Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Oh What Do You Do in the Summertime?

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More attempts at nature exploration with The Conscious Shopper

Two month ago, I reviewed the book The Green Hour and resolved to increase and improve the time I spend with my children enjoying nature.

As I expected, it has been much easier to have a green hour now that school's out. In the past month, we have...

gone fishing

gone to the beach

watched our garden grow out of control
(It is now much much worse than this...Borers wiped out my squash, and the tomatoes have taken over every inch of the garden and some of the yard. Yeah, for rookie gardening!)

picked raspberries

climbed trees
(My sister and I had a contest to see who could climb the highest. My six-year-old won...I about had a heart attack.)


No school means we have two extra hours a day to play outside, but it's still a challenge to get the kids out there playing on a regular day (as opposed to on vacation, when most of the above pictures were taken).

Because my son goes to a magnet school, we don't know the other kids in the neighborhood...not that we ever see any of them outside anyway. Earlier this week, I spotted the boys across the street playing basketball in their driveway, so I urged my own kids to go over and make friends. A few minutes later, my oldest came back to say, "They want to know if we can go inside and play Playstation."

I find myself constantly nostalgic for my own childhood of riding bikes and exploring the woods, but perhaps I've idealized it - I don't remember summer being so hot that I didn't want to go outside, but I feel that way now as an adult. I need to use these "tricks to get kids outdoors" on myself.

How do you beat the summer heat?

UPDATE: Just wanted to add here that I recently found out that this past June has been the hottest June on record in North Carolina, and that 22 days in June were in the 90s (which with the humidity factor, means in the 100s). Plus, I grew up in northern Indiana. So I'm not crazy - it really is much hotter now than when I was a kid!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

99 Bottles

Bleatings from EnviRambo.




Over the years we have taken great strides to reduce our plastic consumption, yet our home still seems to be full of it.

In the laundry room:
  • laundry detergent
  • peroxide
  • stain treatment
In the kitchen:
  • hand soap
  • dish soap
  • dish washer detergent
  • vinegar
  • garbage bags
In the pantry:
  • bread
  • yogurt
  • pasta
  • ketchup
  • mayo
  • milk
  • sour cream
  • cheese
In the bathroom:
  • toilet paper
  • lotion
  • conditioner
  • deodorant
  • makeup
  • hair gel
  • hand soap
  • toothbrush
  • band aids
  • pain relievers
  • floss
  • mouthwash
  • q-tips
  • cotton balls
In the bedroom:
  • iron
  • hangers
In the office:
  • pens
  • tape
  • binders
  • markers
  • ink cartridges
  • thumbtacks
  • computer equipment
All made of or housed in plastic. Looking at this list, it doesn't seem like we got rid of much at all. Honest we have! Some notables missing from the above list are: disposable razors, shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, bath poufs, tupperware, plastic wrap, sandwich bags, sponges, bottled water, plastic water bottles, fabric softener, and shopping bags.

I was quite pleased with our progress for a while. I had hit a plastic plateau if you will. Now I am increasingly annoyed by the bits that are left. I know I will never be able to rid our lives of all of it, but I feel I could knock a few more items off that list.

In the laundry room:

We have already given up fabric softener and survived over a year without it. I don't miss it a bit. In fact the smell of it is overpowering now. Noxious even. While I am not ready to start making my own laundry detergent, I could make the switch from liquid to powder. We currently use Seventh Generation 2x concentrated laundry liquid. Anyone have experience with their powdered detergent? Or can recommend a good powder?

In the kitchen:

I have been purchasing Kiss My Face self foaming liquid soap refills for several years now. We have three of their self foaming pump dispensers we've been using since the beginning. The only waste has been the empty refill bottles which are recyclable. Until now. The pumps are wearing out and no longer pumping and I am getting tired of seeing the refill bottles in the recycle bin. I would like to replace the plastic dispensers with glass ones. Do glass self foaming dispensers exist? If they do, I have yet to find one. I guess I would even settle for a reused pump off a plastic bottle that would fit onto a glass one. As for the soap, I already buy Dr. Bronner's castile soap in bulk that we use as shampoo and body wash, hence their absence from the above list. Why not just use that as hand soap as well? It has like a million uses, lathers like crazy, is concentrated, and I can buy it in bulk from my local coop - no packaging! Why the hell haven't I done this sooner? Duh. I could probably even use it as dish soap.

Dish washer detergent, that's another story. I have tried Seventh Generation's powder detergent, it didn't work. I have even made my own. It worked for a while. Then weird sandy-like bits starting showing up on our dishes and I switched. I have gone back to using Earth Friendly Products Wave Auto Dishwasher Gel. Sometimes our dishes still come out dirtier than when they went in. Basically, our dishwasher sucks. I'm ready to try something new. Plastic free recommendations?

In the pantry:

I'm struggling here. We've cut out a lot by taking our own containers to fill from the bulk section at the coop. Gave up plastic wrap a while ago and now sandwich bags. I have reusable bags for buying produce. All glass food storage. And, I make a lot of our own stuff: BBQ sauce, taco seasoning, alfredo sauce, cheese sauce. Yet the plastic bags abound. I haven't carried my purchases out of a store - any store - in a plastic bag in nearly three years. So what the hell is with all these plastic bags?!


Bread. They're all bread of some variety. I have toyed with baking our own bread before, but never stuck with it. Too time consuming, too cold in the house for bread to rise, blah blah blah. I have found a way to fix that. No knead bread. Aka Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Acutally, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day in this house.


Mister gave me the book some time ago. I just started using it. Made my first batch of dough and baked my first loaf from it last week. It was eaaaasy. I am going to give it an honest-to-goodness-whole-hearted try this time. No more bread bags!


In the bathroom:

Like I said, we already cut out the shampoo and body wash bottles. Bath poufs have been replaced with sea sponges. I use Tom's of Maine toothpaste that comes in a metal tube. My daughter and I have been shaving with a safety razor going on two years. That alone has cut out countless amounts of plastic! Now I have my eyes set on conditioner and lotion. Maybe toilet paper. Maybe. I use very little conditioner. One bottle lasts months. The other day when I was filling my Dr. Bronner's bottle at the coop I noticed they have conditioner in bulk too. I don't recall the brand, but once my current stock runs out I'm going to give it a try. One more off the list. Lotion I use a lot more frequently. I saved the last two bottles that ran out so I have one to use and one to shop with. It's kind of a PITA to refill the bottle because thick lotion takes FOREVER to pump out of a gallon jug. Ugh. Nevertheless, I think it is an inconvenience I can live with. Plastic is an inconvenience that drives me crazy!

The last time I messed with our toilet paper it nearly caused a divorce, so I will have to ease into that one. We've been using recycled t.p. for quite some time now. Perhaps tender bums have adjusted. The only recycled toilet paper I know that comes wrapped in paper is significantly less comfortable than our current brand. In fact it's the one that caused the rift to begin with. Maybe next year...

