Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Happiest Christmas Tree

SustainaMom celebrates memories at Christmastime....

I guess I've decorated at least 30 Christmas trees in my life. And there is one ornament that stands out above all others. It has been my constant favorite since I first started decorating trees.

I still look for the 35-year-old ornament on my parents' tree every year. It is a tiny wooden train: a little black engine pulling a bright yellow car, a bright green car, and a perfect little red caboose. And I love the memory associated with the train — even though it isn't my memory.

My parents bought the ornament on their honeymoon. They eloped on Christmas Eve. They have only one picture from their wedding night, and I don't know if they have any pictures from their honeymoon. But each year the little train reminds us of a special anniversary that tends to get lost in the holiday season.

Nine years ago, my husband and I were married in a small, perfect ceremony surrounded by friends and family. We have two dozen professional photographs in an album somewhere, and another small album of snapshots from our honeymoon. I can't remember the last time we looked at any of those pictures. But when we decorated our tree last week, a tiny red and white lighthouse ornament brought back memories of our wedding and honeymoon. And our son was enchanted by the lighthouse!

SustainaKid began asking the story behind every ornament. Some were gifts, some we had made. And several are vacation souvenirs.

In fact, the first ornament on our tree this year was the memory from this year's staycation. I was surprised a 5-year-old went for the sedate museum building instead of the dinosaur skeleton ornament, but a memory is a memory!

He loved the alligator ornament from his first trip to the beach (which he does not remember!):

He did remember choosing an ornament at Disney last year:

In Jamaica, we couldn't find any Christmas ornaments, so we have a keychain hanging on our tree!

And my husband and I have our own little train ornament to remind us of our 30-something mile hike along the Gold Rush trail in Alaska. We rode the train back to the start of the trail and I have never been so grateful to see a form of transportation in my entire life!

This simple train ornament brings to mind the amazing scenery along the trail in Alaska and Canada. It reminds me how my wonderful husband helped me finish the hike that I was so not prepared for! And it makes me hope that I can get in shape to do the hike again when my son is old enough. It also makes me wonder if I'll be telling my grandchildren about this train ornament when it is 35 years old!

As we strive to reduce the clutter in our home and focus on the things that matter, this vacation ornament tradition that I picked up from my parents' train ornament helps our family strike a great balance. When we go on vacation, we can choose souvenirs that will hold a treasured place in our home for many, many years. We're not wasting money on junk that will go straight to the landfill, we're not filling space in our home, and we are mindfully honoring the memories that are important to our family.

** This is a Meaningful Memories Post. If you would like to share your greener holiday traditions in a guest post, please email us at greenphoneboothATgmailDOTcom.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Shopping Locally for the Holidays

Can you believe it's almost December? Maybe it's just me but this year seemed to go by so fast. I have done some of my Christmas shopping but not all. While I will be doing a lot online on stores like I have done some at local stores and plan to do a bit more at local stores. This video does a great job giving all the reasons shopping locally is so important.

So will you be shopping locally this year? Have you already done some local shopping?

** This is a Meaningful Memory Post.  If you would like to share your greener holiday traditions in a guest post, please email us at greenphoneboothATgmailDOTcom.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Leftovers Recipe Roundup

a suburban greenmom needs to deal with the fridge...

In the past few days I have come across an embarrassment of riches where Thanksgiving leftover recipes are please indulge me as I create a post putting them all in the same place! (And check out Lisa's post of a few days ago, she's also got great ideas!)

By now the Thanksgiving goodies in the fridge are getting to that "fish or use for bait" point--if they aren't eaten soon, they won't be fit for eating much longer. And at the same time, "Thanksgiving Dinner Redux" is beginning to lose its charm. So, short of just freezing them all (which is an excellent option, by the way--sliced cooked turkey frozen on a cookie sheet or something and then transferred to a container is something easy to pull out and thaw for tacos or tetrazzini or whatever), here are some interesting ideas:

There are the easy expected standards like turkey tetrazzini, turkey chili, and shepherd's pie...there are a gajillion recipes for each, and you'll doubtless find your favorite if you don't already have one. And there's really no need for recipes for things like turkey quesadillas or tacos, right?

Potato soup is also a really lovely way to use mashed potatoes--there are any number of recipes to follow, but basically you add broth or milk to mashed potatoes, heat, and stir. Add grated cheese if you want. Barely even needs a recipe, honestly! Neither does the idea of taking a good dollop of whatever candied sweet potato recipe you use (my cranberry-sweet potato bake was amazing like this!) and stirring it into your morning oatmeal. Yummm!

