Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Going to the dentist just got better.

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Often, plastic enters my life in the weirdest of places.  Like the dentist. 

I go to great lengths to avoid the stuff in my daily life.  I take my own bags for grocery and non-food shopping.  I choose products not packaged in plastic.  I request "no plastic in shipping" when ordering online.  I carry my own eating utensils, cup, glass straw and take-out/leftover containers.

Yet, at times, I am caught off guard.  Like at the dentist.

I'm sitting in the chair, trying to talk with my mouth wide open, while their fingers are in it, inevitably drooling on myself.  Why do they always ask you questions and then expect an answer when it's impossible to do so?  Anyway, the last thing on my mind is plastic.

All I am thinking about is:

When am I going to get out of here?
How messed up will my hair be when I do?

I don't know why, but I always leave the dentist with bed head.  It's horrifying.  Even more horrifying is what happens at the end of my appointment.

We schedule my next appointment while I try to salvage my hair and then I turn around to the bag.

Yeah, the bag.  You know, that plastic bag containing a plastic toothbrush, plastic tube of sample-sized toothpaste and plastic sample-sized floss?  It happens every time.

And I take it!  That's the horrifying part.

WTH?  I'm such a creature of habit that it feels wrong not to.  She's standing there, arm extended, handing it to me.  I have to take it.

That's how I used to feel.  Eventually I got over that nasty habit, like many others and started requesting no bag.  I do it with everything else, why not this?

Then I started politely declining the toothbrush and toothpaste.  I have no less than a dozen toothbrushes under my kitchen sink that I use for cleaning.  None of them have even been opened.  I don't think I need another toothbrush.  When traveling I take my own Tom's of Maine toothpaste, so I don't really need the sample of something I'm never going to use anyway.

I do still take the floss.  I never have to buy the stuff, I just get it from my dentist.  Yes, it is plastic, but had I purchased it it would also be plastic, packaged in plastic.  See how I just justified that decision with myself?

Then one day I turned around and she was standing there, smiling, arm extended, handing me a PAPER bag!  Holy cow!  I did a double take.

And I took it!  Damn.

I commented on the switch and she replied they were trying to be more environmentally friendly.  Hurray!  I'm not saying they made the change because of me.  Maybe they did, maybe they didn't.  But they did make the change.

Monday, November 29, 2010

To Grandmother’s House We (Don’t) Go

The Green Phone Booth welcomes Courtney from A Life Sustained for today's Meaningful Memory.

So often the choices that I’ve made in order to live a life that is more gentle on this earth have involved what I don’t do. I try very hard not to consume mindlessly, not to drive unnecessarily, to just use less, etc. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make for very interesting or sexy reading and it can be especially difficult to practice in the current season. But, one of the things that Steve and I are considering forgoing this year is travel for the holidays.

In all honesty, entertaining this notion came about quite by accident. Last week for Thanksgiving we had planned on making the 140 mile drive to spend the holiday with his family. Unfortunately, our dog care plans fell through and since my in-laws have a strict no-dog rule at their house we found ourselves in a bind. We considered Steve going alone and I’d stay home. We thought about just driving there for the day and then turning around and driving back that evening. But we finally came to the conclusion that the best answer was, as usual, the simplest one. We would send our love and good wishes to his family over the phone and we would spend Thanksgiving in our own home with just the two of us.

As much as we would have loved to have seen his family, we were amazed by how good our decision felt. We cooked a meal together and it was wonderful. We slowed down. We savored that time. There was no rushing and no attempt to cram as much into two days as possible, which has been our holiday MO for as far back as we can both remember. We were reminded that quiet reflection can, and probably should, have a place in this holiday. And we thought we might be on to something.

When I was growing up, it was easy. We lived less than a mile from both sets of grandparents so it was completely possible to have our little family traditions with my parents and my brother and sisters and then to also see both sides of the extended family for every holiday.

Once we all grew up, moved away, and gained significant others, however, things got more complicated. I found myself driving all over the state for a good portion of November and December. Not only did this blast more carbon into the atmosphere than I care to admit, it has been incredibly stressful and Steve and I agree that we’ve come to dread the holiday season, more than enjoy it. So it’s time to take stock. To reassess and prioritize.

I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with traveling for the holidays. For most of us, spending time with our families is a priority and that necessitates a certain amount of driving or flying. I’m not saying that holiday celebrations should fall into my above mentioned category of “not doing,” but I do think it’s worth really considering what our traditions are and whether or not they fit with how we want to live our lives.

What is tradition, but repetition for the purpose of slowing time? Increasing the chance that we’ll remember these moments, rather than rushing through them. I realized that in all of the rushing around to make sure that we spent face time with all of our family members, we weren’t really present for any of it. How could we be in the moment when it was all just a countdown to when we had to get in the car to go to our next destination?

So, we’re exploring the tradition of staying home and making our celebrations more quiet. We want to build a tradition of celebration in the place where we are, rather than seeking it somewhere else.

Bio: Having recently left her office job to prepare for the birth of her first child, Courtney is making the transition to being a Stay-at-home-not-quite-yet-a-mom. She and her husband share a home in Iowa where they try live a life that is simple, mindful, and full of nature and beauty. She blogs about her transition to living a more sustainable life and now her transition to motherhood at A Life Sustained.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sending gifts of Christmas past

Going Green Mama is still recovering from Black Friday...

3:30 is such an unholy hour.

And yes, I was up. To shop. Something I though I'd never do. But being the local resident, I was the designated driver. And, well caffeinated, we set out. To shop. For seven hours...again, a record for my mother, sister and I.

I wish I could say there were great reasons, but the chief reasons (a GPS for my mom, a replacement printer for my sister) were covered by 6 a.m. The rest were a series of small errands, mostly needed, in preparation for children, or creating costumes for children's Christmas programs to come.

The big rush of the morning at the places we shopped was over electronics. New HDTVs. Printers. GPS systems. Xboxes and phones. All to be largely wrapped and sent under someone's tree.

I won't debate about whether those were needed, or if they will bring joy. But what to do about those gifts of Christmases past - the worn-out printers, the tube televisions, last year's game system?

I'd hope they'd find a happy home, perhaps in the hands of a family who'd lost their job or who were otherwise in need. The game systems, for one, could go to a children's hospital or rehab center (many of the fitness games are being used for that now). At the very least, I'd hope they'd find a new life at Goodwill or Salvation Army store.

For those that are dead, though, don't simply kick them to the curb for next week's trash. Many communities and retailers have electronics recycling programs. You can find a number of them at the EPA's Web site.

Here's hoping we're as at least as responsible with our castoffs as we are with our shopping dollars!

Friday, November 26, 2010


Before I get going with the hustle and the bustle of the holiday season -- what with the cooking and the baking and the crafting and the planning and the visiting and the celebrating -- I thought it might be nice to remind myself to look up. I thought it might be nice to take a few solo moments for a long, deep breath of the cold, crisp air outside.

I want to remember to notice the pale sunlight dancing in the sky and through the tree branches. In nature, we are entering the quiet season.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Adventing a Reader

In which Green Bean hopes to make a Meaningful Memory.

Photo courtesy of Jess Nichols from Sweet Eventide.

We have an advent calender that we pull out of the attic year after year. It is a little wooden number that we fill with odds and ends - coins, the occasional chocolate, a promise of a special event. When the first door swings open on December 1, the Christmas season has officially begun.

