Saturday, May 29, 2010

Views from Puerto Rico

Going Green Mama confesses she needs another vacation. Stat.

I realize most of the country is on vacation in some form or fashion this weekend, so I'll join the club.

Instead of my usual rambling thoughts strewn together at midnight Friday, I'll share with you a few photos of part of our country you might never see. Last week, I was blessed to see a good friend who's spending this year in San Juan. While it's part of our country, it's a radically different culture and a vastly different climate. So enjoy the views!























Friday, May 28, 2010

Portland City Walks

I just returned from a short visit to Portland, OR and I relied on the book, Portland City Walks by Laura Foster to get a closer view of the many neighborhoods I've been studying online as part of my research for a possible relocation. This book was a wonderful way to get to know Portland and there are 20 walks covering all four quadrants of Portland plus a couple of the outlying suburbs. I highly recommend it even for locals. There is also a Hill Walks version if you're up for more of a physical challenge.

This was my fourth visit to the City of Roses, but my first visit to Concordia, which includes the Alberta Arts district. I walked the four-mile route with my mother-in-law, a lifelong tree lover and we were particularly taken by the section of NE Ainsworth Street that we covered. What made this section so special is that it was part of the Linear Arboretum,  a "unique museum of street and yard trees planted [by Friends of Trees] beginning in 2000...to inspire homeowners to plant these seldom-seen varities to increase the city's  species diversity."



It started to rain so I had to protect my camera under my rain jacket. But I did get to capture this one amazing tree. Now if only I could identify it! Sadly, I didn't note the address so I can't use the Friends of Trees link to figure it out!

This program is just one more thing on my list of things to love about Portland.  I did find out while writing this post that my current town has a Tree Ordinance, so that's a start!

Does your town have a similar program to Portland's Friends of Trees? Please give it a shout out in the comments! And if you know the species of this tree, please also let me know in the comments. :)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Letterboxing 101

The Greenhabilitator geeks out on a new family hobby...

A few weeks ago, in her review of the book The Green Hour, the Conscious Shopper mentioned Letterboxing. I'd heard about the hobby a few years ago, but it had completely slipped my mind until then.

If you haven't heard of Letterboxing, well then I'm sure it sounds a little odd. It's sort of a cross between a treasure hunt, an art and a scenic exploration. All across the US -- and internationally as well -- people have hidden small, waterproof boxes in interesting locations. The boxes hold the person's stamp and a journal. Clues to the whereabouts are found on a variety of websites, and some only by word of mouth. Some of the letterboxes are relatively easy to find, others are found only after solving riddles, or navigating one's way with a compass. Once the box is found, you use the owner's stamp to stamp your journal, then you stamp the owner's journal with your personal stamp.

In addition to the Letterboxing.org and Letterboxing.info sites, you'll want to visit the New Letterboxers Yahoo Group, which provides lots of great information for newbies. There are also quite a few good blogs including Pinecone Boxing and AtlasQuest.

If you're interested in something a little more modern and technology-oriented, you can try geocaching. Geocaching is very similar to Letterboxing, but you use a GPS system. There are over one million geocaches located all over the world.

For our family, I think Letterboxing is the way to go. As it turns out, there are 9 letterboxes hidden in our town and around 50 just in the cities that surround us. With a tight budget and three kids who love being outdoors, this will give us plenty to do this summer!

Have you tried Letterboxing? Have any tips or advice to share?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Green Hour Update

Attempts at nature exploration with The Conscious Shopper


A month ago, I reviewed the book The Green Hour and committed to setting aside one hour a day several times a week to explore nature with my children. I feel like we started off the month with good intentions that fizzled out. As with so many things, our biggest hurdle has been time. Most afternoons, I get home from picking the kindergartner up from school around 4:30. I spend about an hour making dinner, and then we eat. Sometimes, we have to pick up my husband from work at 6ish either because it's raining and he doesn't want to get drenched walking home, or more commonly because one of the two of us has to be somewhere by 7:00 for various activities and obligations. And then we start getting the boys ready for bed at 6:45 if it's bath night, 7:00 if it's not. The two youngest are in bed by 7:30, the oldest by 8:00.

In short, the hours between 4:30 and 7:00 are a mad dash to get everything done before bedtime. (Excuses, excuses, excuses...)

At first, I thought the solution was to make dinner during naptime so we could have our green hour in the afternoon when I would normally make dinner. But naptime is usually my reading time, and since my evenings are always packed, I couldn't find any other time to read. I'm feeling book deprived!

My next thought was to turn our usual walks to the school, museum, or library into pseudo-nature walks. Just because we're in the city doesn't mean we can't find nature to enjoy. We'll often stop for a few minutes and watch the ants, or pick wildflowers, or fill our pockets with rocks. Sometimes I quiz the boys to see if they can spot the poison ivy or identify a tree. I've been enjoying this idea, but it's not quite the same as immersing them in nature.

So now I'm thinking maybe I should compromise with a Green Half Hour or even a Green Fifteen Minutes on days when I can't fit in a full hour and then make up for it on the weekends. Raleigh has a great parks and greenway system, and we need to get explorin'. Plus, once school lets out, we'll have a lot more free time on our hands.

I also really like the idea of monthly camping trips from a comment on Going Green Mama's last post. Says Rosa:
Last summer we set aside one weekend per month to go camping somewhere a short drive from home. We actually went more often - hit 6 different state parks and one state forest in five months.
My biggest accomplishment this month was clearing off a shelf in the boys' room and turning it into a nature table:


As you can see, they haven't quite latched on to the concept yet, but I'm sure they'll catch on.

And here's a little more evidence of our green hour in action: I came in from working on the garden the other day to find an old peanut container sitting on the table. It was filled to the brim with water and had scotch tape completely covering the surface. "What's this?" I asked, a little afraid of the answer. And for good reason: "Snails. They need water."

Um...okay?

How's your green hour going?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Midnight Maniac

Bleatings from EnviRambo.