And we assume that you will probably plop your turkey carcass into a large slow cooker or stockpot and turn it into a lovely rich turkey stock that you can use for all kinds of soup, potato and otherwise, throughout the winter. And if you're not onto the secret already--toss a little leftover gravy into your turkey stock either before you freeze it or just as you're turning it into soup--it gives it a lovely rich depth. (Especially if, like me, you basted your turkey with port wine!)

Okay, this is a new one for me: Potato Turkey Balls, in which you encase some chopped up turkey in a ball of mashed potatoes, coat in breadcrumbs, and bake. How cool is that? It's part of an assortment of kid-friendly recipes from lil' Martha Stewart's list is pretty long, but most of them seem to involve cooked turkey plus a whole bunch of other ingredients. (These would be ones I'd use my frozen cooked turkey in!) TreeHugger's list is short but smart--especially the idea of a frittata; I could throw the leftover green beans and some potatoes into that as well as the turkey. ) My own family has a predilection for dark meat, so we rarely have any leftover, but if your family is the reverse, you might try pulled turkey sandwiches...these look delicious. It might work with a mixture of light and dark meat, but white meat alone won't quite do it, I suspect.

The New York Times has a "Radical Rethinking" of Thanksgiving leftovers, neatly listed by which ingredient they are recycling, that actually looks pretty fabulous--if we had any stuffing leftover, I'd've been happy to try one of their recipes for it. (Although, when you think of it, a recipe for "savory bread pudding" out of leftover stuffing? Isn't stuffing itself basically savory bread pudding, but without the egg?) Best of all, these "recipes" aren't even really recipes--most are a couple of sentences just sort of telling you what to do.

Anyone find any other good sites we should link to here? I'd love to remember this post next year maybe the day before Thanksgiving, so I'm not scrambling as the leftovers get questionable!
--Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Emerald Apron's Favorite Snowball Cookies

From Emerald Apron's Kitchen

Snowball Cookies

3/4 cup pecans
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 2/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup confectioner sugar

Pulse pecans in a food processor until finely ground. Add butter and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Add sugar and vanilla, and pulse to combine. Add flour and salt and pulse until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto foil or plastic wrap and shape into a log, about 1 1/2 inches wide. Wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Slice log into about 24 disks, then roll into balls. Bake for 15 minutes until slightly golden. Dump confectioner’s sugar into a pie plate. Briefly cool cookies on a rack, then roll in confectioner’s sugar. Return cookies to rack and cool completely. Roll in confectioner’s sugar again.

This post is part of the Christmas Cookie Recipe Swap Blog Hop, hosted by my alter-ego Farmer's Daughter. Please join in the fun!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Preventing Food Waste on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving often means lots of leftovers which can mean a lot of waste. There are ways to use your leftovers to prevent wasting food. Here are some ideas.

Turkey leftovers have endless uses. Turkey sandwiches are an easy way to use up some of your turkey, turkey pot pies, turkey tetrazzini, soups, omelets, and even turkey broth from the carcass are great ways to use every part of the turkey. Click here for more options. Turkey also freezes well so you can make these things later if you have had your fair share of turkey for awhile.

Mashed potatoes are one of my favorite leftovers. I like to make potato soup with them, I just put them in a pot with some milk (and or broth), seasoning, and cheese. It's yummy and super easy. Mashed potatoes can also go on some casseroles like shepherd's pie.

Cranberry sauce is a good leftover for breakfast, put a little cream cheese and cranberry sauce on toast for a yummy breakfast treat. Cranberry sauce is also good on pancakes. I personal also enjoy it on my turkey sandwiches.

Rolls can be used for your turkey sandwiches, can be frozen and used with meals at a later time, and can be used with just about any meal.

Making pies and other desserts can mean leftover egg whites, click here for some recipes that use just egg whites so you can use them up (they also freeze very well!).

Gravy is something I don't care for and not something that saves very well. Anyone have good ideas for this leftover?

Veggie leftovers are great for soups, casseroles, and even green smoothies if they are plain.

Dessert leftovers are easy, just eat them! Don't let desserts go to waste. If you don't have a sweet tooth like me some desserts can be frozen for another time.

Do you have more ideas for leftovers? Share your ideas and recipes in the comments below and together we can help reduce food waste this Thanksgiving.

** This is a Meaningful Memory Post.  If you would like to share your greener holiday traditions in a guest post, please email us at greenphoneboothATgmailDOTcom.

Photo credit: hildgrim

Monday, November 21, 2011

My first experience with arnica

homeopathic wonderings with a gimpy suburban greenmom...