This year, though, I'm going to try something a little different. Sure, we'll still put out our wooden advent calendar but we will also see the advent of a reader.

Last year, too late and too disorganized, I stumbled upon the idea of a December Book and Activity Advent from the divine children's craft website, The Crafty Crow. The idea is to read a different holiday themed book for each day of December leading up to Christmas and to couple that reading with a craft activity.

A daily craft activity might be a bit much for - even my eco-elves - during the busy month of December! But to read one special, unique book a night for the first 25 days of December? To think ahead, reserve those books at the library (ours will do this for free for children's books)?To not spend one penny? To leave virtually impact on the Earth and put nothing in the garbage can? And to do it all while giving the gift of reading to those I love most?

That sounds like the greatest gift of all.

Happiest of holidays.

This post is for the Green Moms Carnival to be hosted at The Green Parent on December 6th.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Bank Sustainably

This week's Conscious Shopper Challenge...

I'm in the midst of Thanksgiving preparations and having trouble finding time to blog this week. I don't want to leave you in the lurch on this week's challenge, but I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to come up with an original post today. So instead, I'm republishing a related post from my defunct Conscious Shopper blog that explains why banking is an important part of being a conscious shopper. As a little background - this was a post I was writing for the APLS Carnival on the topic of "charities."

Several times when I've told my husband what the topics are for the two blog carnivals I participate in each month, he has responded, "Who comes up with those?!"

I personally enjoy having a topic to write about. It taps into a different type of creativity than just blogging about anything that comes into my head. But this month was different. This month I had trouble coming up with anything to say.

For the record, I'm not saying anything against Green Resolutions, who came up with this topic (and happens to be one of my favorite green bloggers...and I really do think it's a great and unusual-in-a-good-way topic).

But, you see, my problem is that I don't give money to any charities...

I'm not saying never. I've dropped many many handfuls of change (and even a few dollar bills here and there) in the buckets of the Salvation Army, and even in the cups of beggars on the side of the road, although I've been told you shouldn't do that. We used to give to our local fire department every year after they miraculously saved all of our belongings in an apartment fire the first year we were married (and hey, hubby, we ought to start giving them money again...). And when we feel financially secure, we've been known to support our favorite organizations (NPR, New American Dream, Green America, the Sierra Club), who do great good, even if they aren't technically charities.

But the thing is...we give 10% of our gross income to tithing. I know my church is using that money for good, and I think 10% is all any reasonable person should be expected to give. If I were wealthy, I would give much much more, but in the meantime, I'm giving as much as I can. But tithing is not exactly the same as giving to charity.

So as I pondered this topic some more, I began wondering if there are ways to give to people in need and to give back to the community without money. And then I remembered an email I received from Green America a month ago with the subject line: Break Up with Your Bank.

The email was a reminder to me and other Green America members about the ridiculous behavior of many banks in this time of economic crisis. (The bank I use, for example, Bank of America, is receiving a $45 billion dollar bail-out but threw a $10 million dollar Super Bowl Party.) The email then went on to encourage Green America members to switch to a community investing bank.

What is a Community Investing Bank?

To understand what community investing banks do, you have to remember that when you stick your money in a bank, it doesn't just sit there, like valuables in a lock box, waiting for you to come collect it. The bank puts your money to work. They loan it out to people and charge interest, and they invest it. That's how banks make money, and also how they can afford to pay you interest on your savings accounts.

It's a smart system that benefits both the banks and the people who use them, but there's a catch: you have no say in where your money is loaned. Bank of America, for instance, is one of the largest investors in the U.S. in coal mining and coal-powered plants. I'd prefer not to be supporting that, thank you very much.

With a community investing bank, you still have no say in who gets to use your money, but you will have a general idea where it's going. Community investing banks loan to local organizations and businesses, economically disadvantaged people, and often environmentally friendly or socially responsible businesses and organizations as well.

Why should I use a community investing bank?

Green America explains, "Community investing provides the means for low-income people to use their own skills and talents to lift themselves up economically—the money provides loans to start environmentally sustainable businesses, builds schools, or funds critical services like affordable child care. As the saying goes, it’s not a hand out, but a very effective hand up for people who have been disenfranchised by our economic system....Continue to be generous in giving to charity, and then also devote at least 1% of your portfolio to community investing."

Plus, according to the Better World Shopper, changing your bank is the #1 thing you can do to vote with your wallet. And when you think about it, it seems obvious...Banks control where the dollars go, and they manage huge amounts of money. So it does no good for someone to start buying organic cotton clothing if they are still supporting a bank that invests in pesticides. Picking a bank and a credit card that make sustainable and fair choices will greatly magnify your ability to vote with your wallet.

How do I find a community investing bank?

If you live in Raleigh, you're lucky because I've done all the work for you. There's a credit union in Durham called Self-Help where you can open a savings account, CD, IRA, or money market account. If you don't live in the Triangle and would prefer a bank closer to you, you can check the Community Investment Database.

I am also interested in an online bank called ShoreBank Pacific, which is "committed to environmentally sustainable community development." The disadvantage of an online bank, of course, is the inability to withdraw money from an ATM. (The most attractive feature of Bank of America, when we chose it, was it's nationwide system of ATMs). But there are ways to get around that, like keeping a small account open in a nationwide bank for withdrawals.

For more information about community investing, you can read Green America's guide to Investing in Communities.

*Photo by borman818

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Crafting Christmas

Holiday bleatings from EnviRambo.

Call me crazy, but my house is already decorated for Christmas.  Yep.  The tree is up and the LED lights are on - timers.  I think this is the first year since leaving retail that I am actually looking forward to Christmas.

I was a mall rat for six years and it has taken equally as long to purge the holiday hell from my system.  Now when I think of Christmas I get the warm fuzzies that I remember from childhood, not the two straight months of torture I remember from my retail management days.

Since my decorating is already done, I'm turning my attention to the main event.  The gifts!  Not the gifts themselves, but the presentation of them.

It has been YEARS since I purchased wrapping paper.  Really, years.  So long that the paper we're still using has Disney princesses and My Little Pony on it.  My daughter is a Freshman in high school.  Princesses and ponies are so not cool.

I'm really hoping this will be our final year with store bought wrapping paper.  I don't have much against paper per se, but the inks used in wrapping paper often contain heavy metals.  I like to jam out to heavy metal, but I don't really want to eat it.  Huh?  You say.  Well, I like to compost waste paper and then use the compost to feed my garden, which in turn feeds me.  Get it?

In hopes of moving toward repurposed, hand-crafted Christmas wrapping I've started scouring the web for inspiration.  Here's some creative thinking I've bookmarked for future use.

Paint by number gift wrap from Just Something I Made
Cathe Holden, the creative genius behind Just Something I Made, created this unique wrapping by scanning thrifted paint by number paintings and then printing on regular paper.  The possibilities are endless with this one.  How fun would it be to scan old family photos of Christmas past to wrap presents in.  You could even customize the paper by using photos of the person the gift is for.

Depending upon the ink used, this may not be well suited for the compost either.  But they sure are cool!  I can see using scrap paper to print on.  You know, that pile of homework papers and one-sided drawings your children have.  Great stuff for running through your printer.  Plus, it's free!

