Monday, October 31, 2011

Where did autumn go?

A suburban greenmom laments her lost autumn

We kind of blew it this fall.

It's probably the hardest thing about trying to live sustainably and to sustain that sustainability—the fact that life doesn't seem to sustain anything like a regular pattern. There's no such thing as a typical autumn for us.

Last fall we were totally on top of things—we raked up not only our own leaves but those of all our neighbors. We hauled manure from the local stable. Our yard was awesome in its fall prep, to the extent where there wasn't very much we had to do then in the spring to ready it for planting. Well, okay, that's not exactly true...last fall and spring were the bulk of our Grand Landscaping Endeavor, wherein we killed a bunch of lawn and created a big perennial zone in the rear third of our yard. So in the spring we did have to haul a lot of dirt and wood chips. But we didn't have to feed the ground much at all, because there was this lovely winter-old layer of decayed plant food we'd put down in the fall.

But still, in the autumn we were ready. Suddenly I realize it's the last day of October and we've done basically bupkiss. I cut back the crazy-wild roses I hadn't pruned back enough last spring, trying not to do too much because they still need some living plant to survive the winter. I for the first time ordered bulbs to plant in some of the more early-barren areas of the yard (and am grateful that cool dark storage enables one to not plant them right away—because I just haven't had time). Somehow there just aren't as many leaves this year to rake and use for mulch; I'm not sure why. And our giant overgrown privet hedge is going to have to wait for spring, to be cut back, which I now read is the best time for it anyway.

So...since I have very little to report—on this last day of October, what are your autumn garden rituals? What do y'all readers do in the fall to get ready for next spring? How does it work for you? (And please be sure to include where you live—when people talk about their “fall planting,” it makes us Northerners feel very inadequate unless we know you live in South Carolina or something!)

Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fall bucket list

Going Green Mama is hoping for a full fall.

The last few autumns have blinked by for us, largely a result of the weather, but partially because my kids were just beginning to be old enough to truly enjoy the season.

This year, inspired by a "fall bucket list" craft I saw, I decided to write my own bucket list for my family. It's simple, but encompasses what we want to do most this time of year: stay in touch with nature.

  • Pick too many apples from the apple orchard.

  • Finally take the kids to the fall festival at a local dairy. They've been begging for the last two years to go.

  • Go for long walks, and watch our kids choose the "biggest" leaves that have fallen and carry them around the neighborhood.

  • Open the windows at night to let the cool breezes tempt us into sleeping in the next day.

  • Take a hike or two.

  • Plant another round of carrots or peas and try to beat the frost.

  • Bundle up for chilly Saturday-morning visits to the farmers market. Scour for treats we can tuck into Christmas presents.

  • Make the first batch of my husband's chili or homemade chicken noodle soup on a cool evening after work.

  • Hit up the fall festivals in the small towns in the area.

Interestingly, none of the "must-dos" include Halloween activities; my daughter's fear of the macabre (even trick-or-treaters can frighten her at times) means we're sticking to the natural world and shying away from city traditions like the non-frightening hours at our children's museum's haunted house or the ZooBoo. But the funny thing is, I'm OK with that.

As the days start to shrink, how are you extending your season? What's on your "bucket list" this fall?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Even Eco-Heroes Need a Sabbatical...

Wherein SustainaMom hangs up her cape....

I love this blog. I love the bloggers here, and I love the readers and all of your comments. I have learned so much by being a part of the green blogging community, and it saddens me that I need to take a break from blogging.

Ironically, I need to stop blogging for the same reason that led me to this community in the first place.

I began a personal green blog in the spring of 2008. I had been reading about toxins in our homes. It all started when my son's feeding issue was diagnosed. His occupational therapist said the feeding issue was related to sensory integration dysfunction. So I read quite a lot about sensory integration dysfunction. I read how it might be related to toxins in our homes. So I read quite a bit about toxins in our homes. I was determined to eliminate these dangers from my home. I wanted to create a healthier environment for my family.

After a couple of months of reading about healthier homes, I wanted to share everything I was reading with family and friends and any one else who worried about toxins in our homes. So I began blogging. In the three years since I started that (now-defunct) blog, I've learned so much about creating a safe home for my family — and I've also learned to lessen my impact on the environment and to consider global implications of purchases, my thermostat level and the number of miles I drive.

While I see everything through a green lens now, I know I have so many more steps to take in my green journey. But this won't be the year that I research which apple trees to plant or even improve my knitting. My son's sensory issues are creating new challenges, and they are consuming all of my spare time for research. I've pulled out all of my books about sensory integration dysfunction and I'm reading them with a view beyond the feeding challenges and I see how much I've missed. I see how his quirks are part of a bigger picture and his sometimes-challenging behavior could be a sign of something beyond 5-year-old rebellion.

Just as I immersed myself in green books and green blogs, I need to immerse myself in the books and blogs — and doctor's appointments — that help me understand what my son needs. So I'm stepping out of the Green Phone Booth, sans cape. I'll be in the kitchen, tempting my son with new foods. I'll be at parent-teacher conferences, advocating for my child. I'll be at the library, reading about sensory diets. I'll be doing all the things that good moms try to do. I'll still be agonizing over decisions about plastic, cleaning with vinegar, and planting a garden. I just won't be staying up late to write about these things.

As I leave the Green Phone Booth, I want to thank the ladies of the Booth for their inspiration, and I want to thank the commenters who've helped me this past year. From recommendations for new foods to offer my son to information about the Feingold diet, you've been a source of great information and encouragement. I've needed both. Thank you!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

No-Sugar Strawberry Freezer Jam

Eco-novice is jammin'

This season has been the first season during which I have attempted preserving and canning.  The very first thing I tried was freezer jam, since it's so easy.  And it really is incredibly easy. I really wanted to try to make some strawberry jam without any refined sugar and without any heating/cooking (to preserve nutritional value as well as the delicious taste of fresh strawberries).  I used Pomona Pectin and followed the instructions in the package for making freezer jam with honey.  

