Sunday, July 31, 2011

Phone Booth Flashback

Welcome to the Phone Booth Flashback, where we take a trip down memory lane so you can catch up on posts from the Booth's past.

Last Year:
  • Meatless Monday: Greenhabilitator shares links to a few recipes, including chilled cucumber soup.
  • A Bounty of Basil: What to do with extra basil? EnviRambo to the rescue with Basil Cubes.
  • Make It Right: New Orleans: The Greenhab family traveled to New Orleans. Greenhabilitator shares her experience with helping to build one home and fix up another.

Two Years Ago:
  • Local is as Local Does: A guest post explores the meaning of "locally owned." Is a franchisee as "local" as an independent owner?
  • Day with a Chef: EnviRambo shadows chef and author Monique Jamet Hooker in her garden and kitchen for a day.
  • Down on the Farm: Green Bean describes the overwhelming bounty of her front-yard garden: both veggies and opportunities to connect with community.
  • The Daily Dinner Battle: Serving picky eaters at your table? The Conscious Shopper shares advice for a mom's successful battle plan.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Farmers Market Report

A market-less weekend. It’s nearly unheard of for our family.

Instead of traipsing through our neighborhood market, we’ll be off to see grandparents. In their town, Friday mornings are the day for the farmers market, as I was warned by my mother. I find it interesting given that so many people work – it seems like a missed opportunity!

I suppose, living in the big city with easy access to the country, I am spoiled. I pass by several farm stands between work, daycare and home. I can literally visit a farmers market if I so choose somewhere in our metro on any day but Monday. (Give enough time, and that will be taken too!)

The local food finds seem to be a growing trend, so it’s a surprise that three hours away, I wouldn’t find an option to take the kids too. Even trying to find a market en route to grandma’s house to take the kids too isn’t easy.

Have I just been spoiled?

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Environment is Running Out of Time

From Abbie and the Moms Clean Air Force

For the last few months, I've been urging anyone who will listen to join the Moms Clean Air Force in our fight to protect our children from toxic pollution that is dangerous to their lives. We want tougher standards for dangerous pollutants like mercury, but now even the current standards are under attack. From the July 27 NY Times article "House Republicans Seek Big Cuts in Environmental Rules":

Republicans frame their proposals — which are being debated and voted on this week on the House floor — as the best way to counter overreaching regulatory agencies.

The unusual breadth of the attack, explained Representative Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho, is a measure of his party’s intense frustration over cumbersome environmental rules.

“Many of us think that the overregulation from E.P.A. is at the heart of our stalled economy,” Mr. Simpson said, referring to the Environmental Protection Agency. “I hear it from Democratic members as well.”

But Democrats argue that the policy prescriptions are proof that Republicans are determined to undo clean air and water protections established 40 years ago.

As a member of the Republican party, this makes me furious. This should make all parents furious, no matter what your party affiliation, because these standards are in place to protect our children's health. There has never been a more important time for the parents of our generation to stand up for their children's safety, health and future. It's time to tell our representatives to protect our children.

I want my politicians to see who they're hurting when they vote to allow more and more pollution to enter the air my child breathes, the water he drinks, and the ground where his food grows.

I encourage you to write to your representatives and send pictures of your children, pictures your children draw, or if your children are old enough have them write. Please join the Moms Clean Air Force in our fight to protect our children's health and future.

Please join the Moms Clean Air Force to help us fight for clean air for our kids. We need your voice! If you haven't already, please email the EPA to show your support of the new Mercury and Air Toxics rule. Thank you!

And the Mushroom King or Queen Is . . .

Congratulations, notherethenwhere on winning the Back to the Roots Oyster Mushroom Kit with the comment below:

notherethenwhere said...

I'm really impressed with their commitment to sustainability, but also to creating local jobs as well. This is the kind of company I can get behind.

Please send your email address to me at: greenbeandreamsATgmailDOTcom so that I can arrange delivery of your mushroom growing kit!

Thank you to Back to the Roots for offering this fun giveaway and to all who entered.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Seeing Green through the Cancer Lens

SustainaMom reflects on how quickly life can change…

My dad has cancer.

It is a “good” kind of cancer: Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma, which is “very treatable.” Ironically, the oncologist explained that this is an aggressive lymphoma but that also means it absorbs the chemo drugs and reacts quickly. So the aggressive nature of this disease makes it easier to treat.

Daddy’s first chemo treatment went well and the mass in his abdomen shrank immediately. It no longer interferes with his breathing when is lying down to sleep. Tests have revealed that the cancer has not spread, and the bone marrow test showed no trace of lymphoma. In short, my daddy’s prognosis is very good.

At the end of June, we just knew that my 61-year-old father had a mass on his stomach or pancreas, and we were so worried. We thought he might not even live to see his fourth grandchild (my nephew) who is due in mid-August. Now we believe life will be back to normal by Thanksgiving. We are planning to walk in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Light the Night Walk on October 21st — the day of Daddy’s last chemo treatment.

My life continues. My parents don’t need my help, and my energetic son is a bit too much for long visits with Grandpa. And so I continue to work, and I’ve even taken my son on a short vacation. Everything is the same except that I make more frequent calls to check on my parents.

But my thoughts are all jumbled up. How does this happen? What is the trigger? Of course, I’m grateful that my daddy’s treatment appears to be going well. Of course, I’m amazed by what medical research provides. (My sister and I hope to raise $2000 to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and its dedication to cancer research — which helps blood cancer patients as well as those with other types of cancer.)

