Friday, December 31, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge Year End Review

We did it! 52 weeks of challenges to go green without going broke, and we've finally reached the end! Thank you so much to all of you that stuck with me this year. I hope it's been a productive year and that you feel a little bit greener than you did at the beginning of the year. If you'd like, you can go back and re-calculate your carbon footprint to see if your score is any different.

(But for the record, I think those calculators are extremely inaccurate, so even if your score hasn't changed, I'm sure you've still made a difference and you should pat yourself on the back.)

As I said when I started this challenge, my goal was to reassess my green side - to "make sure I'm still committed in some areas and push myself a little farther in others." I hope the challenge has been as helpful for you in that way as it has been for me. I have a much greater awareness now of the areas I'm doing great in, and I know what I need to work on next year.

Below is a complete index of the Conscious Shopper Challenge. I hope you'll take a minute to add in the comments how the experience went for you, what areas you can check off as a Marathon Runner, and what areas you plan to work on next year.

See you in 2011!

The Conscious Shopper Challenge Index

1) Calculate your carbon footprint

Challenge #1: Trim Your Waste-Line

2) Keep track of your trash for a week
3) Switch to cloth bags
4) Start using a reusable water bottle/thermos
5) Green your household cleaners
6) Dispose of your disposable paper products
7) Go green in the bathroom
8) Green your diapers
9) Reduce packaging
10) Start composting
11) Recycle everything
12) Pack a waste free lunch

Challenge #2: Energize

13) Change your bulbs
14) Get a home energy audit
15) Save energy through heating and cooling
16) Save energy when cooking
17) Save energy when washing dishes and laundry
18) Slay your vampires
19) Upgrade to energy star
20) Support renewable energy

Challenge #3: Water Down

21) Reduce your indoor water use (Part 1)
22) Reduce your indoor water use (Part 2)
23) Reduce your outdoor water use (Part 1)
24) Reduce your outdoor water use (Part 2)

Challenge #4: Travel Sustainably

25) Walk
26) Bike
27) Keep up with your car maintenance
28) Use public transportation
29) Learn to hypermile
30) Upgrade to an energy efficient vehicle
31) Travel sustainably over long distances

Challenge #5: Non-Consumption

32) Avoid temptation
33) Buy used
34) Reuse/repair
35) Start a swap network
36) Have more fun, less stuff
37) Observe an ecosabbath

Challenge #6: Green Your Grocery Bill

38) Shop smart
39) Learn to cook
40) Eat less meat
41) Eat seasonally
42) Buy local
43) Buy organic
44) Plan a garden
45) Limit your special occasion foods

Challenge #7: Beyond Your Front Door

46) Vote
47) Bank sustainably
48) Get involved
49) Get to know your neighbors
50) Plan an act of eco-service
51) Give to charity

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Future Is Here

From the bean of Green Bean.

I heard the noise out front and pried open the shutters. A delivery? I hadn't ordered anything. Through the trees, on the other end of the driveway, three trucks slowed to a stop, single file. Each boasted a large bed brimming with different colored garbage cans. One had blue, the next green, and the final one, black.

I bit my lower lip. It wasn't garbage pick up day. These weren't garbage trucks. A couple guys hopped out and unloaded one of each of the shiny colored trash cans, lining them up like soldiers near my mailbox. Squinting, I made out the the word Recology.

Woohoooo! My whoop must have echoed through the neighborhood and surely startled the delivery men. A few years ago, we'd been told that our garbage service would be transferred. This January, we'd be moving to single stream recycling. Bo-yeah! All of our neighboring cities would also move to composting their food scraps (a victory we'd won in our city a few years ago). And we'd all have a tiny little garbage can for what was leftover: landfill.

The future has arrived. It is bright, shiny and full of hope, recyclables, and rotting food. Welcome 2011!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Merry Birthday Christmas

Going Green Mama has tired of cupcakes and Christmas treats....

This past week marks my son's third birthday. His "birthday Christmas" (as he calls it) is a milestone he keenly reminds us of at every opportunity. And at the tender age of two, he's got it down that this means toys.

Late December birthdays typically mean one of two things: the birthday person is largely lost in the holiday hustle and bustle, or the family goes overboard in trying to overcompensate that it's the holiday season.

In our home, we've talked extensively about how to handle this issue before my son realizes the effect of a birthday five days before baby Jesus's. Here's how we opted to handle it:

1. Limit gift-giving to three items from the parents, possible extra gift from sibling. (We instituted this originally for Christmas, when by September the year my daughter was born I'd already gone a wee bit overboard.)