The good news is, it worked.  I used a little less honey than the recipe called for so it wouldn't be so runny and so the honey flavor wouldn't overpower the strawberries, and the mixture did "jam" (thicken up into a jam-like consistency), although not quite as much as the strawberry jam with sugar (my friend made a batch with sugar, while I made a batch with honey, which made it easy to compare).  It also ended up being quite economical.  Four or five open pints of organic strawberries (I bought a half-flat for $8 at the farmer's market), plus a buck or two for honey and pectin yielded 10 cups of jam, which means I paid less than a dollar per cup for organic strawberry jam.  Not bad.

For those even more novice than the Eco-novice, here are the simple steps involved.  Although I made this jam with a friend late at night after our kids were in bed, you can see that this is a very kid-friendly process.  I can see even a very young child helping with the mashing, blending, stirring, and pouring into jars.

Prepping the strawberries.

Mashing the strawberries to desired consistency: Before

Mashing the strawberries to desired consistency: After

Blending up the pectin and water into a gel-like thing.  No expertise required.

After adding the pectin mixture to the strawberries and honey -- it's jamming!

Using a funnel to get the mixture in the jars.

Freeze immediately.
Defrost in the fridge and enjoy!

Yummy on homemade whole wheat bread.

If you have never canned or preserved before, I heartily recommend you give freezer jam a try.  If your family likes fresh jam, that is. My jam turned out quite well, if I do say so myself.  Unfortunately, I have since realized that my family does not eat enough jam to even make it through the one-cup containers before the jar goes bad.  I'm more of a toast and butter kind of gal, and while the fresh strawberry jam would be delicious on french toast or whole wheat pancakes, I, myself, prefer maple syrup or whipped cream with fresh fruit. Perhaps if I had used sugar or made cooked jam with frozen grape juice concentrate (another refined sugar alternative, but only for cooked jam), the jars would last a little longer in the fridge. Also, I wish I had mashed the strawberries more so that the end result was more smooth less chunk, which is what my kids are used to. Oh well.  No worries - it's not going to waste. My sister and her housemates have been enjoying it lots.

Do you have a favorite freezer or cooked jam recipe?  Please share!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Meaningful Memories: Pumpkin Patch Edition

From Emerald Apron's family farm

I grew up on a small farm in New England, so I spent every weekend during the months of September and October in the apple orchar or pumpkin patch, hopping on the back of a horse drawn hayride or baking a tray of pies. I have fond memories of playing in the hay maze with my cousins, making cider with my parents and brothers, and dressing up to scare people during our haunted hayrides. My childhood on the farm is a big part of my identity and I'm very hopeful to share those experiences with my son Joshua.

We don't live on the farm anymore, but we are only a few minutes down the road. We visit every weekend and Joshua has a blast with his extended family. He pretends to drive the tractors, knows how to shine an apple on his pant leg and loves to load pumpkins in a wagon.

We've started a traditional costume party at the farm so Joshua can share the fall fun with his friends. Our guests come dressed in their costumes, we spend time looking at the animals in the petting zoo and sharing snacks, then we go for a half-hour hayride through the apple orchard, by the pumpkin patch, through the woods and over a covered bridge on the farm. I love these parties because I feel like a tourist! As a child, days spent at the farm were work days sprinkled with bits of fun here and there. But now, as a mom, I no longer wait on customers or bake tray after endless tray of pies. It's all fun and no work!

I look forward to sharing harvest season traditions with Joshua and our family. I have started a fall scrapbook and intent to add a few pages every year, so we can get it out every year to look back at costumes and share memories. How does your family celebrate autumn?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Naturally Beautiful

Take a moment and think about when you got ready this morning. How many personal care products did you use? Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, perfume, nail polish, make-up, etc.. The list can get pretty long. Now do you know what's in those products? Did you know almost 90% of the ingredients in personal care products haven't been tested for safety? Scary, right?

You don't have to give up all your personal care products to be safe. There are safer products out there that you can use. Here are a few of my favorites.

Everyday Minerals is a great natural mineral make-up made in Texas. They have sample kits so you can find your right shade before you buy a full size container. You can also mix shades if they don't have your perfect match.

Lipsticks and lip glosses from Honeybee Gardens come in beautiful shades and have the great coverage you want without the nasty chemicals.

Honeybee Gardens also has beautiful nail polish that is water based and free of; FD&C colors, toluene, dibutyl phthalate, xylene, and formaldehyde.

Pacifica perfume is made from natural and essential oils. It's also made in the USA and comes in recycled and recyclable packaging. 

Soap For Goodness Sake's shea butter creme is my favorite moisturizer. It's plastic-free and works so well.

Nurture Your Body's shampoo bar is another great plastic-free product. It's made from natural and organic ingredients and leaves your hair clean and soft. 

100% Pure products are a favorite in my house. We love their body washes. They come in lots of great natural scents and use natural and organic ingredients. 

What are your favorite natural personal care products?

Monday, October 24, 2011

"Making" Halloween Costumes...the lazy way

A suburban greenmom really has issues with all the Halloween stores and ready-made costumes everyone now seems to wear...A day late for the flashback, but what the heck?

Okay, yeah, I realize at the outset that this small rant is going to make me sound old. Because When I Was A Kid (there it is!), Halloween costumes were something you made yourself out of whatever you could find around the house. Creativity and originality were the benchmarks for a "good" costume. (One of my friends used a Hefty bag and made herself into a raisin. Adorable.) Mad scientist, gypsy, wizard, Army Guy--these were our costumes. The whole thing of going into a Spirit store or whatever and paying $20 for a cheezy fall-apart pre-made costume feels like a...violation somehow. So I hate them with a passion.