But it brings more sharply into focus the question: while we’re all raising money to treat these diseases, who is studying how to prevent these diseases? And just as importantly, how do we tell our friends and neighbors who don’t know about the things we're already concerned about? I certainly wish someone had told me about soaps and cleaners and pesticides long before I had my son, which led to my becoming eco-crazy. Would my son have sensory issues if I had done something differently while I was pregnant?

Would my dad have lymphoma if he’d been more careful about __________? What if my mom had learned about triclosan soap before I told her? Would that have made a difference? What if my dad had eaten organic foods all of his life? What if ....

There are so many variables and so many unknowns, but I do think that if we can eliminate toxic chemicals, then maybe we can eliminate some cancer from our futures.

We know about some concerns: pesticides, cleaning products, personal care products. But how do we share this information with family and friends who haven't come across the information? My dad's diagnosis increases the urgency for me.

I tend to overwhelm friends and family who show a little interest. For example, I recently spent an hour writing an email to explain to my cousin why she shouldn't buy soap with triclosan. My email was complete with links to 12-page reports. I'd much rather say, "Here's a great book that explains why you need to take a close look at your cosmetics drawer, your cleaners, and everything in your shower and fridge."

What is the single best basic "green your life" book or documentary you've read/seen?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

10 Things I've Learned in 3 Years as a Green Blogger

The Conscious Shopper heads into retirement.

This is my last post at the Green Phone Booth. In fact, it's my last post as a blogger for the foreseeable future - I have two more years before my "maternity leave" ends (my baby will start kindergarten and I will need to get a job), and I'd like to wrap up a few other projects before my freetime dwindles to naught.

I write this with a bittersweet sense of nostalgia but also with a very tiny voice in the back of my head shouting, "Wait! No! There's still so much work left to do." But the truth is that in three years, I've pretty much already written everything I have in me to say about how to go green. I started out on this green journey feeling overwhelmed and alone, and now, although I wouldn't say I've got it all worked out (safe and eco-friendly sunscreen, anyone?), I'm satisfied with where we're at.

So what have I learned in three years?
  1. It's okay to spend a lot of money on food. But it's nice to find ways to save money on groceries as well. (Also here, here, here, and here. I am the Conscious Shopper afterall.)

  2. Luckily, sometimes the greenest path is also the cheapest.

  3. This is not a race to see who can singlehandedly save the planet through their self-sufficiency.

  4. Do personal changes matter? Yes, yes, yes!

  5. Rebuilding strong communities is essential to saving the planet.

  6. When you can have a strawberry any time you want, you take the strawberry for granted.

  7. There is a green hat to fit every head.

  8. The 80/20 rule for going green is essential for avoiding moments of extreme guilt and over-thinking-it.

  9. Sometimes people can be really, really mean. But they can also be super super nice, and it's the super nice part that has kept me blogging for three years.

  10. We need to vote and get involved in our local communities and live mindfully and get outside. (If I write it as a run-on sentence, it only counts as one thing, right?)
Thank you all for reading my thoughts and tips and soapbox ramblings over the years.. What a beautiful community we've got here at the Green Phone Booth!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cooking when it's too hot to cook?

A suburban greenmom realizes she has no idea what to make for dinner...

This is sort of embarrassing. My main blog-fare for the past couple of years has largely been centered around "how a way-too-busy adult can cook fast, easy, and healthy whole food that her picky family might actually eat." But I'm discovering now that while I'm absolutely fine in winter and fall, most of my go-to recipes require oven or stove and are fairly miserable to cook in the summer.

Am I the only one with this problem? I do a lot of stews, soups, and crockpot dishes; these are my standbys. And my problems are compounded by being married to this wonderful man who unfortunately somewhere got the idea that "if it's cold it can't possibly be a Real Dinner." So adios gazpacho and any of the other cold soups and salads Most Normal People would consider the perfect summer dinner. (Sorry, honey.)

So here's what I've got, and it's nowhere near as long a list as I'd like:
  • Raw Veggie Side Dishes: the only veggies my kids will eat are raw ones. So carrots, snap peas, cucumber sticks or slices, and such are "side dish" standbys. As an added benefit, the only veggies I really love are also raw ones; I cook them sometimes because it is supposedly the civilized thing to do, but I like them better raw, and I think they are better for you anyway. Notice there's no such thing as a "Cooked Food Movement," whereas "Raw Food" has all kinds of proponents
  • Grilling: we have a gas grill outside, which, by our unashamedly gender-generalized areas of household responsibility falls into My Husband's Turf. Which means dinner, but I don't have to cook it. (okay, yeah, I guess I'm a little ashamed.) This leaves room for all kinds of grilled dinners. Including kebabs, grilled marinated veggies, typical burgers-and-dogs, and...
  • Insta-Veggie-Burgers: unfortunately, I'm the only one in the family who will eat them, though I could probably talk my husband into them (he'll sneak back into the kitchen later for some "real" food, but what can you do?)--there are a gajillion recipes online for easy non-meat burgery things involving some mooshed legume, a grain product, and shredded veggies. I posted one here a couple of years ago, but you can pretty much make this up. And you can make this super-easy by shredding that oversized zucchini in the food processor and keeping it in your fridge, and then making smaller bread-crumb-rolled versions of these using prepared hummus and veggie-shreds and almost nothing else and calling it falafel.
  • Pre-cooked staples: In the morning when it's cooler, I make 6 cups of brown rice or barley and keep it in the fridge to eat over the next several days. It's easy to reheat quickly as part of some other fast meal, like rice and beans, or "risotto cakes" (you can actually use regular leftover rice for these, though they don't hold together as well as the ones made with actual creamy starchy risotto. Same with lentils--make a bunch, save them. It's not my default, since I'd prefer to simmer rice and lentils together with spices in broth till they are lovely and seasoned, but it's too hot for that. This way the seasonings are lighter and fresher--maybe a can of diced tomatoes and fresh cilantro and garlic--and still delicious, just different.
  • Crockpot food: Now I'm edging into the stuff I don't really do as much but wonder if I should. I mentally associate the slow cooker with wintery foods--stews, soups, heavy warming things. But when you think about it (as Stephanie O'Dea suggests we try), summer is a very sensible time to use the crockpot, since it enables easy cooking without heating up the kitchen. She has a recipe for Coconut Red Beans and Rice that looks delicious and which I might have to try tonight...
  • Rotisserie Chicken: I've mentioned this before in my own posts, I think--Whole Foods has rotisserie chickens on sale every Tuesday, and they are great fodder for shredding into chicken tacos, tossing into soup, or who-knows-what-all else. (We tend to stop at chicken tacos, honestly--it's one of the few meals everyone agrees on.) This feels like a cop-out.
  • and finally...Am I the only one who still has a George Foreman Grill lurking in the back of my pantry? Or just the only one who will admit to it? I rediscovered mine one night when the gas grill wouldn't light, and thought, eh, why not? It's still a handy little appliance, and it enables us to cook what we need to cook quickly and without heating up the whole kitchen. I hate the counter space it takes up, but it does get the job done...
What are your summer standby meals? Please, please widen my repertoire!
--Jenn the Greenmom