2. Be strategic in your shopping. My kids get a lot of "needs" for their gifts and a fun book or toy. They have enough toys, to tell the truth. At this age, they're just happy to open wrappings.

3. Be flexible in celebrating special days. Birthdays are marked with family gifts and dinner. A small celebration with important friends or family members can always happen in the weeks surrounding it. Having family members that have to travel to celebrate helps this considerably.

4. Realize a celebration doesn't have to equal "party." My little guy will be thrilled to go to the electric train exhibit at the local museum. It's special to him, his loved ones will share it with him, and that's what makes the moment.

I realize it's simple for now; I'm sure as my children age we'll have to get more creative.

If you have a December birthday in your home, how do you emphasize it among the holiday hustle - and without overcompensating with stuff?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Our Handmade Holiday

Celebrating with the Conscious Shopper

I read several posts this holiday season about people who were simplifying the holidays by cutting back on traditions and giving fewer gifts. That is so not me. I love the craziness of the season - the making and the baking and the giving and the celebrating...It doesn't feel like Christmas to me if there isn't a little bit of stress involved, and I'm okay with that.

However, packing in a ton of traditions and giving a lot of one of a kind homemade gifts without becoming overwhelmed can take some planning ahead (as Green Bean points out here). So to help you get some ideas for next year, I thought I'd share a few of the gifts we gave this year:

Blank notebooks for the boys' friends (tutorial here - thanks for the tip, Green Bean!)

Chocolate chip oatmeal quick bread (recipe here) The best part about this mix is that the bottles can be returned to an area grocery store for a bottle deposit refund. Love it!

wooden nativities (pattern here)

crocheted mesh scarf (pattern here)

crocheted dishrags

For more ideas, check out what we did last year.

This is our last Meaningful Memories post. Thanks so much to everyone who participated!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

O Christmas Tree

A meaningful memory from the bean of Green Bean.

"Is that guy really Santa?" my youngest asked, eyeing the bearded gentlemen adorned in red from head to toe. After many questions, my husband explained that he was Santa's helper.

As I tucked my son in that night, he sighed. "I don't think Santa needs any more helpers. I want to work for him but I think he doesn't need any help." That was my entry.

I gasped. "Are you kidding me? Santa needs all the helpers he can get." I reminded him how we can help Santa out by giving to others during this holiday season - by giving to family, friends, animals, those in need. This has been a recurring theme in the Green Bean household during the past several holiday seasons. Some things, however, make a bigger impression on my boys than others.

Their favorite, and mine actually, is giving back to nature.

Each year - starting shortly after I began blogging in 2007 - my family has had a tradition of reconnecting with nature over the holidays. The older the children get, the more we are able to do. What began with a hike and hanging some pre-made birdseed eggs turned to Indian corn slathered in corn and bird seed and then to this year's Christmas tree, dedicated to the birds and small creatures of our yard.

We rolled pine cones in peanut butter and sunflower seeds one day and then next strung popcorn and dried fruit together. The kids consumed copious amounts of the fruit and popcorn - a healthy snack during an otherwise sugar filled season. Admittedly, the boys pooped out before mom.

Inspired, however, by a reading of the beautiful book, Night Tree, in which a family annually decorates a forest tree on Christmas Eve, we gathered our energy to create our own special tree. We picked a bare tree outside a front window and then sat back to watch squirrels, jays and sparrows enjoy our offerings.

And this is a true story - the kids broke out into spontaneous Christmas carols the minute we were done decorating. The song they sang? O Christmas Tree, of course!

Happiest holidays to you and this beautiful world in which we live.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Give to Charity

We've made it to the end - after nearly a year of making small changes to go green without going broke, we're down to the last challenge:


Photo by mmlolek

What does giving to charity have to do with going green? As I've said before, I believe that sustainability is as much about people-saving as it is about planet-saving. The future I look forward to is one where people care about the planet and about the people who live here, and giving to charity is one way to bring about that future. Plus, a charitable mindset and awareness of other people's needs can be good motivation to put down that flashy new thingamajig that you know you don't really need.

Here are three ways to give to charity:

Donate time.

Certainly monetary donations are important, but when you can, also consider volunteering your services to charitable organizations in the area. In many ways, time can be more valuable than money. Here are some places you can volunteer:

Donate money or goods.

In addition to time, you can donate money to any of the organizations listed above. Here are a few other organizations to consider:

Pay a tithe.