When I started blogging it began as a way to reach out to others on the same path as I – living sustainably, going green, environmentally friendly, or whatever you like to call it. I was quite shy about my experiences at first, at home anyway. Online I felt free to let it all hang out, quite literally. Underwear, reusable menstrual pads, and all, line drying for the world to see, but at home I didn’t dare tell a soul for fear of ridicule. I hid my tree-hugging ways like a dirty little secret. Connecting with others online and sharing experiences bolstered my confidence. Step by step I began to do more and little by little I became more open about it. Two years later I have come out of the crunchy closet; living sustainably is my way of life and I see no reason to hide it. I am no longer the “greeen sheeep” of the family.

My blog started as one thing and morphed into something else entirely. Sustainability is still a big portion of my life, but it isn’t all my life. I have many interests: gardening, biking, planning parties, flower arranging, cake decorating, cooking, baking, bird watching, mushroom hunting, volunteering, homesteading, thrifting, fashion – Yes, fashion. Vintage fashion, more precisely. Reusing, buying second-hand, wearing vintage – they are all ways to go green. Basically, I can’t decide what I want to do when I grow up, so I just do it all and have created a new blog to write about it. Greeen Sheeep has a new name and address to go with it: Midnight Maniac.

It is still a work in progress, but I would love for you to poke around and offer feedback. I have no idea what it looks like on a browser other than mine (Safari), so if you see something blatantly out place or broken, please let me know. You may have noticed I have already changed my Twitter name, email address, and Blogger profile. You can follow me on Twitter as @Midnight_Maniac or on Facebook by liking Midnight Maniac. I will still be EnviRambo here at The Booth and have created a profile under that pen name. At my new digs I will just be me, Rebecca Jean.

Cheers!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Meatless Monday at the Booth

Good Meatless Monday morning Boothers!

We've got some carnivorous house guests staying with us here in the Greenhab household. I'm quite proud of the amount of meat we've cut out of our diets, so I've been debating all weekend whether to suck it up and make a meat dish each night, or to make some other hearty dishes and hope that no one notices the absence of meat.

I decided on the latter, choosing Black Bean Zucchini Quesadillas from the Veggie Table for tonight's menu, with a side of Spanish Rice. I really can't wait to try it.

What are some of the heartier meatless dishes that you like to make?

Don't forget to share your Meatless Monday recipe with us using Mr. Linky below. List your name and the name of the dish, and link directly to the post on your blog.

Have a great week everyone!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Modern Agriculture versus Food Inc

Some late link love from The Conscious Shopper

A few weeks ago, Katie at Kitchen Stewardship posted "a balanced perspective" on modern agriculture versus Food Inc. After briefly summarizing Food Inc., Katie lists a number of links from the opposing side, refuting the criticisms set forth in the film.

A few of the articles Katie's post points to:
And though she didn't link to it, there's also The Omnivore's Delusion, a response to Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma.

When I first read the post, my knee jerk reaction was, "No, no, no!" and I was disappointed that a "real food blog" would defend modern agriculture in any way . Then a couple weeks ago, I visited a local strawberry farm/nursery on a field trip with my kindergartner's school. The farm is not organic and doesn't even purport to avoid pesticides or fertilizer, and yet I was still impressed.

As we walked around the farm, the tour guide asked at each stopping point, "Why do you think the farmers would have this on their farm? Everyone and everything does a job around here - what is this animal's job? Why do the farmers have this?" And the answers were things like goats to eat the weeds, a donkey to protect the goats, bird houses to attract birds to eat the bugs, ponds for irrigation, bees to pollinate the plants, etc. By the end of the tour, I was thoroughly impressed with how thoughtfully these farmers were taking care of their animals and their land.

My trip to this farm got me thinking about balanced farming and led me back to Katie's post to read the articles she had linked to, rather than dismissing them offhand like I had originally. In case you're worried, I'm not about to write a post titled "Why I started eating CAFO meats again after six months as a flexitarian." Those articles didn't change my mind about how I believe food should be grown and raised and why, but I do feel a little more knowledgeable about both perspectives.

I encourage you to give those articles a glance and then come back here and tell me what you think. I'm not going to give my whole opinion on the subject, but I will say this: A recurring theme that I saw in the articles was the assertion that they have to raise animals the way they do to "meet Americans' demand" and because Americans prefer the taste of corn-fed beef and over-fattened animals. They're right, but that doesn't make their methods right. I find their implication insulting - that the solution to balancing meat consumption and meat production is to abuse animals rather than encourage people to eat less meat, and the assumption that people can't and won't curb their appetites in exchange for healthier foods and a sustainable future.

I'll also point you to the comment by Rachel Ritter on Katie's post (scroll down about halfway through the comments) because it summarizes much of what I think on the subject.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Summer plans: Staycation or not?

Going Green Mama is relishing her last summer before 20 years of school schedules...

I admit writing about staycations seems a little much, seeing I arrived home Thursday night from a once-in-a-lifetime trip to see a friend in Puerto Rico. But as our family prepares for the arrival of the big K this fall, I feel compelled to do something as a family this summer.

For the last five years, our trips have revolved around family visits. Not that that's a bad thing in any respect. But I fondly remember our trips to the Rockies too each summer, and I'd love to have my kids have similar memories.

Last night, my husband and I decided to discuss the idea of a vacation - a college student-budget vacation, but a vacation nonetheless. And quickly, I realized while we had the same idea (camping), our execution might be a little different.

Dear husband had identified all national parks within a day's drive. Me, unsure how a fearless toddler will handle the whole camping experience (OK, maybe how I would handle a fearless toddler trying to get into everything...), was leaning toward a quiet night or weekend at a state park to test the whole camping thing out. I suspect with children, it's a whole new ball game.

If we couldn't make camping work, I proposed a short daytrip to someplace local, or just creating a special "family day" as Kindergarten approached. At this point, we haven't settled negotiations.

Interestingly we're not alone. A recent survey found that 11 percent are taking time off just to explore the local attractions, and 7 percent were taking a hiking trip or "experiential vacation."