Paper favor cups also from Just Something I Made

Here's another one of my favorites from Cathe Holden.  They're little paper cups made with a pot maker.   Smaller scraps of paper, magazine pages, newsprint, sheet music, phone book pages - all would be perfect for repurposing into these.  They would be a cute and simple way to gift cookies, peppermint bark, peanut brittle and all those other wonderful holiday treats you make.  Or as centerpieces with paper whites, amaryllis, or small fir trees planted in them.  Your guests could take them home as a party favor.

Paper flowers from Scrappy Habits
This may not look like Christmas at first glance, but the tutorial Sandy has for these paper flowers on her Scrappy Habits blog has me thinking of Christmas bows.  You know, the first thing that gets ripped off the present.  Why not top your present with one of these flowers made from last year's Christmas cards.  If you're really good you could top your gift with a card received from the person the gift is for and then see if they notice.  I'm all about subtle nuances like this.

Custom canning labels from Local Kitchen
For those of you gifting homemade treats you canned with love, Kaela from Local Kitchen has just the thing for you.  A custom label tutorial.  She walks you through step by step how to make this cherry on top.  You could use the same steps to create gift tags for anything you're giving.

When you put so much thought into the gift you give it seems silly to stop at the wrapping.  

What's better than getting a gift you love?  Getting one that has been wrapped with love.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Greenest Tree

The Green Phone Booth is happy to welcome Betsy of Eco-novice for today's Meaningful Memories post.

Due to some negative childhood experiences with real Christmas trees (picking endless pine needles out of our dark green shag carpet by hand), when it was time for me to buy a Christmas tree for my own home, I did not hesitate to buy a plastic tree. This was before I agonized over every plastic purchase. I bought it after Christmas for 75% off (I'm cheap like that). But it was a piece of trash. Pieces of it fell off when I decorated it and it barely survived the disassembling. A couple of years later when I moved, it was relegated to the Goodwill heap. That experience led to no Christmas tree for the next few years.
Then, last December, my husband returned from Target with a real Christmas tree in hand. He had purchased it for $12 (50% off, because Christmas was so near). To my surprise, it barely shed any needles. I had read a short blurb in some magazine recently that claimed it was actually greener to purchase a real Christmas tree than to reuse a fake plastic one (see more on this below), so I felt OK about it. This year I decided to look into the matter more thoroughly.

What Is the Greenest Christmas Tree?
The short answer: a locally grown organic pine tree. What is the least green tree? The crappy plastic tree (made in China) that I bought on clearance that lasted only a couple of years and is probably now in a landfill. But beyond that, there are nuances.

Real Tree

Creation. I once was under the misconception that Christmas trees are contributing to deforestation. In reality, almost all Christmas trees are grown on tree farms. Whenever a tree is harvested, several seedlings are planted, which means that buying a Christmas tree actually supports an operation that sequesters carbon while possibly preventing soil erosion, providing habitat for animals, and doing all the other wonderful things trees do.

A real tree is made of all natural materials, but its cultivation may have involved fertilizers and pesticides. Although you probably won't be exposed to the chemicals from conventional agricultural methods (UV light most likely burns them off before harvesting), the earth will be the worse for it. Buy an organic tree if you can.

Shipping. If you buy a real tree, you are buying a new tree every year. And if it was grown far away, it is being shipped a large distance every year. So try to buy local.

Disposal. Many cities have Christmas tree disposal programs. You leave your tree on the curb, the city takes it away and turns it into something useful, like mulch or compost. Make sure your tree is recycled and not sent to the landfill.

Fake Tree

Creation. Fake trees are universally made from PVC, and vinyl is the evil-est of the evil plastics. Toxins released during manufacturing, toxins released after manufacturing. If you buy a US-made tree, you can at least feel fairly certain that the PVC is lead-free. What should you do if you already have a fake tree? If it's in good shape, you could continue to use it, but wash hands thoroughly after decorating and handling. If you have small children, I personally would donate it. Some folks have ethical issues with this kind of donation (too toxic for me, but not for someone else). But if a person purchases your used plastic tree instead of a cheap new one, at least a message gets sent to the market-place regarding the demand for cheap plastic trees: make less next year.

Shipping. If you buy a durable fake tree, it is shipped just once and then used numerous times before needing a replacement. Fake trees probably weigh less and are more efficient (compact) to ship than real trees too, I’m guessing. Of course, even the fake tree’s one trip leaves a carbon footprint, so try to find one made locally rather than in China.

Disposal. Plastic doesn't go away. It doesn't biodegrade. Your plastic tree will be around for a long, long time. And will probably be leaching some toxins into the ground and maybe ground water as it sits in a landfill.

If you can, buy an organic tree from a local tree farm. Make sure it is recycled when the holidays are over. If you decide to go with a plastic tree, buy one that is high quality (so you can use it for many, many years) and made in the USA. Decorate your tree with LED lights and reuse ornaments year after year.
Don't like either of those options? Here are some other ideas:
  • Don't have a Christmas tree (bah, humbug)
  • Enjoy your neighbor’s/ sister’s/ cousin’s tree. This is what we did for many years between the plastic tree failure and my conversion to real trees.
  • Decorate a sturdy outdoor living tree (maybe even a pine tree!). A tree next to a big window would be ideal for bringing the holiday spirit inside. You'll most likely want to put your presents elsewhere. If you have small children like me, you can't put the real presents under your tree until Christmas Day anyway.
  • Buy a tree you can keep indoors for a week or so and then plant outside. This seems like a risky venture to me, since I have very limited gardening experience, but if you have a green thumb, this might be a good option for you.
  • Buy a nice tall tree-like indoor plant, and decorate it. I would be all over this (I do better with indoor plants), except that I have small children and under no circumstances will have a pot full of dirt on the floor until my kids are much older.
  • Be creative and make something tree-like with branches or repurposed materials, and then decorate it.
Additional Resources
Locally Grown Trees
National Christmas Tree Association (Find My Tree Now in top left corner)
Search Local Harvest (just enter your zip code)
Green Promise's List of Organic Christmas Tree Farms

Real Tree Recycling
Earth 911

More Information

Bio: Betsy is a SAHM of two young children who is trying to go green without becoming totally overwhelmed. She especially enjoys making green changes that save money and simplify life, like buying less, cooking from scratch, and early potty training. Check out her Green Holiday Series on her blog Eco-novice for more ways to go green and save green during the holidays.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Reclaimed craft ideas for your turkeys

Going Green Mama has been on the hunt for Thanksgiving-morning activities...

Like many cooks, one of the biggest worries of Thanksgiving morning is not just timing the meal and cooking that turkey - it's keeping the other turkeys away from the stove.

So for today's post, I've dug up some craft ideas that you can use with recycled and reclaimed craft supplies to entertain your little ones Thanksgiving morning. (Particularly if you have a willing helper!)

Starbucks (or other coffee) junkees can donate their cupholders used from the drive to the host's home to make cute Mayflower ships. Find directions at 4 Crazy Kings.

Almost Unschoolers shows how a few empty rolls of toilet paper, some scrap paper (or even bits of the sale ads!) and an old lunch bag can transform into harvest corn. Even a 2 year old, with some guidance, would love gluing this project together! (By the way, she also has a great idea for cranberry-tinted play dough, if you have a handful of extra berries!)

Alpha Mom turns her junk mail into colorful placecards for the table. (These could be even adapted to smaller cards for tight tables or to save more paper.)

