Thursday, April 29, 2010

The KGL Bill: It's not perfect, but it's all we have.

Some thoughts about the climate bill from the Greenhabilitator...

If you've been following the news of the climate bill (aka the KGL Bill, for Kerry (D-Mass), Graham (R-S.C.), and Lieberman (I-Conn) who are the chief architects of the bill) then chances are your head is spinning. I know mine is.

It was supposed to be unveiled on Earth Day, but that didn't happen. They didn't want people to associate the bill with anything "green" since it's more about energy independence than, well, the green movement.

Then it was going to be unveiled on Monday of this week, but Senator Graham got his boxers in a bunch over the timing/release of the immigration bill he's also working on. (Politicians can be such divas!)

The bill was solid, then it was doomed, now there's possible hope, but...you get the picture.

On the up side, the bill would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. This would be accomplished through a variety of mechanisms, including a "cap and trade" system for utilities. On the down side, it included major sweeteners for nuclear power, offshore oil and gas drilling, manufacturers, "clean coal" research and energy consumers.

Organizations like Greenpeace are saying that "...congress needs to get back to work on creating a bill that does more to reduce emissions, without giving money to the coal and petroleum industries." Coupled with the fact that BP, ConocoPhillips and Shell ("allegedly") support the bill, I started wondering why I was supporting it.

From what I've been reading, it seems most analysts agree that this is it for a climate bill. It's now or never -- well, maybe "Now, or a really long time from now." I think we all know that time is of the essence.

One of the issues that I keep hearing opponents bring up is the doom and gloom of job loss if the bill passes. What they don't mention, for obvious reasons of self-interest, is that there would be so many new jobs created.

The Daily Green reports, "In 2006, China had 3 percent of the solar panel market. Today, China's share is 45 percent."

3% --> 45% = job creation

Embarrassingly, they also report that, "...as a percentage of gross domestic product...U.S. investments in clean energy don't even crack the top 10. We're No. 11, behind Mexico. Yes, Mexico."

This week, President Obama gave a speech about "staking America's future on clean energy" at the Siemens Energy plant in Fort Madison, Iowa, where wind turbine blades are made.

After touring the plant, Obama  said, “It was remarkable, made all the more so when you consider that just a few short years ago, this facility sat dark and quiet. Today, it’s alive and humming with more than 600 employees, almost two-thirds of whom found themselves unemployed before landing here.”

We can't afford -- as a country, or as humans -- to let this bill fail and allow our policy remain status quo. The status quo has clearly left both our country and the environment in despair, so I feel like it's time to show our support for the KGL Bill and start making some changes.

You can visit the Environmental Defense Fund's website to send a quick and easy email to your Senators. Worth even more than that is a phone call. EDF also provides you with all of the information you need to make the call - including what to say.

The time for change is now!

Edited to add: I called both of my Senators this morning and have put a video of it up on my blog. Click over to see just how easy it is.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book Review and Giveaway: The Green Hour

A book review from The Conscious Shopper

If you're familiar with Last Child in the Woods and the No Child Left Inside coalition, you've heard about the effects of nature-deficit disorder on children, including obesity, attention deficit disorder, depression, and anxiety. But have you ever thought about the effect the current nature-deprived generation will have on saving the planet?

In the introduction to The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids, one paragraph caught my eye:
In an article titled "Learning to Love the Natural World Enough to Protect It," Louise Chawla finds two significant factors common to adults who have chosen to work in defense of the environment: having positive outdoor experiences as a child, and being taken outdoors by a parent or caregiver.
If the next generation has no connection to the natural world, what desire will they have to care for and conserve it?

A love for the natural world is certainly a desire I have for my own budding greenies, and The Green Hour is the perfect handbook to help me achieve that goal. As the director of the National Wildlife Federation's Green Hour website, author Todd Christopher encourages readers to set aside one hour a day "for play and discover in the natural world...A green hour is simply a time for families to unplug, unwind, and recharge as they reconnect to the natural world - and to each other. It is an opportunity for parents to strengthen family bonds as they guide the natural experiences that foster happier, healthier, smarter children."

Okay, Mr. Christopher, I'm all for happier, healthier, smarter children...but what about the mosquitos?

Before launching into suggestions for what you can do outside, The Green Hour includes a chapter on how to avoid or overcome "the potential hazards and discomforts of the great outdoors" - from poison ivy to bees to mosquitos to heat. For those of us that already spend a lot of time outdoors, this chapter might feel redundant (of course, you shouldn't swat at bees...of course, one of the first plants your kids should be able to identify is poison ivy...), but since a lot of parents really do make excuses about mosquitos and a lot of kids really are afraid of bees, I thought this was a creative and interesting chapter.

We're outdoors...Now what do we do?

Don't worry. The Green Hour doesn't send you outside and then leave you hanging. It's jam-packed full of outdoor activities for everyone from the beginner to the more advanced nature explorer. And although some of the ideas might seem like common sense (look for bugs), Christopher puts a fresh spin on it (make a bug vacuum).

A few ideas I dog-eared:
  • Letterboxing (or the modern version, geocaching) - Part hike, part treasure hunt.
  • Cricket thermometers - By counting the number of times a cricket chirps in fourteen seconds, you can estimate the current temperature.
  • Watch a meteor shower - There are several big ones at regular times of the year.
Are you ready to commit to a green hour?

Even though I'm raising city kids, I've always tried to expose them to lots of nature and encouraged them to play outside, but I've never done it with a real sense of commitment, setting aside a specific time in our day as outside play time. And even when we are outside, we're usually walking home from school or playing at the playground, not exploring nature.

So I'm committing to try a green hour with my kids several times a week (I'm not sure we can do a whole hour ever day). During our "daily dose of nature," we'll actually get out in nature - not just swing and slide and climb at the playground, but get down and dirty looking for bugs, picking wildflowers, identifying leaves, and looking for stars. And to prove my commitment, I'll post about my family's green hour once a month either here or over at my personal blog.

Will you join me?

To help you get started on your own green hour, Shambhala Publications is generously offering two copies of this book to two readers of The Green Phone Booth. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post by Tuesday, May 4th. I'll randomly select the winners and announce the results next Wednesday.

____________________

Disclaimer: Shambhala sent me a copy of this book to be able to write this review but did not compensate me in any other way. I was not under any obligations to write a positive review, and all of the opinions contained in this post are my own.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Un-Earthy Days

Post Earth Month bleatings from EnviRambo.