For any non-religious readers, let me just say that I'm using the word "tithe" here very loosely. To me, tithing means setting aside a specific portion of your income to give to charity. By definition, a tithe is a tenth (given to a church), but in this loose interpretation, it can be whatever you decide as long as it's a set amount that you give on a regular schedule (and whether or not you give it to a church is up to you).

Paying a tithe is a small step up from simply donating to charity because you plan for it. It's part of your budget. It's a commitment. And if you're truly tithing, you wouldn't say, "I know I was planning to give this money to charity, but I really want those shoes!"

How do you give to charity?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Downside of Being a One Car Family

The Conscious Shopper dreams of two cars...

"See you later," my husband says, leaning through the car window to kiss me goodbye.

"What time do I need to be back?" I ask.


I nod. "Okay, see you then."

My husband and I own one car between the two of us. We gave up our second car when we moved to the DC suburbs several years ago and got by easily on the metro system. Two years ago, we moved to Raleigh, NC where public transit consists of a very meager bus system and a whole lot of arguing between government officials about whether or not they should put in a commuter train. We chose a house near my husband's office and kids' school and stuck to one car, but some days I wish we'd decided to get that second vehicle.

Most days, my husband is able to walk to and from work, but for the past few weeks, he's been spending a lot of time at his company's data center, which means he has to drive. Or I should say - which means I have to drive him. And then I have to pick him up at the end of the day. So because we only have one car, we end up travelling twice as many miles on days like that.

Financially, being a one car family is definitely best. We only have one car payment, fewer car repairs, less to pay in insurance. In theory, we've saved the resources it would require to manufacture us a second car. Unless we're running down our car twice as fast...We still end up putting fewer miles on our one car than the average family puts on their two, but not half as much like I would have expected.

I still think sticking to one car was the right choice for us for now, but I'm also starting to admit to myself that becoming a two car family is our inevitable future. Or maybe one car and a motor scooter.

Any one car readers - what has been your experience?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Embroidering with My Daughter

The Green Phone Booth welcomes Amber of for today's Meaningful Memory.

I like to think of myself as a crafty, do-it-yourself type. I knit. I sew. I needle felt. I bake bread from scratch and do home canning and grow my own vegetables. I do these things in an effort be green, to save money and to reject the rampant consumerism that can be so prevalent in our culture.

I have a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old, and I like to involve them in my crafting and do-it-yourself-ing as much as possible. It's not always easy, though. They can't knit, my 2-year-old tramples the seedlings in my garden, and my 5-year-old staunchly refuses to eat any canned food I prepare. Children often don't co-operate with adult visions of a happy family all working together to create a modern homestead. I realize this, and I try not to sweat it.

I haven't been able to completely let go of my desire to involve my children in making things, though. And when I was reading Amanda Soule's fabulous book The Creative Family, I came across some suggestions for embroidering with preschool-aged children. I decided to present it to my daughter Hannah, who was 4 at the time, and see if she liked it. I chose a fabric with a loose weave and got a needle with a slightly blunt tip and let her loose. To my surprise and happiness, she really enjoyed it.

Hannah drawing an embroidery pattern

There is no right or wrong way to craft with children, so you can feel free to forge your own path. But I will tell you what we do, to give you an idea of what embroidering with a young child looks like.

Hannah starts an embroidery project by drawing a picture of what she plans to embroider. I have explained to her that we only embroider outlines, and we can't really fill in the picture. Laying out guidelines up front means that we get a picture that is manageable for Hannah to embroider. Once we have a picture, I transfer it to a piece of fabric using a pencil crayon. I draw the outline as best I can. It doesn't have to be perfect, because Hannah's embroidery isn't perfect, either. It just gives her an idea of where to do her stitches.

Hannah embroidering

I bought an embroidery hoop and a whole lot of colors of embroidery thread at the craft shop. Having lots of colors makes embroidering much more appealing for kids (and adults, too, for that matter). We choose a color to start with, and I thread the needle and do the first stitch, to give Hannah a starting point. Beyond that, I leave it mostly up to her. When a child is learning, they will make mistakes. We have a lot of tangles, and at first Hannah would mess up her stitches. I am available to fix it, but I've found that she works and learns better when I let her do it on her own.

Hannah has sometimes been frustrated when her work didn't look the way she envisioned it would. She's asked me to do it for her on occasion. I emphasize to her that the person receiving the finished embroidery will love it because she did it. And it's the truth. The imperfections in a child's work embody the person that they are when they do it, and make it more precious.

Hannah embroidered a crow

Once you have a finished piece of embroidery, you can do a few things with it. We usually make a pillow and sew it on to that. I do this part, but a slightly older child could make a pillow themselves. You can also frame it, or add it to a quilt or bag or even the front of a T-shirt.