What I am trying to get at with this exceedingly long post is that you just need to take things one step at a time. It's like the song goes: 99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer. You take one down, pass it around. 98 bottles of beer on the wall.

The journey may seem long, but eventually you'll get there.



Monday, June 28, 2010

Meatless Monday at the Booth

Good Meatless Monday morning Boothers!

Today's meatless recipe for Swiss Chard Gnocchi in Tomato Cream Sauce comes to you from EnviRambo and her Midnight Maniac blog (which, if you haven't checked out, is fabulous).

I love gnocchi, but I've always heard people talk about how hard it is to make, so I've never even bothered to try it. Color me inspired though - this is going on my list of things to try! I need to add some more sophisticated recipes to my repertoire. I cook from scratch just about every night, yet the recipes I make are still relatively fast and easy. I just don't have the patience, time, or skill for the more time-consuming, intricate recipes. I guess I like the idea of making all of our meals, I just don't actually like to cook.

What kind of cook are you? Do you enjoy cooking? Or do you go for fast and easy like me?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Make us better - Take our survey!

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Clutter: The cost of conservation?

Going Green Mama is the thrust of last-minute decluttering for a party this morning. Here's a recycled post from my blog. I apologize, but enjoy!

Yesterday, as I was taking my trash out, I noted that for the first time, we only needed to leave one can at the curb.That is huge, given that I had company over the weekend and that we have a little one in diapers (who happens to be at home this week, generating even more trash).

What made the difference? Recycling.

Sure, I’ve done curbside recycling for years, but the difference is now that I’ve stepped it up beyond the cans, newspapers and plastic soda bottles I used to save. I’ve recently located a drop-off point close to my home where I can get rid of old magazines that I can’t take to the hospital, office papers that have been reused as coloring sheets, cardboard boxes and even the paperboard that wraps all of those food items that require a little less preparation after a busy day at work. I couldn’t believe the difference it made.

The difference is also in my home, I’m sorry to admit. I have a stack of cardboard boxes, flattened, and three bags of paper that I’m trying to keep the toddler out of before my next run.

I also have diaper-size boxes of hand-me-downs, assigned to various people and organizations, and boxes of things that I’m hanging on to so I can donate the next time I’m at Fresh Start.

And while I’m not a Martha Stewart by nature, I’m beginning to wonder: Have our homes, in our attempt to be more environmentally aware, become the new landfills? Is clutter the cost of conservation and recycling?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Craft Hope: Gulf Coast Oil Spill

The latest from regular guest poster Jess from Sweet Eventide

A few weeks ago, I heard about Craft Hope's newest labor of love: Project 8: Gulf Coast Oil Spill. I saw the post shortly after I saw the oil-soaked animals for the first time and I went from utterly depressed to totally inspired.

This project is easy, quick, totally do-able and benefits the following organizations: The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, The Audobon Nature Institute and the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge.


Here are the basic details of the project: they are collecting towels and Dawn dishwashing liquid (yes, it is ironic). The towels do not need to be fancy at all since they are just sopping up the oil stuck on the poor animals. Towels are preferably handmade since it is "Craft Hope" but you can sew (simply cut and hem), knit or crochet. They would like the towels in sets of 10 or 20. They need cotton or terry cloth ONLY in washrag size (10x10) or hand towel size (14x27). A wonderful way to be green about your contribution is to cut down old towels, old sheets or even old plain t-shirts.

The response has been so enthusiastic that they extended the deadline from early July to the end of August! I'm one of the 518 people who have signed up to send towels so far. I'm collecting towels from friends and family and shipping them all together. Comment on this post if you want to sign up.

I love this inspiring quote on the Craft Hope site:

"If we were logical, the future would be bleak indeed. But we are more than logical. We are human beings, and we have faith, and we have hope, and we can work."
Jacques-Yves Cousteau

I think this post on the 100th anniversary of Cousteau's birth is also worth your time. You can find Craft Hope on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The last antique...

A realization from the Greenhabilitator...

I love a piece of furniture with a story behind it...other than "We spent 6 hours in IKEA looking for this." Our dining room table is a huge, rustic farm table. The planks on top came from a tobacco barn in North Carolina. Tobacco leaves were laid out on this wood to dry.


The legs were posts from the front porch of an old house...


We have an antique armoire in our bedroom and another downstairs that houses our coats. Some of the kids toys reside in this old wooden beer crate from John Hauck's Dayton Brewing Company. DBC was founded in 1864 and ran through 1919 when it was shut down during prohibition.



I collect old pottery bowls like this one from the 1930's. Each time I use one I wonder how many other meals they've held, people they've fed and stories they've heard over decades of service.



Last weekend I had the pleasure of working an antiques show with my mom, who is a decorator by trade and antiques lover at heart. (She won the Show Stopper award, BTW. That's her on the right.)

Over the course of two days I heard her tell the stories of many items - a basket once used to carry ammunition by the Swiss army, a European suitcase from the 1850's, Ironstone pitchers that were over a hundred years old.

She had necklaces made with "charms" that were old skeleton keys and locker keys from a community swimming pool. The locker keys were numbered and came with a metal pin you'd pin to your swimsuit. One woman bought the pin for locker number E-4 because "E-4" happened to be the level her father was when he retired from the military.

Everything had a story. If it wasn't the history of the item, it was the story of how my mom found it. The buying trip she went on with girlfriends through the mid-west where they laughed until they cried, a trip to England, or the backwoods barn she searched for long-forgotten treasure.

And suddenly it hit me.

One day there will be no more antiques.

No more sweet little handcrafted wooden toys, because ours are mass-produced in China, made of plastic. No hundred year old dishes, meant to last several lifetimes. Our are made cheaply -- they're practically disposable -- because we like to change them out so often.

I recently reviewed the book Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture in which the author describes IKEA's furniture making practice:
"...the 'cheap chic' style fills in for whatever quality goes lacking. There is nothing sinister in this, no deliberate planned obsolescence. These objects are not designed to fall apart, nor are they crafted not to fall apart. In many cases we know this and accept it, and have entered into a sort of compact. Perhaps we don't even want the object to last forever. Such voluntary obsolescence makes craftsmanship beside the point. We have grown to expect and even relish the easy birth and early death of objects."
I almost have to disagree with the author that there is no deliberate planned obsolescence in the manufacture of the cheap products we purchase today. Isn't the goal to make a trendy coffee table that we'll use for a few years, at a price low enough to use it and discard it, only to head back to Target or IKEA a few years later to buy the next new trend? And because the price is so cheap that we don't even mind when it gets banged up or a leg breaks. It's what we expect for the price. Not like the days when we paid a higher price for something because we knew it would last forever. In fact, we often knew the craftsman or woman who made the item with his/her own blood, sweat and tears.