I find it a bit ironic that I have dedicated the past month to events that focus on sustainable living, yet my life at home has been anything but. By all outward appearances I am a green guru. Planning a local foods cooking competition; touring the elementary school garden with Will Allen; hosting screenings of Fresh, Food Inc, and No Impact Man; CSA farm tours; Earth Day concert; Earth Fair; Green Expo. When in reality I am scarfing down sugary processed cereal and soda for breakfast; have not given more than a sideways glance at my garden; fed my family more frozen food than I care to admit; gave in to the temptation of meat; enjoyed the convenience of using the dryer; threw food scraps in the trash rather than compost; starved my worms; unapologetically used an entire box of kleenex; left my computer on for a week straight; cranked up the heat; idled in the drive-through; took my car for short trips... the list of eco-sins goes on and on. Under normal circumstances I am a very eco-conscious person, but when stressed, rushed, or sick all eco-bets are off. Why is that?


I think that is my biggest challenge. It is not eating local or organic, avoiding plastic, taking my own bags, cooking from scratch, seeking out phantom power, freezing my buns off, making my own cleaning products, line drying my clothes, or any of the other million decisions we make on a daily basis. It is sticking with those decisions when times get tough.

When every hanky in the house is soaking wet with snot I just want something soft and dry against my skin. Twenty minutes and two box of tissues later, I have decimated a forest and wasted countless gallons of water in the process. I have not used the heat on my dryer in over a year - until this month. Looking back it seems silly since the weather has been unseasonably warm. I do not think we have had a day under 60 degrees since February and rain, what rain? No excuse not to hang my clothes on the line and enjoy some sunshine while doing it. Still I was pressed for time and the laundry was mounting, so I copped out and in the dryer they went. I am sure when the electric bill comes it will be a harsh reminder of why I gave it up in the first place. Food was the hardest hit area this past month and always seems to be the first to go. Home-cooked meals gave way to processed, packaged, frozen food and overpriced meals out. Not to mention all the extra packaging and waste that goes along with it, as evident by the increase in our trash.

How do you hold to your eco-values and keep your sanity when just getting through the day seems like a chore?



Monday, April 26, 2010

Meatless Monday at the Booth

It's Meatless Monday everyone!

Is there someone in your family who isn't all that keen on going meatless, even if it is just one day out of the week?

Surprisingly, that's the number one concern that I hear when I speak with people about going meatless on Mondays: "That wouldn't fly in my house. My husband wants meat every night."

I remember a time years ago when all the meals in our house centered around meat. Each day we would pick our main meat dish, then pair a couple of side dishes with it: pork chops in shake-n-bake, boxed stuffing and canned corn. It's funny how things -- and people -- change!

Over the years we've added in more spaghetti nights, hearty veggie soups, veggie stir-fries and other meatless meals. And on the nights that we do eat meat, we try to make it just another ingredient in the meal instead of the focus of the meal.

My husband was not an easy convert. He's always been a meat and potatoes guy who doesn't like vegetables at all. After almost 10 year together he's branched out and learned to like several veggies, but he still loves his meat. With every documentary, book or article that comes out about food, he leans further and further towards the side of sustainability though. At this point I think he's about 60% for reducing his meat consumption, partly because he knows it's the right thing to do and partly to make me happy.

Boothers, what advice can you give to others who may be meeting some resistance in their own Meatless Monday movements? We'd love to hear your tips, concerns or stories of triumph.

Last, but not least, is our recipe of the week for Asparagus Frittata from Sense of Home.

{Photo courtesy Sense of Home}

The recipe looks very versatile. I'm thinking you could also use other veggies as they're in season. Paired with a salad, this meal is easy enough to make, yet looks and tastes very sophisticated.

Let us know what you're making this week. If you're using Mr. Linky, please put your name, or your blog name, with your meal in parenthesis. Ex: Green Phone Booth (Vegetarian Chili). That way we'll know who you are and what you've made.

Have a great week everyone!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Skin Care Recipes (Superhero Secrets)

a last minute realization that I'm on for Superhero Secrets tomorrow morning and it's already late so I need to do this quickly post from Jenn the Overextended Greenmom...

Okay, I confess...I totally forgot I was on for Superhero Secrets this time...I knew I wanted to post about DIY skin care recipes, but I never actually wrote the post, and now it's late at night and I'm exhausted, so this won't be as complete as I'd hoped. But I think it's a good collection of recipes to have--and hopefully folks in the comments who have their own recipes, ideas, and sources will post a few as well!

We're (I hope!) becoming increasingly aware of the hazards of lots of the chemicals in your average bottle of cosmetics--and sometimes it seems like the more expensive the little tube, the more unpronounceable ingredients it has in it. What the heck is that about? (If you're not already concerned, check out the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database for more info...)

In the past few years I've slipped away from most traditional cosmetics, though I do still have one bottle of foundation, one blush cake, and a squirty bottle of hair spray. None of them get used with much regularity. Most other things I make on my own, and they work really well.

Moisturizers
Lots of options here, for lotions and oils and such. I tend to use the easiest version anywhere, which is just a little pump bottle of grapeseed or almond oil from the grocery store, with a few drops of essential oil in it, rubbed on slightly damp skin.

I also posted on the Booth a few months ago about making my own lotions and creams, which I sort of do the lazy way....Rosemary Gladstar has the sort of prototype recipe to which the rest all aspire, and it's fabulous.

I'm not a big toner user, but if I were I'd probably try the toner recipe from Katherine Butler at Eco-Salon.

Did you know that yogurt is good for sunburn relief? Me either. (The whole Skin Care From Scratch blog has some good ideas; check it out!)

And then there's my own "Preparation Ouch" recipe--well, figure it out.

The Natural Home Remedy site is a motherlode of recipes--I haven't looked at all of them, because there are tons of them, but the ones I checked looked good--some more complicated than others, but most seem pretty good. (That's the problem with lots of these recipes--you can't make stuff in advance or it goes bad, so it's a lot more work more often...)

Want natural hair care recipes? Check out Pioneer Thinking's hair care site--tons of recipes here too. (And when you're done there, check out plain old pioneerthinking.com too; also some good info here!) (The old "gently warm a couple of ounces of any basic kitchen oil in the microwave till it's warm but not too hot and smooth it into my damp hair, leave in for ten minutes, rinse, shampoo" thing is my personal standby, but there are many others...)

And finally, Natures Gift is my absolute favorite site for All Things About Essential Oils...check out their skincare hints page and follow some of the links! Good stuff here...

So, everyone else: what are your recipes, and where do you go when you want to take better care of your skin, hair, feet, painful-post-preggo-rear-end-parts, hands, and so forth, without spending an arm and a leg and adding toxic chemicals to them? Please share!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Take back the streets: An introduction to guerrilla gardening

Going Green Mama confesses she can barely keep up with her yard, let alone tackling the mean streets....

"Fighting the filth with forks and flowers" - this undercover mission is more than a community clean-up day. Instead, it's becoming a cause that's garnered more than 4,100 followers on Facebook.

This new gardening craze - Guerrilla Gardening - is encouraging people to take back the streets by "illicitly" planting, well, anything in public spaces. Whether it's part of a planned group effort or "seed bombs" made of little balls of soil and seeds, guerrillas are trying to retool our city landscapes, from taking over blighted areas to filling in potholes with plants..