And of course, there's the Thankful Tree. I'd never heard of this until my kindergartener came home with this as a class assignment, but it's a wonderful idea and can come as simple or as detailed as you like. In our version, we plucked a small branch from the ground at the park, tied on paper leaves with the names of people we were thankful for, and settled the branch in an unused pot buffered with an old sheet of newspaper. If you're feeling a little more crafty though, you can do a more eloquent version like this one at Playful Learning:

Wishing you all safe travels and a peaceful Thanksgiving with your loved ones!

Robbie @ Going Green Mama

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Little Things (consumable gifts)

A Suburban Greenmom realizes it's time to think about gifts again...

Okay, I had this sort of social faux-pas moment on Mother's Day last spring. My parents were visiting, and my mom and I have never really exchanged gifts for Mother's Day, we do cards and good wishes and stuff like that. But on the other hand, in the past 20 years we haven't really ever been in the same place for Mother's day. And my mom had brought me a couple of really nice gifts for Mother's Day, and I hadn't gotten anything for her...

Not to worry. For one thing, my mom is cool, and it wouldn't have been a big deal, and she's (thank God) not the kind of woman to spend the next year or ten having Negative Thoughts about her ungrateful daughter with no Mother's Day gift. For another, I know how to make cool cosmeticky products out of ordinary kitchen ingredients. So for Mother's Day this year, my mom got a nice bail-top jar of lavender-orange scented turbinado sugar scrub. I'm sure she knew it was a punt-gift, but I hope she enjoyed it anyway.

The ability to create unique and useful consumable gifts has been, for me, one of the best side effects of my whole "learning to be green" process. I mean, I've learned to do all this stuff for me and for my family, but somewhere along the way it occurred to me that with just a little work on "presentation," many of those same things make really lovely gifts for other people. And most of them are easy enough to make that kids can help out, so they also can learn both the skills to make easy lovely things that make life a little nicer, and the joy and fun one feels giving something homemade and personal.

So, here are my favorites:
  • Bath salts: You can find recipes for this all over the internet, but one good site--which includes instructions for pretty decorative jars, can be found here. Or a nice body "dusting powder"--Crunchy Betty has nice recipes for this. (Heck, Crunchy Betty has nice recipes for pretty much anything.)
  • Sugar and Salt Scrubs: essentially, this is bath salts with a little neutral vegetable oil (like grapeseed or sweet almond) added. Or, obviously, with sugar substituted for the salt. (Going Green Mama uses leftover candy canes to make a minty scrub--how inventive is that?!--and I have to wonder, having used Betty's mochacchino facial scrub, whether maybe adding some finely ground coffee to the blend might not both smell and work really nicely...)
  • Melt-and-Pour Soaps: This is one of my children's favorites. You can buy the glycerin soap base at a craft store or online, color with soap coloring, add fragrance with essential oils. You can pour it into soap molds, or into a loaf kind of container and slice it up. Easy, personable, and let's face it, everyone uses soap.
  • Tea Blends: My post of a couple of weeks ago here covered this topic pretty thoroughly--buy the basic ingredients in bulk and make your own mixes for a lovely and personal gift, maybe given in a pretty thrift-store-purchased teacup and saucer, with a small muslin bag attached for brewing.
  • Cocoa or Chai mix: if your gift-ee is not a tea drinker, homemade cocoa or chai mix could be a very nice gift too, given in a mug instead of a teacup.
  • Baked Goods: Probably not much I have to say about this, right? Especially if you have some "specialty" you love to bake, this can be a really nice gift either for an individual to take home to their families (or eat on their own!), or to take a big plate of something to a group of folks at work who could use a treat in the middle of the morning. Or afternoon. Or night. Whatever. (I sometimes take one of my bundt cakes, sliced on a plate, to the nursing home where my mother-in-law is staying, or a smaller portion to my own office.) Anyplace where the workforce is reduced to vending machine goods or junk food for their mid-shift snacks would probably love a nice energy-boosting quick bread or cake. And what about homemade granola?
  • Fresh Bread: Yes, I know, this is kind of the same thing as "baked goods," but it's sort of in a category of its own. For me this is often an "impulse gift" kind of thing for a neighbor or friend, and I'll bake an additional loaf for someone at the same time as I make one for our family. The "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes" method is spectacular for easy and fast artisan bread, the kind that makes people's eyes first widen, and then close when they get a whiff of the fresh yeasty smell...ask anyone, there is nothing like fresh baked bread to make people feel comforted and special.
  • Homemade Liqueur: This takes a lot of planning ahead, of course, but if you made herbal or fruit liqueur from some of your summertime harvest, or wanted to try just making some Irish Cream Liqueur from scratch, this makes a really lovely gift for the non-teetotaler in your life. (Wouldn't recommend this for the first grade teacher, unless you know her really well.) I often combine this with the loaf of fresh bread.
  • Preserves, jams, pickles: Heck, anything you put up from the summer, if it's well-preserved and in a nice jar, makes a great gift. Anything you preserved more of than you'll actually eat, there's your gift. (Lots of great internet sources for recipes, but the Food In Jars blog is by far my favorite...)
  • Gifts that give: Why not consider giving a gift that gives to someone in need? Heifer Project International enables one to give part or all of a gift of livestock to a family who then raises it and gives its first offspring to another family, and so on? The Hunger Site Store also has a wide variety of gifts for others--from paying for schooling for girls in Afghanistan, to buying lunch for AIDS orphans, to tree planting, to feeding marine mammals, to toys...
This site has suggestions for lots more in the realm of unique consumables--dog biscuits, soup mixes, herbal oils and vinegars, and lots more.

That's what I've got...So...what are your favorite consumable gifts? Recipes, links, anything you can share would be most appreciated!
--Jenn the Greenmom

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving Recipes from Fresh365

The Green Phone Booth is excited to welcome Erin from fresh365.

Hello, I am Erin from fresh365 and am very excited to be here! One of my favorite holidays is fast approaching, so I thought I would share a delicious gravy recipe, as well as a few other recipes that will be gracing my Thanksgiving table this year.

Baked Brie: Thanksgiving day would not be complete without this warm cheese, topped with cranberries.

Mixed Nuts: I am still deciding between these Candies Rosemary Walnuts and these Spiced Nuts. I don’t think I can go wrong with either!

The Best Vegan Green Bean Casserole: The name says it all. I have been making this recipe for 4 years now, and my family has begged me to make it again. And not a single one of them is vegetarian, never less vegan.
Cranberry-Pomegrante Sauce: This will be a new recipe added to our table this year & I am really looking forward to it. Of course, my brother will still ask for the cranberry sauce from a can (he’ll never learn), but that means more for me!

Asiago Sweet Potatoes: The potatoes start making an appearance in my kitchen as soon as the weather turns cool. They are simple and delicious—my favorite combination!

Apple Pie: This pie is one of the best I have ever had. And nothing says Thanksgiving like a warm pie for dessert.

Exotic Mushroom Gravy: This is fabulous over mashed potatoes, stuffing, butternut squash ravioli and just about everything else (except maybe apple pie…)

adapted from Gourmet . serves 4

1 lb mixed dried exotic mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, chanterelle)
1 c water
2 T butter
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 T soy sauce
1/2 c dry red wine (or red cooking wine)
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 T cornstarch, dissolved in 1 c vegetable broth and 1/2 c water
1/2 t sugar
1 T fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, parsley), finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
  • In a small bowl, combine mushrooms and water. Let sit 8-10 minutes, until mushrooms are supple. Remove mushrooms, reserving liquid, and finely chop.
  • In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, and sauté 5-7 minutes, until golden brown. Add mushrooms, reserved liquid and soy sauce. Sauté, 3-5 minutes, until liquid is evaporated and mushrooms begin to brown. Add wine and vinegar, stirring, 2-3 minutes, until liquid is evaporated. Add cornstarch mixture and sugar, stirring well. Bring to a boil, stirring, and simmer 2 minutes. Stir in fresh herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper.