Okay, so Saturday I'm walking out of the kitchen to the garage, down the 3 steps I walk down several times a day. Only this time I am one step down and have one of my "look! something shiny!" moments of distraction, cease to pay attention to my feet, and come down right on the edge of step number 2. Ankle turns out, I fall down the remaining step and somehow clock my hip on something (maybe my car's license plate holder? Whatever it is made a very small, very painful bruise.) and wind up on my butt on the floor leaning back on the car grille, with my legs facing the other way up the stairs.

I didn't actually hear anything go pop, but I felt these three little twin "give" moments in my ankle/foot somewhere. The pain was large but vague, all over the foot. And familiar--I sprained the hell out of my ankle a few years ago, and it was pretty much just like this.

The good news was that there was no place I had to go or be the rest of the day (unlike last time, when I was on my way to a gig, so it was another 4 hours before I got it elevated or iced), so I immediately was able to take care of it. A bag of frozen blueberries in a towel makes a great ice pack, I discovered. And when my husband went out to get me an Ace wrap for it, he also stopped at Whole Foods and got me some Arnica--both the tablets and the gel--on the advice of a friend.

I blogged about homeopathy in general a couple of years ago, and while it is still sort of a mystery to me, I have been using some of these remedies fairly regularly. The main one I keep around all the time now is oscillococcinum, which I now take at the slightest sign of any cold or flu symptoms. Whether it's actually that or if something else in my lifestyle has changed, this woman who two years ago normally averaged about 4-5 complete colds/flus per season has been able to cut that to maybe only one or two per year--and when I do get sick, and keep taking the stuff all the way through, the progress of the virus moves way more quickly than it ever used to. So...anecdotal evidence, as always, but there it is.

But I'd never tried arnica. And this time I did. Again, anecdotal, but there is almost no swelling on my foot this time, compared to sort of huge poofiness last go-round. Maybe it's just a milder sprain? Or maybe the arnica works pretty well? In any case, by 24 hours after the fall I was able to walk on one crutch, which involves putting partial weight on the bad foot, and by 36 I was able to walk on the foot without a crutch at all. Still hurts considerably, especially if I wiggle my toes or shift my weight on my foot once I'm down, but it's healing much more quickly than my last go-round.

So this is, at the very least, enough to give me a little confidence in keeping some arnica gel and tabs around the house.

Anyone else ever try it? What was your experience?
--Jenn the Greenmom

(p.s. yes, I know that if it still is hurting in a few days I should totally get it xrayed in case it's broken, and I will baby it well until I'm sure a sprain is all I've just didn't seem worth it to rush to the ER on the weekend when my doc wasn't around, and it's so much better today I think I'd rather just wait and see what happens...)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In which Going Green Mama gets a bit nostalgic...

The last time I remember visiting my grandmother's house for winter holidays, I was still in school. But what always struck me about her small home was the large life packed in her kitchen.

Her old wooden table was stretched to the limits with extension after extension, aided by a few card tables tucked at the sides. Cousins and aunts and uncles (and we had a lot of them) sat shoulder to shoulder through the meal, and even then there wasn't much room to manuever once you got up.

We rarely did make the 16-hour drive up to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving and Christmas - weather was always the deciding factor - but it was always worth the drive, the elbows in the back seat, the hours of bright sun shining in our faces, even the arguments maong us cramped kids in the car.

So today at the Booth, I'm passing along a few of my grandmother's holiday dinner favorites, along with other Boother's choices for sharing at the Thanksgiving table. Enjoy!

And if you're like us, and start your Christmas cookie baking Thanksgiving weekend after the dishes have cleared, check out my archive of Grandma's cookie recipes, including our fifth-generation sugar cookies.

Other Booth Thanksgiving Day favorites:

What special dish are you bringing to the table Thursday? Share your favorites and post links to any recipes below.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Boother Asks: Battling Bugs

In which Going Green Mama is stumped by traditional medicine....

Several of us at the Booth have been battling bugs of varying kinds recently. In our home, it's our poor daugher who's suffering -- from a nasty cough and congestion that has dragged on since September. Traditional medicine has failed her. Despite several appointments that have deemed her chest and lungs clear, a round of antibiotics to clear a supposed sinus infection (which did give some relief for a few days, though nothing completely went away) and more OTC cold medicine than I normally buy in a year, my poor kid is still routinely miserable. And even more so because her friends are complaining about her coughing in class.

As a parent, I'm stumped. I've always shied away from natural remedies for children because many have not been proven to work (except for that echinacea is fabulous for spiking my blood sugar levels.) And while honey does sooth a cough for a short time, the logistics of sending her to the school office for honey every time she coughs is a bit of a logistical issue.