"It doesn't really make sense, it's kind of an oxymoron: rebellious gardening. Who'd a thought?" Theresa Blaner, who founded D.C. Guerilla Gardeners, told a local TV affilliate.

While it sounds like a new phenomenon, the BBC reports guerilla gardening has been happening for centuries:

The history of illicit gardening in Britain goes back centuries, starting
with "the Diggers" - a group of socialites in the 17th Century who fought for
the right to cultivate land.

Some say that the origins of guerrilla gardening in the modern age can be
traced back to the hippie movement in the 1960s.

More recently, a statue of Winston Churchill was given an impromptu grass mohawk during the May Day riots in London in 2000.


Want to be a rebel and join the cause? May 1 is International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day 2010. Or visit Pimp Your Pavement for other ideas.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wishing you a blessed Earth Day!


I could proselytize today about global warming, peak oil, melting polar ice caps, or the Pacific Garbage Patch but, chances are, I won't be telling you anything you don't already know. I could give you tips on changing light bulbs and saving water, but I think those are things you're heard about many times before.

Instead, I simply encourage you to consider the words of Earth Day founder, Gaylord Nelson~

"The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard."

This is one of my favorite quotes of all time because it reminds me that living a sustainable lifestyle isn't always going to be easy. It's natural for us to tackle the small, easy stops first -- buying CFLs, recycling, bringing cloth bags to the grocery store -- because they don't take us very far outside of our comfort zones.

When it comes to the things that hurt just a little bit -- getting up an hour earlier so you can bike or take the bus to work -- well, that's when the excuses and rationalizations start.

Our generation might not see a tangible reward from the sacrifices that we make, but we do need to make them. So today I urge you to unplug and spend some time with Mother Earth instead, contemplating what sacrifice you're ready to make for those future generations whose words of thanks we'll never hear.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Which is More Important: Personal or Political Action?

Thoughts on this month's APLS Carnival with The Conscious Shopper

Recently, I was reading an interview on Grist with Annie Leonard of Story of Stuff fame, and there were two things she said that I found very interesting:
Q. What would you encourage people to do on an individual level?

A. People ask me that a lot, and I like to see where they are so I ask them, "What can you think of to do?" They say, "I can recycle. I can ride my bike more. I can buy organic. I can buy this instead of this." Really individual actions as opposed to, "I can work with my neighbors to shut down this toxic factory." We have a consumer part of ourselves and a citizen part of ourselves. And throughout this country's history, the citizen parts of ourselves have accomplished enormously wonderful things to make this country a better place. But in recent decades, I feel like the consumer part of ourselves is spoken to and validated and nurtured so much that we've over-identified with it and the citizen part of ourself has atrophied. We just need to start reinvigorating that citizen muscle. So the number one thing to do is to hook up with others who share your values and start making some real change.

Q. Has there been any stuff that's been difficult for you to give up or part with or not consume?

A. Not really, partly because I just don't really focus on the individual piece so much. I really don't fall into that camp where it's your fault because you left the water running when you brushed your teeth. So I just don't spend a lot of time around the guilt and the individual action stuff.
I often see this divide in the environmental world between advocates of personal versus political change, our consumer side versus our citizen side, and individual versus large-scale actions. Many encourage people to focus on small changes like changing their lightbulbs, while others say that those small changes don't matter and we should be focusing on broadscale changes of the entire system.

So for this month's APLS Carnival, I'm asking the questions:
  • Are personal changes too small to matter?
  • Should people who have full time jobs and kids and church responsibilities, etc. be expected to find time to organize their neighbors to shut down toxic factories?
  • Are people who do only the personal changes being lazy?
  • Are people who expect political changes to solve all of our problem pushing the blame on others instead of taking responsibility?
  • Is consumer action less important than citizen action, and vice versa?
  • Where's the balance?

Early on when I started going green, I would have said personal actions matter most for a variety of reasons. And I still believe that the actions that we as individuals take are extremely important. But the more "extreme green" I become, the more I realize that I can't do it all by myself.
  • Several times a week, I walk to pick up my son from school. Pushing my other two in a stroller to the school and back takes an hour and forty five minutes out of my day (including a short bus ride both ways). I'm so lucky to have that kind of time. Who else does??? Why, oh why, can't my city improve it's public transportation so I can take the bus more of the way?
  • I freakin' hate vermicomposting. I've tried to love it, I really have. The worms are fine, but I just cannot stand the fruit fly invasion of my home. Why, oh why, can't my city implement compost collection? I would so love to have someone haul off my food scraps every week so I can buy it back cheaply a few times a year.
  • Sometimes a girl just wants to be able to enjoy a nice evening out with her man without having to remember her own dishes or get completely stressed out about the harm her supposedly relaxed no-kids night off is doing to the planet. Not every night, but every now and then. Why, oh why, can't restaurants provide compostable to-go ware for those times when we forget our own kits? Like the Aldi system where you're supposed to bring your own bag, but if you forget, they have bags you can buy.
I'm not asking for businesses or the government to do all the work. I'm just asking them to meet me halfway. Or even 80/20.

This past Saturday, I spent the morning at a summit on community gardens that I helped to organize. In the wrap-up session of the summit, we had a panel discussion with two representatives of local conservation organizations and one representative from the City of Raleigh.

Raleigh is currently in the process of re-writing their zoning code. Under the current code, community gardens are illegal on public property and potentially illegal on private property. One of the goals of the group I'm involved with is to encourage the city to add wording into the new code making it possible to zone a piece of land specifically for a community garden.

As the City of Raleigh representative explained this at the summit, she said that the city council is very open to the idea of community gardens but that they need to hear more support from residents. They need to know that people really want community gardens. She added, "The reason I'm able to talk with you today, the reason we were able to have this summit, is because a handful of you contacted your city representatives and said, 'We want community gardens.'"

Because I've been involved with this movement, I know that it was in fact one main person who wrote an impassioned letter to her city representative about why the city of Raleigh needs community gardens. Soon after that individual wrote her letter, the division of the City of Raleigh that focuses on sustainability issues contacted the leader of the group I'm involved with, along with a couple other advocacy groups, to discuss how we can get the ball rolling on establishing community gardens and getting the zoning code changed.

Do personal changes matter? Yes, yes, yes!

But political action matters too. And if we rely on individual change alone, there's only so far we can get.