Where do you fall this summer? Are you throwing caution to the wind, and traveling afar? Staying close? Enjoying nature? Or simply taking time off at home to rest?

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Bike Commute: Mission Accomplished!

Feelings of deep pride and a little thigh soreness from a currently car-less-by-choice suburban greenmom

I'm sitting here at my office desk (shh! Don't tell them I'm blogging at work!), with my bicycle parked outside the door: I biked to work today, finally. Like a month after I said I was going to start...but I did it. And, absolutely by accident, I did it during Bike To Work Week 2010. Who knew? I'll take it as kismet. Don't it figure this is the one week I don't read what my fellow Boothers have written until, like today...

But if I had, I'd've taken a lot of good encouragement from Envirambo's Tuesday post--because she's absolutely right, about so many things. Especially the being-in-shape part--if I can do this, anyone can. And the speed part too--it was delightful to discover how much distance I was covering in not much time.

The delays in actually getting moving on this commute endeavor weren't really my fault, although there were a couple of days I should have given it a shot and didn't due to exhaustion or schedules or other factors...April and May around Chicago tend to be really rainy. Biking in the rain is something I don't want to try until I'm really comfortable on the vehicle, if ever. Too slippery. And I didn't want to do this for the first time (or, realistically, any time) on a day when I have to be in early, or when something awful would happen if I got a flat and was 15 minutes late, or anything like that.

But...it's been quite a journey since that first post of about a month ago when I resolved to take on this challenge, lots farther than the six-odd miles between my workplace and my home.

First there was the bike repair. This was a bicycle I bought about 15 years ago, for $149.99, from Venture. (Remember Venture? A big-box that went out of business more than a decade ago?) The reason I know this is that we discovered the price tag still on the front of the bike. It was, as I recall, the most expensive bike they sold at the time, manufactured by Huffy, but it was still pretty cheap. In those fifteen years I think I rode it maybe 2 or 3 times. When I started riding it again, it was sort of slow and creaky for a while but eventually sort of settled in and was basically okay--except that the brakes squeaked horribly. So we called the local bike shop to ask what they could do for us. For about $110 we got a complete tune-up and new brakes, which gave me a knee-jerk response of "holy crap, I only paid $150 for the bike!" but which I know was a good idea anyway. And the guy from the bike shop, after laughing at the price tag, said that it was a much better bike than I'd be able to get at a big box nowadays; 15 years ago they were apparently making things a little better than they do now, even the cheaper stuff. Anyway, now it rides smoothly and cleanly and shifts gears without shimmying around. And stops without squealing. (Lesson learned: It's worth it to pay someone to fix your bike, unless you're really handy and can do things from youtube videos...) (Now if I'd had one of Erin's cool Mommybikes, which obviously cost a lot more, somehow that $200 wouldn't have stung so much...psychology is a strange thing, isn't it?)

The route turns out to be not bad--I was able to use Google Maps' beta bike routes to find a good route (and was able to suggest to them that the way they took me wasn't the best or easiest way, via their comments page, and they actually emailed me back to acknowledge that I was right and they'd be changing their page in the future to reflect my suggestion, which is way cool!), and all but maybe half a mile of the total six-ish mile ride is actually really delightful quiet streets. Unfortunately that half mile remaining utterly sucks--I have to get over a major expressway, and the sidewalks are skinny and in poor repair, and the road is filled with cars since it's the only one that gets you over that expressway for a mile or two in either direction. And you can just feel the cell-phone-talking mommies in their minivans' exasperated huff as they swoop by you, incensed that you on your bike should slow them down even slightly. If they even notice you, chatting on their cell phones while driving with one hand. I have a new deep-seated crabbiness about bike-unfriendly towns; it's just so unnecessary that any stretch of road be this hostile to anything other than a motor vehicle...it's not yet a deal-breaker, but it's pretty bad.

I didn't train as much as I meant to. Again, the weather got in the way--it's been really wet around here during the week and a half since my bike came back from the shop. And I was honestly nervous about today. But a weird thing happened: apparently the training and riding around I did do the few times I've been out were enough to wake up my muscle memory of how the whole biking thing works, even though there was still some awkwardness in those rides. And my comfort and coordination level have skyrocketed in the last week or so during which I haven't touched it, as though I'd been on the thing every day. I can signal now; my balance is sure enough that I can remove a hand from the handlebar without wobbling. Last time I rode, I couldn't. I feel more solid and grounded on the bike, by far, than I did before, even without any actual practice in between. Says a lot about what the brain can do when we don't know it's doing it, and how much connection the brain and the body have with each other.

The hair thing could be a problem. Serious helmet-head when I got to work, and there wasn't much I could do about it. But that's a small thing.

So, I did it!

I plan to continue the pattern through the summer--in the next couple of weeks it'll still be hard, with the kids finishing school and the schedule going haywire, but once they are in summer camp it'll be a piece of cake. In fact, maybe I can get us all to camp on bikes and then I can just continue on to work from there? That might take a little more work, because there are some sidewalk-less streets between home and camp, and I don't think I'm ready for my little-uns to be out there with the big bad cars...but if I can make this a three-times-a-week thing, that'll be huge.

How about y'all? Anyone else take this up as a regular thing and have any good stories to tell, or good hints to give?
--Jenn the Greenmom

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is it Thursday already?

A drive-by post from the Greenhabilitator who is currently pulling her hair out, but promises to back in full force next week!

I'm in complete disbelief that we're almost half way through the year already. It could be all the snow we've gotten here in the mountains of Colorado in the past few weeks, yet my kids keep reminding me that they only have one week left of school, so summer must indeed be near.

Our household has been absolutely nuts with Mr.Greenhab back in school, birthdays galore, school plays, meetings, conferences, field trips and more.

We're still progressing nicely though with our goal of greening up our diets and kitchen this year. The photo above is a sampling of some of the foods I've canned already this season: a small amount of applesauce, strawberry jam, tripleberry jam and kosher dill pickles.