What are your favorite Thanksgiving recipes? Please comment & leave links—there is always room for more at my table!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Vote

We're at the winding down phase of the Conscious Shopper Challenge with only six more weeks to go. So far this year, we've looked at many personal changes we can make to live greener, more frugal lives. I believe that personal changes are extremely important, but for these last few weeks, I want to suggest a few things you can do beyond your front door. Here's this week's challenge:


Did you vote in the last election? I hope so! Here's how you can complete this challenge:


  • Vote in presidential elections.


  • Vote for your senators, representatives, and state leaders.


  • Participate in local elections.

Now, I'm going to fess up about something. Politics are not my thing. I'm not a fan of political discussions, I can't stand cheesy candidate commercials, and I'd prefer to go about my life without ever paying attention to what politician stands for what. Every year, I have to drag myself to the polls.

But I still do it. I vote because...

  1. I'm pretty darn lucky to live in a country where I get to vote. Even if I'm not 100% keen on any political party or candidate, I am 100% in favor of democracy.
  2. By voting, I teach my kids that voting is important.
  3. Although it may feel like my one vote doesn't matter, I've seen what happens when enough people decide not to care. (ahem...Wake school board)
  4. If I don't vote, I can't complain about the outcome, and I do love complaining.

Okay, I'm joking on that last one, but I am serious about this: You need to vote. It's important.

Do you vote? Why or why not?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Upcycled Jar Lids

The Green Phone Booth welcomes Kathie from Two Frog Home for today's Meaningful Memories post.

I love the act of homecanning. I enjoy seeing my homegrown veggies in jars or turned into salsa. I enjoy eating canned locally grown peaches during a blizzard in January. I, however; hate single-use disposable lids. I am slowly making the switch to re-usable lids but I have lots of the disposable kind around. I re-use the old lids to seal jars of dehydrated goods or dried beans, but still I have lots of lids around awaiting some kind of purpose. I imagine, many of us homecanners, have lots of lids sitting in drawers dreaming of a higher purpose. Why not re-use those lids for gift tags? It’s a simple and fun craft project that’s pretty too.

Gather your supplies:
  • Old Canning Lids
  • Glitter and/or Confetti
  • White Glue
  • Awl
  • Permanent Markers
  • Ribbon/Yarn/String

Punch holes into your lids with an awl. Please be careful to not punch through your hands. The best way I found to do this is: to place the lid on your table/cutting board and lift up one end. While the lid is angled, push the awl through the end on the table slowly. Be careful not to push too fast or you’ll bend the lid.

Run a bead of glue around the rubber rim of your lids and sprinkle the glue with glitter or confetti. The best way to do this is to simply sprinkle it on, let it dry for a bit, then shake of the excess.

Use string, yarn, or ribbon to hang your tag from your gift. The opportunities for personalization are endless – add bows, pretty labels, even photos glued to the center to make your gifts just that much more beautiful.

Kathie lives with her soul-mate, Jeff, in northwest Montana. She’s a writer and teacher who enjoys living a simple, creative life centered around love. She writes about her gardening, cooking, and voluntary simplicity adventures at www.twofroghome.com

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Posts of Thanksgivings Past

Superhero secrets from The Conscious Shopper.

It's time for another flashback to Meaningful Memories of holidays past:

Spending time with your other family ~ Two years ago, EnviRambo and her hubby volunteered for her Community Thanksgiving Dinner, an opportunity to serve 3,500 people in her community. She suggests, "This holiday season when you are gathering with your family do not forget to spend time with your other family. Make a point to have personal contact, build connections, grow your family"

Writing Your Way to Happiness ~ JessTrev cites a study that writing thank you letters regularly can increase your happiness.

Giving Thanks and Acting Up
~ The Green Raven suggests looking for local sources for your Thanksgiving needs.

100 Mile Thanksgiving ~ EnviRambo takes the 100 Mile Thanksgiving challenge.

Thanksgiving, or giving thanks
~ Truffula "contemplates that Thanksgiving may really be about giving back."

A Season of Kind-Giving ~ I propose a new Thanksgiving tradition (which sadly I haven't followed through with this year.

Gobble, Gobble
~ The Greenhabilitator tries to figure out what to serve for Thanksgiving dinner.

The Best Pumpkin Pie Ever ~ This is seriously the best pumpkin pie I've ever eaten with cream instead of canned milk and a gingersnap crust.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

De-Stuff Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Going Green Mama is already dreading the holiday scale...

Depending on who you believe, the average person will chow down on 3,000 to 6,000 calories at Thanksgiving dinner. That's one meal. Regardless of who you believe, that's a lot.

Scarfing down drinks, four separate starch choices (and that's before dessert), turkey and side dishes galore is bad enough. But the holiday tradition of kicking back, disgustingly stuffed, and sleeping or watching football the rest of the afternoon just makes matters worse.

And don't forget KP. You'll have loads of dishes to wash and bags of trash to toss as you're prepping and recovering from our excuse for excess.

And should I mention there are starving children...in your town?

So here's my proposition: De-stuff your dinner this Thanksgiving. Here's a few ideas to get you started:

Delete dishes. The first year I hosted Thanksgiving, I was floored by the options for the meal. Instead of going nuts and causing stress in my small kitchen, I simply asked my family what was the one dish they couldn't live without? They answered, the meal was centered around those, and no one complained.

Schedule when you're serving. We all eat leftovers for days after the big dinner. But do we need the stress of juggling five dishes on four burners to make one meal? This year, consider simplifying your cooking schedule. Sure, you may love mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, but perhaps you serve one at lunchtime and one at dinner. It eliminates the "need" to eat everything, cuts back on crammed fridges, and you still get your taste.

Get a little fresh. Instead of boxed or restaraunt-bought dishes, consider making fewer dishes, but from scratch. Enjoy fresh, not frozen or canned, vegetables. Make a salad. And be thankful you're eating something that's better for you.

I know these are simple ideas, and I realize you might get some push-back. But think of the positives: Less food to cook. Less strain on the budget - and the waistline. Less dishes to wash. Less trash. And more time to simply be...thankful. And that's what the day is all about.

Friday, November 12, 2010

In which Truffula shares another dispatch rife with inner conflict...

I try hard to reduce my paper use, I really do.  To supply my in-house artists, handwriting practicers, and my own printing needs, I salvage one-sided paper at every turn.  At an infamous staff meeting some years back, I put my notes for a lengthy presentation onto a 1.5 x 2-inch sticky note, using both sides, of course.  My colleagues are still talking about it.  Envelopes are given several lives in our household.  I have turned off most of my paper bank and utility statements.

This week, we received a paper copy of our Parks and Recreation Departments' class and program guide mailed to our house.  I thumbed through it, and absentmindedly put it down on the kitchen table.