Here's what other bloggers have to say on the subject:
  • At My Zero Waste, Mrs. Green writes about how personal and political action are intertwined, and we all do the best we can. She says, "I think to my friend who doesn’t care what she eats or feeds her children, but will not use a car because it pollutes the air. Then I think to someone else I know who goes on two long haul holidays each year, but meticulously recycles *everything*. Another person buys more new clothes than I buy food, but spends a lot of her time volunteering to make the world a safe place for people. Another drives everywhere, even to the local shop, but only buys fair trade items. I don’t criticise the actions that have a negative impact on the world, I celebrate the fact that we are all doing something."
  • Going Green Mama takes the opposite stance: "The reality is I can write letters. I can make phone calls. I can rally my neighbors. But in the end, the only person I can trust to make changes is myself. So I'll start with the simple actions I can take, trust that someone else might be listening and hope for the best from there. "
  • Fake Plastic Fish lists eight reasons why personal changes matter. My favorite is conclusion #7: "Personal changes help us to realize that personal change is not enough. We see that as hard as we work to green our own lives, the problem is systemic. We must work to change the system. But until we make our own personal changes, we may not have enough investment in the outcome to push for the bigger steps that are necessary.

What do you think? Which is more important - personal or political action? Which do you focus on? How do you find a balance?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Manic Meatless Monday: When You're Short on Time

Going Green Mama confesses she still is OK with a box of mac & cheese...


Six o' clock in my home is the witching hour. The kids are hungry, mom is cranky and dinner needs to be done. Fast.


Drive-through may have never looked so good.


Relax. You can get through a dinner in short order - in fact, meatless meal prep - chopping produce aside - can tend to go more quickly, as you don't have to worry about meat being cooked thoroughly.


Here are four easy meals that you can whip up to feed a hungry crowd of kids:


Pasta with ricotta: I read this in a cookbook about a year ago, and it's a standby for our kids on hectic nights. Cook 8 oz. pasta according to directions, drain and toss with 1 c. of ricotta cheese and a bit of butter. I'll mix it up with herbs, peas, whatever I have on hand.


Quesadillas: This is the ultimate in fast-food in our house. I keep tortillas and cheese on hand just for this. Sprinkle cheese between two tortilla shells, melt in the microwave for a minute, and serve with salsa for hungry toddlers.

Spaghetti marinara: Yes, you can grab a jar from the pantry, but fresh is best. And in late summer, when farmers are practically begging you to take their tomato stash, I score by buying the "ugly" tomatoes cheaper, make huge pots of spaghetti sauce from scratch, and freeze to reheat and enjoy year-round. I usually serve this with whole-grain or protein-enriched pasta.

Veggie stir-fry: I know the idea of preparation (cutting, washing) a bunch of veggies to eat sounds like a deal-breaking. Here's the trade-off. Because of the high heat and smaller pieces, stir-fried veggies cook extremely quickly. Plus, you don't have to worry about whether the veggies are completely cooked through (crunchy is OK), and you have the added benefit of allowing them to munch on the raw deal while you're prepping.

Having an "appetizer" of raw vegetables, crackers, etc., is not a bad thing. Take yesterday, for instance. My preschooler and I were trying a recipe, and I set aside some extra cheese and cauliflower for munching as she went. It curbed the hungries while food was cooking, and admittedly kept her a bit occupied when Mom had two pots going on the stove.

What are your favorite tips for a fast meal?

Be sure to share your Meatless Monday recipes with us using Mr. Linky below!

April's APLS Carnival

This month's APLS Carnival will be hosted here at the Booth on Wednesday. If you'd like to participate, there's still time! Check out the topic carnival over on the APLS Blog, write a post on your own blog, and then email it to me at consciousshopperblog [at] gmail [dot] com. I'll take submissions all the way up until Tuesday night. I'm looking forward to your thoughts!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Superhero Secrets: Earth Day Roundup

A round-up of Earth Day events and activities from the Greenhabilitator...

Is everyone else excited for Earth Day, which is coming up this week? I'm bummed that it falls on a Thursday, since we have work and school that day, but it sounds like the celebration will be overflowing to the weekend just about everywhere. Check the Earth Day Network's website for events in your area.

We'll be attending the Mountain Area Earth Day Fair here in beautiful Evergreen, CO, but there are a myriad of events within a 50 mile radius of us from recycling events to bike rides to festivals to concerts to flower planting to highway clean-ups. Definitely something for everyone!

If you would rather serve than play this Earth Day, you can answer the President's call to action by visiting Serve.gov and signing up to volunteer at one of the many events. Or, check with the Nature Conservancy or Sierra Club

For those with time to volunteer in a classroom, at Girl/Boy Scouts, or other organizations, the EPA has put together an nice collection of websites and documents that one can use in discussing environmental topics like conservation, recycling, climate change and stewardship.

If you're looking for activities to do with the kids at home, I've stumbled across a million and one things over the past few weeks, but this was one of my favorites...

Cascadian Farm's See-Through Composter
I saw this one on Facebook last week and thought it was great. We compost in our yard, but it's not something the kids can really monitor from day to day like this. And I love that they have you put a plastic bag in there to show what doesn't break down.

You can also find more projects here:

KnowledgeHound.com, which
has activities, crafts and recipes to try.

Education World offers five original lesson plans that will engage students in creating maps of an astronaut's view of Earth, exploring issues of junk mail and hazardous household waste, and learning about endangered species.

TeacherVision has an extensive list of resources, plans and activities for kids from Kindergarten all the way through high school.

So what are your plans for the big day? We'd love to know!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Is it time to power down? Considering the true costs of energy

Going Green Mama hops back on her soapbox....

Typically it takes an energy crisis, unseasonably hot or cool weather, skyrocketing prices or another act of nature or greed for people to start rethinking how they use the resources we have.

But maybe we ought to be thinking beyond ourselves and our wallets.

A few days ago, following the coal miners' accident, a bishop in West Virginia commented:
"Our country should realize that West Virginia pays too high a price when we turn on our electricity...As one of the greatest suppliers of electricity in our country, we must reflect on what producing this energy truly costs."

Is a person's life worth the risk that it takes to produce the electricity we use on a daily basis? Can we find some way to reduce our household's burden, whether it's cutting back on the number of cell phones we have, appliances plugged in, the televisions in the house?

What about altering our home's thermostat a few degrees cooler in the winter or warmer in the summer? Is the minor discomfort (until you're used to the change) worth it?

Or what about powering down your PCs after a day in the office, rather than just logging off?

I just wonder what would happen if we each were just a bit more conservative in our energy use and taxed our resources just a bit less. Would that have made the difference?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Taking the plunge for a carbonless commute

Important Commuter Lessons learned by a flabby-thighed suburban greenmom.

I think I'm finally ready. The weather is improved, my husband has taken my bike down from the garage rafters and filled its tires, I'm realizing I work only 5 miles from home, and it's just Time.

This is the year I'm going to start bicycling to work. Not every day, but some days. As many as I can manage. And if it turns out to not be realistic or is too scary or too dangerous, I'll abandon the plan, but at least I'll know I've tried. No matter that I haven't ridden my bike seriously in about 20 years, or honestly at all in more than ten. That's why that old cliche "It's like riding a bike!" is a cliche, right? (Lesson 1: cliches are not always bad.)

My bike is a fairly unsexy, non-glam thing. I bought it at Kmart for $100 about 15 years ago. (It was one of Kmart's more expensive models, that's the most I can say for it.) But it has pathetically few miles on it from all that time, and it's in quite rideable shape.