Our cupboards were starting to get bare for awhile there. We stopped stocking up on boxed foods, canned goods and instant side dishes and started making the same things from scratch with fresh ingredients. Surprisingly, our grocery bill went down and now our cupboards are slowly filling up with home-canned foods.

One processed thing we still eat a lot of is bread. I've tried my hand at making it and failed miserably. I'm not sure if it's our altitude, or if I'm just not doing it properly. I was thinking of searching Craigslist for a bread machine that could do the hard parts for me. Have any of you had luck with using a bread machine? Or do you prefer to make your bread yourself?

The kids and I had a picnic dinner last night of PB&J sandwiches. I smiled to myself thinking how nice it was to feed them both peanut butter and jelly that I'd made at home, but it just wasn't complete with store-bought bread.

Another thing we've worked on is eating seasonally. It's easy for Mr.Greenhab to do since he's cheap - he'd never buy a $6 box of strawberries out of season! It also helps to get our organic produce delivery because we can choose to receive local foods, so you always get what's in season. A little light went off inside my head yesterday. I was looking at another empty jar of jelly thinking I should have made much more than 12 jars of it. Then I realized in the fall we'd buy homemade apple cider from the local pumpkin patch and I could make apple cider jelly with it to last us until strawberry season again.

I won't say it's been a breeze. There have been many looks of disappointment at yet another meatless meal, or veggies the kids have never seen before, but we've also discovered some new things that we really love (like leeks!). We're all getting used to this new norm and, personally, I feel healthier than I have in a long time.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Biking...with Kids

Dreaming about bikes with The Conscious Shopper

As Envirambo wrote about yesterday, it's Bike to Work Week. I haven't been on a bike in years, but still I dream about being able to bike around town instead of driving, hauling my three kids and our groceries in our bicycle "minivan." Does such a thing really exist? As a matter of fact, yes. Bike designers around the world have taken away that age old excuse "but I've got kids!"

With three kids under six, I've had my eye on the ingenius Madsen - the only bike I've seen that can fit more than two kids. In fact, the Madsen can carry four kids, or two adults, or two kids and lots of groceries.



If you have fewer than three kids, you might enjoy the Xtracycle, an extra long cargo bike that can fit up to two kids plus a whole lot more.

not big enough b/w fixed from Kate Oshea on Vimeo.

Both of these bikes are in the neighborhood of $1500, plus I'd need an electric assist if I had any hope of biking up North Carolina's hills with three kids in tow. If you've got $3,000 to spend on a bike, you might consider the BMW of bicycle minivans, the Bakfiet, a Dutch-designed bike because of course the Europeans figured out the whole biking thing ages ago.




Of course, you could also consider the classic routes: a bike trailer, a child's bike seat, or a tandem bike.

If you are planning on participating in Bike to Work Week, be sure to share your photo or story on Reusit.com's Facebook page for the Bike to Work Facebook Throwdown!

Do any of you take your children on your bike rides? How do you do it?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bike to Work Week

Bleatings from EnviRambo.




You may be familiar with the saying April showers bring May flowers, but have you heard April Earth Month brings May Bike Month?


Since 1956, May has been recognized as National Bike Month. The third week in May is designated Bike to Work Week; and the third Friday of May is Bike to Work Day. Bike to Work Week started yesterday. Events are being hosted across the country. Check the League of American Bicyclists' website for activities in your state.

In Japan, 15% of commuters bicycle to work. In the Netherlands, 50% of commuters bicycle to work. Less than 2% of U.S. commuters bicycle to work. Less than 2%. Are we really that attached to our cars? Or, is it just a matter of habit? Although more than half of the U.S. population lives within 5 miles of their workplace, lack of knowledge and incentive has deterred many from commuting by bike.

OVERCOMING BIKE COMMUTING EXCUSES

1. I'm out of shape
  • Ride at an easy pace; in a few months you will be in great shape.
  • Ride your route on a weekend to find the easiest way to work.
  • You will improve your fitness level when you become a regular bike commuter.

2. It takes too long
  • The average commuter travels at 10 mph; the more you ride, the faster you will become.
  • Trips of less than three miles will be quicker by bike.
  • Trips of five to seven miles in urban areas may take the same time or less as by car.

3. It’s too far
  • Try riding to work and taking mass transit home, then alternating the next day.
  • Combine riding and mass transit to shorten your commute.
  • Ride to a coworker’s house and carpool to work.

4. No bike parking
  • Look around for a storage area in your building or office.
  • Stash your bike in a covered, secure place such as a closet or even your office.
  • Formally request that your employer provide bike parking or lock it up outside.

5. My bike is beat up
  • Tell a reputable bike shop that you are commuting and have them tune up your bike.
  • If you can’t maintain your bike yourself, identify bike shops near your route.
  • Make sure that your bike is reliable and in good working order before you ride.

6. No showers
  • Most commuters don’t shower at work; ride at an easy pace to stay cool and dry.
  • Ride home at a fast pace if you want a workout; shower when you get there.
  • Health clubs offer showers; get a discounted membership for showers only.

7. I have to dress up
  • Keep multiple sets of clothing at work; rotate them on days you drive.
  • Have work clothes cleaned at nearby laundromats or dry cleaners.
  • Pack clothes with you and change at work; try rolling clothes instead of folding.

8. It’s raining
  • Fenders for your bike and raingear for your body will keep you dry.
  • If you are at work, take transit or carpool to get home; ride home the next day.
  • Take transit or drive if you don’t have the gear to ride comfortably in the rain.

9. The roads aren’t safe
  • Obey traffic signs, ride on the right, signal turns, and stop at lights.
  • Wear bright clothing. You are at no greater risk than driving a car.
  • Wear a helmet every time you ride.

10. I have to run errands
  • Bolt a rack to the back of your bike to add carrying capacity.
  • Make sure that you have a lock to secure your bike while you are in a building.
  • Allow extra time to get to scheduled appointments and find parking.
  • Encourage your employer to provide a bicycle fleet for office use.
Each gallon of gasoline burned in an average car’s engine blows 19.4 pounds of CO2 out the exhaust and directly into Earth’s atmosphere. The less we drive, the less gasoline we burn. When you ride a bicycle or walk someplace instead of driving your car, you are keeping unnecessary greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. By taking one car off the road for one day’s average commute, you will be saving an estimated 26 lbs of CO2.