Hannah's created embroidered gifts for grandparents, aunts and teachers. They're one-of-a-kind objects, and they're relatively simple projects that can usually be completed in a day or two. This makes them good last-minute gifts, which is always a great trick to have up your sleeve. Not only are you knocking off something for hard-to-please Aunt Patsy, you're doing it quickly and bonding with your child at the same time.

Have you ever tried embroidering with a child? How has it worked for you? Or, do you have other ideas for last-minute gifts that kids can make? I'm sure we'd all love to hear about them.

Amber is a crunchy granola mom, suburban superstar and aspiring writer. She lives with her family in Metro Vancouver, Canada. You can catch up with her regular adventures on her blog at

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Reclaimed Christmas Crafts

'Twas the week before Christmas, and you say you have some spare time?

Whether you're killing time on a blustery winter day, searching for a way to entertain the kids or looking for that last-minute gift idea, we've got ideas for you and your kids to get your Christmas crafting fix:

This is something I'd wished I knew about before hitting the winter farmers market last weekend. Abbie at Farmers Daughter walks you through how to turn ordinary gourds into these cute Santa ornaments.

If you don't mind the shine of a little glitter, these cute little angel ornaments made from fallen pinecones are a way for the kids to spend some time on a blustery afternoon. Check out Nini Makes for directions.

We made these simple puzzle-piece Christmas ornaments at our library's Christmas event. The berries were punched foam, though you could use Christmas-card envelopes, catalogs or any other red scrap paper. Kaboose has directions that include decorating with buttons rather than berries.

Perhaps the most imaginative ornament (and one I wouldn't dare recreate with my adventurous toddler) is this light-bulb ornament that Lettuce Share stumbled on while visiting the Edison Estate. "At $20 a piece, the picture is my souvenir. I’ll wait for a light bulb to blow around here and make my own," she writes. She's already figured out the process.
Wishing you a very merry Christmas season,
Going Green Mama

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tutorial: Heat Therapy Travel Pillow

Sore muscles and more presents to make in the home of the suburban Greenmom...

Anyone else exhausted? I am. (It doesn't help when I deliberately go to bed early, and then my body is so used to getting only 5-6 hours of sleep that I pop up ready to face the day at 3am...grrr...)

I've had these two ideas for crafty-gifts in my mind for a couple of weeks, and today I realized I could combine them into one: those little doughnut-shaped travel neck pillows, and the lovely heat-in-your-microwave warming muscle therapy pads.

The kids and I will most likely be traveling east the day after Christmas via Amtrak--between the cost, the carbon footprint, and the new TSA annoyances involved in air travel at the moment, it just made more sense, and besides, the kids think it's a Real Adventure. The catch is that we made the decision late enough that we were unable to get sleeping cars even if we wanted to, and they are overnight train rides, so we'll basically be spending the night in coach train seats. I'm already resigned to this being two sleepless nights for me, because I'm a bad sleeper
anyway (c.f. above), but I'd at least like the kids to be comfortable. Plus I like to make them at least one Christmas gift each year and this one has been a dud in that regard. So this morning I decided to make them cute and comfy little fleece travel pillows for our trip. Oddly, I couldn't find a single (free) tutorial for the travel pillows online, so I figured I could make my own here--obviously if you're not interested in the heat therapy option, you could stuff them with whatever you want.

Heat Therapy Travel Pillow Tutorial:

Part I: the pattern
  • measure the circumference of the neck in question. (I made the prototype for myself--not to be selfish, but because if I screwed it up I'd rather it be for me and not a gift!) Divide by 3, and you have the diameter of the neck size you want.
  • Add about 10 inches to this number--that's the total diameter of your circle pattern
  • Using paper, muslin, or whatever, cut a circle in this size; cut out a circle the size of your neck-hold in the middle of that.
  • (the trick to making a very decent if not absolutely precise circle, if you don't want to mess with a compass or whatever: fold a square piece whose sides are the same as the diameter of the circle you want into quarters. Using a tape measure or even string, holding one end at the corner of your folded square, make 4 or 5 dots around the square as you go. The more dots, the more precise your circle will be. Then just cut around the marks you made, and your circle will be pretty darned round.) (See the photo if this explanation made no sense!)
  • Remove about 1/4 of this circle and round the edges; now you have your c-shaped pattern. (Or you can cut in half--or just make half, for that matter--and cut on the fold. I wasn't very scientific about this. Heck, it's December 17, who has time for science?...)