So today I ask our readers:: Wht natural remedies have actually worked for soothing these winter annoyances? Is there anything in particular that has worked - and is safe - for your child?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

T'was the Season Before Winter

From the bean of Green Bean.

T'was the season before winter, and on the homestead
Jack-o-lanterns were rotting, the zucchini was dead.
The sheet mulch was tucked round the pear tree with care,
In hopes that next year's pumpkin patch would be there.

The hens all nestled all snug in their coop,
Dreaming of laying eggs and not becoming chicken soup.
And I in my boots and dirt covered pants
Pulled out the last of the tomato plants.
When back in the yard, there arose such a clatter,
That I sprang from the raised beds to see what was the matter.

Away from the cover crop, I flew like a flash.
Dropping fresh picked bok choy in my mad dash.
The red fallen leaves on the unswept patio
Gave the luster of pandemonium to the objects below.
Two naughty squirrels digging up my winter bed
Chomping bulbs and making me see red.

I may be forty but I'm still lively quick.
I knew in a moment, they were after my garlic
More rapid than eagles, I sprang down the stairs.
I shouted and stomped and shooed them from there.

As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
Up to the fence-top, those rodents they flew
With a mouth full of garlic and tulips too.

I spoke not a word but returned to my work,
Mulched the fruit trees and then turned with a jerk.
And laying a hand atop the garden gate,
And giving a nod, I knew it was late.
I swung the gate closed, and to myself give a whistle,
Hoping the mulch would prevent weeds and thistles.
But I did exclaim, ere the garden disappeared out of sight,

"Happy fall to all and to the garden, good night."

** I'm linking to the Homestead Barn Hop.

** Keep up with us through the seasons.  Like the Green Phone Booth Facebook page for in-between post updates, links, photos and more.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Building a Greener Wish List

The Green Phone Booth is super excited to welcome the Kelly Green Giant as its newest superheroine! You can find her here twice a month.

The Kelly Green Giant reveals all…

When you are compiling a wish list of your greatest green desires for Christmas, it can be difficult to create a straightforward list that would be easy to send to the relatives who are asking for some gift giving guidance. What if you want a flatbed truck from Organic Bug, organic coffee from SERRV, handmade cloth napkins from Etsy, a recycled silk scarf from Taraluna, and an apricot tree from the Arbor Day Foundation?

Fortunately, there are a few different websites that allow you to make a comprehensive gift wish list for the holidays – or for other gift-giving occasions – populated from any store that sells items online. So you can support local family businesses, small environmentally friendly companies, makers of homemade gifts, used bookstores, and even some charities such as Heifer International with your wish lists.

Amazon is one such all-in-one wish-listing source. Just download a toolbar from their wish list page, and then you can add items from any other website onto your personalized green wish list. And you can also browse Amazon itself for wide-ranging eco-items from organic tea to recycled plastic mixing bowls (and so much more!).

Another easy site that works in a similar way, with you downloading a toolbar that allows you to add gifts to your list from any website, is My Registry, a site that could be used for anything from a wedding registry to a green Christmas list.

Are you still undecided about this year’s green gift dreams for yourself or others? For more green holiday ideas to fill your great green gift wish lists, visit the Kelly Green Giant’s Green Holidays page.

What is on your green gift list?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Extreme Weather and Climate Change

I'm not feeling very good today so I'm going to share a video about extreme weather and climate change. Oklahoma has had a year of record breaking weather events making this all the more interesting.

Has your area had extreme weather events lately?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Domestic Bliss?

A suburban greenmom gets all domestic...

I can’t remember the last time I spent a weekend being this domestic.

Saturday driving past our local farmstand I happened to see a sign saying “Saturday: Last Day!” and my car just sort of…pulled in. A pumpkin, some acorn squash, a quarter bushel of tomato seconds (all they had), and assorted other veggies later, I came home.

I baked the pumpkin for about an hour. I cut one of the the squash in half, filled it with apples, currants, and spices, and baked it alongside the pumpkin. (I should have covered it with foil or something...the top got a little too done.) In the meantime I cut up some apples and cooked them in the crockpot for a few hours to turn them into applesauce.

We cleaned off the seeds from the pumpkin and the squash, tossed them with a little melted butter, oil, and salt, and roasted them. Amazing. (I was almost disappointed that there were so many seeds and so few guts—I wanted to try making this fascinating recipe for “pumpkin guts bread.”)

When the pumpkin was done and cooled, I scooped out the pulp, pureed it, and froze it in 12 little muffin-tin-sized lumps; now I can take out pre-measured half-cup portions of pumpkin all winter for breads or pies or oatmeal or whatever.