Driving also costs money. At current national average gasoline prices ($2.45 per gallon of regular), choosing your bike over your car saves you about $3 per day, not including tolls, parking, and so on. With gas prices going up again, your savings will undoubtedly increase.

You don’t need to overthink this one; just decide to give it a try. Start by making sure your bike is in good working condition. Check your bike helmet for a good fit. Plan a route that avoids heavy traffic, bad roads, and killer hills without adding too much distance to the trip. And allow yourself time to make the ride at your own pace.


Get on your bike and ride!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Meatless Monday at the Booth

Good morning Boothers! It's another glorious Meatless Monday here at the Green Phone Booth.

So often when we discuss Meatless Monday, we talk about dinner. I thought I'd change things up today and find out what everyone has for breakfast on Mondays.

I rarely eat meat for breakfast. Not for moral reasons, but more due to lack of time. The kids usually get oatmeal, or some combination of fruit with cereal, pancakes or yogurt for breakfast. When I find myself with a few extra minutes I'll scramble some eggs, but that doesn't happen too often during the school year.

Looking around on the interwebby I found some yummy sounding suggestions including~
  • Bean burrito
  • Trail mix with fruit
  • Peanut butter & jelly sandwich
  • Smoothie
  • Granola bar
  • Blueberry (or other fruit) muffin
  • Cottage cheese with fruit
There's a nice website called The Veggie Table that has a good list of Meatless breakfast ideas, as does About.com.

What are some of your favorite meatless breakfasts?

Don't forget to share some of your MM meals with us using Mr. Linky below, or by posting them to our Facebook page.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Cleaning out for a cause: Get the rest out!

Going Green Mama admits the little things add up in her home...and she's thrilled to purge some of it!



Curtains of clothing and stacks of shoes hide the inevitable: Random things that are lurking in your closets (or other areas that are becoming havens for dust and junk).



This week, let's talk about useful ways we can get rid of those random things. It's not enough to trash things, or even donate them to some resale shop; it's time for us to really be mindful of where it is we're donating unused items.



Holiday items



My mother-in-law is famous for giving us random holiday decorations found in craft sales or auctions. But after 14 years of marriage, we've accumulated a lot. As each season progresses - or, if you're motivated, take care of a year's worth of items on a rainy day - truly decide whether or not this holiday decoration is something that adds to your life. If you love to go all out for Halloween, great. If it feels like extra stuff, rethink its home.



Consider taking those items to transitional programs for domestic violence survivors, many of them who are mothers and would love to bring a sense of holiday normalcy to their family's home. When you're re-settling your lives, the frills are the last things to be bought. So spread some love around!



Baby items



How long are you going to hang onto that child's swing, infant tub or stroller? Infants go through so many supplies, particularly through that first year of life, that it's far better to swap, donate or trade what you have. Programs that help crisis pregnancies or families in financial crises welcome these kinds of items.



Toys



Admit it. You have a zillion stuffed animals. Suggest your child share some with a child in need, whether through Toys for Tots, low-income day cares or other avenues.



Textbooks



As my husband's a college student, we're frustrated that many textbooks are revised each year, rendering them supposedly useless. I was thrilled to find that our local library accepts books that are less than five years old. No more tossing texts we can't resell!



So what other items would you love to find a home for but struggle to?

Friday, May 14, 2010

There's a whole lotta fermentin' goin' on!

I kept seeing references to kimchi… how healthy it was… how you could make it yourself… that Nourishing Traditions (about which I was also seeing references right and left at the time) had a recipe… Last fall, I finally got around to investigating Nourishing Traditions – you can imagine how pleased I was to find it at the library! Sure enough, that recipe looked do-able.

Whipping out a scrap of paper, I jotted down a shopping list, and the requisite ingredients were procured by Mr. Truffula on his next shopping expedition. Before I knew it, I was elbow-deep in Napa cabbage. Soon enough, I had jars of kimchi sitting out on the counter, doing their thing.

I gingerly opened one jar after a few days, and sampled the contents. Not bad. I labeled the jars and set them aside until needed.

Then, I emailed a dear friend who runs the most delightful café, where she produces and sells (among many other tasty things)… kimchi! I asked her whether she’d reveal her recipe, and she kindly described her process. It's from Wild Fermentation, and a bit different than the one from NT. Of course, I had to try it.

More ingredients were procured. This time, the crockpot was pressed into service as my fermenting vessel. After about a week, I sampled. Not bad. I labeled the jars and set them aside.

And so began regular kimchi production (and bottling of the results).

Christmas came. I brought samples of kimchi from each recipe, and subjected my extended family to a kimchi tasteoff. (The Wild Fermentation recipe won.)

If I could handle kimchi, then perhaps I could try out some sauerkraut, right? A (non-Napa) cabbage was bought. I prepared it à la Nourishing Traditions, put it into jars, and let these sit out on the counter, doing their thing.

I sampled, I liked, and I put the jars into storage for safekeeping until my stash in the fridge was consumed.

A woman in one of my food-buying groups offered some milk kefir grains. I took her up on my offer. The entire family was in the car with me as I retrieved the precious goodness. (I think they thought I was a little nuts – I was going to take perfectly good milk, add these thingies to it, and let it sit out on the counter? And then eat the results?!).

I tried a small batch at first – I didn’t want to waste any milk for naught. After a day, I sampled. Not bad. My production amounts followed the just-in-time philosophy. That minimized storage, but I still used a few jars in the process.

And so began regular milk kefir production.

Then, my sister, also exploring some of these culinary adventures, sent me some water kefir grains. I rehydrated them, and off we went. I sampled the results. Not all that good (to my tastebuds), but I’ve kept trying. In the meanwhile, I’ve acquired more of a taste for it.