Part II: the inner pillow

  • Using muslin or cotton, or any fabric that's in good shape but which you don't much care about--for me it's a thrift store sheet--and cut two pieces in your pattern shape.
  • Sew together, "right sides" together if it matters (it didn't for me, with the white sheet), leaving a good few inches unsewn; I did mine at the back of the neck, but they could be anywhere. Do not, as I did at first, make the unsewn part too small--it'll be a royal pain getting the rice in. (Note: for this part, I used a fairly tiny seam allowance, maybe only a quarter inch or so, so I could overlock the edges easily. If you want a bigger seam allowance, make your pattern bigger all around.)
  • You may, if you're not using a serger, want to reinforce or overlock these seams; what you absolutely don't want is rice spilling out. Ever. Mess.
  • Turn right-side out.

Part III: the filling
  • This is the fun part. For one adult-sized pillow, I used 5 cups of plain ordinary cheap white rice and 1 cup dried lavender flowers. You can sort of play and have fun here--rice (or buckwheat hulls, or whatever you like--but rice is cheap and smells really nice heated up) all by itself is just fine, and I have to wonder how yummy it might smell if some dried ginger root or orange peel were tossed in there too. But for now, since I have way more lavender blossoms than I ever use, I went with that.
  • If you like, add maybe 5-10 drops of some essential oil--obviously, lavender is my obvious choice, but as you wish!
  • Pour into your pillow. If you have one of those wide-bottomed canning funnels, that's perfect for this. You want there to be enough filling that it's hard to find a completely bare spot when the ends are packed full, but not so much that there isn't some give to it. Use your own judgment here. (And here, if you're not going for the heat therapy route, just stuff with fiberfill or the fabric scraps you've been saving for months figuring you might someday use them for something.)
  • Carefully sew up the opening. Reinforce. Try it on. It will probably feel a little meager still at this point, but don't worry.

Part IV: the case
  • I can't imagine using anything but fleece for this. Okay, I can, but after imagining, I'll come back to fleece every time. (Felted wool, flannel, a nice heavy knit...all would work, but I'd still go with fleece.)
  • Going back to your original pattern, cut two matching pieces out of your fleece, but make these a good couple of inches bigger all around. (Or make a bigger pattern; I just eyeballed it, cutting about an inch outside the pattern all the way around. On my fleece pieces, the circle almost met in the middle and wasn't a 3/4 much at all.) For this we will need a bigger seam allowance, and you don't want the smaller pillow to be packed in there too much.
  • We will be leaving a good 6 inch opening in the center back. Leaving that area unsewn, with right sides together, sew the two fleece pieces together. Then go around the opening and sew the seam allowances down so the opening looks finished and nice.
  • Using velcro tape (or dots, or if you're not all intimidated like I am you could even use a zipper) and sew on each side of the finished opening.
  • Flip right-side out. You may need to clip the seam allowance at the curves, especially the inner curve, to get it to lie nicely.
  • Heat the rice-filled case about 2 minutes in the microwave, and then insert into the fleece case. Press the opening shut.
  • Pour a glass of wine. Settle down in your comfiest chair for a while. Relax until you realize you have too much work to do...
And so on. Really easy--these take no time at all once you've got the ingredients, and they are very comfy. Now that mine is done I'll make a couple for the kids, probably with little matching fleece blankets to take on the train. Maybe I'll even make the blankets with little built-in bags and backpack straps so they can carry the blankets and pillows together...

Then again, since it's December 17 and the busiest time of year for me, maybe...not.

(I guess it's too early in the day for that glass of wine, isn't it? Sigh...)
--Jenn the Greenmom

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Waiting for the Man with the Bag

Meaningful memories and recycled gifts of Knowledge from Burbanmom

Holy reindeer! Only nine jolly days left till Christmas. Are you ready? I am. The lights are up (see photo), I have all my shopping done, the gifts are wrapped, and I've only eaten about half of the candy meant for the stockings. Since I have no need to hit the mall for last minute gifts, I can sit back and enjoy myself.

So what am I doing with this extra time? I'm surfing the 'net, of course. And I'm glad I am too, because it was on the magic interwebbies that I learned this: In an effort to promote an eco-friendly holiday season, Santa Clause has made some big changes. It's true. Here's what I've learned....

While Mr. Clause has always made an effort to reduce his personal carbon footprint by foregoing traditional air travel, he has decided to up the ante this year. To raise awareness about the effects of blatant consumerism on our fragile environment, Mr. Clause has instituted several changes for 2010:

Santa will be reducing the number of gifts given to each child. Instead of the normal seven presents, each child will receive one "gotta have it" gift, one book and a stocking filled with small, durable toys and candy. Fewer gifts, less resources. It's really that simple.