These days, we demand cheap prices and the products we buy must be made of lower and lower quality - by people half a world away - to sustain those prices.

In a hundred years though, what will we hand down to our descendants? Plastic pitchers? Plywood bookshelves from Walmart?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Blanket of Dreams

From the bean of Green Bean.

It is that time again. School has drawn to a close. An entire three months of adventure looms ahead. Of national and state parks. Of hikes and s'mores. Of ghost stories and junk shops.

Yup. All of those with kids are familiar with their siren's call. No matter how green or frugal we try to go, our kids still want that shell turtle from the Philippines. The T-shirt bearing the destination name. The stuffie made in China. The list goes on.

Often, the owners of these souvenir shops are smarter than we. They hawk their wares at entrances, exits, places where they are difficult to avoid.

Well, my bean ain't green for nuthin'. Over the past few years, we've hit on a new tradition that satisfies my children's craving for the new, my bank account's craving for the inexpensive, and my home and my conscience's craving for less stuff.

A blanket of dreams.

For each place we visit, mom and dad will spring for a patch and, for the most part, that's it. This goes for national parks, state parks, zoos, museums, and new cities. My boys now have something to look for instead of anything that catches their eye. We get in, we get out, and we get on with our exploration.

I sew the patches on their blankets when we get home and the blankets take up no more room than any bedding. No new toys to put away or clothes to wash and outgrow.

Yes, this blanket tradition solves many of the dilemmas but I hope, too, that it will provide my children with one more thing. Memories. I hope that, as teens, they will look over their blanket and remember the time the deer stalked through our camp in the middle of dinner. I hope that, as young adults, they'll remember that summer when they ate too many marshmallows and lay, in a fetal position, in front of the campfire, stomach aching. I hope, that as parents, they'll look at their blanket of dreams and share them all with their own children.

Happy summer. May you step lightly on the earth by stepping lightly through those gift shops.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Let's get Real{D}

Rantings from EnviRambo.



Okay, I just have to ask. What is up with all the 3D movies?

The family decided to go to Toy Story 3-D this weekend. Before we even got there I was already questioning what the 3D glasses would be made of. My suspicions were correct. Plastic. As if that wasn't bad enough, they were individually wrapped in plastic bags. Ugh.

The theatre tried to pass them off as being "green". There was a sign posted to "keep the movies green" by recycling your glasses. Huh? Since when is plastic green? Even recycled plastic. Just hop on over to Fake Plastic Fish to learn about all the pitfalls of plastic and "downcycling".

The glasses were marked No. 4 (LDPE, low-density polyethylene). Not a number my municipality accepts. The theatre did have a recycling bin to collect the glasses. Notice no bin for the bags they were wrapped in. What a waste. There was a second bin with a sign stating "Recycle now, new glasses next time." Again, what a waste! Why waste all the energy, shipping, packaging, and resources to make a pair of glasses that sat on someone's face for two hours into the same pair of glasses only to be used for another two hours? Am I the only one going huh? Why not just hand out the glasses with your movie ticket (sans plastic bag) and collect them at the end to be reused for the next showing?

How much plastic is being produced for this one movie? One movie. During the previews no less than six upcoming movies were advertised, all being shown in Real-D (3D). Real-D. I don't need glasses to see in Fake-D. I just need my eyes. I saw no reason for Toy Story 3 to be shown in 3D. I got nothing more out of it. I was just annoyed by it. The whole time I wanted to take the glasses off.

At the end I begrudging placed my glasses in the collection box and heard a father tell their child to keep their glasses so they could use them at home on their TV. Yep, 3D TV. It's here. WTF?! Come on people. If you want to see things in 3D, look around. Life is 3D! Better yet, open your eyes and become truly aware. See that plastic bag floating right at you? Smell the oil on the beach? Feel the disgust over our wasteful ways? Why settle for artificial 3D when you can live in 4D?


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Meatless Monday at the Booth

Good morning Boothers! I hope you all had a fabulous Father's Day weekend.

Last week's Meatless Monday brought us some really fantastic recipes. If you haven't had a chance to read through them, make sure you go back and do so.

One of them in particular -- Black Beans & Yellow Rice by A Few Shortcuts -- really brought me back to my childhood. I was born in south Florida where I was able to enjoy some amazing Cuban food as a kid. Black beans and yellow rice has always been one of my favorites.


After leaving Florida my mom would recreate this meal (always with chicken though), but the rice came from a bag and the beans from a can. When I moved out and began making this meal myself I, of course, did it the same way. Now I can't wait to try this homemade version from A Few Shortcuts. It looks delicious!

What's on your plate this Meatless Monday? Use Mr. Linky below to share your recipes with us. You can post any time during the week. Just put your name with your recipe name in parenthesis.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Me in another world

Going Green Mama thinks sometimes the grass isn't always greener on the other side....

I confess: In the two years since my husband lost his job, I'm guilty of being green. With envy.

There's no real vacations for us (other than holidays, which relatives have paid for our gas to get there). No extras. No housekeeper (which I could desperately need a hand with!). No dates out as a couple. Appliance repairs or injuries result in financial turmoil. And that third child I wished for, frankly, isn't on the radar screen anymore.

But lately, I've been thinking. What would have been differently if that fateful day hadn't happened?

Sure, we'd have been out of debt, aside of college loans and our mortgage. We would have taken our kids to the beach, which my daughter's asked for lately, and Walt Disney World. Probably Acadia National Park as well.

We wouldn't have thought twice about private school, or date nights, or trading in our trusty decade-old, paid-off Echo that's made it through two tornadoes for a flashier hybrid.

We wouldn't have thought twice about picking up outfits for the kids because they were cute (not because we needed them) or because it was the latest holiday (my son was covered from Christmas, Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day). Or a toy just because.

But here's the deal: I'm not sure if I would have liked that woman. Because this forced change in our life, planned or not, forced a few other changes in our lives. As a result, I'm more conscious of what I spend - not just on my family, but what I give to others. I notice more the little pleas for assistance and do what I can, even if it's a sale-priced package of toothpaste for a school drive. I'm more conscious of the groups that seem to spend away my small gifts on more solicitations to me for funds. And when I honestly look at things, the last two years have made me a more generous person compared to what I've been blessed with.

This change changed our hand in another matter: faith. When you don't depend on you anymore, your perception shifts, or at least it did for us. My husband, a self-professed agnostic, joined our church of his own volition. He'd considered it for several years, but the freedom of his schedule allowed him to take classes to explore it more. And this choice shifted me off the fencepost of neutrality - not not believing, mind you, but in a very much bare-minimum, status quo - into feeling. And while those feelings have spanned from anger and resentment to trust (and admittedly on days may be a range), at least I'm feeling something.