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Phone Booth Flashback

Welcome to the Phone Booth Flashback, where we take a trip down memory lane so you can catch up on posts from the Booth's past.

Last Year
  • School Clutter: Jess of Sweet Eventide asks for advice on what to do with school clutter - you know, all of the schoolwork kids bring home.
  • Down the Drain: EnviRambo demonstrates how to unclog a drain the environmentally friendly way - in heels!
  • My Green Is Fading: Emerald Apron admits that some of her sustainability has been on hold since she had a baby.
Two Years Ago
  • It's in the Bag: The Conscious Shopper gives an old shower curtain new life as some produce bags.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Farmers Market Report July 23

Going Green Mama is dying for a good melon!

With most of the country, we've dealt with obscenely hot weather this past week. After a week of 100+ heat indices and the hottest day here in 23 years, I'm thinking the Seattle area (where the news said it's hit 80 once!) looks pretty good.

So I was disappointed but not surprised at this week's market to see that vendors were down and so were the offerings. Sweet corn is out in force, as are melons, but the heat meant I wound up with a mealy-inside melon this morning that's already made it to the compost pile. Tomatoes, even at 9 this morning, were nowhere to be found.

Are you hitting the markets this week? Or with the weather, have you just thrown in the towel?

Friday, July 22, 2011


The Conscious Shopper can can.

I'm in the kitchen canning peaches all day today, and I thought I'd share a little tip for all you conscious shopping readers out there.

Last year when I decided to can peaches, I went to the farmers' market and bought a 1/2 bushel for $24 (~$1/lb). As I was waiting for my husband to pull the car around, another woman came up to the peach stand. "Got any seconds?" she asked.

"Sure do," replied the farmer, and pulled out a basket of peaches the same size as mine. "That'll be $12," he said.

My jaw dropped, and I had to investigate....Turns out, "seconds" are the peaches (or tomatoes or apples) that the farmers can't sell at full price because they have blemishes, bruises, look ugly, don't measure up in size, etc. In the case of peaches, it's usually because they're fully ripe, so you've got to eat them that day. Most people go to the farmers' market to buy peaches that they'll eat later in the week - they don't want peaches that are going to start rotting as soon as they get home. So the farmers sell those as "seconds" (or I've also seen them called "ice cream peaches").

Seconds are perfect for making jam or for freezing. They are less perfect for canning peach slices, but at 1/2 price or more they may still be worth it. If you've got seconds on your market list, make sure you arrive at the market early - they can go quickly. And if you're in the Raleigh area, pretend you didn't read this tip. I don't need anymore competition for the seconds! :)

A peck of seconds for $8 - a very good deal, but two weeks ago, I got 1/2 bushel of seconds for the same price.

And now a question for you canners out there. Do you hot pack or cold pack your peaches?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Back to the Roots Mushroom Kit Giveaway

From the bean of Green Bean.

Back in May, I discovered what I was sure were morel mushrooms in my backyard.  I spent two days photographing them, researching them, examining them, and asking everyone on the Internet whether they were indeed morels or false morels.  In the end, I left the potentially scrumptious mushrooms to rot because I wasn't quite sure.

It got me thinking, though.  What if I grew mushrooms in my own backyard?  Why not! I've got everything else growing here.  Why not mushrooms that I'm not afraid to eat?

I started researching and, coincidentally, Northwest Edible Life posted a giveaway for a Back to the Roots Oyster Mushroom Kit.  A what?

Turns out it was a groovy little cardboard box stuffed with recycled Peet's Coffee coffee grounds (Hellllo, ultimate reuse!  Love it!) and mushroom spores.  All you have to do is soak the plastic bag of grounds and baby mushrooms in water for 24 hours and then mist it twice a day with the provided mister and, ta da!  Mushrooms grown in your own property that are safe to eat!

I entered the giveaway all three times and promptly forgot about winning anything.  A couple days later, shopping at Whole Foods, I spotted the mushroom kit and tossed it in the cart.  I mean, I wasn't winning any giveaways but that looked like a really cool kit!

I get home, check my fav blogs and low and behold, I won it!  Now I've got two mushroom kits.  Score!

How were they?  Very very cool and as easy as can be.  The shrooms grew by leaps and bounds.  Every morning the kids would ooh and ahh and, frankly, I did too!  Plus, are they grew the looked like some sort of really cool modern art structure.