So first I go to Google Maps. Did you know that they now give bicycling directions, as well as public transit and walking? It's still in "beta" mode, but it's very usable. My own commute, though not particularly far, is a case study for why the suburbs are generally awful for anything but car commuting: over those 5 miles (okay, actually 5.4) I have to cross two expressways, which means at least two major roads will have to be ridden on, since there are very limited options for crossing them. Google gives me what seems to be a very reasonable set of options, taking smaller back roads whenever possible and snaking me up to the busier ones only where those two expressways rear their ugly heads. (Lesson 2: Google Rocks)

So I print out the Google Maps directions. Today on my way home from work I did a drive-run, taking my car along the actual route I'd be biking, to see how biker-friendly the trip might be. Answer: well, sort of. Or, more truthfully, delightfully biker friendly for about 3.5 miles, horribly unfriendly for maybe 2. (Lesson 3: The internet is wonderful, but always do your own research and verification where possible.) One of the expressways is not much of a problem, but the other has awful narrow roads and congestion for long stretches on either side. So I go back to Google Maps, to look at what's there and if there are any alternatives, and using the satellite view I discover that there's another way under one of the expressways that takes you through a park and parking lot, thereby avoiding the absolute worst stretch of the drive and adding some really lovely and peaceful stretches. A six mile trek now, but not bad. (See Lesson 2. Google absolutely rocks.) And there's a box where one can report one's specific findings about specific routes, which of course I filled in, because it's the neighborly thing to do.

I also, me being me, am doing some research on the web to see if other cyclists have posted tips for their fledgling brethren and sistren. Found a few good ones: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips has some good info, and Commute By Bike also has some good stuff. Leo at ZenHabits also has good commonsense advice as well as a bunch of other links. Sierra Trading Post celebrates National Bike To Work Day (May 15) with even more advice. And a Google search for "rules of the road MyState" will probably give you links to your specific area's traffic and safety rules, something we all should memorize before trying any of this. I'll pore over these for a while. (See Lesson 3.)

Then there's the bike helmet thing. Having not ridden in so long, I don't have one. I shall probably suck it up, offer prayers of penance, and head over to Target. Another side effect of the suburbs--to find anything besides Big Boxes, you need to look hard and travel far, something I don't have time to do while schlepping myself and my kids around this only-way-to-get-there-is-drive suburban environment. I'm beginning to feel trepidatious about my plan...at least I have my stainless steel water bottle that'll clip to my bike. I'll probably need one of those portable pumps, too...I hate thinking that starting to bike to work will involve more consumerism, but I can't really think of anything else, and my folks drilled into me as a kid to never bike anywhere far enough from your destination that you wouldn't want to walk it, unless you have a bicycle pump. (Lesson 4: Do what you can, no plan is perfect.) Then there's also the reality that most bike helmets are made of polystyrene, which is evil. So I guess I just should give up on all of this and go back to driving...wait, no. That's not right. What's right is that, despite the depressing lack of an eco-friendly alternative, bike riding is much more carbonically responsible than driving, and helmets are a necessary part of bike safety, so it's a fairly small trade-off. At least, that's what Umbra, the "Dear Abby" of all things green, says. (I guess that's Lesson 4 too.)

The next part of the plan, which almost makes me feel a little silly, will be training. There's a nice 1-mile walking loop around our neighborhood that we've clocked, and I'll try tomorrow riding my bike around it as many times as I can manage, and hope that it equals at least 5, or pretty close to it. If not, I'll have to keep doing that for a while before I try to bike to work. (Update: I actually had a little time this afternoon and did 2 miles in just under 10 minutes, and I'm only a little tired. Could easily have gone for 3. I am pleased. Of course, they were very easy local miles, but it's a good start.) (Lesson 5: Believing one can't do something is the greatest barrier to doing it; just giving it a shot is the best first step.) (Oof...Lesson 6: even if you feel great 2 minutes off the bike, your thighs might start shaking twenty minutes later or so...training might be a good idea.)

I post every other Friday here at the Booth, so I'm asking all of you to hold me accountable for this! In two weeks when I post again, I want to be able to update you to how this is going.

So...anyone else want to join me in the Great Bike To Work Challenge? Or how about the Bike to the Grocery Store Challenge? (Er...don't buy ice cream if you're doing this one, okay?) the Bike to a Friend's House Challenge? Post office? Anywhere?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Are those boobies really yours? Are you sure?

I've done a lot of reading (and documentary watching) over the past year on genetic engineering, mostly that associated with plants. I've felt outrage at companies like Monsanto who's worked unscrupulously to own the rights to our food. And I've felt saddened by our loss of biodiversity and the hardships that have fallen upon our farmers because of this.

In all of this research I keep hearing the cry that the patenting of genes in plants could give way to the patenting of genes in humans, which is a very slippery slope. What I didn't know is there are over 10,000 human genes (roughly 20%) that have already been patented. (Where have I been???)

That's right. Your body may not be 100% your own.

Somewhere out there a biotech company may own a small part of your body. A part that, if something goes wrong, they won't allow anyone else to look at, or fix. I hope you can afford what they're charging to fix you up. I hope they know how to fix you up.

Until recently, when the ACLU won a case challenging the patent of two "breast cancer genes", this was a reality for many women facing breast cancer. A company called Myriad owned the patent on BRCA1 and BRCA2 and anything related to them, including the BRAC (Be Ready Against Cancer) Analysis test that determines if a women is predisposed to breast and/or ovarian cancer. 

Say a woman found that she has breast cancer and, subsequently, wants to know if she is likely to get ovarian cancer as well. Because this is determined by the BRCA genes, she could only go through Myriad to get that testing done. No second opinions are available because no one else is allowed to look at, test, or do research on the gene. And, even though most insurance companies cover this testing, Myriad does not accept most insurance. If she wants to know whether or not she should have her ovaries removed as a preventative measure, she has to pay $3,000+ for it out of pocket...just for the test.

If you have a few minutes, I really encourage you to watch this 60 Minutes clip which thoroughly explains the conundrum...


Watch CBS News Videos Online

The fact that the ACLU won this case against the US Patent Office and Myriad Genetics is a step in the right direction. Not only does it revoke these two particular patents, but it brings into question the validity of thousands of other patents.

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, Myriad has announced it's plans to appeal the decision and it is likely that this case will end up in the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Week One of Earth Month

Earth Month Bleatings from EnviRambo.




The first week of Earth Month brought about a ceremonial flag raising, joint Earth Month proclamation, tasty local food, a movie about food, and a day to withdraw from it all.

April 1 - Earth Month Kick-off

La Crosse Mayor Matt Harter and County Board member Jai Johnson issue a joint proclamation declaring April to "Earth Month" for both the City and County of La Crosse; winners of the "40 Years of Going Green Together" poster contest are presented their prizes; and the Earth Day flag is raised over the city in several locations.