Finally, a family crisis teaches you who your true friends are and who is worth your energy in a relationship. And we've met other new friends who are more in tune with our values, which is an awesome thing.

I have no idea where our road will lead. But I have to believe, in the end, this was the best one for us.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life of a Suburban Greenmom

This morning I rose early, to the sounds of songbirds outside my open window. After rousing my children, we sat down to a lovely breakfast of my homemade organic granola sprinkled with local berries. After packing delicious organic waste-free lunches for my children, we walked the mile to their day camp together, after which I walked home and proceeded to ride my bike the six miles to work. I spent the morning getting work done, generating almost no paper, and advocating for less garbage production and minimal printing among our office personnel, amidst answering e-mails and answering the phone.

On my lunch break I rode my bike to the local farmer’s market and picked up some delicious local fruits and vegetables to bring home for dinner. After work, and after walking once more to pick the kids up from school, as we enjoyed naming birds and plants by the side of the road and identifying medicinal herbs and edible flowers along the way, the children played with their fair trade non-toxic wooden toys while I made a delicious vegetarian dinner out of the local veggies I’d purchased, followed by fresh fruit for dessert. The children went to bed tired but happy, and my husband and I enjoyed some lovely cuddling by candlelight…

And if you were believing all that while you were reading it—please let me know, because it’d be a sign that I may have a good future as a fiction writer.

Sigh. That’s just not my life.

I read blogs by the other Boothers (check out the Greenhabilitator's "day in the life" submission, with farmers markets and recycling...and the Conscious Shopper, who talks about grinding her own wheat for flour--I mean, wow.) and I’m so envious, so awestruck—because I honestly fall down on the green job a lot. Between living in the burbs--designed to make anything efficient, on foot, or non-trash-generating really tough--and working one full time job and another part time one, I do what I can, but even the bread baking I used to do with such regularity has pretty much fallen by the wayside. (Besides, at this time of year I’d have to heat up the whole kitchen to do it, which is low on my to do list.)

So, you wanna hear about the day I really had?

Okay, my husband gets up when his alarm goes off; I get to lie in bed a while longer, because I don’t have to leave as early and he needs the shower first. I lie there many mornings wishing the damn birds would shut up, because they are noisy…but this morning, not so much, because it was so horribly muggy last night, with everything in the house just feeling sticky and gross, that we broke down and turned on the a/c. So the windows were closed, and the birds were not as loud. Big green points against me there.

While he’s showering, I wake the kids up. They promptly go back to sleep, but I tried. Then I go downstairs to make lunches. Yes, the lunches actually are waste-free, that part wasn’t fiction—but they aren’t very creative either. My son gets crackers and lunchmeat (sometimes it’s organic and nitrate-free; often it’s not, because it’s so crazy-expensive) and my daughter gets vanilla yogurt and Cheerios-with-dried-blueberries. (Yeah, I know. Weird lunch. She's five; it makes her happy.) Each kid gets a bunch of organic grapes. I honestly don’t remember where they were grown, but I bet it wasn’t Illinois or Indiana. Everything’s in those little Ziploc re-usable things, which I swear by. In between packing things I’m microwaving water and making coffee in my little French Press, without which the day is much harder to face. I pack their lunchboxes into their camp bags with swimsuits and towels and signed permission slips for next week’s field trip. Then I go wake them up again.

Once the kids are up, they get dressed and go down for breakfast, which is not homemade granola but your basic Cheerios, or more accurately Joe’s O’s, the Trader Joe imitation thereof. I take my shower—here I do okay, because I don’t use very hot water, and I literally can shower in about 3 minutes, and every other day or so I manage to not wash my hair which makes it even quicker. Husband goes to work. I finish loading the dishwasher and run the load. (No, actually, this is greener than washing by hand, in terms of energy use and water consumption. On the other hand, we use non-green detergent, so it’s probably a wash.) (Pun intended.) I spread bug repellent (safe) and sunblock (sort of not really safe) all over the kids.

I put the kids in the car and drive them their mile to camp, which at least is a mile in the direction of my own office. This is one of those confusing mornings—my son goes to camp, my daughter then gets schlepped to an appointment, then she gets dropped at camp 75 minutes late or so. By then it’s late enough that if I biked to work I’d lose too much desk time, so I just drive the remaining 4.5 miles from day camp to my office. Besides, I want to get to the local farmers market before they close. And it’s discount bagel day at the local bagel shop near my office. And my good friend who works at a resale boutique texted me early in the morning to let me know that someone had brought in a Barbie motor home that was too big for them to try to sell, and did I want it before they took it to the Salvation Army, so I needed to make a stop there too. (Everyone should have a friend who works in a resale shop. Especially a friend who babysits for one’s kids and knows what they love. And who knows one’s shoe size.)

So I go to work. I answer emails, I answer phone messages, I request checks for the musicians who did work last week, I research the possibility of new choir robes before the budget year ends in two weeks, plan and I type and I research and I chat with the co-workers who come into my office here and there…I look up at the clock and realize, damn, it’s 1:45. Too late for the farmer’s market; it closes in 15 minutes and is ten minutes drive away. I wrap up a few loose ends (which takes another hour) and go home. Then I realize, damn, I forgot the bagels. And the resale shop. I text my friend quickly to apologize and ask if she can hold onto the Barbie stuff one more day; she very kindly says no problem, let’s have breakfast on Friday and she can bring the Barbie stuff plus the bag of shrunken wool sweaters for me to felt. (She’s a really good friend. Friends is good.) So literally everything that would have made driving instead of biking to work a good idea, I forgot to do. But too late now.

Here’s where, from a green front, the day takes a small upswing…since it was gorgeous out, and since I haven’t gotten much exercise lately, and since the kids usually somehow come home from camp wanting to play outside more, I decide this would be a good day for them to walk home from school. We’ve done it before, so why not, right? I walk to school to get them. It takes about 15 minutes. We walk home. It takes about 45, because my daughter is complaining and whining about how tired she is and how boring it is to walk home from school. And a couple of dramatically exhausted rests beneath shady trees for both of them. But eventually we make it. And I tell them stories about the Gulf Oil Spill and oil-soaked seagulls and why it's important, even if maybe we don't feel like it, to try to walk or bike places whenever we can and do our little part of trying to use less oil and help the Earth. (I also tell them about the many people trying to help clean up the seagulls and pelicans and stuff.) They listen with the same horrified fascination as when they ask for the part of Lord of the Rings where Treebeard and the Ents come out and trash Saruman's Uruk-hai factory at Isengard, and break the dam so the river comes flooding in. And the part where Frodo gets his finger bitten off. They like dramatic stories. Unfortunately the pelicans aren't fictional...