Sort of at the same time, I washed off my new tomatoes, dunked them for a few minutes in hot water so the peels would slip off, and made Going Green Mama’s divine recipe for fresh tomato soup. I didn’t have oregano, but I had cubes of fresh-frozen basil, and I made up a little over 2 quarts of lovely lovely soup. And froze the rest of the tomatoes for another batch later.

Oh, and I also made up a little container of mulling spice, and put some into another crockpot with some apple cider to which I’d added a splash of orange juice. (Okay, and a splash of port wine. And a splash of brandy.)

Today? I started up a batch of artisan bread dough, and while it was rising I finally made the previous day's applesauce into a pot of Caramel Apple Jam—heavenly stuff! I also took advantage of having the canner going to reheat and divide some of the apple butter I’d made last weekend into jars to preserve them too. Then I made a foccacia to take for lunches for the next few days and a homemade pizza to eat while we watch the football game.

I should be exhausted, but I feel sort of great. When I’m spending all these hours away from home during the week (and this week was worse than most), I need this homey stuff to sort of ground me. Somewhere in me there’s a post about feminism and domesticity, but not for tonight…I’m going to watch the football game with my husband now. I have lunches for the week, provisions in the freezer, a dog on my lap, and a beer next to me on the end table. Hard to beat that.

--Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Christmas List

Going Green Mama dreads the day when video games are on the lists...

As a kid every August, I and my brother would love the day the Sears Christmas catalog arrived. We'd pour over the phone-book size directory of things to buy; write a lengthy list and at some point get admonished by my mom that they'd only spend $100 that year.

Those catalogs may be long gone, but the thrill of presents is still here for another generation.

But the funny thing is, if you ask my kids what they want, their list is strangely short. Until they stumble on the Target catalog in the newspaper ad piles (quickly siphoned off to the recycle bin) or (whoops) pass by the toy aisle after buying some replacement sheets. Then the dreams quickly widen with a string of "I wants" -- but are strangely forgotten by the time I get home.

I guess I'm lucky. Not once has these exposures lead to a longer Christmas wish list. I suppose that time will come, but right now I can consider myself lucky.

I'm in the strange position as a parent, as a consumer and as someone trying to lead a lighter life. I'm struggling to find ideas for my kids for Christmas for other people who ask what they want. And it feels strange, even contradictory to principle, to ask. After all, getting is not the point of Christmas.

I'd love to share with far-off family members who love to buy toys that what they really ask for is karate class or playing basketball. That they play with art supplies and balls more than Barbie. But I know the idea of experiences seems a bit difficult to wrap - though easy to ship - and there's that delay of gratification. But there's nothing wrong with that.

My daughter, who was bummed because fellow Scouts in her class went to Disney on Ice, will find her uniform under her tree - with the Disney on Ice princess show patch sewed on. Another Scout mom, who has three princess-loving daughters, initially passed on the idea, until she realized the girls could attend for the cost of a princess toy under the tree. They'll get tickets instead. My coworker, who was stumped on what to get her daughter, is doing the same.

This coworker wants instead of things to buy experiences this year for her family. While many families don't think twice about swapping gifts for a trip to Disney World, you can do this on a much smaller scale too.

Sometimes, the best gifts aren't things. They're memories. My children love their family. But what they want most of all, beyond the bows and baubles, is the gift of time. Playtime with their grandparents, their aunts, their uncles. And you can't just wrap up that with a bow.

How are you handling gift giving this year? Are you bypassing things for special memories?

This is The Green Phone Booth's submission for the December Green Moms Carnival hosted by Citizen Green on December 10th.  Pop over and read how green moms cope with the holiday season.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Expanding into mushroom culture

In which Truffula branches out into new gardening territory...

Some weeks ago, two friends and I pooled our resources and invited a local permaculture expert for a consultation.  We're all trying to redo our yards and gardens to be more edible and sustainable.

As our little group walked our property, we talked about various plant options.  However, it was the shade -- yes, really, the SHADE -- which really excited the consultant.  He found it ideal for considering... mushroom culture!  I smiled politely, and kept taking notes on my clipboard because, of course, I didn't know the first thing about how to proceed with that variety of, er, crop.   When I learned that he was offering a 'shroom workshop, I signed myself up, taking TruffulaBoy the Elder with me for good measure.

My son and I were quick converts.  The workshop began with Paul Stamets' TED Talk on "6 ways mushrooms can save the world.  (If you've got 18 minutes to spare on this, it's worth your time.)  What an eye-opener!  After a short discussion on mushroom basics, we headed outside to make mushroom logs to take home.