I harvested them about 10 days after I started the whole process. We devoured them shortly after in my favorite mushroom recipe - summer soup - and I promptly soaked them again so we can harvest from the other side.  Pizza next time!

Want to have your own groovy mushroom patch in your house?  BTTR has offered to give one lucky reader their own kit.  There are three ways to win and you can use all three of them:

1) Like BTTR on their Facebook page and leave a comment here letting me know.  If you already "like" them, cool.  Just leave a comment.

2) Follow BTTR on Twitter and leave a comment here, reporting in.

3) Visit BTTR's website and then leave a comment here indicating something that you learned about mushrooms or their company.

Let the 'shrooms begin!

*BTW, post a photo of your grown mushroom kit on their Facebook page and BTTR will send a sustainability curriculum and donate a kit to an elementary school of your choice!

* All entries must be in by Wednesday, July 27th at midnight.  Giveaway winner notified on Friday, 
July 29. 

* Disclosure: I purchased a kit with my own money and won a kit from another blog.  I offered to do a giveaway for their product and reviewed my kit as part of the giveaway.  I've not received anything other than the kit I won from BTTR. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Walking Family

The Conscious Shopper's fascination with car-free living, part 3 (part 1 here and 2 here)

A magnolia flower, plucked on one of our walks

As explained in the last post, my husband and I are the proud owners of only one car between the two of us. One evening a few months ago, my husband and I realized we both wanted the car on the same night. The boys had end-of-year class performances at their school, and my husband had a meeting at our church.

"No problem," I said. "The boys and I will walk home."

My husband dropped me and the three-year-old off at the school to meet the older two boys and then drove away to his meeting. The boys performed marvelously, we splurged on chips and soda to support our PTA, and then when it was time to head home, I had one of those forehead-slapping moments: "Oh, crap. The stroller is in the car."

We're able to take a free circulator bus part of the way between our house and the school, so that left 1.1 miles that we'd have to walk. Without a stroller. Uphill. Both ways. In the snow, I mean humidity.

I started that walk with a grumbling heart, predicting 30 minutes of whining and complaining from the youngest (who would have to walk) and the older two (who would have to carry their own backpacks). I look back on that walk now as one of my favorite memories from last year. Yes, I had to give the three-year-old a piggyback ride most of the way home. Yes, we were all hot and thirsty by the time we plopped onto our couch. But we also got to pick mulberries, inspect insects, carry sticks*, climb a tree, ride the bus, and spend time together.

When I'm behind the wheel of a car, I'm thinking about getting from Point A to Point B. I'm absorbed in obeying traffic rules, watching out for other vehicles, making sure I'm not lost. I'm jamming to music and tuning out the sibling rivalries playing out in the row behind me. When I pick my kids up from carpool, I say, "How was school?" and they mumble fine, and five minutes later, we're home and have moved on to our separate activities.

When I pick my kids up with the stroller, I say, "How was school?" and they mumble fine, and then ten minutes into the walk, it all comes spilling out: what they learned and played and imagined and created. I treasure those moments when (mostly due to the boredom of a long rhythmic walk home), they give me a little glimpse into the seven hours they're away from me.

The house we are currently living in has a WalkScore of 72 (Very Walkable), but even before we moved here, we tried to walk as much as possible - to friends' houses on the other side of the neighborhood or from store to store in a single shopping center. I tell my kids, "We are a walking family," and they've grown accustomed to that status with minimal complaint.

If you'd like to walk more with your kids, here are a few random pieces of advice from our experience as a walking family:
  • Most kids can walk much farther than we typically give them credit. I heard once that you can reasonably expect kids to walk a mile for every year of their age. I've never tested that theory, but for our mile walk home from school, I do have a rule: no school-age kids in the stroller.
  • I Spy is a fabulous tool for distracting little complainers. As are silly songs and made-up stories.
  • Teach your kids how to be safe pedestrians. When we walk, I'm diligent about making sure we are safe, but since I can't always predict what my kids are going to do, we've talked about keeping a safe distance from the curb at intersections, not running in crosswalks, and keeping an eye out for cars backing out of driveways. We also play a Follow the Leader game where one of them tells the rest of us when it's safe to cross an intersection.
  • Make eye contact with drivers before crossing the street. Even if you're in a crosswalk. Even if you think you're clearly visible. Drivers are looking for cars, not pedestrians, so unless you're certain they've seen you, they probably haven't.
  • The most dangerous spots for pedestrians are the entrances to fast food parking lots (drivers are rifling through their food and not looking at the road), the exits of parking structures (drivers are putting away their wallets), and anytime a car is turning onto a one-way street (drivers don't bother to look both ways).
  • If your kids are anything like mine, the complaints will be short-lived. When we first started walking home from school, my boys would launch into pitiful arguments about how they were too hot and tired to walk so far. Luckily, I didn't buy it, and now walking is just part of the routine.
Do you have a walking family? What advice do you have?

*No walk with kids is complete unless at least one child picks up a stick.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My Cloth Diaper Stash

I own two cloth diapers which seem like not very many, right? However, if you know me you know I don't have any kids and they aren't in my near future.  The reason for my cloth diaper stash is to help advocate for cloth diaper use.

As someone that isn't a parent I may seem like a weird cloth diaper advocate but over the last several years of being an environmental blogger/activist I have an increasing number of parents ask me about green parenting. This has led me to learn a lot about cloth diapers, breast feeding, homemade baby food, green school supplies, healthy toys, etc...

Since I don't have kids my bear models the cloth diapers.
This is a FuzziBunz diaper.