Then we go out back and weed a little in the veggie garden—I didn’t have my gloves, so I couldn’t get the prickly super-dandelions we have back there (not sure what they are, but they are pure evil, unlike the innocuous little yellow flowers of late spring), but I got a lot of other stuff. The garden is plugging along; we have a few flowers on the zuke plants, the beans are looking beany, the tomatoes are above knee-high, and a few snap pea plants are making their way out of the ground. The anti-rabbit chicken-wire fence appears to be holding its own, and the kohlrabi is still going strong. And the chamomile is blooming—happy, sweet-smelling little daisy-like flowers—which my daughter and I pick together. I’m sipping a cup of fresh chamomile tea as I type this, and it’s nothing like what comes from a tea bag at the grocery store. Husband comes home to find tired wife and two exhausted kids crashed in front of the TV. (At least the a/c is off and the windows are open now.)

Dinner is our old standby, “naan pizza”—we get some of those frozen naan flatbreads from Trader Joe, spread sauce and grated mozzarella on it, throw any toppings I can find in the fridge on it (this time it’s zucchini, onion, and one chicken sausage I found in the freezer). Only this time there was also fresh basil from the herb garden cut up and sprinkled on it. Cherries for dessert; my son gets overly involved in spitting the pits out, and my daughter always winds up looking sort of vampire-like with red juice all over her face and hands, but it’s delicious. We get the kids to bed; my husband goes for a short bike ride, and after he returns I take the dogs for a walk around the block. I see fireflies, my first ones of the year.

And there was a little cuddling after all.

Just another day.

So what's the point of all this? I'm not really sure...part of me wanted to pick a Really Good Green Day for this project, and another part of me was tempted to take this really good green few hours of Tuesday, combine it with that trip to the farmer's market on Thursday, and one of the days I actually did bike to work, and put together a Green Phone Booth-worthy "day" for my Day-in-the-Life post.

But the fact is--these are my days. Full of all the overscheduled suburban crap I've let my life become filled with, full of little opportunities to be a little more careful, a little more present, a little more aware. I miss a lot of those opportunities. But...when I look at my life last spring, I'm taking a lot more of these opportunities than I used to. For example--my car took an emergency trip to the shop tonight (clearly the Auto Gods suddenly realized our credit card bills had no ridiculous and un-planned for expensive items to jack them up this month so far, and wanted to take care of that) because it was overheating. A year ago this would have been catastrophic. Like fellow Boother Going Green Mama, I am ruled by my car. Now? Tomorrow morning the kids and I will bike/scooter ourselves to summer camp. My friend will pick me up on the way to breakfast, and then bring me home afterwards since it's so close. I'll bike the 2 miles to my 1pm appointment, and bike again to the kids' school to collectively bike/scooter our way back home afterwards. Tomorrow I will be car-less and I will be busy. If the car is ready earlier, great. If not? I can manage. We can manage. And my kids will see us manage. And if the car is ready earlier? We may bike home from school anyway. (Okay, to be honest--if the car is ready earlier, I will probably drive them home. See prior remark about car-rulage. But maybe, just maybe I won't...)

Not bad for an ordinary day.

--Jenn the Greenmom

Post for "Day in the Life" Green Mom's Carnival, hosted by Beth at Fake Plastic Fish

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Keeping your sanity this summer

Summertime activity ideas from the Greenhabilitator...

Just a few short weeks ago I could not wait for school to be out. I was completely over packing lunches every day, I couldn't bear to sit in the pick up line at school for one more minute, and I was done with the morning battles over getting dressed. I knew summer was going to be so much better.

Now, only a month later, I'm wondering what planet I was living on -- and how I'm going to make it through the next two months trying to work full time from home while three kids use me as their personal jungle gym.

Lucky for me, I'm not the first mom to run into this issue. Here are some of my favorite boredom busting ideas, and a few I've "borrowed" from some other moms.

  • Journals - So far my kids have bug journals and bird journals. Each time they find a new bug they study it, then draw a picture of it in their journals. If your kids are a little older, you could have them look the bug up online and write down some facts about it too.
  • Explorers - Pack a back pack with lunch, water and a pair of homemade binoculars (our aren't quite this fancy) and explore the great outdoors.
  • Nature Center - Our local nature center has classes throughout the week for various age ranges, including a cool night time stargazer class.
  • KidsBowlFree.com - Just like it sounds. Sign up and they send you weekly coupons for free bowling.
  • Free Regal movies - Regal Theaters show free movies on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.
  • Minor (or Major) league sports - They often have great deals on "the cheap seats" or you can get family 4-packs for a steal! Our MLB team has $4 "rock pile" tickets for every game.
  • See your city - Since we moved to the mountains my kids love going down to the big city. They love to ride the free shuttle bus that goes through downtown. We also walk around and see interesting buildings, stop at any parks we pass, and jump in every fountain.
  • Water park - Check your local water and splash parks to see if they have discounts for residents of the county, or if they have discounted "twilight" hours in the evening.
  • Reading - Most libraries do a summer reading program. After 8 hours of reading, our library gives each child tickets to the local amusement park. Barnes & Noble has their own summer reading program for kids in 1st grade and up. Upon completion of 8 books, your child can pick out a free book in their store. 
  • Museum - Target sponsors free days at a ton of museums and children's museums across the country. Check here for one near you!
  • Free days - Google "free days" and your city name or check out your local Parents type magazine. They always have the best free events listed from street fairs to movies in the park.
What are the rest of you innovative mommas doing to keep the kids busy and keep your sanity this summer? Share your secrets with us!

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    CSA: Community Supported...Artists?

    The Conscious Shopper hopes you don't mind if she goes off on a tangent.

    Image by DerekGavey

    It has always been really hard for musicians to earn a living making music without signing with a major record label. Record labels are part investor (advancing the money to be able to record an album) and part marketing engine (making sure the album is played on the radio and distributed to stores around the country). In exchange for this arrangement, record labels take 80-90% of the money an album makes, plus the money they advanced the artist to make the album, plus various other costs associated with making the album, plus retain ownership of the album (so that if they decide to drop the band from their label, the band can't release the album independently or through another record label).

    Despite the obvious disadvantages in this skewed arrangement, most bands clamor for a deal with a major record label because it's the easiest/quickest way to make and sell an album. But over the years, many bands have rejected that arrangement and come up with creative ways to distribute their music by signing with an independent label (which has less money and marketing power but will probably give more control and a higher percentage of profits to the artists) or by creating their own label (which is costly).

    Recently I came across one more way for musicians to bypass the major record label through this appeal from one of my favorite bands, Over the Rhine:
    Friends, the good news is this:

    In 2010, there is no middleman.

    It's just us and you.

    So, for the first time in our career, we are simply going to appeal directly to you, the people who care about Over the Rhine's music, and ask if you will partner directly with us in making this new record....