The next morning, I came into the kitchen to find my 10-year-old son going through it page by page as he ate his breakfast.  He enjoyed finding the entry for the class he takes (reminder to self: I need to register him for the next session).  Even the section for seniors didn't stop him, never mind that he's got 45 years to go before he qualifies for those.  (I'm not rushing him -- as it is, it seems like the time since his sweet nursling days were not that long ago...)

Like so many other agencies, both Parks and Recreation have had significant budget cuts.  You can pay for a subscription to keep having their paper guide mailed to you.  Or, you can use the online version.

Wishing to save paper and postage, and being frugal, I want to embrace the electronic guides, just like I want to love PDFs instead of printed books and newsletters.  I'm proud of myself when I avoid using even the one-sided paper I've rescued.  The thing is that I'm also frustrated when I can't just toss the to-be-read items into my bag for reading on the bus or other on-the-go place.  I'm a cover-to-cover IKEA catalog reader, and savor some other catalogs as well.  (No worries, the degree to which I savor these publications is extremely disproportionate to the amount I actually purchase from them.)   Truffula family library cards gather no dust as we go to the library several times each week.

So, I wonder.  I wonder about saving paper and postage and keeping budgets lean.  I wonder about the experiences I've had with printed materials.  And I wonder about my dear little TruffulaBoyz, one already a strong reader, and the other one poised to join his brother in books before long.  I wonder how they will relate to the written word, and whether PDFs and Kindles and Nooks and the-next-great-device-down-the-road will allow them to curl up with, or to have breakfast with, fairy tales, fables, historic stories, poems, and yes, classes for seniors (!) the same glorious way that print on paper allows.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Organic Cotton Yarn

The Green Phone Booth welcomes Brenda for today's guest post. You can read more of her thoughts on homemade living over at Sense of Home.

With autumn upon us and a crisp, cool feel to the air, the garden has been put to rest, canning done, and my thoughts turn to the winter ahead with its long dark evenings and time to knit or crochet. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an expert at knitting or crocheting, but I enjoy both and I very slowly pick away at the projects I have going. Currently I am knitting a hat and crocheting socks and an afghan. When I began the afghan last winter (yes, I am just that slow, plus it was put aside for the busy gardening season) I wanted it to be made out of 100% organic cotton.

But why should I care about organic cotton? It is more expensive. Well according to the Organic Trade Association cotton uses more insecticides than any other major crop. Cotton covers 2.5% of the world's cultivated land and yet uses 16% of the world's insecticides. Aldicarb, an insecticide used on cotton, is acutely poisonous to humans. It can kill a man with just one drop absorbed through the skin, yet it is still used and has been found in groundwater in 16 states, according to OTA. Cotton production also ends up in our food chain, whether directly through food oil or indirectly through the milk and meat of animals that have consumed cottonseed hull that is sold as feed. It can take 1/3 pound of synthetic fertilizers to grow one pound of raw cotton and it take just under a pound of raw cotton to make one t-shirt.

Cotton can be naturally grown in a variety of shades including cream, beige, brown, rust, chocolate, mauve, and green. Naturally colored cotton recently has been gaining popularity, but its history dates back centuries. Peru has a long history of growing naturally colored cotton; they also have the oldest recorded tradition of spinning and weaving. Cotton consumes a significant amount of chemicals both in growing and processing. Naturally colored cotton is easier to grow organically, plus it does not require any bleach or dyes in processing.

Recently at two different yarn stores when I asked for organic cotton yarn dyed with organic dye I got the same response, "We had problems with the yarn colored with organic dye so we no longer carry it". They both had organic cotton yarn and some natural color organic cotton yarn, but neither carried a variety of colored yarns dyed with organic dye.

After doing some more research I found a website that said "Our organically grown naturally dyed yarn is colored with plant dyes and due to their organic nature some shade variation will simply add to the yarn's unique inherent beauty". They also said to avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight and follow the recommended wash care instructions. I can understand and accept that. However, this was the problem the yarn stores I visited were having and they got enough complaints to discontinue the product.

Blue Sky Alpacas has beautiful organic yarn. That is the brand of the tan yarn above that I found in a local yarn store. Ecobutterfly Organics also carries organic cotton yarn and it is Fair Trade as well, plus when shipping they say that they reuse packaging, use the highest % post consumer recycled (PCW), sustainable & biodegradable packaging materials available.

On a cold winters evening I love to sit down with a cup of tea, some soft yarn on my lap, my cat by my side, and still feel productive as I work away on my afghan. Knowing the cotton grown to produce this yarn did not spew chemicals into the air or groundwater, all the better.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Limit Your Special Occasion Foods

The past few weeks of the Conscious Shopper Challenge have focused on greening our groceries. Here's the last challenge in this series:


Photo by jronaldlee

When I sat down and planned out all of the challenges at the beginning of the year, I didn't really think about when I'd be writing them. Two weeks before Thanksgiving and the big launch into the season of gluttonous eating may be the worst possible time to suggest that you start limiting your special occasion foods. On the other hand, since eating healthy is something many of us struggle with year round, now may be as good a time as ever to start thinking about it.

"Special occasion foods" is the term I use to describe foods that provide little nutritional value - things like chocolate, coffee, sugar, alcohol, fast food, and soft drinks that are appropriate for special occasions but not so valuable for daily consumption. Many of these foods are also served with a side of health, social, and/or environmental issues, such as:

  • Chocolate - heavy pesticide use, low wages for farmers, and child labor (sometimes even slave labor)
  • Beer - heavy pesticide use, possible health side effects
  • Coffee - deforestation, pesticide use, water use, low wages for farm workers, coffee cup waste
  • Sugar - soil degradation, soil erosion, water use, low wages for farm workers

Choosing to limit your special occasion foods is valuable not only for your health and the health of the planet, but also because they're budget-suckers, leeching away money that you could be spending on healthier foods. If you're having trouble buying organic or locally-grown foods and staying in the budget, examine how often you're consuming special occasion foods and where you could cut back. Keep special occasion foods special by saving them for treats rather than consuming them every day. If there's a category or two that you're not that keen on anyway - why not just let it go from your life. And if you must buy it, look for local, organic, and fair trade options.

I have to admit that of all of the challenges so far, this may be the one that's most challenging for me. I have a major sweet tooth that gets really angry if I go too long without feeding it, so for me learning to moderate my special occasion foods has been all about finding balance. Two other pieces of advice that have been really helpful for me:

  • Don't eat something if you don't really love it. I don't really like candy or cake, but in the past I always ate it if it was offered to me. Finally at some point, I realized what a waste of calories that was. Now, I decline cake and candy and stick to desserts I really enjoy, and if I take a bite of something and my first thought is "eh...," I put down my fork. (Okay, most of the time...none of us are perfect.)
  • Remember that there will always be a next time. I have been in many many situations where a food tastes so good that I want more and more...and then I'm stuffed and feel sick and put on a few pounds. Now, when I feel like going back for seconds, I remind myself that there will be more opportunities to eat _____. This is a great mental reminder at Thanksgiving or other holidays that come around every year.

How do you limit your special occasion foods?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Is there a doctor in the house?

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

Saturday I spent a lovely day watching the live stream of TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch.  The speakers were fabulous - including Beth Terry (Fake Plastic Fish), Ken Cook (Environmental Working Group), Van Jones (Green for All), Sylvia Earle (Mission Blue), Captain Charles Moore (Algalita Marine Research Foundation), and so many more.  It was in one word, EPIC.