No plasticrap, lead coated, child-made presents from China will be in Santa's bag so don't bother asking for a Transformer or Bratz Doll Convertible. In addition to the environmental benefits, this will also help reduce the demand for child labor in undeveloped countries.

Santa will no longer be wrapping presents. This single change should reduce paper consumption by 400 tons and will reduce the need for scotch tape by 6,000 rolls. Instead, Santa will take the time to assemble his gifts and will leave them under the tree. Santa will remove all packaging and return it to the North Pole recycling facility.

And lastly, coal will no longer be given to naughty children. The effects of underground coal mining or worse - mountaintop removal - are far too damaging to the environment. Instead, naughty children will receive petrified reindeer shit.

Gotta love a green Santa, don't ya?

Merry Christmas to all and to all a Mindful Night.

- Burbanmom
*this post first appeared at the Booth in 2008

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Plan an Act of Eco-Service

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:


This is the time of year for many of us when our thoughts turn toward charity and giving. I hope you're seeking opportunities to spread the love and warmth that we associate with the holiday season, but after the holiday hubbub has passed, I hope you'll consider one more way to give back: eco-service.

Eco-service is simply volunteering your time to clean up and take care of our beautiful planet. Besides preserving nature for future generations to enjoy, eco-service can be one way to offset your inevitable negative impact with some positive action (since none of us can really be no impact man).

Here are three ways you can complete this challenge:


  • Pick up litter around your neighborhood, local park, or even on the side of the road.


  • Plant a tree or volunteer to care for newly planted trees.


  • Volunteer for an environmental organization that performs eco-service. Many organizations arrange for groups to clean up rivers, lakes, trails, and other natural environments.

These were just three ideas that I had. What other ideas do you have for performing eco-service?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Gifts You Can Make!

{Looking for the winners of last week's Celestial Tea giveaway? Scroll to the bottom of this post!}

Things you can make, from the Greenhabilitator...

I apologize in advance for the harriedness (is that a word?) of this post. Mr. Greenhab landed himself in the hospital yesterday evening so I'm rushing around like a chicken with no head today!

A girlfriend recently showed me how to make these adorable little rosettes and I've been making them out of every textile I can get my hands on since then.

My favorites - which I think would make excellent stocking stuffers, a great teacher gift, or gift for a Secret Santa exchange - are the brooch and ring though...

To make these, I used an old felted sweater. (Run a wool sweater through the washer in hot water and the dryer on high heat a few times to shrink it up as much as possible.) For the brooch, I started with a circle of felt that was roughly 4 inches in diameter. Cut a spiral, leaving a circle in the middle like this.

Put a dab of fabric glue on the tip and start to wind it up in a circle. Dab some more glue every quarter turn or so, so that it stays together.

At the end, the circle will make a back for your rosette. You can see from the photo that I didn't leave a big enough circle, but it didn't make that much of a difference.

This is what you'll have now.

At this point I glued on some leaves from a green felted sweater.

Sew a little pin on a backing piece, then glued it to the back of the rosette and leaves.


For the ring, I started with a circle that was more like 2" in diameter. I purchased these rings from a jewelry supplier on Etsy and just glued the rosette to it.

I think it's a fun piece. It would also be cute make from a funky patterned sweater.

If you're looking for other things to make for loved ones for the holidays check out the following tutorials I've done over the years...

Headbands for little girls (heck, for big girls too!).

Utensil wraps for on-the-go eating.

Car trip games for kids.

A clipboard caddy for kids.

Heat therapy bags make great teacher gifts!

Hand embellished scarf made with scraps.

Happy Christmas Crafting!

~*Celestial Seasonings Giveaway*~
I almost forgot to pick winners for last week's Celestial Seasonings tea giveaway! The three lucky readers are...

Earthdrummer said...
Love tea! And all the ideas!! My family always gets socks in their stocking! Always. One year they didn't, and talked about it forever!! sheesh!! So, socks, sweets, play things (light sabers for the entire family! Because it is so fun!!) Must organize my stash though...I can get ahead of myself and forget!!

Kate said...
I have a stocking that's at least 18 inches long too. However, it was hand embroidered for me when I was born by my Granny who passed 10 years ago so I will not be getting rid of it. Growing up our family was hardly thinking about 'green' gifts but one thing we did which I appreciate even more now was that we got apples and oranges in the bottom of our stocking. It filled it up quicker and had compostable packaging. ;-)
3 Boys and an Old Lady said...
Lip gloss and lip balms, socks, candy canes and LifeSaver Storybooks are some of my fave stocking stuffer items
Please contact me within the next week at greenhab (dot) goods (at) gmail (dot) come with your contact info and I'll send these right out to you. Congrats!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas cards: A blast from the past?