    Whatever funds we are able to raise will go directly to our label, Great Speckled Dog, to help take care of this new music we will make. It will be used to help cover actual recording costs, and give the songs the best send-off into the world that we can afford.
    In exchange for donations, Over the Rhine promises various things in return: for $15 you get an advance copy of the CD, for $50 you get your name listed in the album booklet, for $100 you get a deluxe version of the album including vinyl copy, etc.

    My first thought when I read this was, "Community Supported Agriculture." Just like with my produce CSA, I give the artist some money in advance so they don't have to go into debt to do their job, and later, I reap the benefits of their work. And also just like with my produce CSA, there's some risk involved - if the farmer has a rough season, my produce box shows the evidence; if the musician gets all experimental and revolutionizes their sound, I could end up with some total crap music. And yet, $15 (the same price I'd pay for the CD anyway) is a pretty small risk to take.

    I thought this was a really cool concept and wanted to share it with y'all, so I've been brainstorming what excuse I could use to tie it to green living. The truth is that supporting an independent artist over a major record label isn't going to save the planet. In fact it probably doesn't have much impact on the planet at all. And yet, it still seems to fit: Giving my money to someone I like and want to support rather than some large conglomeration making cookie cutter music. Helping someone make a living doing something they love. I'd love to see this concept spread to more artistic fields.

    What do y'all think?

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    The Ants Go Marching

    Bleatings from EnviRambo.




    Ah summer, the season of strawberries, backyard barbecues, and ants. If the ants stayed in the backyard I would not have such a problem with them , but my ants prefer the comfort of my home. In my home. And so it goes every summer, the ants come marching in.

    A quick search of the internet turned up these home remedies for dealing with ants from Buzzle.com:

    Borax: It is a laundry detergent which is mixed with sugar solution in water. This method is very effective. Ants carry the borax into their nests, which kills them. You can also spray the mixture.

    Vinegar: Another very effective method to get rid of ants, is to spray vinegar on their entry paths. Strong scent of vinegar, repels ants. Hence, they will avoid vinegar because of its odor. The same can be accomplished with the use of apple cider, peppermint oil and black pepper.

    Cucumber: Ants do not like the taste of cucumber. Hence, placing pieces of cucumber in ant-affected areas will make them abandon the place.

    Mint: Used mint tea bags are very effective in driving away ants. Put mint tea bags at the points from where ants enter. Mint leaves can also be dried and crushed into a powder, which can be sprinkled at the entry points.

    Soap: The ingredients of soap are harmful for ants. The soap breaks down the waxy layer of the insect's exoskeleton and dehydrates them. If you know the entry points of ants, just put some soap. One can also mix soap in water and spray the mixture on them. This home remedy is very effective.

    Grits: Spread grits (coarsely ground grain like rice, corn or oats), wherever you see ants. Once the ants have ingested the grit, it expands and as a result, ants die. This method can be used to kill ants outdoors too.

    Salt: Spreading salt at the corners and on ant nests is another effective way to repel ants. Mixing salt with hot water and then spraying on ants, is also a good way to get rid of them.

    Grease: Grease acts as a toxic barrier. Ants may get attracted towards it at first, but are soon repelled.

    Baby Powder: Sprinkle baby powder, wherever you see ants. They hate scented talcum and hence, stay away from it.

    Chili Powder: Putting chili powder on the nests of ants is another very old home remedy that can help to get rid of them.

    I use vinegar to erase the odor trail ants leave behind for others to find the way. Then find their entrance point and seal it. I have also found that a mixture of borax and honey works wonders. It does not take much. Just mix the two together on a small square of cardboard and set out where they will find it. Use some common sense here. I do not have small children to worry about, but I do have a dog. So the mixture is put out of reach for the dog, but where the ants will have access. Which is just about anywhere. They scale walls for heavens sake!


    I recently came across a couple tips for dealing with ants outside the home. I have not tried either version so I cannot attest to their effectiveness. I prefer to deal directly with the ones who invade my personal space. You stay out of my home and I will stay out of yours.

    From Great Green book of Garden Secrets by Jerry Baker:

    Ant Control #1
    4 to 5 tbsp. of cornmeal
    3 tbsp. of bacon grease
    3 tbsp. of baking powder
    3 packages of yeast

    Mix the cornmeal and bacon grease into a paste, then add the baking powder and yeast. Dab the gooey mix on the insides of jar lids, and set them near the anthills.

    Ant Control #2
    1 cup of sugar
    1 tbsp. of boric acid powder
    3 cups of water

    Add the sugar to 3 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Then add the boric acid. Place the mix in small jar lids, and set the lids in the middle of ant trails or near anthills. Store any unused portion in a secure container, and keep everything out of reach of children and pets.
    How do you deal with unwanted house guests?



    Monday, June 14, 2010

    Meatless Monday ~ The Accidental Vegetarian

    Some good Meatless Monday reads from the Greenhabilitator...

    I made a comment on Facebook recently that I was becoming an "accidental vegetarian", joking that would be a good title for a book one day. Little did I know there's already a book by that title, which I checked out from the library last week out of sheer curiosity.

    Despite the oddly negative editorial review on Amazon, the customer reviews were positive and I also found it to be full of innovative recipes using ingredients that I actually have. The author is a Brit who owns a restaurant called Greens, though, as the reviewer points out, he's neither a chef nor a vegetarian. The book is definitely worth a check-out from the library!

    I've been hearing the term "flexitarian" lately, which I think is the direction in which I'm moving. A Flexitarian is someone who eats mostly vegetarian meals, but isn't opposed to eating meat on occasion.

    The Flexitarian Table was written for my family. In our household, we have a vegetarian (my mother-in-law), a flexitarian (me) and a carnivore (my husband). The kids could probably be considered flexitarians as well. (I think they're just happy that food magically appears on the table each night.) Author and chef Peter Berley lays out menus to satisfy us all.

    I also checked out the book The Flexitarian Diet which turned out to be more of a dieting book than a book about the flexitarian type of diet. It was still packed full of high protein meal ideas and recipes.

    Do you have any vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian books you'd like to share?

    And don't forget to let us know what's on your plate this Meatless Monday. Use Mr. Linky below...

    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    Superhero Secrets: what Maria von Trapp and Scarlett O'Hara have in common

    Jenn the Greenmom finally gets today's Superhero Secrets posted...

    Maria von Trapp. Scarlett O'Hara. Heroines of two of the best movies ever, or at least two that I've watched more than probably any others...very different women, but there was one key thing they both did that has bearing on a blog about resourcefulness, repurposing, nothing going to waste...Anyone remember?

    (Wait for it....)

    They were incredibly resourceful women who, among other things, turned old curtains into fairly awesome new clothes. (Okay, the curtain-wear of the von Trapps was maybe a little tacky, but as a little kid I remember loving their outfits.) I mean, could you get any greener than that? In fact, now that I think of it, both sets of curtains actually were green, weren't they?