I was joking the other day with my mom that I likely know more about cloth diapers than a lot of parents. I have learned all about prefolds, pocket diapers, all-in-ones, one size diapers, wing droop, hip snaps, snappies, and all that good stuff. I feel this is very important so I can answer my readers questions about these issues.

Also I believe cloth diapers have a bad reputation for being bulky, ugly, and gross. They really aren't. They have changed so much over the last several years and now are really quite cute and easy to use. I plan to bring my cloth diaper stash to green events to show parents what new cloth diapers are all about.

My bear sporting an Itti Bitti Tutto diaper.

Since I'm not a parent I need feedback from parents on cloth diapers. I have set up a survey about cloth diapers for parents to fill out. Click here to fill it out. It's both for parents that have used cloth diapers and those who didn't. Let me know what you think about cloth diapers.

Also feel free to share your stash below, thoughts on cloth diapers, blogs about cloth diapering, etc.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The first harvest

Last night for dinner we had grilled chicken and zucchini. And raw sugar snap peas. From our garden.

I'm just all squirmy with delight. Our garden, after last year's disappointments and this year's incredibly slow-to-get-going growing season, is producing food. There are green tomatoes getting all huge and lovely (and these are the "early girl" varieties. Oy. It's practically August, for Pete's sake!), there are blossoms on the chives and cute plump radishes poking up out of the ground, and there be squashes!

I imagine in a few weeks I will be panicking and wondering what I'm going to do with all of them, but for now it's just heady and lovely success.

I am out of town at a conference and don't really have time for a proper post; so instead I'll just refer you to the ones I wrote two summers ago when my zucchini patch exploded. (Not literally. Though it might as well have.) It's a five part series with recipes and instructions along the way for blanching and freezing the zukes, falafel, veggie-burgers, latkes, meatloaf, veggie pasta sauce, and the ever-popular zucchini bread--check it out, it's a recipe I developed especially to maximize the amount of squash in the recipe to get rid of as much of it as possible.

How are your gardens doing?

And does anyone have any creative ideas on what to do with radishes when no one in the family particularly likes to eat them?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Phone Booth Flashback

Welcome to the Phone Booth Flashback, where we take a trip down memory lane so you can catch up on posts from the Booth's past.

Last Year
  • Superhero Secrets: Annie Leonard: A round-up of links to stuff by or about Annie Leonard.
  • On the Road Again: The Greenhabilitator make some cool crafts to entertain her kids on car trips.
Two Years Ago
  • Does Soup Sell? Green Bean posts a healthy recipe for soup in response to all the dessert porn on green blogs.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Farmers Market Report

We've had an unseasonal growing season here in Indiana, to put it mildly. Early heavy rains and cool weather delayed planting; early June heat stunted growth. So it's little surprise our markets have felt the hit.

It's mid-July and we're still waiting for fresh tomatoes to hit our local markets, and the first ears of sweet corn sold out quickly last week. (We're determined to grab some this week.) There's not much for lettuce, though some beans and squashes are cropping up.

So what is selling? Not the produce.

The dearth of veggies has called into the attention the growth of our market in recent years. Far from the handful of vendors when I first stumbled on the market when I moved here five years ago, the market has blossomed to include a variety of meat vendors (chicken, beef, lamb, pork, including from an industrious 4H member), baked goods, honeys, handmade soaps and homemade cleaners.

I'm not sure if this evolution is due to our area wanting more locally made goods, the sticker shock at the grocery store, the economy or a desire to be more green. But I like what I see.

How has your farmers market changed? What stands out most to you?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mystery Solved

From Abbie and the Moms Clean Air Force

My sister-in-law has been dealing with recurring health problems for the past few years. It's been a scary time, with lots of searching for what was causing her symptoms and more than a few frightening sessions with Dr. Google. Her symptoms include (in her own words):

  • poor coordination, have to wear sneakers all the time

  • burning, stinging, pricking, itching, aching, stabbing, throbbing, swelling neuropathy on tops of feet and shins, progresses up legs, on buttox, forearms, upper lip

  • ulcers

  • severe anemia

  • tight heavy legs from knees down, cramping calves, cant walk long distances, need compression sox, cant stand must be moving or sitting with legs up

  • muscle cramping and spasming on left side

  • face twitching

  • seeing a spot when in bright light

  • high anxiety and confusion

  • numbness in left hand and foot

  • intense brain fog and slow disturbed cognitive function

  • extreme fatigue, always tired spacey and lots of sleep

  • hot and red hands and feet

  • shortness of breath, weakness, exhaustion

  • brittle peeling nails on hands, dry skin on feet

  • chills, goosebumps and very sensitive to cold

  • frequent urination

This is all combined with an injury from an accident four years ago, subsequent surgeries and pain that just won't go away. However, my sister-in-law was relieved yesterday when her doctor finally called her with an answer! She has high levels of mercury in her body: mercury poisoning. Normally, a person would have between 0 to 2 micrograms of mercury per deciliter of blood (ug/dL), and her level was 12 ug/dL. She enjoys seafood and eats different types of shellfish and fish almost every day, which is the likely source of the mercury.

It was interesting that I was there when she got the call, and I filled her in on my research about mercury that I've done as part of the Moms Clean Air Force. I explained how the mercury released into the atmosphere by power plants ended up in her fish, and we thought it was an interesting coincidence that I've been working to protect people from exactly what she's been going through.

Her doctor has suggested that she should get her one amalgam dental filling removed and limit her intake of seafood as well as following a detoxification protocol. Hopefully, her levels of mercury can be reduced and her symptoms will disappear. It may take a while to get better, but she's just happy to finally have a diagnosis.

Please join the Moms Clean Air Force to help us fight for clean air for our kids. We need your voice! If you haven't already, please email the EPA to show your support of the new Mercury and Air Toxics rule. Thank you!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

There Is More Than One Way to Skin A . . .