Three key environmentalist from Wisconsin.

First place poster contest winner, Madeline Cochran - age 15, wins a Gary Fisher bike.

Third place poster contest winner, Zach Servais - age 6, wins a gift certificate from Downtown Mainstreet, Inc. Isn't he the cutest thing you have ever seen? Those dimples!

Spoke card spotted on a bicycle of one of the guests.

The Mayor, County Board Representative and poster contest winners raise the Earth Day flag.

The Earth Day flag flies over the City.

April 5 - Greens, Eggs, and Cheese Gala

The "Greens, Eggs, and Cheese Gala" was a cooking competition between four local restaurants all competing for "best locally grown meal". Each restaurant was required to prepare a salad and main dish using local greens, eggs, and cheese. They were allowed to use other ingredients, but asked to remain as local as possible and also to list the sources for their ingredients. The event also featured local wine and carrot cake made with local ingredients for dessert.

It was a lot of fun! Being the first event of this kind in the area we were quite pleased to reach our goal of 100 attendees. The guests were full of ideas for continuing the event, including hosting one per season! I was just happy to introduce the restaurants to the idea of using local farmers to source their ingredients. Baby steps, people! Let's get them hooked up locally first, then we'll move on to organic, and just when they're comfortable with that then we'll throw seasonal eating at them. I didn't want to overwhelm them before ever getting started. You and I may like to go "whole hog", but sometimes you have to take it slow. If things seem too hard, some people give up before even trying. That's not what I want to happen here!

Overall, I think it was a good experience for both the restaurants participating and the guests who got to sample their local creations. They were quite delicious! After eating, the guests voted for the favorite in the salad and entree categories, the votes were counted, and a winner was announced.


Best salad went to: Nell's City Grill & Catering:


Best entree went to Hackberry's Bistro:

How do you like those Green Whisk awards? I felt like I was presenting an Oscar.

April 8 - FRESH (the movie)

Three days after sampling all that yummy local food, the community was gifted a free-screening of the movie FRESH. FRESH celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system. Each has witnessed the rapid transformation of our agriculture into an industrial model, and confronted the consequences: food contamination, environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources, and morbid obesity. Forging healthier, sustainable alternatives, they offer a practical vision for a future of our food and our planet.

Among several main characters, FRESH features urban farmer and activist, Will Allen, the recipient of MacArthur’s 2008 Genius Award; sustainable farmer and entrepreneur, Joel Salatin, made famous by Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma; and supermarket owner, David Ball, challenging our Wal-Mart dominated economy.


The movie showed at the public library with about 30 people in attendance. Guests got to snack on organic popcorn and local apple cider during the movie. Honestly, I got more out of watching Food, Inc. (which will be showing this week as part of the Earth Month activities), but I still recommend seeing it. I would describe it as a grassroots-ier version of Food Inc. One of the main characters, Will Allen, is also coming to town this week as part of Earth Month. Tonight in fact! I may be having dinner with him as you read this. So exciting!

April 11 - "Pull the Plug" Day

With all the excitement and activities going on during Earth Month we wanted one day to remind people what it is really all about. "Pull the Plug" Day was dedicated to “unplug yourself” from all the things that distract you from enjoying the simple things in life. Get off the computer and go outside, ride a bike, go for a walk, have a picnic, play fetch with your dog... whatever! Just slow down and unwind. Reconnect with nature, your loved ones, and all they have to offer.

Oddly enough the one event that took no planning at all is the one the media was most interested in. The local papers ran articles and a member of LEWC, Nick Nichols - Sustainability Coordinator for La Crosse County, was on the Joy Cardin show on Wisconsin Public Radio.


HAPPY EARTH MONTH!


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

One Small Change

Please welcome Andy from One Small Change to the Booth for today's guest post.

Suzy and Andy Hawbaker started the One Small Change challenge in January as a way to encourage others to go green. As owners of an online store specializing in green and natural products we have always thought of ourselves as not just a business trying to capitalize on the green revolution but as a family who wanted to help make a difference.

Many people think that going green means that you have to spend a lot of money. You don’t have to buy a new hybrid car or make a large investment to be green. In fact, becoming more environmentally conscious is a journey that begins with small steps.

We decided that it would be cool to encourage people to make small changes to reduce waste, conserve energy, and to be more aware of ways to care for the Earth. The One Small Change was started on the Hip Mountain Mama Blog with over 300 participants. Each of these participants agreed to make one small change each month from January up till Earth Day. Each of the participants blogged about their changes and shared the success stories. Through this network of blogs hundreds of more people were inspired to make environmentally friendly changes in their own lives.

We are very surprised and proud of the success of this project. These small changes all added up to make a larger impact but also the project created a community of like-minded people all sharing stories, ideas, and encouragement. This community of change has been moved to its own blog.

With Earth Day just around the corner the challenge is wrapping up but we hope to carry the excitement, energy, and encouragement into the future months with many guest blog posts from members of the community sharing their stories. Be sure to check it out and please feel free to share your personal experiences as we can all learn from each other. Together we can continue spreading this grassroots movement to make a difference.

Andy Hawbaker and his wife Suzy own Hip Mountain Mama, an online retail store that specializes in Hip Products for Natural Mamas. They both share their love of the Earth and experiences of raising two beautiful daughters in the Rocky Mountains at Hip Mountain Mama Blog and One Small Change Blog.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Meatless Monday

Welcome to another edition of Meatless Monday at the Booth. Did you know that you can reduce your risk of heart disease by going meatless?

"Beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds contain little to no saturated fats. Reducing your intake of saturated fats can help keep your cholesterol low and reduce your risk of heart disease." ~MeatlessMonday.com


Today's cholesterol-lowering recipe for Black Bean Nachos is brought to you by the Conscious Shopper. Black beans are by far my favorite bean. I've never tried it quite like this, but it will be on my menu very soon!

What recipes do you have to share with us today? Please enter your name and your recipe name into Mr. Linky below, or post it to our Facebook page. We'd love to see what your making.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dirt

A look at dirt with The Conscious Shopper

Have you ever thought about the importance of dirt? The makers of the new film Dirt! The Movie have given it plenty of thought: What is dirt? Why is it important? Who cares about it? And what can you do about it? Check out their trailer for a little preview.



The folks at Docurama Films sent me a free copy of Dirt! The Movie to preview in honor of their DVD release (a few days ago on April 6th). I enjoy documentaries and being a green blogger, I figured I'd enjoy this one. But I had no idea I'd be so moved by a film about dirt.

I'm constantly reminded that our destruction of the environment is not just a problem for the planet. It's a human problem. The first half of this film shows how our treatment of the earth - mountaintop removal, clearcut rainforests, concrete jungles, industrial agriculture - is harmful to people, from soil erosion to water pollution to droughts and starvation.