    So in honor of these two amazing women, fictional or not, this Superhero Secrets is dedicated to the blogs and craft sites I follow that are able to convince people that this particular impatient not-very-good-seamstress Greenmom can sew. Especially the ones that enable me to save money while doing it.

    Over on my regular blog, I have a couple of posts with links for recycling old denim jeans and t-shirts, with lots of projects to try. And last year on the Booth here I did one on repurposing old shrunken wool sweaters into all kinds of things. The other day, even, I posted a tutorial for how to make these really easy wrap-around shorts. But there's so much more...and tons of free sewing patterns and tutorials all over the web, if you know where to look.

    There are several crafty-tutorial blogs I've become huge followers of--one of the cool things about summertime, especially if one a) is female or b) has one or more daughters or girl-type short people of whatever connection, is that cute pretty summer clothes are quite easy to sew. Check out the tutorials of these amazing moms who regularly sew for their kids:

    Indietutes: This is one of the first of this bunch that I discovered, and I'm there every couple of days, easy. She has tutorials for everything from peasant blouses and lace-up sundresses to cool little crafts--and a lot of good repurpose-y things, like making baby pants from sleeves, or a circle skirt from man's shirts. Love. Her.

    Ikat Bag: Lier is more of a Real Seamstress than I will ever hope to be. But her directions and patterns are really easy to follow. She has tutes for summer dresses, skirts, stuff like that, which are great--but check out her foam-and-felt garden, or her felt cake, or countless other adorable and creative little projects she makes for her kids...way cool. Most of us couldn't (or don't have time to) aspire to her level of amazingness, but some of her ideas look at least contemplatable...

    From an Igloo: Three words--"One Hour Sundress." Isn't this adorable? And the Hug Pillow would be the perfect grandma gift (or the perfect Mother's Day gift, if Mom weren't so often the one doing the sewing, you know?) She too has a whole bunch of cools and do-able projects on her blog; check it out!

    (UPDATE: and I just found Dana Made It, another great collection of patterns and tutorials! Check her out too!)

    Something else that might sound a little bizarre if you're sort of interested in learning to sew...but a great place to start, especially if you're a Renaissance Faire or SCA nerd like I am (There, now you know.), is by looking at "period" costume construction. The reason? Folks in the 1600's didn't generally head out to Jo-Ann's and buy a Simplicity pattern for what they were going to sew; they drafted patterns to fit them, and made clothing based on bodies and not on size-numbers. And the poorer working stiffs, since fabric was not cheap or possibly you had to weave it yourself, were much less likely to waste anything than we are with modern patterns, which are so full of waste fabric it's unbelievable. They used a lot of rectangles, found ways to cheat curves, and just plain Made It Work with remarkably little wasted cloth. Which translates today into happiness for the frugal or the green. Check out the Elizabethan Costuming Page--it is a treasure trove of patterns/tutorials for skirts, pants, billowy (pirate-like) shirts, "chemises" (think nightgown--summer if you make it out of light material, winter if you use flannel or something like I did), skirts, and so forth. If you use the "corset pattern generator," you don't necessarily have to make a corset out of it--it leads to another pattern for a dress bodice, which leads to another link for a "kirtle" (aka dress), which could be modified into a very wearable modern sun-dress if you aren't scared of zippers and stuff. (I'd recommend starting with shirts and nightwear if you've not done much of this before--plus, you can go to the local thrift store and buy some nice soft cotton sheets for $2 or so and if you royally screw it up, you're not out much money! That's totally what I do, and I screw up a lot.)

    The beauty of learning to sew this way, rather than by conventional patterns, is that you really learn how the clothes are put together--the theory behind them, not just the instructions. I started about 5 years ago making very rough and simple skirts and nighties, and last summer I just dared my first actual Renfaire gown. (Flemish working woman. Not too complicated, but it fit like a glove and I was really pleased.) And in the meantime I've learned how to whip up jammies for the teddy bear, nightgowns or pajamas for the humans as well, matching skirts for myself and my daughter or nine princess capes in a couple of hours with $12 worth of fabric and $5 worth of ribbon.

    Give it a whirl!

    --Jenn the Greenmom

    Saturday, June 12, 2010

    Balance in a family crisis: Is it possible?

    Going Green Mama feels like a mother of three kids this week...

    It's amazing how a few moments can turn your life upside down. Last weekend, it was the realization that something had gone seriously wrong with my husband's health.

    My husband has coped with arthritis as a result of heavy sports for as nearly as long as I've known him. But this time things were different. He suddenly started complaining about knee pain, and Friday night realized his knee had swollen to three times its size.

    A visit to the doctor and the imaging center later, and we confirmed we have a problem. While I'm writing this, we're waiting on the consult with an orthopedic surgeon.

    All of this has thrown my family into disarray. My children, sweet as they are, know they have an opening to do stuff, because Daddy can hardly walk. We're shelling out money for daycare we can't afford because we don't have flexibility to cancel and not pay for it. And on my husband's radically reduced salary due to only a few months ago finally landing part-time employment, we have no financial cushion to weather this latest challenge.

    And cleaning? That was hanging in the balance already. Now, more than ever, I've worried about juggling it all.

    Except you can't. No person is a superhero, regardless of what we tell ourselves.

    One week into this journey I'm finding I'm struggling with what gives and what to stick with. I'm determined to continue to fix my family healthy meals instead of grabbing a pizza at Papa Murphy's on the way home. But veggies have largely fallen off the menu, and with one small exception, I really haven't found time to touch my garden, let alone assess what's ready to pick. Nevermind that my children enjoy the "harvest," too.

    And cleaning? While I'm a huge advocate of using baking soda, vinegar, etc., with the need to cram everything in quickly, I find myself grabbing the old 409 bottle instead. Spray and go.

    So as we navigate through these (hopefully) temporary waters and make small shifts in what's acceptable, I'll ask you: When a crisis, great or small, strikes in your home, what changes do you find fall first? What things won't you compromise on regardless of time or money constraints?

    Friday, June 11, 2010

    Stop and smell the... strawberries!

    In which Truffula sticks with the food theme we've been on here in the Green Phone Booth...

    I wasn't fully through the doorway when coming home yesterday evening before strawberry sweetness surrounded me. Mmm...  The divine scent was the byproduct of Mr. Truffula and the TruffulaBoyz' culinary adventures: they had made strawberry jam!  (And, true to form in this household, this involved not one, but two, recipes for a side-by-side cookoff off a "regular" batch with sugar, and a no-sugar alternative.)

    They began their day at a nearby pick-your-own farm, gleaning what end-of-the-season berries they could.  The slicing, dicing, cooking, and canning then took the better part of their afternoon.


    The result:


    The jars, with their beautiful (and tasty!) contents, hold more than just jam.  They hold memories of the warm sunny day, of berry picking with friends, of the emergency trip to the grocery store to buy the unsweetened apple juice for the no-sugar jam, of the TruffulaGuys' pride and satisfaction in making their first-ever jams. These are priceless ingredients which even the most exquisite organic store-bought product lacks.