In a season filled with love, hope and peace, one great symbol of the season is quickly falling by the wayside.

It seems like in the last few years, Christmas cards are becoming fewer and farther between.

The old-fashioned holiday cards and letter updates? Replaced by a photo card, and if you're lucky, a line or two scrawled on the back. Or worse, a bulk email with a chintzy clip-art graphic, with a line about how you're so busy but Merry Christmas.

It seems we've forgotten how to connect.

In a world where we're constantly e-mailing or Facebooking updates, I'm hoping for a little more depth. You see, I'd like to let my loved ones know what's going on, in more than 140 characters. And I'd love to hear the same from them.

In a letter, you find those little details in life. And not so little details, like a person beat cancer or finally found their true calling. The details bring far more flavor and realness than a quick "I'm ready for the weekend" posts we tend to scan through on lunch breaks. In a letter, you find life. And new connections with people you thought you knew well. Even on those awful tomes that go on for pages, you've gotten a connection. And it's something that's wasted in a one-sentence update.

So this Christmas season (or heck, even New Year's, or Valentine's Day!), I'm challenging you to get out the pen and paper. Share your life with someone you love. I promise you it won't be a waste of resources. Because building connections - and real relationships - is what life should be about.

Wishing you a very happy holiday season,
Going Green Mama

Friday, December 10, 2010

I'm happy to miss my bus!

In which Truffula willingly misses her bus... on a regular basis!

It's pitch dark when I start out for my commute these days.  The warm temperatures in my area have headed south.  When the wind blows, it finds those crevices between my scarf and the neckline of my shirt.  These are not circumstances under which you want to miss the bus.  Yet, missing the bus at one of my transfer points is exactly what I've been doing for the past month.  On purpose.

While I have family members scattered to locations around the globe, I also have a cluster close to home.  In a chat with my brother, we determined that our morning routines have us going through the same transfer point at just about the same time, headed in the same direction.  He offered to give me a ride in his car.

It seemed silly to take him up on his offer.  After all, his route is essentially the same one taken by my bus. 

In the end, I accepted the ride.  Now, I take my first two buses, pass the bay where the third one would stop, and continue on to the car drop-off and pick-up area.  There, I wait, think about how cold I'm getting, often see "my" bus sail on without me, and... am grateful.

I'm grateful for those ten or fifteen minutes we are in the (warm!) car together.  We catch up on what's on our minds, complain about the traffic, exchange tips on best travel routes, ask favors of each other, and muse about the weather.  My brother knows better than to bring up sports -- I'm oblivious!  He asks me for advice on things, just as I ask him on other topics.  When we baked bread men for St. Nicholas Day this week, I brought him a sample.  The next day, he had a similar sample for me to try.

On Wednesday, Erin challenged us to contribute to the creation of strong communities by meeting our neighbors.  This December, I am (re)aware of the gifts of time, of conversation, of sitting in morning traffic with my no-longer-little brother, and... of missing the bus!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Unplugging on the Solstice

The Green Phone Booth welcomes back Yancy for another Meaningful Memory.

With all the frenzied activity of the holiday season, it is easy to become overwhelmed, stressed and just plain exhausted. The demands placed on us at this time of year can too easily steal the joy from what should be a happy time of year. And while adding yet another celebration to your holiday calendar probably seems counterproductive to the goal of stress reduction, that’s exactly what I’m going to propose.

The focus at this time of year tends to be on the Big Three: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s. But what about the winter solstice (usually around December 21st)? The darkest day of the year that precedes the return of the sun’s power? Celebrating the winter solstice is a great way to keep yourself and your family connected to the cycles of nature – and it’s surprisingly easy.

All you have to do is to literally unplug. On the darkest day of the year, symbolically embrace the dark. Here are a few tips to make for a fun winter solstice with your family:


No cell phones. No computers. No TV. This is a time to get away from the outside world and reconnect with the people you love.

Keep unplugging.

Turn off all the lights and use beeswax or soy candles for light. Some people do this all night, but you certainly don’t have to if that doesn’t work for you. Try it during your family dinner, or afterwards, while gathering together to talk or tell stories.