We began with a section of poplar log, about 4 or 5 inches in diameter, and about 40 inches long.  Drilling was the first order of business.  We needed to riddle the logs in a diamond-shaped pattern, putting the holes 4 to 6 inches apart.  My trusty TruffulaBoy partner eagerly volunteered to wield the tools.

The drill bits had depth stops.  These allowed us to easily make the holes the perfect size to receive the "plug spawn."  The plugs were bits of dowel impregnated with mycelium.  Mycelium is the "network" which makes up the mushrooms.  No doubt you already had all of that vocabulary at the tip of your brains. ;-)

Drills were traded in for hammers.  A plug needed to be inserted into each hole.  The arrow is pointing to TruffulaBoy's stash of plugs.

The final step was brushing melted beeswax over each plug to seal it in.  The wax smelled lovely!  Voila!  The log was finished!
We drilled-and-filled to create our log.  "Totems" are another method for inoculating logs.  Here, sawdust spawn is used instead of plug spawn.  A layer of sawdust is spread between the log pieces.  The log is then enclosed in a plastic bag.  It spends a few months in a garage or basement, and then goes back outside.

Now, we wait.  Our log, impregnated with oyter mushroom spawn, has a special place in the back yard, nestled on a pallet.  Yes, it is resting in the shade.  It's way too early to expect any visible signs of 'shroomy goodness.  Those are months away.   Still, I cast an expectant eye its way when I visit the adjacent compost piles.

The next part of this project is putting in a mushroom patch or two.  Those will be on the ground, using hardwood chips.

If you want to see more immediate results, or try your hand at indoor mushroom culture, the Back to the Roots Mushroom Garden Kit will get mushrooms onto your plate in days, rather than months.  An enviro-bonus is that its made using recycled coffee grounds.  Green Phone Booth readers can sweeten the deal with coupon code mushrooms4me10 for 10% off the kit price, and free shipping if you buy two or more.

Stay tuned for more on our ongoing garden adventures!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Stroller Brigade for Safer Chemicals is Today!

Eco-novice urges you to get involved!

As most green-minded folks can tell you, federal chemical regulation in the U.S. is abysmally outdated and frighteningly ineffective.  Today's Stroller Brigade is a chance to join with other like-minded parents to send a clear message to elected officials: pass the Safe Chemicals Act already!  This national bill, reintroduced in April, is currently stalled in Congress, but the good news is that states have started to pass their own more effective regulations for toxic chemicals, in part due to public showings of support such as the previous stroller brigade in August.

It may be too late for you to attend a real-life stroller brigade (click here to check for locations and times), but you can still be a part of the digital stroller brigade on Twitter and Facebook today!  That's where I'll be showing my support.

A few other steps you can take to stay informed about the campaign for safer chemicals:
  • Follow Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Join the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition (email list). I mostly get emails from this organization when something politically relevant is happening (for example, the Safe Chemicals Act is up for a vote and I should contact my representatives and tell them I want them to support it). I always sign their petitions and fill out their email forms to my elected officials. It's an easy way to stay involved and make sure my voice is heard.

If you are participating or already participated in the stroller brigade, I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thoughtful Gifts for Teachers

I'm thrilled to be back in the Booth for a Meaningful Memories post!  Unfortunately, the {wholly self-proclaimed} Queen of Handmade Holiday Gifts has been experiencing a bit of a crafter's block these days. As in I haven't made a single gift yet and it's already November. EEEK!

I thought I'd dig out all of my supplies over the weekend and kick that mental block to the curb, starting with a gift for our teachers. Between my three kids, we have 8 (!) teachers we make gifts for at Christmastime. While I can't even begin to put a price on what these amazing teachers are worth, I can tell you that our budget for them in disproportionately small. (Where have they heard that before?)

Having a husband in education, I know a lot about the common types of teacher gifts he receives...

And while he is honored that someone would spend their hard-earned money on a gift for him, let's just be honest, a person can only use so many #1 Teacher mugs at a time. Instead, we wanted to make something heartfelt and meaningful. We ended up with these...

Using unfinished frames, Mod Podge, scrapbook paper, and some other bits from the craft room, I created these personalized frames with photos of the kids and their teachers on the first day of school this year.

To make one of these, begin with an unfinished frame, found at any craft store, or use any frame from a second-hand store. I used Mod Podge to affix scrapbook paper to the front of the frame and put a quote about teachers on top of that. This great crinkled brown paper was packing material from a package I received months ago. I just couldn't let it go!

I used some tags found at Goodwill, felt from a second-hand wool sweater, old buttons and yarn. I'm really pleased with the way they turned out and hope the teachers like them too. I have a reputation to uphold at school as a good gifter!

In addition to the frames, our teachers will be receiving jars of homemade apple butter I made a few weeks ago.