    There are a few whole strawberries left - we're freezing those.  I'm sure some of them will be pilfered by the kids, with my blessing.  I'm tucking a stash away for a special purpose: for remembering these summery days (and now, the Great Strawberry Jam Production) when we celebrate the Winter Solstice.  (Disclaimer: that's an idea I took from another blog a few years ago, and which I'd be happy to credit if only I remembered which one it was!).

    It seems like just yesterday when the berry farm advertised the strawberries' arrival.  The weeks since then have passed so quickly.  If you have the opportunity, do stop and smell the strawberries (or things you've made with them) -- their season is fleeting, but is the sweet stuff of which memories are made.

    p.s.  In case you're wondering about the cook-off results: The with-sugar version yielded several more jars of jam.  The no-sugar version, on the other hand, jelled up nicely, while the with-sugar jam may turn out to be more suited to be ice-cream or yogurt topping.

    Thursday, June 10, 2010

    Book Review: Wisdom of the Last Farmer

    After reading this blog post, head straight to your library's website and put this book on hold because Wisdom of the Last Farmer by David Mas Masumoto is a must-read!

    Masumoto is part farmer, part philosopher. He could have foregone a lifetime of back and spirit breaking farming to write instead, but then he wouldn't have the same inspiration for his award-winning books.

    As a third generation Japanese-American farmer, Masumoto acquired his knowledge and love of farming from his father. On their family farm, they use organic methods and old school tools, in part for the environment, but more so for the tradition, the quality of the fruit and the incomparable taste.

    Masumoto's passion has been growing the perfect peach, which he wrote about in his 1995 book Epitaph for a Peach, which won several literary awards.

    In Wisdom of the Last Farmer, Masumoto realizes his own immortality when his father has a stroke on the farm. In reteaching him to use first his hands and feet, then a shovel and, eventually, to drive a tractor again, Masumoto recalls learning each lesson, years before, from his father. He also begins to ponder the future of the farm, how it's changed since he took it over from his father, and how it might evolve further when his daughter, Nikiko, takes over in the future.

    The hardships Masumoto's family has endured over one hundred years of farming makes one realize the true value of organic produce. And somehow, in describing those hardships, Masumoto still manages to make it all sound so romantic. I never imagined finding such an eloquent piece of work from a peach farmer, but this page-turner is one of the best I've read in a long time.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    Grocery Bills, Budgets, and Flawed Food Systems

    The Conscious Shopper hops back on her soapbox

    Last week, we talked a lot about the cost of groceries - first with my post about how I came to peace with my high grocery bill and then with Robbie's post about keeping her grocery bill inline with her budget.

    Even before Robbie wrote her post, I had been thinking about the flipside to the issue. I realize that I'm very lucky to be able to splurge on what some consider food luxuries, and although there are many people who could afford to make cutbacks in other areas and shift their savings to their food budgets, there are also plenty of people (especially in these tough economic times) who are already living as frugally as they can and simply have no money to spare.

    So what about them? Do we point our fingers at them and scold them for their poor choices?

    In my last post, I wrote about my friend who was teaching a class about couponing at my church. Her husband is a student and works sporadically when he can find a job that fits his schedule. She has a few piano students (including my own son), but her main contribution to their income is her frugality. By keeping their grocery bill as low as possible, she has helped them get through this transitional period until her husband can finish school and get a steady job. Should she be condemned for not being able to afford organics and for often choosing the processed foods that come cheap with a coupon?

    What about the average person who sees 3,000 commercials a day, many of them for processed junk? Who eats lunch in a break room with a Coke machine and a snack machine? Who drives past three McDonald's on the way home from work? Can we blame people for their food choices when they're bombarded constantly with the temptation to load up on fat and sugar and salt?

    What about the typical shopper who thinks she's making a smart choice for her family's health because it says so right on the box? Is she to blame for her ignorance?

    What about people who live in food deserts, areas of inner cities where there are zero supermarkets so people are forced to buy their food at convenience stores, which are typically more expensive and carry junkier foods?

    What about people who send their kids to school assuming they'll get a nutritional lunch because it's government subsidized?

    What about people who have to choose between paying their medical bills or buying healthy food? Wouldn't you make the same choice?

    It's easy to conclude, "Well, I make a lot of sacrifices so we can eat healthy, and other people should too." But it's so hard to understand someone else's situation. Maybe they are choosing the flat screen TV or new iPad over healthy food for their families, but it's also pretty likely that they're doing the best they can.

    Tom Laskawy wrote recently in a Grist article, "Our food system, indeed our entire economic system, all but forces low-income consumers into an unhealthy diet. Fixing this will be a tall order, and solutions to this problem will need to be both broad-based and comprehensive, from grassroots efforts to policy changes. But with all this overwhelming evidence of not just our system's inequality, but its injustice, what are we waiting for?"

    If you're lucky enough to be able to eat a healthy diet, maybe now's the time to look around and see how you can help others do the same. Here in Raleigh, we have the Interfaith Food Shuttle, an organization that collects fresh food from area grocery stores and delivers it to people in need (similar to Meals on Wheels but with a focus on fresh). They've also been working to establish community gardens to serve low-income neighborhoods in those food deserts I mentioned above, and they're sponsoring a Plant-a-Row program where backyard gardeners can donate a portion of their harvest to the food shuttle. Perhaps your community has similar programs.

    Or maybe your soapbox is school lunches. Grist has had all sorts of articles over the past few months about our National School Lunch Program, and I'm sure you've heard of Jamie Oliver. If you're disgusted by the food our children eat in school cafeterias every day, now's a great time to jump on that bandwagon - maybe by joining the Lunchbox Advocates.

    At the very least, email or call your representatives and let them know that you support changes in our food system. We know the food system needs some serious fixes. What are we waiting for?

    Monday, June 7, 2010

    Meatless Monday: Weekday Vegetarian

    Here at the Green Phone Booth, we've been encouraging you to make your Mondays meatless. Ready to take it one step further?

    This past week I came across a video from the TED conference by Graham Hill, who ponders: If we know that eating too much meat is unhealthy, both for us and the planet, then why are more of us not vegetarians? He says, "What I was being pitched was a binary solution. It was either, you're a meat-eater or you're a vegetarian. And I guess I wasn't quite ready."

    But maybe it doesn't have to be an all or nothing proposition. Hill proposes a third solution: weekday vegetarianism (vegetarian Monday through Friday, meat-eater on the weekends). Afterall, as he points out, "If all of us ate half as much meat, it would be like half of us were vegetarians."

    If you want to watch the whole video, it's only four minutes long (and then has a silly four-minute-long commercial at the end.)



    What do you think? Are you ready for weekday veg?

    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.

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