I didn't really hear much that I didn't already know.  I'm pretty versed in the perils of plastic. - Other than the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is actually the size of CANADA, not Texas! Yikes! - Still, it felt beneficial to dedicate an entire day to the subject.

I walked away re-energized and more committed than ever to continue my pursuit to living plastic free.

I'd like to share with you one of the ways I have reduced my plastic consumption.

By buying Dr. Bronner's.

Dr. Bronner's castile soap has allowed me to cut two products out of my life and countless pieces of plastic.

This stuff is awesome.  It's certified USDA organic, Fair Trade, concentrated, available in bulk and can be used for EVERYTHING.

In my house it's used as body wash, shampoo and shave gel.  3 shower products reduced to 1.  6 pieces of plastic (bottle and caps) reduced to none.

My co-op offers Dr. Bronner's in bulk.  That means I can take my own container and fill it at the store.  Over and over and over again.  It's great!

If you don't have the bulk option available, you can still order it by the gallon.  One gallon lasts a lot longer than one 16 oz. bottle.  Especially since this stuff is super-concentrated and can be diluted way down.  Why pay for water at the store?  I have that for free at home.

The bottle states it has 18 uses.  I currently only use it for 3.  Are you using Dr. Bronner's for something other than I listed?  Maybe it could take the place of more products and more plastic in my home.

I was not solicited by Dr. Bronner's and am in no way being compensated for this post. I just like the product and want to share how it has made my life easier.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Collect Memories not Clutter

AmazinAlison lives in a little white house,
With a little white cat and a little gray mouse,
And a big black dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon loving husband.

We give gifts for many reasons. We strive to arouse the light and joy in the faces of our children when they receive a surprise. We wish to express genuine gratitude towards someone who makes a positive difference in our own lives. Or gifts may simply be given out of obligation. Whatever the reasons for giving a gift, we rarely give without putting a good amount of consideration into the likes and personality of the recipient.

Selecting a gift, especially a meaningful gift, can be anxiety inducing on its own. We may hope for divine intervention, shopping stores without anything in particular in mind, hoping that the perfect gift will make itself known. To date – I have yet to have a gift throw itself at my feet or say “I’m the one – pick me!” In fact, I usually leave shops either feeling depressed at all the useless tchotchkes for sale or bitter that a handmade eco-friendly soy candle costs $27, whilst a comparable paraffin based, lung cancer inducing candle (that looks just as pretty) could have been had for a mere $7. 

We have many standards and ideals about how much to spend and what sort of gifts are appropriate for different people, which often results in gifts that are nice, but underappreciated or easily forgotten.  Add in the challenge of selecting a gift that is both meaningful and sustainable, and you might have a #breakdown before you even get started!  

Another challenge in pursuing our goal of an eco-friendly gift is that it can easily miss the expectations of the recipient.  My son may be in love with a felted bowling-pin set sold at his preschool’s fall fundraiser, while my nephew may be insistent on an official Lego set.  Either way there is a good chance that the name and face of the gift giver will not stay long in the memory of the gift recipient. And, material gifts, except for ones that generate experiences, do not lend themselves to creating meaningful memories. For example, I remember in detail that I received a bike for my 7th birthday, because I was immediately able to take it out and learn to ride it in my grandmother's cul-de-sac.

Can you remember what you got or gave for Christmas last year? For the most part, I have ZERO recollection as to the gifts that I received for my birthday, let alone Christmas. Does this make me an ungrateful ninny? I certainly hope not, because I love to receive gifts, I send thank you notes, and I do feel gratitude upon the receipt of a gift. The problem is that over time beeswax candles, scarves and books all blend together and I simply cannot remember how or when they appeared in my life. So what is a surefire way to create a meaningful memory? Give an experience. 

My Sister-in-Law and her husband celebrate their birthdays two days apart. In the past we sent them a joint care-package that we’d put together at a store selling goods made in our lovely state of Colorado.  Each year we would get a polite thank you, but we could never really tell if the gift had been enjoyed. And after a few years of sending this sort of gift, we had no idea if we were sending the exact same thing year after year.

And then, in 2008 my SIL and her husband picked up and moved from Ann Arbor to Seattle. Both of them were busy setting up their business anew and working heavily on the 2008 election. Their birthdays happen to fall on November 2nd and 4th, which means that in 2008 they were a little busy to take time out and celebrate on their own. So, we researched nice local restaurants and we came across one just down the street from my SIL’s office with rave reviews. We bought a gift certificate that would ensure they could enjoy a full dinner for two and sent it off in the mail. 

Initially we did not receive a response, but a few weeks later we got a call and they were thrilled. We’d selected a restaurant that both had heard mentioned, but that their frugal selves would never have dared to try.  They had a wonderful evening and to this day are appreciative of the fact that they had the opportunity to try the restaurant and participate in their local neighborhood culture. Bingo! Meaningful Memory created and shared. 

An example that I did not initiate, but that is still a topic of discussion several years after the fact, is the hot air balloon ride that my Aunt received for her 70th Birthday. For several years my Aunt said that if she made it to 70 she was going to go for a ride. And so my cousins chipped in and bought a private ride for the family. My Aunt and her boyfriend, her kids and a couple grandkids all piled into the balloon and had a fabulous time. My cousin’s husband then took the photos and videos from the day and created a movie. Just ask and I am sure my Aunt will pull out the DVD and show it to you with pure joy. Sure, she could have bought herself the trip, but it was so much more fun to receive it as a gift from all her kids and experience the day as a family affair!

Another experience that we gave to create a meaningful memory includes tickets to a childrens' concert for the 2nd Birthday of our friends’ daughter. We bought two sets of tickets and made it a date with the concert followed by the picnic. Both kids remember the concert a year later!

And, last Christmas we gave my mom a combo material/experiential gift with subscription to Sundance Movie Festival films. For six months this year she received movies that were not always shown in local theaters, but that she ended up loving. Not only did this spread out the gift, but it gave my mom the opportunity to talk about and share her gift with friends and family. And, just a few weeks ago, completely unprompted, my mom said that in the future she’d love to receive only experiences as gifts! 

And so, as you begin the annual quest for the perfect green holiday gift(s), think about giving an experience. What types of activities do the people in your life love? Or what would they do given a certain amount of time or money, but that they rarely get a chance to do? Maybe grandmother would adore tickets to a musical or the philharmonic. Your sister and her husband might rock a couples cooking class. Your husband has been talking about learning to sea kayak, so sign him up for lessons! Or give your niece and nephew an opportunity to do some indoor skydiving!  If you come across an experience that breaks your budget, share your idea with a friend or family member and see if you can get in on a joint gift. Sometimes, it is even better (as in the case of my Aunt’s balloon ride) to receive a meaningful gift from a group of people that care about you!

Experiences can be given as certificates in home-made or eco-friendly cards. Or you could decorate a recycled box and attach the gift certificate to a rock placed inside. Get creative. Get the kids to help. And, get ready to create a meaningful memory!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Savoring the seasons

It's not too often that the snowfalls are punctuated by fireworks, but it was a treasure we were treated to last night.

Our first snowfall of the season coincided with our local celebrations of Diwali, the festival of lights. Admittedly seeming late this year compared to past seasons (often before Halloween), Diwali is a fun excuse to recall that seemingly "everyday" days in our society can too be treasured.