I am not a great seamstress; I know the very basics of sewing, but I don't terribly enjoy it, and I rarely have the time to spend on it. But this year I discovered the wonder of reconstructing thrift store clothes into costumes--someone else has done most of the cutting and measuring, the hemming, the lining, what-have-you--all I have to do is chop things down or up to size. Those places are a gold mine.

My son wanted to be young Anakin Skywalker this year. My sewing skills are rudimentary at best, but I know how to make a basic Jedi costume--it's not too hard. Baggy pants. Kimono-type top. Cloak over it all. No big deal. Unfortunately, it's a "no big deal" that nonetheless requires a few hours of time put in, and that's time I just don't have this year. So I was about to bail on the whole thing.

Then it occurred to me...the local thrift store. Wonder what they have? I came home $10 later with a light beige linen pants-and-top set, women's size small, and a knit mock-neck tunic shirt, size xxl. Killed me to cut up this perfectly
good piece of linen, but I figure this is the makings for years of future costumes, and the situation was dire since the school halloween party is really early this year.

So here's what I did: I chopped off the sleeves right above the cuffs and put a very quick hem in there. Cut off the collar, folded the main part of the front fabric in, and sewed around the whole thing to make the wraparound vee-neck thing. (That way I can take the sewing out later and make a RenFaire shirt out of it or something; this is less irrevocable.) I cuffed the pants up about 8 inches and cut off and re-sewed the waistband with new elastic and some lazy pleats (this sounds harder than it is--I just sort of folded and pinned until it didn't fall down his butt, and sewed it around, and then when it was still a little loose I took a piece of elastic and stretched it out while I sewed it again, so the elastic then cinched it in a little. If you didn't even want to do this, pins or suspenders would totally do it.), and bingo, a Jedi uniform. He wore a sort of grey tie-die shirt under it. And I sliced the brown tunic down the front, chopped off the sleeves to his length, and then was delighted to realized that the remainder of the sleeve fabric was enough to open into two rectangles which I could sew together along two sides, sew the bottom onto the tunic neckline, and lookee there's a hood.

Here's the "after" shot:

Not bad, huh? And I maybe spent a total of half an hour actually chopping and stitching to make it happen. And we've now survived two of the four Halloween events of the season, and it hasn't fallen apart yet and looks tons better than any of the other little Jedi out there, if I do say so myself.

So if a particular Halloween costume request comes up, before either hitting the Spirit store or throwing up your hands in defeat, consider hitting the local Goodwill or Salvation Army store...go in with an open mind, and come out with a willingness to start hacking away and a knowledge that even if you screw up, you're not out that much money, probably less than if you'd purchased brand-new fabric and tried it from scratch. In fact, the bedding departments at these stores are gold mines for cheap fabric in the form of old sheets and blankets; you can make cloaks, robes, nightgowns, or just have plain old fabric with which to experiment and learn. Not to be cavalier about screwing up and throwing out, but if there's a seamstress anywhere who didn't have to make a lot of mistakes before getting the hang of it, I'd love to meet her--it's part of the curve, so might as well do it on fabric that's already had its day in the sun, right?

So give it a shot! Happy Halloween, all!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Phonebook Flashback: Halloween Edition

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.  In this post, we take a look at past Halloween posts, as part of our Meaningful Memories Holiday Challenge.


Simple School Party: Olive S. Oyl shares easy ideas for a simple and green kindergarten Halloween party, after deciding that you don't need to go high maintenance to compensate for no sugar.

The Real Deal: Green Bean discusses why DIY Halloween costumes are the most memorable and most meaningful.


Pumpkin Delight: The Greenhabilitator shares a delicious-looking recipe for pumpkin muffins and swears that she will never again buy pumpkin in a can.

Getting Trashed on Halloween: Green Bean reveals the fun of making robot and bat costumes from trash, the recycling bin, and Freecycle.

Superhero Secrets: Greenhabilitator has a list of ideas to help you use up all those candies and wrappers from trick-or-treating.


Avoiding the Halloween headache of consumerism: Going Green Mama discusses ways to reduce the wastefulness of Halloween while still letting your kids enjoy the festivities, including creating costumes from what's in your closet, DIY treat bags, and alternative treats to candy.

My Frivolous and Green Halloween: Lisa from Condo Blues writes a guest post on her favorite holiday. She offers tips on incorporating natural items into one's Halloween decor and embracing reuse for Halloween costumes.

Reclaimed Halloween Costumes: Going Green Mama provides last-minute inspiration for creating Halloween costumes using reclaimed items from your closet or thrift shop.

A Simple, Green Halloween: Guest poster Yancy of Five Seed shares ways to decorate, eat, dress up, celebrate, and trick-or-treat in green and simple ways.

Halloween Costume Parade: Conscious Shopper hosts a virtual parade of homemade, thrifted, and recycled Halloween costumes from the Green Phone Booth community that could provide your inspiration for this year's costume!


And in case you missed Going Green Mama's recent Halloween posts: DIY Halloween Costumes and I've Created a Monster.

Join our Facebook page for in-between-post conversations.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Herb harvest - What to do with the bounty

Going Green Mama is mourning the death of her garden.

I can't argue with a forecast of 30 degrees. So this week, before our quick trip to the grandparents, I did what I had to do: Harvest my herbs.

Down went the bushy basil and oregano, both of which had rapidly spread in our cool October weather. Down went the chives, standing tall in my pots. Down went the last of my mint that hadn't previously toasted in the September heat.