Talk with your kids about the natural rhythm of the seasons. You would be shocked by how many kids don’t know the difference between – or even the meaning of – the solstices and equinoxes. These days generally pass by in our culture without any acknowledgement. Help your family learn more about the cycles of nature – it keeps them more connected to the natural world and is a great way to sneak in some science education, as well!

Take a walk.

The solstice falls just days before Christmas, which means your neighborhood will likely be lit up with beautiful holiday lights. This is a perfect opportunity to take your family outside for a nighttime walk to see the lights up close. Make a game out of it and have your family vote for the best holiday decorations in your neighborhood. Just be careful – take flashlights, wear reflective clothing and stay on the sidewalks in well-lit, low-traffic areas.


If you really want to go all out, arrange to have a family sleepover in the living room, in front of the fireplace. Lay out blankets and pillows on the floor with flashlights and pretend that it’s a real campout – read bedtime stories, eat s’mores (just pop them into the microwave) and have a lot of laughs.

There you have it – a no-fuss way to celebrate the solstice and to unplug from Christmas chaos. None of these suggestions will take you any extra time or effort and can offer you an excuse to relax and reconnect with your family. Just be sure to talk to your family beforehand – especially if you have teens! Make it fun!

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

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Get to Know Your Neighbors

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:


As a shy, semi-reclusive sort of person, getting to know my neighbors is something I struggle with. I can tell you some of my neighbors' names, but not all of them. Beyond their names, I don't know much about them, and the fact that my kids go to a magnet school rather than our base school means we can't take advantage of the school bus stop to meet other parents. But getting to know my neighbors is something I continually strive to work on because I think strong communities are so important to building a happy planet:

  1. A strong community shares resources.
  2. A strong community has "More Fun, Less Stuff."
  3. A strong community is safer.
  4. A strong community is a time saver.
  5. A strong community cares for each other.

For more information on why I think strong communities are an important part of environmentalism, check out my post Strong Communities Equal a Happy Planet.


  • When you first move in, exchange names and numbers.
  • Smile and wave when you see your neighbors.
  • Spend time outside.
  • Attend or plan a block party.
  • Host a barbecue or other party and invite your neighbors.
  • Offer help to your neighbors when you see an opportunity, and ask for help when you need it.
  • Organize a neighborhood garage sale.
  • Attend your HOA meetings if your neighborhood has a homeowner's association.

What other ideas do you have for getting to know your neighbors?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

DIY Draft Stopper

Bleatings from EnviRambo.

I seem to be suffering from a bout of writer's block today.  Nothing is coming to mind and too much time is being wasted staring at the computer trying to conjure something up.  Block.  Waste.  Conjure.  Block.  Waste.  Conjure... that sounds familiar.

I bring you a post from the past where I conjure up my own version of those draft blockers you see advertised on tv to stop wasting energy.

Draft Stopper.

With winter quickly approaching I shudder in remembrance of the icy drafts coming from beneath my doors. A lot of resources and money are wasted due to the extra heat needed to combat these drafts and the extra money you have to spend to fuel the furnace. People have been using door snakes for years. Maybe you even have one. I find them annoying because you always have to put them back in there place. I am lazy, I know. A quick and easy fix to this problem is using a twin draft stopper. Now, you could pay $19.99 and order the twin draft guard, but that would not be very thrifty. And these are so simple to make!

The materials:

All it took was a pair of my daughter's recently purged jeans and two foam pipe wraps from the hardware store. These come in different diameters and are dirt cheap. 1/2 inch should be sufficient to cover most gaps.

  • Cut your foam tubes to 1 1/2 to 2 inches shorter than the width of the door you are covering.
  • Cut your jeans in half and trim to slightly longer than the tubes. I got lucky, these were already nearly the length I needed.

  • Turn inside out and sew bottom hem shut.
  • Slip tubes inside pant leg and slide under the door so that one tube is on each side of door.

  • Pull fabric taught so tubes are snug against the door.
  • Pin along edge of tube on cut side and sew a straight seam along pins.
  • Trim excess fabric off.

  • Turn right side out, insert tubes and fold over open end to be flush with tubes.
  • Pin hem and sew edge, leaving the end open.

  • Reinsert tubes and slide under door with open end towards door frame.
  • Make sure door can open and close freely.
  • Never bend down to put the door snake back in its place again!

The finished product will move with the door. There is no need to constantly be putting it back in its place. Just slide it on and forget about it. I like to leave one end open so the tubes can be removed and the cover washed when needed. You could certainly add Velcro or sew it shut if preferred. These work great for drafty windows, too!

The side by side comparison says it all. Save your money and your sanity with a simple twin draft stopper.


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