As I watched this, I fell into one of those deep, despairing moments where I feel completely overwhelmed with the thought that we've destroyed our earth and there's nothing we can do about it and why am I even trying. And then luckily the film took a turn toward the positive. One of the people featured in the film, Wangari Maathai (
2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Green Belt Movement), tells a beautiful story of a little hummingbird:
We're constantly being bombarded by problems that we face, and sometimes we can get completely overwhelmed. The story of the hummingbird is about this huge forest being consumed by a fire. All the animals in the forest come out, and they are transfixed as they watch the forest burning. They feel very overwhelmed, very powerless...except this little hummingbird that says, "I'm going to do something about the fire."

So it flies to the nearest stream, takes a drop of water, and puts it on the fire. And goes up and down, up and down, up and down as fast as it can. In the meantime, all the other animals, much bigger animals like the elephant with a big trunk, could bring much more water, they are standing there helpless, and they are saying to the hummingbird, "What do you think you can do? You are too little. This fire is too big. Your wings are too little. And your beak so small, you can only bring a small drop of water at a time."

But as they continued to discourage it, it turns to them without wasting any time, and tells them, "I'm doing the best I can."
The film goes on to describe a number of people and organizations that are working to save and restore dirt, and I felt so inspired that I'm linking to some of them here so you can explore as you have time.
It makes me cry when I think about how terribly we've harmed the earth and all of the repercussions that will follow. But I get even more choked up when I learn about all of the amazing people who are working to make it better. I am so grateful for all the hummingbirds out there, for all of us that are doing the best we can.

Dirt is an amazing movie, and I hope you'll take a look. The film will air on PBS' Independent Lens on April 20th, so check your local listings. You can also find it on Netflix, or buy it on DVD by visiting their site.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Storage solutions: They aren't what you think

Going Green Mama is the first to admit she may not have a clean home. Ever.

Organizational systems. If you've found one that works for you, great. For me, I've found my ever-evolving life has meant I'm struggling to keep on top of the changes.
What worked during apartment life failed in my first house. The systems I used in my first home didn't work in our second. Toss in a child or two, college, you name it. I find I'm continually having to reinvent myself. And, along with it, how I use the things I own.

Take my curio cabinet. It's been home to VHS tapes, cassette tapes, knick-knacks, photos (and film), baby bibs and burp rags. It's latest incarnation stores my Cricut cartridges handed down from my mother. Or our child-size suitcases that are perfect for storing and toting building blocks or play dress-up clothes around the house. Or baskets that seem to reinvent their purpose on a weekly basis.

Sure, you're thinking. It's easy to find something new to put in a cabinet, or a box or a basket. It's a little more challenging to have a use for some of the other things that come to us in our lives.

Take my poor cookie jar. We got this Jayhawk jar as a gift many addresses ago. In fact, I wasn't quite sure what to do with it. I'm diabetic, and at the time we were childless. Instead, it was packed away for sometime when. Flash forward a decade or so, and it's found new uses - just not what you'd expect. It became home to a host of bottle nipples and diaper bin filters for a time in our Kansas-basketball-themed nursery (quite possibly the only one in Indiana). It recently found a new life actually in the kitchen - this time to house our bags of bulk spices. Yes, the exterior may say "cookies," but it's never seen a crumb. But it's found useful work nonetheless.

Or our latest find. The garage has been the bane of our existenance, as we've yet to install the cabinetry we'd wanted to store things that truly need to stay out of reach most of the year. In the interim, we've gotten creative in how we handle things. Some of the smaller (not sharp) items have taken refuge on a discarded bookshelf from a coworker. Two little red wagons I'd found curbside a year ago with the best of intentions of repainting have found new uses holding soccer balls and other outdoor toys - in easy reach of little hands.
And just last weekend, a neighbor randomly offered us her microwave cart. I nearly said no but accepted, and am so glad I did. The old, beaten cart in a few minutes' time has become an organized home for my gardening gloves, supplies and pots that were haphazardly tossed around by my husband as he tried to find other things in our garage.
My point? As you're spring cleaning and determined to once and for all make changes in how you run your household, you might not need to make a beeline to the home improvement or container store. Or even for a resale shop, for that matter. The things that might work best for you may be right under your nose!
Have you creatively tackled a storage challenge? Share your favorite ideas that have worked for you!

Friday, April 9, 2010

What's good for the goose is good for the gander

In which Truffula learns -- again -- that she benefits as much, if not more, than the children from the life lessons they share...

My "light bus reading" right now is Kim John Payne's Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. If I were a book-highlighter, the pages would be glowing in fluorescent yellow.  More typically, I'd make a discrete notation in the margin to emphasize a section for myself.  I'm doing nothing of the sort, since it's a library book, but otherwise, the margins would be filling up rapidly! In true Phone Booth fashion, I've been marking pages by tearing a shred off of the narrow strip of paper the library used to write my name for the "Holds" shelf, and I'll recycle or compost said shreds when I return the book. Anyway, back to the book itself, which I am loving...

In the introduction, Payne writes:
"I worry that we'll understand the 'purpose' of childhood by seeing, increasingly, what people are like when they've been rushed through theirs... Are we building our families on the four pillars of 'too much': too much stuff, too many choices, too much information, too fast?"
Towards a solution, he offers four layers of simplicity: environment, rhythm, schedule, and filtering out the adult world.  A good amount of the advice seems more relevant to parents with younger children -- the TruffulaBoyz are of lower- and upper-elementary-school age, respectively.  Still, the gems are plentiful for my family's age group, and... for us parents!

How many times have our Dear Offspring moaned "Mama, I'm bored"?  Green Phone Boothers, we need despair no more!  Payne proposes that "the glut of goods may deprive a child of a genuine creativity boulder: the gift of their own boredom."  Boredom - a gift!  It's a gift I bestow often to, it must be said, ungrateful recipients.  Only now, I need feel no guilt.  In fact, I've seen my absolutely, positively bored-out-of-their-minds boys slink off in utter disgust, only to emerge a while later beaming at their latest Lego creation or the made-up game in which they became engrossed.

I'm still in the Environment chapter.  But, looking ahead, the Schedules chapter "challenge[s] the notion that "free time" means "free to be filled".  Not that I would have any difficulty in this area myself...  Nope. Not me. My calendar squares are pristine as snow cherry blossoms.  Or, at least they are in my dreams... wait - that requires sleep, doesn't it?  Better schedule that in. ;-)

This year, I'm really feeling the awakening, rebirth and new starts of the Spring and Easter season.  Simplicity Parenting came to that library holds shelf at just the right moment, as I regroup in trying to have less stuff and fewer commitments for my family *and* for myself.  How are you chipping away at the "pillars of 'too much'" this season?

Yours in (aspiring) simplicity,
Truffula

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Will spring cleaning make spring finally arrive?

Some natural cleaning tips from the Greenhabilitator...