From the fermented bean of Green Bean.

Hmm, wrong adage.  What I mean to say is that there is more than one way to preserve seasonal produce.  When I first began trying to eat seasonally, I envisioned myself scrubbing jam off the ceiling and cooking down bits of stone fruits into a brown mash that would last for years.

After preserving for four years now, I have to say that it is nothing like that.  Anyone - no matter where they live and how much time they have - can preserve produce in some delicious way, shape or form.

CANNING: Yes, I can!  Mostly with a water bath canner because, I'll be honest, pressure canners scare me.  I've brewed up more jars of jam than I can count over the last few years - covering all the different kinds of berries and even hitting on some straight up red pepper and plum pepper.  The latter were divine with cheese and bread but not exactly kid or waist-line friendly so I mostly opt for fruit jam these days.

You can also do pickles and relish in a water bath canner.  I've yet to land on a pickle recipe that I love but the pickle relish from the Ball Canning Cookbook is wonderful.  So are various tomato jam and relish recipes that I've tried over the years. Chutney also rocks!

Pressure canning takes more time and attention but it lets you can almost anything - just read the directions and recipes first!!  I pressure canned some pasta sauce using my own recipe and apparently that is a no-no.  I ended up sticking everything in the freezer because I was paranoid that I had messed it up.

DEHYDRATING:  Electric deyhdrators are everywhere these days - including the local thrift store.  There are also several models for solar dehydrating.  You slice your fruit or veggie - or meat if you are making jerky - real thin, plug it in and  day later, viola!  Persimmons that your family wouldn't touch are now viewed as candy.  An overabundance of apples because "apple chips" that will last for, pretty much, ever.  Tomatoes can be dried and put on pizzas in the winter.  Or, you can rehydrate your lovies later in soup, stew and what not.

I used to dehydrate blueberries but frankly they shrunk so small that I decided the better option was freezing.

FREEZING: This is not my preferred option for most foods - except blueberries!  And overripe bananas that are chopped up for smoothies.  In any event, to freeze blueberries just wash them, let them air dry and then stick them on a cookie sheet in the freezer until frozen.  I store mine in glass canning jars.  Other fruit and certain vegetables (corn, peppers) can also be frozen.  Most of my experience, though, has been that the fruit is only suitable for smoothies or cooking once thawed and the vegetables have tended to taste like freezer burn.

FERMENTING:  Last summer, I'll confess that I didn't preserve anything.  We moved in the middle of harvest season and, with all the packing and unpacking, I gave up.  I did sign up for the "Preserve Share" with my local CSA.  It ended up being a pricey endeavor that I doubt I'll repeat BUT I did encounter, among other things, fermenting vegetables and kimchi.  I'd never considered fermentation before but woohoo, I'm so trying it this summer!  Any tips?  Links to good fermenting sites, books or recipes?

NOT PRESERVING:  The final lesson that I have learned is that not all produce is worth preserving.  Watermelon rinds?  Um, I know that the pioneers did this big time but my dad was the only one willing to eat any of ours.  Also, for me, strawberries were not worth preserving in any form other than jam.  I live in California where we have strawberries 9 months a year.  I spent on summer dehydrating them like mad only to find myself eating dried strawberries when fresh ones were available.

Do you preserve the harvest?  Why or why not?  If you are interested in learning more about food preservation, check out The Green Moms Carnival this month over at A Farmer's Daughter.  It goes live on Monday, July 18th!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Not Car-Free but Car-Lite

The Conscious Shopper's fascination with car-free living, part 2

One of our primary modes of transportation - our feet

As I wrote last week, I would love to give up our car and get around as much as possible by bicycle, but at this point in our lives (with three young kids and living in a sprawling small city), it's not a practical plan. So for now, we are not car free, but we are what some are calling "car lite" - my husband and I share one car between the two of us. Over the next couple of posts, I'm going to share why my family made that decision and how we're able to do it.

Seven years ago, my husband and I moved to the DC suburbs. My husband was starting his first job after graduating from college, and I planned to stay home with our six-month-old baby. Those two factors combined to equal one very poor young family living in a very expensive city. As we brainstormed ways to keep our spending to a minimum, one obvious solution in a city with excellent public transportation was choosing an apartment near a subway station and getting rid of one of our cars.

When we moved to Raleigh three years ago, we stuck to our one-car decision by choosing a house within walking distance of my husband's office and my boys' school. Being a car-lite family is not always easy, but if you're able to do it, having one car has some definite advantages:
  • Financial. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average cost of owning and operating a vehicle was $8,487 in 2009. Based on my own estimates, buying a second vehicle would cost my family an additional $5000 a year (including insurance, maintenance, and car payment). If we bought a second car and moved out of the city, we'd also have to add an extra $2000+ a year for gas and parking.*
  • Physical Health. Because we only have one vehicle, we end up walking a lot. My husband walks to and from work most days, which not only saves us money on gas and parking, but means we don't have to pay for a gym membership. And I love that all my walking erases any evidence of the number of cookies I consume each week.
  • Mental Health. Going car-lite may not lead to improved mental health for everyone, but it definitely does for someone like me, who equates driving with stress.
  • Environmental. Owning fewer vehicles means less gas, less air pollution, and fewer resources used in manufacturing.
With so many benefits, I generally love the car-lite lifestyle, but I'll admit that it often takes some planning ahead. At the beginning of every week, my husband and I sit down and discuss who is going to need the car when. Occasionally when our schedules have conflicted, we've had to hitch a ride with friends who were already going that direction, but that community building can be a benefit (and we certainly return the favor whenever possible).