Normally I'd be on a cooking frenzy, or busy freezing or drying herbs, but a planned trip meant my evenings were numbered. So instead, I whipped up an extra batch of spaghetti sauce in between my loads of laundry and took on new projects that I had not yet tried in my kitchen:

Basil oil, which I've seen recently in several farm-fresh cookbooks. I love the fact that I can freeze it in 1/4 cup measurements in my muffin tin - just the right amount for a dinner meal. (I'm tempted to pair it with a recipe for garlic vinegar that I found for a fall salad.)

Chive butter, an idea I borrowed from a friend. Can't wait to use it as an alternative to boring Country Crock!

The mint I chose to enjoy as hot tea (great for my recovering self) opted to freeze the rest to preserve the oils but am on the hunt for ideas on what to do with it when I return!

What are your favorite ways to squeeze the last bit of enjoyment out of a season's herbs?

Friday, October 21, 2011

October Unprocessed Update

From Emerald Apron's kitchen

It's now been almost three weeks since I joined the October Unprocessed Challenge and vowed not to eat processed food this month. In my last update, I shared that I felt great and I still do! Despite an incredibly busy few weeks, I feel fantastic. My days are packed full and my nights include lots of wake-ups with my son, but I still feel energetic at the end of the day. Placebo effect? I don't care, what the reason is.

I've been cooking up a storm. Homemade bread is a must, along with lots of fruits and veggies still. As the harvest season winds down, I'm still getting what I can locally like apples, butternut squash, and some beautiful eggplant that I picked last weekend on my family's farm.

I have had a few slip ups. I had pizza and pumpkin pie at my brother's house. To say no would have been rude! And there have been a couple of times when I was too busy to cook so we opted for convenience, but it was always a very conscious decision. I've got a forgiving nature, and I forgive myself and move on with it. I'm thinking that in order for this to be a long-term change, I need to go in with a 90/10 philosophy. If I avoid processed foods 90% of the time or more, I'm doing well.

The most amazing and unexpected part has been the weight loss. In 20 days, I lost 3.8 pounds. To me, that's just amazing. I'm now 5 pounds less than my pre-pregnancy weight, and it's been probably five years since I weighed this amount. I haven't limited portions or anything typical of dieting, I've just been eating nutritious foods when I'm hungry. I'd love to see the trend continue but I doubt I'll lose too much more. We'll see!

The hardest part of the challenge by far has been figuring out what to eat for snacks. Carrots and hummus or guacamole have become staples, but I miss my favorite processed carbs: pretzels, granola bars and crackers. If you have any homemade, whole wheat, naturally sweetened recipes for those please share!

Are you doing the October Unprocessed Challenge? How's it going?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health

I can eat less meat.  But cheese?

Did everyone already hear about the Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health, published by Environmental Working Group in July earlier this year? So it's kind of old news, but I've been meaning to write about it ever since, and sort of chewing on what it should mean for my family's eating habits.

The report has an impressive methodology:  "EWG teamed up with CleanMetrics, an environmental analysis and consulting firm, to calculate complete lifecycle assessments of the “cradle-to-grave” carbon footprint of 20 types of conventionally raised (not organic or grass-fed) meat, fish, dairy and vegetable proteins, counting emissions generated both before and after the food leaves the farm. These assessments included every step of the food cycle, from the pesticides and fertilizers used to grow animal feed through to the grazing, processing, transportation, cooking and finally, disposal of unused food" (from news release).

For those who haven't had a chance to check out the guide for themselves yet (the link lingered in my bookmarks for months before I browsed the full report), here are some highlights:  
  • Eating and wasting less meat (especially red meat) and cheese can simultaneously improve our health and reduce the climate and environmental impact of food. Amazingly, meat that goes into the trash accounts for more than 20 percent of all meat-associated emissions!
  • When you do eat meat, eat smaller portions and opt for meat from organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed animals. There are many compelling health, environmental and animal-welfare reasons for doing so.
  • Making significant cuts in emissions will not come solely from individual action, but also citizen action.  Reducing meat production’s negative impacts on soil, air and water will take stronger regulatory enforcement and better policies – in addition to significant changes in meat consumption habits.

A really cool feature of the report is the Eat Smart graphic, which compares how food choices affect the climate.  I need to print this out and paste it to my fridge.  The report also includes quick aids such as At-a-glance brochure that summarizes the full report; interactive Lifecycle GraphicTips for Meat Eaters; Meat Quiz ("How much do you know about the meat you eat?"); guide to Decoding Meat and Dairy Labels; and additional resources. You can also sign a pledge to go meatless one day of the week (a la Meatless Monday).

For me, it was no big surprise that:
Beef generates more than twice the emissions of pork, nearly four times that of chicken, and more than 13 times that of vegetable proteins such as beans, lentils, and tofu.
But I was kind of bummed to learn that:
Cheese has the third-highest emissions (more than pork, fish, and poultry!). Less dense cheese (such as cottage) results in fewer greenhouse gases since it takes less milk to produce it.
At my house, the only meat we regularly eat is organic chicken and ground turkey.  We occasionally eat pork, fish, and even more occasionally grass-fed beef purchased through our CSA.  We regularly eat beans and tofu. So I feel OK about the progress we've made in the meat-eating department since we began our green journey. But the sad truth is, while I can imagine someday eating vegetarian, I have a hard time imagining giving up dairy.  I love my milk, yogurt, ice cream, butter, cream, sour cream, buttermilk, and, yes, CHEESE.  I love cheese.  Parmesan cheese, extra sharp cheddar cheese, havarti cheese, mozzarella cheese.  Recently, I did switch over from conventional cheese to almost all organic cheese, and the significantly higher sticker price has made me more aware of how much we are eating (and far less likely to let any of it go to waste).