The Green Moms Carnival this month is about spring and all it encompasses - from cleaning to gardening to renewal of the spirit. Seeing as we woke up to snow on the ground again today in Colorado, I've not been doing any gardening yet (not outside at least) and my spirit is feeling far from renewed.

The only spring-like activity I have taken part in has been the daunting task of spring cleaning. All the dusty baseboards and smudged windows sat quietly by through the winter while I was curled up on the couch, under a blanket, with a good book, knowing I couldn't neglect them forever. I pretended not to see the cobwebs forming on our vaulted ceilings, for fear I'd actually have to get out the ladder to dust. And it's been way too long since my shower grout has had a date with the old toothbrush hiding under the sink.

Knowing how fickle Mother Nature can be, I succumbed last weekend to the (nonexistent) pressure, thinking maybe she was waiting for me to clean my house before sending spring to our neck of the woods. And clean I did - from top to bottom.

Having three children under 5 at home (including a potty training 2 year old) makes for a messy bathroom, to say the least. I don't buy or use any chemical-laden cleaning products - or any of the so-called "natural" cleaners either, for that matter. For the bathroom I use my core product - vinegar - and some essential oils that have disinfectant properties to them.

Bathroom Cleaner
8 oz water
8 oz white vinegar
4 drops of cinnamon oil (more if desired)

According to famed French researcher, Dr. Jean C. Lapraz, cinnamon oil is "anti-bacterial and anti-viral, killing those germs we generally believe require chemical antibiotics to overpower."

Grapefruit and other citrus oils are also good to use in the bathroom. I often use the citrus scents in the spring and summer time and save the cinnamon for fall and winter.

In the kitchen and dining area I use a similar spray cleaner, but cut back on the amount of vinegar.

All-Purpose Kitchen Cleaner
4 oz white vinegar
8 oz water
Rosemary or Thyme essential oil

Rosemary, Thyme, Clove and many other herbs used in cooking also kill germs, so they're great to use in your kitchen spray. Of course, I also like lemon or grapefruit in the summer months, which can be used all over the house.

While spring cleaning I like to throw open the curtains that have been closed all winter, to hold in heat, and let in some sunlight and fresh air. That alone chases away much of the musty winter scent, but it's always nice to freshen the air with something other than commercial air fresheners that are dangerous to inhale.

Air Freshener
Fine mist spray bottle
4 oz water
5-10 drops eucalyptus oil
5-10 drops tea tree oil
5-10 drops lavender oil
5-10 drops peppermint oil

For this, you can really experiment with scents that you like. I received a premixed bottle of the above and, despite seeming like an odd combination, found it to be quite lovely. This can be sprayed around a room just as you would an aerosol or Febreeze-type version.

Finally, the hardwood floors. Mopping is such a pain - physically and figuratively - but there is no reason to use those stinky commercial products. My floor cleaner consists mostly of water with just a dash of Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap added in. For bathroom floors I may add some borax, but the floors in the main rooms usually don't need more than a good mop with hot soapy water.

I find it much more pleasant to clean using natural products - no watery eyes, burning lungs or headaches, just simple ingredients for a simple family.

By the way, if you see Mother Nature, could you let her know that my house is clean and I'm waiting here (not so) patiently for spring to arrive? I fear she might have forgotten us this year.

This post is for the Green Moms Carnival that will be hosted at Green Talk on April 12th.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tips for Meatless Eating from an Almost Vegetarian

Eating less meat with The Conscious Shopper

With the start of our Meatless Mondays Challenge here at the Booth, I thought it would be helpful to provide some tips for those new to meatless eating, but first some background info for new readers...

Previously at the Green Phone Booth: Erin aka The Conscious Shopper revealed that she was eating meat again after twelve years as a vegetarian. Her family has decided to eat about one pound of meat a week, purchased from a few local farms in the Triangle area that practice sustainable and ethical farming methods. For more info, check out Why I Started Eating Meat Again after 12 Years as a Vegetarian.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program...

When I was a vegetarian, one of the common questions I got was, “What do you eat?”

It's funny that now after so many years without meat, I'm on the flip side of that question. What do all you meat eaters eat? My husband and I sat down recently to brainstorm twelve meat-oriented and relatively frugal meals (i.e. utilizing ground beef, not steak), and it was really hard. All of my cookbooks are vegetarian, I can whip up a mean batch of bean burgers, and I have dozens of Mexican-style meals up my sleeve. But ask me to roast a chicken? Um....

My husband and I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time this year, and you should have seen us struggling to cook the turkey. I've got a roasting pan, right? Uh, no. What I thought was a roasting pan was not a roasting pan. Good thing Walmart stays open on holidays!

So for those of you meatless newbies, here are a few tips:


Start with that old standby: pasta.
In the early years of my vegetarianism, my answer to the “what do you eat” question was always, “The same thing as you but I leave out the meat.” Spaghetti, alfredo, and pasta salad are good places to start, and who doesn't love mac and cheese?

Meet your new friend, Mr. Bean. I'm a huge fan of beans. When my husband puts together a meaty meal on Sunday nights, more often than not my reaction is, “This could use less meat...and more beans.” If you're not currently a fan of beans, it's probably because you haven't tried the right bean. Did you know that there are hundreds of varieties of beans? And every bean tastes a little different. A good place to start might be the chickpea (aka garbanzo bean), which has a very un-beanlike flavor and consistency and works well in pasta.

Get ethnic. Standard American fare is meat and potatoes, but other countries are much more vegetarian friendly. When you're going meatless, Mexican food is your new best friend – you can't go wrong with tortillas, beans, and cheese. Next, you should tackle Chinese – fried rice and stir fry are excellent ways to use up those weird greens in your CSA box. And if you're ready for a challenge, try Indian.

Are you ready for tofu? My husband and I have been married for eight years, and in that time, I've served him tofu hundreds of times. He still doesn't like it. My kids, on the other hand, love the stuff. There have been nights when my oldest has picked every tiny vegetable particle out of his stir fry, gobbled down the tofu...and asked for more. For many people, tofu is too far from the norm, but you should at least try it. You never know.

Stay away from “meat substitutes.” Although those Boca burgers and chicken-less nuggets might be helpful as you're transitioning to more meatless meals (and essential when eating out with friends), don't let yourself depend on them. Most meat substitutes come from processed soybeans, a problematic crop that is most likely genetically modified and grown with pesticides and chemical fertilizer.

Start a recipe file. I prefer to find recipes online rather than in cookbooks. Here are a few of my favorite resources:
For those of you that are trying to eat mostly meatless like me, but still want a little bit of ethically-raised meat in your diets, here are some resources for you:
  • Eat Wild: A directory of pasture-based farms.
  • Eat Well Guide: Find local farms, markets, and restaurants carrying sustainable and organic foods.
  • Seafood Watch: A pocket guide to the very confusing world of seafood.
What other tips and resources have you found for meatless eating?

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