Have you tried going car-lite? What benefits/downsides have you seen?

Next week, I'll follow up with some tips for using your own two feet as your main mode of transportation when you have complaining kids.

*As usual, your costs and savings may vary.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What to do When Everything is Dying

This eco-hero needs your help! As some of you know I live in Oklahoma. Well, we are in our worst drought since 1921 and are having record breaking heat. We have already had around 20 100-100+ days and normally we have ten all year, at this rate many believe we will be the state record of 50 in a year. One town was only three degrees from the state record high of 120 just a few days ago. So needless to say our state is burning, literately.

Cracks in my dead yard.

I don't have a veggie garden, which I'm very happy about this year as farmers are being hit so hard in our state. After they already got hit very hard with our record breaking winter. So what I need your help with is my flowers. I'm fine with my yard dying but I want to keep our young trees alive and our plants. I have a few annuals and I'm just letting them die but I also have a lot of perennials, some of which I've had for years and I would like to save them. Even my drought resistant plants are looking sad.

I have been using as much grey water as possible but I'm having to water everyday but the plants are still dying. I water late at night and I'm having to increase to not only the daily watering but a heavy watering once a week. The problem is the heat is so bad the plants are burning. Is there anyway to help save them without crazy amounts of watering? I know with tomato plants farmers are having to water pretty much all day long to save the plants, I don't want to do that.

So can you help me save my plants? Any great tips to keep them from burning and how to water more efficiently? Maybe also tips on more ways to get grey water? I currently use the water from my dishwasher, any glasses people leave out, and my showers.

Monday, July 11, 2011

An Ecosystem to Love

A suburban greenmom bids farewell to an amazing forest ecosystem...

Today is our last day in gorgeous coastal Maine.

My parents live up here most of the year, and this year especially I have been struck by the unique and ecosystem-respecting landscape they have maintained on their couple of acres in a former-quarry-now-pine-forest area on the quiet side of Mt. Desert Island. My mom loves flowers, and she has always grown vegetables, but they are essentially living on top of a huge layer of granite with a little gravel, soil, and highly acidic evergreen needles growing atop it.

She does a lot of container gardening; her tomatoes, strawberries, and herbs all grow in big deep pots beside the driveway. During the winter the herbs come indoors to the little sunroom she’s built onto the side of their small log home, so the plants can survive the winter. The property is covered with perennial wild rugosas, lupines, columbines, ferns, and wild blueberry bushes—plants that can deal with the small amount of highly acidic piney dirt they have access to. Some of these have always been here; some my mom has carefully cultivated by gathering lupine seeds from other parts of the island and helping them germinate here. She also has a few half-barrels with "good" soil in them, where she grows her brighter-colored annuals, but mostly the area is grown and filled-in with its own native life. Chipmunks and birds visit their many feeders, and my dad has a long-running battle with the squirrels to keep them from demolishing the goodies meant for chickadees, cardinals, and finches.

There are a few natural quarry ponds on the property, adorned with water lilies. Wildlife is everywhere—at night we can listen to loons and frogs, and in the mornings the deer wander down looking for munchies. This is an awesome place for my kids to visit…without even needing to consciously teach any specific lessons, they are learning about land and life that works together, each providing for the other’s needs as long as each aspect respects and learns to understand the others.

It’s not a National Park. (That’s on the other side of the island—and no less gorgeous.) It’s a home, in an area with numerous other homes, also peopled by those who would rather carve out a small spot of their own in this beautiful territory than tame and dominate a landscape to suit their own needs. A really, really beautiful place. I will miss it till next year.

--Jenn the Greenmom

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Phone Booth Flashback

Welcome to the Phone Booth Flashback, where we take a trip down memory lane so you can catch up on posts from the Booth's past.

Last Year
  • The death of empathy?: Going Green Mama wonders about the relationship between empathy and sustainability, and what happens when people are becoming less empathetic.
  • Meatless Monday - Grains: The Greenhabilitator goes beyond wheat and describes some other grains that you might want to add to your diet.

Two Years Ago
  • New Sierra Club Hiking Wiki: JessTrev describes a website from the Sierra Club where people can post their favorite hikes and browse others' favorites.
  • Food Matters: Green Bean posts photos of sustainable food and farming across the country.
  • What Secrets?!: Green Bean shares a link for making your own utensil holder.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Farmers market report

Every parent relishes those few quiet moments to themselves. And given the exhaustion I feel after 90 minutes of bedtime battles each night, I've found my moments at a different time.

Namely, sneaking it in at the evening market on the way home from work.

Going to the farmers markets sans children is an all together different experience. You have the choice to linger at a booth, to ask questions, to not feel the embarrassment of your child once again mooching samples off each station. You can actually check out the produce, rather than hastily check off items as you grab the first box of beans your way.

Someday, I will learn the fine out of leaving work at a decent hour so I can squeeze in 15 minutes of "me" time at the market on the way home.

I had my first summertime mid-week market visit this week, blessed by decent breezes and not-too-hot weather. This week, it's all about summer squash. Zucchini has been popping up everywhere this last week, both in my garden and at the markets. The good news is the kids love them - I found a half-knawed on squash on my table the other day! Busy evenings mean I haven't had the opportunity to prep zucchini recipes like I'd like, but I've discovered a zucchini bread recipe that the kids can't get enough of. Yes, it means heating up the oven in the middle of summer, but it's a simple project to tackle while I'm working on chores in the evenings.

What's cooking in your garden? Any great market finds this weekend?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Over Hill, Over Swale

In which Truffla finds herself in one of those life phases where things simply seem to come together at just the right moment... 