And as my toddler was praying that the fireworks didn't scare him, we heard the sounds of showers. Snow showers. And it's then that our little miracle began.

Too many times, a snowfall is a bother, not a treasure. Too often, we focus on the inconveniences of it (travel, scraping our cars or shoveling a driveway) and forget the sheer beauty of the whiteness covering the branches, the bushes, the ragged details of our landscapes.

Or worse, we miss the event completely, only grudgingly seeing the end result.

Last night, I was reminded of the beauty of the coming winter. And as we're beginning to see the hustle and bustle of the end of the year - whether it's holiday happenings or end-of-the-year work projects to push out - set aside time, however small, to savor the season's little changes. I promise you won't regret it.

Wishing you happiness this holiday season,
Going Green Mama

Friday, November 5, 2010

First Friday Focus on: your own tea blends

A Suburban Greenmom settles down for some meaningful memories over a nice cup of tea...

This particular First Friday of the month, instead of focusing on a particular herb , I'd like to enter the Meaningful Memories zone and talk about one of my favorite gifts to make for friends, family members, teachers, etc--homemade tea blends. (And reclaim a delightful beverage from its more recent political overtones.)

This can work whether you drink "real" tea (black or green) or prefer herbal teas (which are technically "infusions" rather than "tea," but that's neither here nor there); it's still a lot of fun, can be very affordable, is a great "with kids" project, and is just, well...sort of neat.

So below I'd like to offer some options for different blend recipes, depending on what kind of result you want and just, in general, what you're looking for. From a gifting perspective, you'll want to pick combinations that taste and smell lovely; if you're wanting to be more medicinal, try not to have it taste horrific, but here it will be the choice of herbs that makes the most difference.

Black Tea Blends:
If a store local to you (like Whole Foods) sells bulk black tea, that's probably the way to go. I also get my tea spices in bulk. You can also get the tea and spices from various mail-order places--I happen to love Mountain Rose Herbs, because their products are excellent across the board and they observe ethical growing practices, but you may have another source you prefer. You may find some of this kind of stuff at your local Home Economist or other bulk store--that will probably vary from store to store.

For any black tea blend recipe, I tend to go with a ratio of 2-3 parts tea to 1 part added herbs/spices, but many might want more tea and less spice. For my own preferences, I lean to the warm-ish, wintery kinds of spices--I blogged about my own favorite recipe last winter, a mixture of basic black tea (I usually get Assam, but use what you like) with cinnamon chips, orange peel, dried ginger, and hulled cardamom . This exact blend, especially if one added a little black or white pepper (and/or fennel, anise, and I've even seen bay leaves in the recipe) and drank it with milk and honey, would make a very nice chai.

From here on out, though, you can just...play. Orange peel and clove only (go easy on the clove and up the tea in the ratio!)--delicious orange spice tea. Lemon peel with a little ginger. Yummm. A tea blend with fennel seeds and dried ginger would be great for soothing an upset tummy after a particularly large holiday meal. Dried apple pieces with cinnamon chips. Your possibilities are endless--this could be one of the most fun and tasty experiments you'll ever try.

(I'll be honest here--I'm not a green tea person, so I'm not going to go there. Anyone have any nice green tea recipes you use a lot?)

Herbal Tea Blends (for--at least partially--medicinal purposes, or to avoid caffiene)
This is where the boundaries blur a bit--because in reality, you can do any of these blends with black tea as well--it all depends on what you like. And while some herbs are good for addressing a particular medical condition, others are just great herbal "tonics," i.e. they "tone" your system and keep everything in good strength and balance. For example:

Rose Hips are one of the best sources of Vitamin C ever.
Ginger warms the system and is a great remedy for indigestion
Chamomile flowers, as we all remember from Peter Rabbit, is soothing and calming
Peppermint leaves cool the system and are wonderful for easing headaches
Raspberry leaf is an ingredient in lots and lots of teas to strengthen women's reproductive systems and is often given in the second and third trimesters.
Hibiscus flower is a gentle diuretic and laxative (erm...also helpful during pregnancy!)
Dandelion root and leaves are honestly among the best tonics and body-strengtheners around; I happen to think they both taste vile, but not everyone agrees with me. If anyone comes up with a nice dandelion blend that masks the bitterness, please let me know!
Licorice Root, Marsh Mallow, and Slippery Elm are all mucilaginous, which means they are soothing and sort of...well...mucousy, but in a good way. These are the ones to use the day after screaming too loud at the rock concert or soccer game. They sooth and coat the throat and help make the raw tissues less raw and inflamed
Dried Elderberries and Wild Cherry Bark are old-fashioned cough remedy ingredients, and they taste nice in tea as well.
Lemon Balm leaves are citrussy and soothing, and easy to grow
Dried Lavender flowers are another natural sedative, and they go beautifully with many other herbs--especially lemon balm and the citrus peels, in my opinion.

These herbs can be mixed with each other or with black or green teas to make your own blends to address whatever you need to address at any given time. Our go-to herb tea is a mixture of mostly chamomile flowers with some mint leaves; it's a wonderful de-stressor and tastes lovely. Sometimes we'll add some ginger root to it.

A blend of rose hips and chamomile is also very nice--tart and fruity, but also soothing.

A winter cough would probably respond well to a lovely tasting blend of black tea, cinnamon chips, and elderberries (haven't gone there yet, but it sounds delicious!), which I may have to try today, since this cough just isn't going away.

As I said, the possibilities are endless. Use your imagination, use your search engines, and tea responsibly--remembering that I am neither a doctor nor a license herbalist, so please do your own homework and make sure whatever you try is first safe for you. There's a lot of good herbal information on Mountain Rose Herbs (where I buy most of my stuff), at SusunWeed.com, and through Rosemary Gladstar's site--these are where I'd go first.

And finally, if you are interested in pursuing teas for addressing physical ailments but don't want to blend your own, there's a great line of teas called Traditional Medicinals (Whole Foods carries them, at least mine does, as well as most other natural food stores I've been to) that does the blending for you. Mountain Rose Herbs also has a wide range of medicinal tea blends. (Sorry--I don't mean this to be a running commercial for them, but they are sort of my go-to site!)

Gifting tea blends
As I said, for tea gifts you're going to want something that tastes lovely and looks pretty in the gifting.

For creating the blends, I've had a lot of fun sitting around the table witih my kids and different bags of herbs and spices, letting them inhale each thing and get used to its smell, then smell what you get when you blend the two together, and so forth. It's like mixing colors, only training their noses to pay attention to what's going on around them. Then we play with different proportions, try different things, till it smells just right. Then we drink a cup of tea to make sure. Then we tweak. It's a seriously fun way to interact with kids and get them thinking about something they maybe never thought about before.

For the gift's presentation--basically you just need something airtight. If you don't mind buying more stuff, those bail-lid jars are really pretty and classy looking. Ordinary mason jars like you'd use for jam would also work well. Another pretty option would be to hit the local thrift store for some pretty teacups, put the tea into a ziploc baggie, and put the baggie into the teacup. (I know, we don't want to use more plastic, but I can't think of another safe way to get it around...anyone have any ideas that would work with the thrifted teacup method?)

Don't forget to include a little muslin bag or other form of reusable "tea bag" and instructions for how to brew--usually about a teaspoon of tea blend per cup of tea--with your gift.

Enjoy! And enjoy some meaningful holiday moments of de-stress over some tea. And maybe some cookies too.


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