I would say that at least one-third of our dinners around here are meatless.  But you know how I compensate for that?  Cheese. Or sour cream. Especially with beans (the tofu dishes tend to lean more towards vegan).  In addition to sprinkling a little less cheese on my meatless dishes, any suggestions for cutting back on the cheese without too much pain and suffering?

How has your consumption of animal products changed since you began your green journey?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Zero Dollar Holiday?

From the bean of Green Bean.

Cruising the Internet the other day, I came across a woman endeavoring to spend zero dollars on Christmas this year.  Zero dollars!

On one hand, I love this idea.  Focus on experiences rather than materials.  Save money and put an end to the consumerism of the holidays.  However, these all or nothing challenges always intimidate me.

Plus, I don't think we could do a Zero Dollar Christmas at this place in my life.  But that doesn't mean that this doesn't give me some ideas.

For instance, I might be able to pull off a Zero Dollar Halloween.  In fact, I almost did it one year.  The ideas for DIY Halloween costumes coupled with handing out leftover goodie bag treats to trick or treaters means that I could do it again.

Or a Non-Material Advent Calendar.  We've done this in years past and I've seen loads of fun ideas for this on blogs and on Pinterest.  Kids open the doors to find promises of experiences - baking cookies with mom, sledding with dad, movie night with popcorn, walk to see the Christmas lights, and even an iTunes song.  Hey, a downloaded song is not material, too.

Maybe a Nothing New Christmas would be fun. We almost made it to a Nothing New Christmas one year.  We got things off of Freecycle, put the word out with friends (one of whom came through with a giant bag of Legos that her friend's son had outgrown), bought at the thrift store and, my favorite place of all, antique stores and fairs.  The great thing about buying used is that the items you give are so unique.  Over the years, I've given my boys an old cap gun, a 1970's troll, a light up human body, a vintage nutcracker and more.  For grandparents or even parents, give something that was yours when you were younger - or something that the recipient once gave you.  My parents do the former - gifting my boys old toys and books.  My grandmother did the latter once I was a young adult - giving me back little ceramic artifacts that I had once given her and photo albums that she had put together of me as a young child.

With the advent of local eating, a 100 Mile Thanksgiving almost seems too easy to be a challenge.  This year, for the first time ever, my CSA is offering heirloom, local turkeys.  Of course, I'm a vegetarian so I'm only tangentially interested.  Still, I'll bring something totally local to our Thanksgiving celebration.

Of course, Spend Nothing Stockings is a much more manageable alternative to the Zero Dollar Christmas.  I might actually do this one this year.  Every year, I hand-make my kids something special.  One year, it was knit light sabers.  Last year, it was knit owls.  This year?  Any knit Harry Potter ideas? The stocking can also be stuffed with homemade treats and passed down treasures.

I'll definitely propose a White Elephant Exchange for my family.  This is an on again, off again tradition amongst the adults.  It is laugh out loud fun when we do this.  Year after year, a golden ceramic cat made the rounds until someone, ahem, no names, donated it to a thrift store!  (Look! It or one just like it turned up at a local antique store!).  Who knows what treasured heirloom will be in the pile this year.

Finally, there is the possibility of a Handmade Holiday or one focused on Recused, Recycled or Locally Made or even only USA Made Gifts.  Northwest Edible Life wrote, just yesterday, on a Handmade Holiday and has a whole host of great gift ideas as well as inspiration.

I'm not sure what we'll do this holiday season but I do thank the Naked Gardening lady (who wrote about the Zero Dollar Holiday) for making me think twice about ways to make it more meaningful, less expensive, less consumeristic and, well, just better!

** This is a Meaningful Memory post!  If you are interested in guest posting on greener holiday traditions at The Green Phone Booth this year, please email greenphoneboothATgmailDOTcom with your ideas.  Meaningful Memory posts run every Wednesday (and occasionally on other days) between now and January 1.  

** Dial in to our Facebook Page for in between post updates, photos and links.

** I'm linking this post to Well Made Wednesdays over at An Oregon Cottage,  Thrifty Thursdays at Thrifty and Fabuless, Frugal Fridays at The Shabby Nest, and Frugal Friday at Life as Mom.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fair Trade Chocolate

In my last post I talked about Fair Trade Month and a common theme in the comments was chocolate. This is not really a surprised but made me think a post all about Fair Trade chocolate was in order.

The annual world consumption of cocoa beans averages around 600,000 tons per year. That's a lot of chocolate. Do you know where your chocolate comes from? Well, 70% of the world’s chocolate comes from the Ivory Coast where most of the chocolate is farmed using child and forced labor. Don't worry, thanks to Fair Trade you can have your chocolate and support fair labor. Fair Trade certified products ensure that the product is made using fair wages, fair labor, and is sustainable. Here are a few of the great Fair Trade chocolate brands out there for you to try.

Other brands include Green & Black, Theo, and Sweet Earth Chocolates. Do you have other brands you like? If you haven't already tried Fair Trade chocolate are you going to now?

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Phone Booth Leaves a Voicemail for the NYT

Jenn the Greenmom addresses the New York Times Eco-Economy article

A few weeks ago, the Green Phone Booth's bloggers were happy and encouraged to have been invited to be interviewed by a New York Times writer for an article about being green and sustainable in the current fairly stinky economy. We thought (or at least, I thought—I can't speak for everyone) “Hey, cool! At last someone is catching on to how being green and living sustainably are about much more than buying cool eco-gadgets, that there's this whole world of people out there really embracing the 'reduce' part of 'reduce, reuse, recycle' and discovering that green living doesn't necessarily mean getting rid of everything we have and buying 'greener' versions of same!”

Unfortunately, after several of us spoke to the reporter, it seemed that his goal was to write an article about how it's too bad the currently fairly stinky economy means that people can no longer afford to buy cool eco-gadgets or get rid of everything they have and buy “greener” versions of same.