In any case, I’ve kept up with semi-regular water kefir production. Each batch yields about four jars.

And then it happened: I ran out of jars!

That’s right: between the jars of ferments in progress, “finished” ones on the shelf or in the refrigerator, and the recently-emptied ones in the dishwasher awaiting cleaning before reuse, I had put every suitable jar in the house into service.

It’s a good problem to have. It’s liberating to know that I can make these time-honored recipes and proactively support my health by eating and drinking them. I love not needing to use any electricity in the production or storage. And, the processes are so fantastically easy. In fact, the milk kefir prep is so, so, so simple that I’ve given up making yogurt in favor of the kefir.

My fermenting habits are easy on the purse too – I happened to be at a local natural food store over the weekend, and spied a smallish jar of organic kimchi for over 15 bucks! Hmm… for that money, I could buy a few empty jars…

{raising a water kefir toast}

Happy fermenting!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

International Pickle Week...Seriously

The one where the Greenhabilitator talk about pickles...

Are you ready for International Pickle Week?

I didn't think so! Thank goodness you have me here to remind you of these special holidays.

International Pickle Week comes at a good time for us this year -- it's May 15th through the 25th which, yes, I realize is actually 10 days.

Last week I came to the realization that I'm the only one in my house who like cucumbers. Seeing as we've gotten them in our past three weekly organic produce delivery boxes, well, my crisper sort of runneth over.

In an attempt to preserve them before they got mushy, I decided to make pickles. The pickles I made last year were horrible. I used the store-bought seasoning, added too much vinegar, they got mushy...yada yada yada...they ended up in the trash.

This time I made Refrigerator Pickles from HowToPickle.com, which turned out scrumptious. The recipe mimics Claussen's kosher dill pickles perfectly:

Part I
3 parts distilled water (important), 1 part distilled white vinegar
(important), for every quart of this mixture add 2 tablespoons of
kosher, non iodized salt (important) in a glass container (important).

Part II
In quart jars put, 1/2 tsp minced dried garlic, 1/4 tsp yellow mustard
seed, 2-4 black peppercorns, 2-4 whole allspice, 1 to 1/2 whole dried
cayenne pepper, a pinch of dill seed, a pinch of dill weed, a miniscule 
pinch of turmeric and either 1/4 tsp of sugar or a whole carrot, washed, 
sliced (as you like them) cucumbers.

Part III
Now take the brine mixture from Part I and bring it to a boil. Pour
this mixture over the cucumbers and spices in the jars and seal. Put
them in the refrigerator: Ready in 7-10 days. Keeps 8 - 19 weeks.
Brine can be re used.

If you make these today, they'll be ready for you just in time for pickle week!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Packaging Versus Price: How Do You Decide?

The Conscious Shopper apologizes to any subscribed readers who read this post on Monday, came to the site to comment, and couldn't find the post. I accidentally hit the publish button, and once you've done that, there's no taking it back from the RSS feed. Grrr, Blogger...

A month or so ago, I wrote a guest post at Fake Plastic Fish about how much money I save by trying to reduce my plastic waste. Some of the numbers really surprised me: $440 a year by using stainless steel bottles instead of buying bottled water; $260 a year by making my own yogurt instead of buying it every week; $125 a year by shopping the bulk bins instead of the canned foods aisle.

The article revolved around my savings at the grocery store, but I've saved money by avoiding plastic in other ways too - frequenting the thrift store, shopping on Craigslist, choosing not to buy at all...

Admittedly, there are times when avoiding plastic costs more. For example, I could run down to my local Walmart and pick up an insulated PVC lunchbag for my kindergartner for about $10. Or I could buy a stainless steel PlanetBox for $60. That's a big price difference, but when I feel like I'm investing in something that's going to last a long time, I'm generally willing to pay more.

But what about when the plastic-free item costs more but isn't necessarily better?

The other day I stopped by Trader Joe's on a quest for a specific item someone had told me about, and as I was swinging up and down the aisles, a price tag caught my eye: $1.39 for a pound of organic pasta. My internal price book started dinging: "Savings! Savings! Savings!" It wasn't a sale, just the everyday Trader Joe's price, but a whole $0.60 cheaper than the organic pasta at Whole Foods or Kroger. Except for one little detail...unlike every other cardboard box of pasta in the country, this pasta was packaged in a little plastic bag.

Being the over-organized, spreadsheet-lover that I am, I estimated how much I would save by switching to the plastic-wrapped Trader Joe's pasta, and the savings came out to a whopping $30 or $40 a year. That's all.

On the other hand, if I had a choice between buying a shirt for $60 or the same shirt on sale for $30, I would choose the savings, hands down, every time.

But is the $30 savings worth the extra plastic in my trash bin? Or phrased the opposite way, is it worth paying $30 a year just to save a measly amount of plastic?

The Trader Joe's pasta is just one example; I face this type of dilemma all the time. Should I buy vinegar in small glass jars, or save by buying the huge plastic jug? Should I buy my carrots naked, or save by buying 10 pounds of carrots in a plastic bag? (or potatoes, apples, and oranges?) Sometimes the plastic packaging wins, and sometimes it loses. Honestly, it mostly depends on my mood.

How do you make those decisions? Do you choose packaging or price? Even when the savings are very small?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Seasonal Spring Treats

Bleatings from EnviRambo.




So you want to eat seasonally, but it is Spring and not much is growing in your garden. Maybe you have a few greens, or some other cold-weather crop. My garden is not even planted, much less ready to harvest anything. That does not mean there is not anything available. Two foods abundant locally right now are Morels and rhubarb.


Morels sell for big bucks, but with a little education and a lot of luck you can find them for free. Foraging is great. It gets you outside, provides some exercise, and best of all FREE FOOD! Last year I scored 17 pounds of the little gems. This year the weather has been wacky and unseasonable warm. We did not get out early enough, but did still find a few.


