped off easily from the vines.  The little feet with which the vines attache were more hardy to remove, but nothing which a quick snip of the clippers didn't solve.

I sat outside on the front porch, making up the design as I went along.  When I ran out of "raw materials", I went back to harvest more.  What fun it was to figure out how to proceed!  Even better, one of my TruffulaBoyz wanted some of the weaving action.

He and I are not done with our project, but it's coming along nicely (sorry, the photo doesn't do it full justice):
My little basket-weaving partner has grand plans for making further creeper creations.  Hmm... maybe I had it backwards... maybe I need to start growing Virginia creeper not as a ground cover, but as a valued craft ingredient for ourselves!   And maybe, St. Nicholas and Santa will be delivering some handmade baskets from us in about two months...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Spendthrift, Foodthrift

The Green Phone Booth welcomes Alison, who writes about life, family and superheroes at The Secret Life Of A Warrior Woman.

My parents grew up during the privations of World War Two and its aftermath. Everything was used to its max and sometimes beyond. My mother, in particular, inherited the can't-waste-it mentality - she still uses pots that must be pushing 50 years old.

And I learned at her knee.

I thought it was common to cut the leg off a pair of nylons when I got a hole - then pair it with a similarly mutilated one. Wearing two midriffs held my stomach in well and of course I got more life out of the healthy legs that were left.

I mentioned this apparently brilliant notion of thrift to my friends one day only to have them fall about laughing. They had never heard of such a thing. So I asked them if they didn't cut open bottles of face cream and scoop out the dregs that collected around the bottom and the top.

They did not.

They also didn't save scraps of soap and squish them together nor did they swish water around a bottle of shampoo to get a couple more latherings.

So, I don't know. Maybe I'm out of step but I still do all these little things. Seems commonsense, cost-effective and quaint to me. I'm proud of my mother for doing these things. She does them for reasons to do with deprivation and cost-effectiveness. But these days she's considered green.

However, I have developed one habit out of this isn't so laudable, a bit weird and maybe even slightly pathological.

I can't throw away food.

Nope, can't do it.

Just can't bear to.

I can't even write why.

Because I don't know.

I tell myself it has bacteria in it or on it. I tell myself I could make myself sick. Then I tell myself these people who make up the guidelines for throwing out food err on the side of caution, are in cahoots with the food manufacturers, or just plain ridiculous.

I can't throw away food.

Instead, I cook the food to death (for the second or third time.)

I refreeze it.

I smell it.

I move it around the fridge or ignore it sitting there.

But mostly I serve it up and cross my fingers.

I'm sure many of you are aghast, disgusted even. But the thing I do that I consider worse than crossing my fingers is eating up food so I don’t have to throw it away. Even when I’m not hungry.

I see it in my fridge, know it's time will soon be up, tell myself it's perfectly good food and in it goes.

Instead of going to waste, it goes on my waist.

My weight creeps up and then I have to work at that. Could I make life even more difficult for myself? Enough already!

I can't even begin to analyze why I do this, take these risks.

I don't want to.

Who cares why, lets work on what.

So I set myself a goal of throwing something away everyday. Yesterday it was chicken with spaghetti. Today, it was cream cheese. I have the suckers identified for at least tomorrow and the next day.

And then, an idea struck me. I could avoid all this angst by, wait for it, drum roll please... composting! Yes, composting! Someone suggested it in the comments section of my blog. What a brilliant idea! Not only do I get rid of the aftermath of science experiments conducted in my kitchen, I get to recycle! I avoid illness, guilt and bacteria all in one fell swoop of the chicken coop!

And so lovingly, every day, I source at least one thing for the compost bin knowing that I’m saving myself a whole heap of trouble.

And producing a whole heap of glorious compost in its’ place. I’ve engaged my kids in the ritual. Teaching them to get rid of old food. Teaching them to compost and fertilize and nourish. By doing that, I get to delegate and most of all, I get to satisfy that little voice that tells me to ‘waste not, want not.’

Turning that vicious circle into a virtuous one.


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