Our knee-jerk response (mine. I really shouldn't say I speak for everyone!), honestly, was to kind of snort and go, “hah! Clearly he is Part Of The Problem! The enemy! A complete and total jerk! He just doesn't get it!” None of which is probably accurate. (Especially the jerk part; he seemed actually like a very nice guy.)

Except the last part. He just doesn't get it. Like so many other people just don't get it.

Because let's face it, for an awful lot of us, the main way we learn about what's going on in our little corner of the universe is –you guessed it—public media. Newspapers, TV, and marketing, marketing, marketing. No one is out there marketing one part white vinegar to three parts water with a few drops of essential oil as a better and safer household cleaner than anything you can buy from any company anywhere. No one is marketing that riding your bike or walking or even moving to a home within walking distance of practically anything you need is more sustainable than buying a Nissan Leaf or Prius. That shift of perspective really only comes from living it, and from dialoguing with people who have been there and are working through some of this stuff themselves.

So several of us, independently of one another, proceeded to dialogue poor Steve into probably near catatonia. And once the final article came out, he had clearly begun—just begun—to move beyond his original perspective and way of thinking.

But we still kind of agree that he doesn't really get it.

So the three of us on the Booth who spoke to him would like to take this opportunity, on this forum of ours, to put out there some of what we said that didn't make it into the article. We especially welcome the perspective of retired Boother Erin the Conscious Shopper, whose lovely face and wise words actually did make it into the article, though she's less than thrilled with the way they were presented and the spin they gave:

The Conscious Shopper:

My big pet peeve with this article is the ending, so let me start there. I want it known for the record that I am not now nor have I ever been in a good enough financial position to be able to run out and buy a new car just because I felt like it. That quote had nothing to do with cars but was about shopping in general, and the whole quote went something like this: “Like most Americans, I had the mind-set that if I wanted something new, I could run out and get it. But I've since learned to make do with what I have, to make things last as long as I can, and to buy quality products so they will last a long time.”

The other really important part of our conversation that Kurutz left out was our discussion about the question “What does it mean to be green?” Is green living all about buying green products and supporting green companies, or is there more to it? Perhaps making your own cleaners and shopping at the thrift store can be just as green as, or even more green than, buying bamboo sandals. (The bamboo sandal thing cracks me up because he made reference to it in the article and a couple times when we talked, as if bamboo sandals are symbolic of green living.)

I feel like Kurutz spun the quotes from me and the other people he interviewed to make it seem like we were giving up something or being less green when we started focusing on DIY or driving less or shopping at the thrift store or gardening. But in my case at least, discovering the frugal side of green living was an epiphany. Green living does not have to be expensive – that's a myth. You can be green without spending a lot of money. And often the green products that cost more upfront will pay you back in the long run.

Jenn the Greenmom:

Seriously, he's not a jerk at all. Very pleasant. And I was very pleased that he initially was able to shift his thinking even a little to include in the article the whole DIY side of sustainability, though I still get the feeling he thinks living green is mostly about buying green. I did say two things in my interview, though, that I wish had gotten in at least in concept if not as actual quotes.

Both grew out of my own story of cutting back and being more sustainable in the process: he was talking about people not being able to afford to make the big pricey sustainable choices, and I related my own recent situation: I just started school a good 35 mile commute each way from my home. My immediate thought was, “hey! I would save a ton of money if I bought a Prius!” (I have total Prius envy, I do not deny it.) I did the math, and calculated that a Prius would get double the mpg of my current beloved 12 year old Subaru, and exactly how much money I would save on gas over the next couple of years if I had the Prius instead. But then I also started thinking...what if I took the train. Way more sustainable, and cheaper as well, even not factoring in the cost of actually buying a Prius. (Used. I would get it used. I love Priuses...) So I'm now taking public transit back and forth. My Subaru gets filled up maybe once a month, and I make sure I drive it at least once a week so the battery doesn't die.

The two points I tried to make with this story: First, I think we in our current culture are programmed by marketing and media to want the Next New Shiny Thing. Oh look! There's a new model whatever, and here are all the reasons I need to get rid of what I have and get something new. It often takes a really deliberate and conscious decision to break out of that mindset and ask what we really want or need, and what would really bring us a better life. Second, just up and getting rid of the old to buy the new doesn't necessarily mean a more sustainable choice, even if it's a new sustainable thing you're buying. My lovely little Subaru is already built, it already has its own carbon footprint, and that's on me and here in the world whatever I do with it; buying a Prius won't erase it, it will only save in terms of the gasoline I won't buy in the future. And that Prius has its own footprint as well—its building, its parts, its design, the shipping of various pieces hither and yon. It's not as simple as just Buying Something Green. Life is complicated, and shifting to lighter living is no less so.


I appreciated being invited by the NY Times writer to share my thoughts on this topic. Unfortunately, I had no time for a phone interview. I mulled over the topic at midnight and put together an email. I'm not surprised that I didn't make the final cut since I was not able to do an interview, but I would like to share the two important points that came out of my late-night email.

1 - One point I wanted to make (though I'm not sure I made it well) is that I do spend extra on some stuff because I have realized that the cheap stuff is dangerous. For example, I can't buy cheap sunscreen after reading the EWG Skindeep site {}. That isn't so much "green" in terms of eco-friendly as it is concerned for the health of our families, so it didn't really fit his article. However if you're going to look at the cost of greening our lives, I'd say these decisions to keep our children safe are the places we parents do spend more as we green our lives.

2- I think research time slows down the greening process as much as budgetary constraints. When I first started my green journey, I had no idea how many aspects of my home would be touched by green decisions. Once I began to realize it, I accepted that I couldn't make all the changes at once. Even without the recession, I couldn't afford to install extensive edible landscaping and a mini orchard. And even if I could afford to make all the green changes at once, I needed time to do the research to make the best decisions. It is a process. When times are lean, we should focus on the green changes that save us money, whether it be light bulbs or growing our own food. When/If our bank balances are more robust, we can invest in the bigger changes, whether it be an eco-friendly car or solar panels. It takes me a while to choose light bulbs — I can't imagine when I start researching a new car....