Looking for other ideas for your favorite teacher? Try the On-the-Go Utensil Wrap, a Heat Therapy Bag, or - one that always gets rave reviews - Brown Sugar Body Scrub.

I find that a thoughtful gift, given from the heart, goes a long way.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

With Thanksgiving coming up I thought I would share my recipe for homemade cranberry sauce. If you have never made cranberry sauce don't worry, it's easy. This cranberry sauce is not only much better than store bought, it's also free of HFCS and BPA which store bought can contain. You can also change this recipe up for your families tastes, if you like it a bit more tart just use less sugar or a bit more orange juice. Some people like to add other fruit to their cranberry sauce as well so play around with it.

  • 1 (12 ounce) bag fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup orange juice

  1. Mix all ingredients in a sauce pan.
  2. Bring to boil
  3. Simmer until berries pop and if like me you like your cranberry sauce less lumpy just cook until it’s the texture you like. (be sure to stir every once an awhile)
  4. Chill until ready to serve. (thought I end up eating a few spoonfuls while still warm) 
  5. Optional: If you aren't a fan of whole cranberry sauce just run it through the blender after it cools.

** This is a Meaningful Memory Post.  If you would like to share your greener holiday traditions in a guest post, please email us at greenphoneboothATgmailDOTcom.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Vaccines and hoops and intelligent conversation

a suburban greenmom opens the taboo subject...

I have never considered myself to be too far off the deep end where natural health is concerned, although to many I might seem so. I rarely take anything stronger than Tylenol, I have a fairly large pharmacopeia of herbal tinctures and homeopathic remedies, and when my kids have a cough they drink tea and take elderberry syrup. I am among those for whom the jury is still out on the vaccine safety question; there are enough fairly intelligent arguments on both sides of the issue that I don't believe it has been truly settled yet.

What I become more and more frustrated over, however, is the fact that it's become such a polarizing issue that it is difficult to have reasonable conversations about it. And that there are so many legal hoops to jump through where vaccinations are concerned, and that those hoops usually do not come with intelligent conversation and common sense, and that they do come with considerable financial or other incentives to keep them in place. Frustrated when even broaching the question degenerates into "OMG how dare you even mention that, you'll endanger my kid" and "Oh good heavens you're one of those anti-vaccine idiots"--even mentioning the question of safety, whether one comes down on one side or the other, brings out these tirades. It's nuts.

I've had two vaccine encounters recently, both fairly minor but illustrating the point in a small way: my daughter, last year, started kindergarten. She had at the same time been diagnosed with some sensory perception issues, so I was a little leery of subjecting her body's system to anything that could disrupt it. I “get” the whole herd immunity thing, and so with most of the vaccinations I'd kept her on a drawn-out but meets-the-letter-of-the-law schedule. However, she had never been vaccinated for chicken pox. And I didn't see any reason why she should—it is not a life-threatening illness, and the risk-factor seemed to favor just leaving it quietly alone. In order to let her remain unvaccinated for this fairly minor disease I had to jump through lots of hoops and eventually obtain a “religious exemption” for it. Which was successful, and she remains unvaccinated. Another kindergartener (a vaccinated one, I might add) came down with the disease later that year, so my kid was apparently exposed to it at that point. She never got sick. I will have her titered when she's a little older to make sure she's indeed immune and that point revisit the question of vaccinating her, but in that moment it seemed like the wiser choice, and I stand by it. Other parents might have made different choices, but I stand by mine. The point of the story isn't really the choice itself, it's the fact that a parent has no real recourse or ability to get solid information on either side of the issue without facing a lot of pressure and even bullying from the school/legal system to do it their way.

A second example, also fairly minor: I started graduate school this fall. I no longer have my childhood vaccination records following me around, so I needed to get a blood titer to check my immunity. I knew what it would show: immunity to mumps and rubella, no immunity to measles. This has been the case in the past; measles vaccinations for me just don't take. Was there any way to address this? No. I had to be vaccinated again for measles, twice. And by the way, measles vaccines don't come separate from mumps and rubella, so I had to be vaccinated for all three. Twice. At $63 each time. There is no room for common sense, conversation, individual cases—everything is regimented and official, and there is pretty much no way to be part of society without entering the Machine and becoming one of its cogs.

And don't even get me started on the proposals for mandatory HPV vaccines for middle school girls—I find that one absolutely appalling, and the very concept to be a complete violation of my parental rights.

I'm not saying all vaccinations are bad. I'm not even saying for sure that any are—I lack the data. But so do a lot of people, many of them medical professionals, who spout absolute truths about them day in and day out. Where does one go to find real answers? Are there any? And we keep getting shots while we wait for those answers.