I prepared a few fresh in last night's cream sauce and decided to preserve the rest. Last year I froze the extra, but since giving up Ziplocs and purchasing a dehydrator, drying was the route to go. They took a lot less time than I thought, only a few hours at 110 degrees. When it comes time to use them, all that is needed is a little warm water for reconstitution.

Finding Morels is a bit of a mystery. What is known is that they pop up in Spring, like moisture, and are usually found near dead or dying elm trees. A quick internet search will bring up an abundance of websites dedicated to finding the elusive Morchella. Morels.com is a useful one. Monitoring the discussion board for your state can give insight to when Morels are appearing. TheGreatMorel.com is another good one, offering tips on finding, harvesting, preparing, and preserving, even information on ticks. Luckily, we did not find any of these.

If you are not feeling up to trekking through the woods to forage mushrooms, there is another local food you can find right out in the open. Rhubarb.


Rhubarb grows like a weed in many areas. Some people have so much of it they are happy to give some away. This is the person you need to find. I was able to barter a six pack of beer for as much rhubarb as I wanted. I gladly filled my basket with the tart stalks.

Upon cutting to prepare for freezing I quickly realized that my lack of Ziplocs was going to pose a challenge. Luckily I have a stockpile of yogurt containers in the basement. They take up more room, but can be easily stacked in the freezer. Before placing in the yogurt containers I freeze the rhubarb cuts individually on baking sheets until hard, then transfer to the containers. This way the pieces stay loose and are easily removed and measured for baking tasty treats.

I am still cutting and freezing (perhaps I picked too much), but after enjoying a dish of Rhubarb Crunch last night I feel the extra work is worth it. Come January when no local fruit is available, all the work will be forgotten and only the tangy taste of Spring will remain. I will be grateful to have it. (Rhubarb is actually a vegetable, but most often treated as a fruit.)

RHUBARB CRUNCH

Ingredients

  • 6 cups diced rhubarb
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups cane sugar depending on your liking - tart or sweet
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking dish.
  2. In a large mixing bowl combine rhubarb, white sugar, and 3 tablespoons flour. Stir well and spread evenly into baking dish. Set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl combine brown sugar, oats, and 1 1/2 cups flour. Stir well then cut in butter or margarine until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle mixture over rhubarb layer.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

Add whipped cream or ice cream and enjoy your seasonal treat!



Monday, May 10, 2010

Meatless Monday at the Booth

Every time I turn around it seems I'm hearing that something we eat, drink, cook with, clean with or rub onto our skin is linked to a type of cancer.

The World Health Organization claims that 30% of all cancers are a result of dietary factors. According to CancerProject.org, meat consumption can raise the risk of the following types of cancer:

Breast Cancer - Countries with a higher intake of fat, especially fat from animal products, such as meat and dairy products, have a higher incidence of breast cancer...The consumption of high-fat foods such as meat, dairy products, fried foods, and even vegetable oils causes a woman’s body to make more estrogens, which encourage cancer cell growth in the breast and other organs that are sensitive to female sex hormones.

Colorectal Cancer - Total fat and saturated fat, which tend to be substantially higher in animal products than in plant-derived foods, and refined sugar, all heighten colon cancer risks.

Prostate Cancer - ...a man’s intake of dietary fat, which is abundant in meat and other animal products, increases testosterone production, which in turn increases prostate cancer risk.

Other Cancers - Although not as extensively studied as breast, colon, and prostate cancer risk, a number of studies have concluded that meat consumption may play a significant role in kidney and pancreatic cancer risk.

From the studies that the Cancer Project has examined, they found two common themes:

1. Vegetables and fruits help to reduce risk of cancer.
2. Meat, animal products, and other fatty foods increase risk.

Here at the Green Phone Booth, we hope you'll start reducing your risk of the aforementioned cancers by joining us in the observance of Meatless Mondays. You can link up your MM recipe using Mr. Linky below or post your recipe and photo to our Facebook page. At the very least, leave a comment to let us know what's on your plate for the day.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Superhero Secrets: the Eco-Friendly Birthday Party

Desperate and belated search for ideas for a way to celebrate the fifth birthday of the daughter of a suburban greenmom...

The birthday party. Usually it's at one of Those Places, where you shell out huge amounts of money in order to not have to plan, clean, shop, or worry about what the other parents will think of your house. But they are crazy expensive, and they almost always come with tacky "goody" bags and bad pizza.

So I have this vain hope that maybe we can do better for my daughter. So I'm looking around...

Eco-Child's Play has a few posts on the topic; the "low impact birthday party" one seems to be the most immediately useful. She also recommends Green Party Goods for party favors--although I honestly am not inclined to spend so much, nor to require the carbon footprint of shipping a bunch of things to me. And besides, even though "compostable cornware" is certainly a huge improvement on Dixie cups, I would prefer to go with reusable all the way.

So still looking...the NatureMoms blog also has some good thoughts, particularly the idea of having homemade play-doh and natural wood "magic wands" as party favors...and this video of instructions on how to make your own "seeded paper" invitations is brilliant. The Not-Quite-Crunchy-Parent also has some good favor ideas, like capes (capes+wands=fairies!) or plants or crafts to do at the party that become favors to take home, like snow-globes or masks or what have you.

The ideas on eco-bites don't look like my thing, but that's mostly because I'm fairly lazy--check it out, you might find something there! And while most of the ideas on this SheKnows site also are somewhere between common sense and too much work, that little picture of the kid with a plant in a decorated flower pot scores high for me--that, I could do! (I love the idea of moving entirely to e-vite invitations, but somehow neither of my children's schools have managed to gather and disseminate parent email addresses for exactly this purpose. It's so frustrating!) And the Green Baby Guide has some great ideas I wish I'd had when my kids were littler--but they are now a little too big for this wonderful scaled back plan; now there's peer pressure and but-Sofia's-party-was-at-the-giant-inflatable-place to compete with...

The article on Carbon Footprint Defined
is by far my favorite, both in style and content. The activity ideas are particularly good, as is the author's understanding of the perils of children's parties. (Honestly, any site that starts by saying "Throw a green party! It'll be easy!" makes me squirm, because there's nothing easy about doing a child's party. Have you ever heard how loudly five-year-old girls scream when they are in a group?)