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Green Phone Booth Turns 1000!!!

As in this is our 1000th post.  

The Green Phone Booth, or the Booth as we call it, was started by four writers back in October 2008 as a collective space for green bloggers.  The idea was that the bloggers could share the work of blogging, support one another and create a mini-community within a blog. 

Over the years, several writers have retired from and joined the Booth and continued blogging about the green life.  A big thank you to each and every blogger who has blogged here and each and every reader who has joined us on our journey.  

Here are the bloggers who have helped us reach 1000:


Alison blogged once a month from January to August 2011, when she took a sabbatical from the Booth and blogging.  Read her thought-provoking posts about consumerism, climate change and living lightly here.  


Burbanmom was a founding member of this blog and retired from the Booth - and blogging - in January 2009.  Her laugh out loud funny posts about life as a busy green mom can be found here.  Of green blogging, Erin writes: "Although I now consider myself a 'recovering eco-holic', I'm so glad that I took the time to start my eco-blog.  I learned a lot about the environment, political participation, the power of individual actions and I met some wonderful people along the way!  Although I'm no longer blogging, I continue my quest to live lightly and to impart to my children the importance of environmental consciousness."  


After a few Meaningful Memory posts in 2010, Eco-Novice became a Booth blogger in August 2011.  On Wednesdays or Thursdays, you can read Eco-Novice's posts about reducing toxins, reusing and going green in the kitchen or visit her personal blog Going Green Gradually, chock full of superheroine thoughts on how to live lightly.  Of blogging here, Eco-Novice writes: "Originally, I started blogging as a place to dump information.  I was doing all this research, and would often find myself typing up page-long emails to friends and family who had questions, and decided a blog might be a good way to keep the information handy and accessible for those interested.  Now I find that writing about my green journey is not only a good outlet for me to keep up my research and writing skills (without having to report to a boss!), but also often motivates me to make more changes more often than I otherwise would.  I have long-admired The Green Phone Booth (I mean - what a great idea, right?), and am excited to be contributing here.  Being a part of The Green Phone Booth community, first as a reader and commenter, and now as a poster, has been a fun and effective way for me to connect with and learn from others also trying to be greener."  


Ecowonder joined the Booth in January 2009 and retired from blogging six months later.  During those six months, though, Ecowonder amused readers with hilarious anecdotes and the kind of blow-your-mind green tips that only the mother of four rowdy boys could give.  Her posts can be found here.  


Of writing at the Booth, the Emerald Apron says "I remember way back when the Green Phone Booth first began, founded by a group of inspiring women.  I admired each of them for their commitment to sustainability and their personal stories.  They shared their dreams, successes and struggles.  I was so flattered, proud and thrilled when the superwomen at the Green Phone Booth asked me to join them.  I started my own personal blog, Farmer's Daughter, back in March of 2008 as a way to chronicle my journey toward sustainability.  As the years went on, my blog focused less on going green and more on my family's farm and my son Joshua; it's now more of a virtual scrapbook than a green blog.  Writing for the Green Phone Booth has brought me back into the welcoming arms of the green blogging community, a group of women and men that I have found to be incredibly supportive and knowledgeable.  We come from many different walks of life but we all strive to discover sustainability within our own realities.  It has been almost a year since I joined the Green Phone Booth as eco-hero Emerald Apron and I have gained so much in that time: new bloggy friendships, camaraderie of this group of busy women who are trying to do 'it all' and save the planet, and a (paying!) job writing for the Moms Clean Air Force.  Joining the Green Phone Booth has helped me to strive toward becoming the kind of blogger, mother, wife and woman that I want to be."   The Emerald Apron joined the Booth in January 2011 and shares her living from scratch tips and passion for clean air here every other Friday.  


The first blogger to join the Booth after the four founders (in fall of 2008), Envirorambo shared over 100 posts here. She made us laugh, taught us how to avoid reusables, embrace reuse and be green and proud.  Envirorambo retired from the Booth - but not blogging - in December 2010.  Envirorambo now blogs at Midnight Manic, where she hosts a weekly magnificent Meatless Monday blog carnival and demonstrates how fashionable second hand can be.  Envirorambo says of blogging at the Booth: "Being at the booth meant not being alone.  When I first embarked on my green journey, I felt isolated.  My family thought I was nuts, my friends didn't understand me and I had no one to talk to. . .  except the eco-heroes at the GPB and its like-minded readers.  It was encouraging and inspiring.  I learned that it's okay to be different than those around you.  Just listen to your inner voice and follow your heart.  If you are passionate about your beliefs and confident in your choices, others will accept them.  And if they don't, that's okay too.  You're not really alone.  Somewhere in the world there are people who think just like you . . .  perhaps a whole Green Phone Booth full." 


In addition to keeping up her namesake blog, Going Green Mama has been holding down Saturdays at the Booth for nearly two years!  Her nearly 100 posts here share tips for saving green, doing it yourself and raising green kids.  She also hosted Farmers Market Updates here last summer.


Green Bean is the only founding Boother still blogging at the Booth - though she did take several months off from blogging in 2010.  That is the beauty of the Booth.  The door is always open!  Green Bean has written over 150 posts - mostly about urban homesteading, second hand living and activism here.   Green Bean also writes a personal blog, Green Bean Chronicles.  Of writing at the Booth, Green Bean has enjoyed the support, the opportunity to share ideas and the comfort of knowing that she is never alone.  Writing here has pushed Green Bean to live more lightly, be more politically active and be a more hands on parent.