Over hill, over dale swale,
Through bush, through briar,
-- with apologies to William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night's Dream)
That's right: I have swales on my mind.  Lots of them.  But I digress...

I'm having one of those runs during which pieces suddenly fall into place:

  • The other week, I happened to pick up a copy of Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Agriculture from the library, just because I'd seen some articles and blog posts which referenced it.  I read through it (my "light" bus reading...), having little epiphanies along the way.  I maxed out on the loan period, and turned the book back in.
  • Last month, I went to two presentations, one on Brix and nutrient density, and the other was introduction to using swales to manage water in the garden.
  • That swale preso actually more like a gentle intoduction to permaculture.  And, it turned out that the (fabulous) permaculture speaker gave consultations... 
  • which two friends and I were interested...  In my case, remember how I quit our dear CSA?  Now, I'm committed to making our property as productive as possible!
  • We three friends pooled our efforts and arranged back-to-back consultations on the same day.  We attended each others' sessions, benefitting from each others' questions, and taking copious notes.  Essentially, we created our own all-day permaculture workshop!  What an amazing day!!!

While I need to be planning for our next homeschooling year, and knocking some other time-sensitive things off of my to-do list, I'm itching to surf the web for more information on things like jostaberries, the most cost-effective place to buy several cubic yards of compost, and yes, swale building.  While I'm at it, my eye might just wander to other garden goodies like labyrinths (wouldn't it be groovy to have one in the yard?) and sundials (ha!  In all of our shade, those sunny patches need to go to edibles!).

Thinkin' about swale placement...
We celebrated our 4th of July by pruning creating some independence from large tree limbs.  We also did a bunch of measuring, trying to envision where and how swales could and should move water, and how they'd function as planting beds.  It's painful to lop off perfectly good branches.  Ok, well, I'll concede that some might have been on the leggy or even dead side.  The end result is freeing, though -- there's more air, more light, more space, more open possibilities.
One full can ready for yard trim collection -- more to come!
A delicious section of the garden, sans permaculture, but avec happy bees on that hyssop :-)
The planning isn't quite shovel-ready -- stay tuned for updates.  Better, more fertile soil and an increasingly edible landscape is in the near future for this little slice of suburbia!

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Fascination with Car-Free Living, Part 1

The Conscious Shopper dreams of the car-free life

I've never been a fan of driving - I didn't get my drivers' license until I was a senior in high school, nearly 18 years old. When my parents pressured me to get my license, I responded, "When I graduate, I'm moving to New York City, so I'm not going to need to know how to drive." Well, that didn't happen, but going to college in a city where I needed a car didn't make me love driving any better.

I'd love to give up my car and ride a bike all over town if it weren't for the three little ones that live with me. The fact is that as much as I keep drooling, a Madsen Bike is never going to be in the budget, and even if one was, I doubt I'd have the muscle power to haul my three boys up Raleigh's hills. If I lived somewhere flatter...

Although I have to concede that the family biking lifestyle won't work for my family, I'm still fascinated by others that are able to do it. For instance, this guest post by Abbie at New Urban Habitat about her family's decision to go car-free. Abbie has written many times at her own blog about the pros and cons of the car-free lifestyle, and her archives are worth taking a look at.

But I'm most especially fascinated with the Dutch bike culture. They don't even wear helmets, for heaven's sake! This video is absolutely amazing:

Are you a city bike rider? What tips do you have for me and other Green Phone Booth readers?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Time to Start Planning for Christmas?

I have already started making Christmas gifts and collecting supplies. I'm hoping to make more homemade gifts this year so I want to get an early start. Most years I'm rushed so hopefully this way I won't be. I can't share the ideas for what I'm making this year since people I'm giving them to may see this but I have collected some other ideas that can be made in an eco-friendly manner.

Gift Bows from Magazines- These are easy and fun to make. Just need magazines and metal brads.

Buttercup Purses- If you sew these are super cute and would make wonderful gifts.

Microwave Soy Candles- This is the easiest candle craft I have seen. You could whip up several of these in no time.

Heating Pads/Ice Packs- These look very simple and are a great gift for anyone with pain issues or that is always cold in the winter months. They can be heated in the microwave or kept in the freezer for icing injuries.

Homemade Vanilla Extract- This is a fun and easy gift, that is great for any baker on your list.

T-Shirt Reusable Bags- You can pick up some cheap t-shirts at your local thrift store for this project. You can even use the bags as wrapping for other gifts.

No-Knit Scarf- Even if you don't knit or crochet you can make this cute scarf.

Ribbon Bookmarks- These would be great to go with a book for a gift.

Popcorn Tins- Make homemade popcorn tins. This should of course be done closer to Christmas but you can start looking for tins now.

These are just a few ideas, would love to hear your ideas as well. Homemade gifts are such a fun way to save money, stay green, and give more meaning with your gifts.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Lands afar and mine

A suburban greenmom celebrates the Fourth 1200 miles from home...

A very simple post for today--a day when my own nation celebrates its independence, and a day when more and more I begin to feel twinges of ambivalence...I love my country very much, but I also am more and more deeply aware every day of how intertwined the fates of all the world's people's are--we have one world, and we all share it, and we are all in this together.

There is a song we often sing in my church on the Fourth, and though I am traveling and won't be there this year, I offer it nonetheless:

This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,

A song of peace for lands afar and mine.

This is my home, the country where my heart is;

Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.

But other hearts in other lands are beating,

With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,

And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.

But other lands have sunlight too and clover,

And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,

A song of peace for their land and for mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation;

may peace abound where strife has raged so long;

that each may seek to love and build together,

a world united, righting every wrong;

a world united in its love for freedom,

proclaiming peace together in one song.

--Lloyd Stone, 1934


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