Any other ideas or links? I have a princess-loving five-year-old to fete in about 10 days and I need anything I can get...

Jenn the Greenmom

(UPDATE: here's my account of how the party actually went...)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Cleaning out for a cause: It's a shoe-in

Going Green Mama was thrilled to find a home for a dozen pairs of shoes a hemisphere away...

Last week, I shared with you avenues for getting rid of that unwanted clothing in a way that truly helps another person. This week, let's talk about those shoes....

I've always struggled with what to do with well-worn shoes or those my children outgrow in a matter of weeks, it seems. If they're in good shape, there's the option of donating them or selling to a resale shop, but those with scuffs or scrapes just don't make the cut for willing buyers and all too often end up in the trash.

Here's just a sampling of the organizations that regularly accept donations of used but still usable shoes. Details on these groups came from their Web sites; please confirm drop-off locations with the organization before shipping or dropping off shoes.

Heart and Sole: A project run through the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Heart and Sole provides new and gently used shoes to the poorest of the world’s people. More than 7,000 pairs of shoes have been shipped around the world.

One World Running: Since 1986, a group of runners in Boulder, Colorado, has collected, washed and sent to Third World countries new and "near-new" athletic shoes, T-shirts and shorts, along with medicine and school and art supplies. Drop-off locations include locations in Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, and Ottawa.

Soles4Souls: Soles4Souls is a Nashville-based charity that collects shoes from the warehouses of footwear companies and the closets of people like you. The charity distributes these shoes free of charge to people in need, regardless of race, religion, class, or any other criteria. Since 2005, Soles4Souls has given away over 5.5 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes (currently donating one pair every 9 seconds.) The shoes have been distributed to people in over 125 countries.Find drop-off locations and a mailing address (if no drop-off spots are nearby).

Shoe Bank: The Shoe Bank had just one goal when it was founded in 1989 – to put comfortable shoes on a few hundred homeless men living on the streets in downtown Dallas. The program today provides shoes for 20,000 people every year – primarily children, both here and abroad. Find drop-off locations in Texas here.


Next week: What else is lurking in your closet...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Getting Rid of Paper Towels, Part II: the rags

Another step in reducing paper waste in the home of a suburban greenmom...

A few months ago I addressed my family's new ongoing eco-challenge: to stop using so many paper towels, if not to eliminate their use all together. I made color-coded napkins for each family member to use at each meal, a couple of each so that when one got dirty the next one could go into use and we could wash the whole batch whenever we need to. (I need to make my daughter about six--she runs through them at an alarming rate.) This system has been working really well, and we've probably cut our paper towel use in half. But then there's the other half...

Whenever there's a little spill on the counter, I grab for a paper towel. When I crack an egg and my hands get that inevitable bit of egg-goop on them, I grab a paper towel. When I want to "clean" the kitchen (in that surface-level cleaning mode that doesn't involve scrubby sponges and things) I grab a couple of paper towels, squirt my green cleaner on the counter, and mop it all up. Silly stuff like that.

So I wanted to stop.

The parameters for our family, as they are with any green endeavor in which I'm trying to involve husband and kids as well, are fairly specific and non-negotiable: the "system" has to be easy enough that my husband doesn't feel put upon or like he has to do a lot of extra work to make it happen. It has to not take up extra space. And the paper towels have to remain there; any attempts to cold turkey us will be detrimental to my marriage. So the system not only has to be easy, it has to be just as easy as using a paper towel would be.

So after seeing somewhere a picture of a sort of "sock" thing used to recycle and dispense those plastic grocery bags I never use any more, I wondered if such a system could be adopted to dispense cloth cleaning rags.

But first things first: I went to the thrift store and examined sheets until I found something that was 100% cotton. It was white and king sized and cost me $1.50. Not a bad deal, considering that a single roll of Bounty disposables costs about $2-$3. I cut it (okay, only part of it--I may make a summer nightgown out of some of it; it's a nice sheet!) up into 12 inch squares, and did a quick-and-dirty zigzag finish on them using my sewing machine's overlock foot. (This, by the way, is a really good way to use up all those random bobbin ends you don't really know what to do with...my kitchen rags have very pretty multicolored edges now.) I could probably have gotten away without edging them, but I don't want them to shred too much in the wash, and it takes literally under a minute to edge one when you don't care what it looks like. (Note: You'll want to have 100% cotton, and wash and dry it on HOT a few times to break down the fibers enough to make it really absorbent.)

Then I took a rectangle of ripstop nylon I had leftover from making sandwich wraps (you could use anything I suppose--I just had some) that was about ten inches wide by 14 inches long. I sewed up the sides, then sewed a channel for elastic in one end. I honestly did not measure the elastic piece I put in there, but it ended up leaving about a 1 inch diameter hole unstretched, and it could open all the way up enough to stick my hand in there. The other end I just left with the selvedge and sewed a loop to hang it from.

You can just stick a pile of rags into it, without folding or anything, and pull one out of the bottom whenever you need to; then you put a laundry bag somewhere else to drop the dirties in, and wash them all when you are running out. These "dispensers" could probably be made in a really cute or decor-conscious kind of way; mine is just basic and utilitarian, but this design could be futzed with a lot and made sort of attractive.

The verdict: after a week, I still find myself reaching for paper towels sometimes, but lots less often than before--my husband too, I see using the rags for things he would once have used paper for. I will edge a few more cloths--my test run only got maybe a dozen, and obviously that's not going to go far--and see if we can make this official.

If anyone else tries this, please let me know how it works for you!

--Jenn the Greenmom
who by the way has not forgotten about the bike commute thing--the bike ended up needing service and was out of my hands for over a week, and we have company in this week and I'm barely going to work at all anyhow...I was going to ride on Wednesday, but I got almost no sleep the night before and it looked like rain anyhow. So tune in in two weeks, and I'll have the scoop on how the commute is going!

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