Jenn became a Boother in January 2010 and has been brainstorming recipes, transportation and DIY tips here ever since.  Truly a superhero, Jenn also maintains a frequently updated personal blog, It's Not Easy Being Green where she shares her day to day eco-adventures.  Of green blogging, Jenn writes: "I started my blog, honestly, as a place to keep track of my recipes and links and experiences as I tried to green my and my family's life. Then it expanded to being a place where, when a friend or six asked me for a recipe or information or what-have-you, I could send them there instead of sending the same email five or six times. was fun. I kept reading other green blogs, and my admiration for this amazing community of people kept growing, and it's become a really important part of my life--being able not just to share what I've learned but also to approach this wonderfully wise group of people with my own questions and doubts, and to get encouragement or solutions for the many things I can't figure out on my own. Because, you know, we shouldn't have to figure it out on our own. I feel like this group of green bloggers is slowly re-learning all these lost arts of conservation, frugality, preservation, and light living. (Even the phrase "light living" came from one of my new Internet friends, and I love it.) Greening our lives is a journey, and being part of this community means having people to walk with and not needing to go it on our own."


A Green Phone Booth founder, JessTrev focused on toxin-free living until she retired - from the Booth and blogging - in February 2010.  Of the Booth, this superheroine says: "The Green Phone Booth is a pretty remarkable space where people who care passionately--about living more gently and simply on this earth--can hang out and share their ideas, their twisted humor, and their joy in figuring out new tricks of the eco-trade. Many thanks to those who are currently writing and sharing. It's a labor of love but labor nonetheless!"


Starting in Spring of 2009, Jess Nichols was a regular guest poster.  She wrote one Friday a month to share thoughts on eco-decorating, green art, and living local.  She retired from the Booth but still maintains her sumptuous photography blog, Sweet Eventide.   Of blogging for  the Booth, Jess writes: "I remember feeling totally unqualified to be a regular guest poster at the Green Phone Booth back when I was offered the opportunity.  After all, I was no eco super hero then (or now, we still buy a roll of recycled, unbleached paper towels here or there shockingly enough).  What I learned from the community at the Booth is that we are all on a green journey and every place on the journey is valuable.  I care deeply about the issues covered at the Booth every day and new habits take time to form, and that is more than okay.  Caring is good, and doing is better.  There is always going to be more that can be done -- someone will always be doing less than I am and someone will always be doing more.  Isn't that pretty  much the way life goes?  I am honored to have been a small part of such a motivational, inspirational, group of people." 


After donning her cape in January 2011, Retro Housewife has been sharing super secrets every Tuesday about ditching disposables, becoming active in politics and greener choices.  Of green blogging, Retro Housewife says: "Environmental and social justice issues are very important to me and I feel that through my blog and blogs like the Green Phone Booth, I can help others make change in their own lives and the lives of others. Blogging is a great form of activism since you can reach so many people at once."


Over the years, Sustainamom was a frequent guest poster, until we roped her in on a regular basis in January 2011.  She writes about gardening and raising green kids in a toxic world here.  


Between July 2009 to July 2011, Erin, The Conscious Shopper, wrote nearly 150 posts ranging from living green while saving green to being an activist with children to finding the green to fit you.  While at the Booth, Erin handled much of the administrative details of the Booth - lining up guest posters, juggling the calendar, checking the email account and so on.  She retired from the Booth in late July 2011 with one of the best sum-it-all up posts ever and now maintains on a family blog.  Of the Phone Booth, The Conscious Shopper says: "When I was invited to write for the Green Phone Booth more than two years ago, I felt like the total dweeb new kid in school being invited to sit with the cool kids at lunch.  I was so flattered, but also so scared I'd say something stupid!  Thankfully, the cool kids at the Green Phone Booth turned out to be the most wonderful, welcoming and warm group of women that I've ever had the pleasure of working with.  I've loved being part of such a great community." 


A Queen of DIY, Greenhabilitator took the Booth by storm in August 2009 with ideas for repurposing, cooking, eco-decorating and raising green kids.  Read her thoughts here.  She retired from the Booth - but not blogging - in December 2010.  Catch up with this still-superhero at her personal blog, My So-Called Green Life for great green crafting tips and more.  Of writing at the Booth, Greenhabilitator says: "Writing at the Green Phone Booth helped me determine what my niche would be in the world of green blogs.  I had the opportunity to explore so many topics and really pinpoint what interested and motivated me.  What a fabulous experience!" 


The Green Raven was one of the four founders of the Booth and wrote regularly until June 2009 - when the phone wouldn't stop ringing. The Booth was lucky enough to have The Green Raven pop in for a few subsequent guest posts and the blogosphere is lucky enough to continue to hear from her over at her personal blog, Lifetime Reading Plan.  While at the Booth, the Raven wrote about homeschooling, knitting, and going green for Jewish holidays here.


Truffula writes monthly at the Booth about gardening, urban homesteading and crafting.  She joined back in May of 2009 and we are delighted to still read her thoughtful monthly posts.  Of the Booth, she writes: " I love being a part of the GPB because it is a magical place.  It's easy to feel alone on this enviro-journey and to wonder what good it really does to whip out your cloth napkin, to try out an enviro-skill for the first time, or to flush the toilet only when it's really necessary   The GPB features a multiplying effect: its sheroes and readers regularly demonstrate that those individual efforts, questions, and quests actually do add up to (much) more than the sum of the parts . . . and inspire me to keep at it."  

Whew! After these 1000 posts, we are going to take the week off to celebrate!  See you all next Monday, October 17th for more green living and homesteading posts, Meaningful Memories and good old fashioned Boothiness.

In the meantime, join the Facebook page for in between post links, discussions and walks down memory lane.


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