I'm just not sure about any of it. I don't have the answers. I just wish we could ask the questions and have some hope for getting stuff out onto the table.

(Okay, y'all, please don't fill the “comments” section with “OMG it's proven there is no danger in vaccines!” or “OMG it's proven that vaccines are dangerous” arguments—there's a lot of data out there for both sides of the issue, and every parent and individual has to make their own choice. And the opinions expressed in this post are from the author not the Green Phone Booth at large, etc. and so forth disclaimer stuff.)

--Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Seeing green on Black Friday

Going Green Mama is slowing her holiday spending...

I can't remember a year when I didn't spend part of Thanksgiving Day pouring over the Black Friday ads--and only one year when, pregnant and miserable, I just stayed home.

Yes, it's a bit ironic that a Black Friday junkie is writing about being a green consumer in your holiday shopping. Everything about Black Friday, on its surface, is about more, more, more.

More sales. More early hours. More lines. More stuff that you didn't know you needed. More waiting in lines and driving circles around the parking lot. I can see why it turns a lot of folks off.

But my Black Friday shopping has evolved in recent years, particularly since my family has grown. I've transitioned more out of the "buy" mentality to using it as an opportunity to buy things my family did need at a deep discount. Like replacement items, winter clothing or tools for the home.

But recent years and my shift toward being more sustainable have cut my Friday-morning sales even more.

By planning better, I'm able to find gently used clothing and books for my children throughout the year at a fraction of the price of even those fabulous Black Friday sales. Are they new? To them.. (I admit I can't always find what I need at a resale shop or sale, but it helps dramatically.) And my daughter, a new "chapter book reader," as she calls it, is getting a shoebox full of animal books for Christmas, bought for just a few dollars.

By listening more, I've found great ideas for gift-giving, instead of just buying something so that I can check that person off the list. My brother? Desperate to figure out how to landscape his shady scrap of land. I found the perfect book on shade gardening, at a library sale. I doubt I would find it if I'd waited until December, even on Amazon. My brother-in-law, a new dad? Literally wants a nap. So I'll give him free babysitting time during their visit.

By sharing more, I will have helped others and my family. We have always adopted someone for the holidays, no matter how tight things are. But the last few seasons, instead of racing to buy things, I've gotten more creative in my gift-giving there too. Last year, our daycare adopted a family with a little boy my son's age. I'd just gotten a huge bag of train tracks and accessories at the used children's store, and divided them up among my son and this boy. Sure, the boy got a new Thomas too, but it was a way to stretch my resources and bring more joy. My son never missed what he didn't have. This year, the daycare is adopting two little girls whose mother is a college student but can't find work. I posted on our employee classifieds that we're looking for clothes in their size, and people are coming through. And my children, bless their hearts, have always come through with my requests to "be a Santa" and donate an outgrown toy to a child in need.

This year, I suspect my shopping outlay will be even smaller than before. Many of my gifts this year have leaned on the practical, spiritual or creative sides. And I've encouraged my family, whom I still know will buy the toys, to subsidize experiences for my children this year.

Will I still go out for Black Friday? Yes, and here's why. My mom and I have, since I was little, created a tradition of early-morning (I said morning, not middle of the night) shopping followed by breakfas t and a few other mixed errands. I'd miss that one-on-one time too much to go without it. But maybe this year, I'll leave my wallet at home.

This post is part of the Green Mom's Carnival on green consumerism, hosted by Betsy at Eco-Novice.

Friday, November 4, 2011

October Unprocessed Wrap Up

From Emerald Apron's Kitchen
Well, it's November and the October Unprocessed challenge from Eating Rules is over. I am so happy that I took this challenge publicly, not just in the blog world but I told my family, friends and colleagues about it as well. I got tons of support from everyone I care about. Though I had a few slip ups, like eating candy on Halloween night, I still felt positive change. As in, I didn't stock the house with candy and eat it all month long. And you know what? I didn't miss the candy either. I lost 3.5 lbs without even trying, without limiting portion sizes. I'm a girl who likes to eat.

I really want to keep some parts of the challenge and see them as realistic for my lifestyle. For example, homemade bread with the bread machine is simple. However, there are some processed foods that I'm welcoming back with open arms. I really missed bottled salad dressing, ketchup, barbecue sauce and the like. I also missed the occasional iced tea, since I don't drink coffee or tea or anything except water really, iced tea is a nice treat for me every now and then.

What I won't be bringing back are diet soda, packaged snacks like granola bars or cereal bars, pretzels, packaged side dishes like flavored rice, or dry cereal. I do believe in using moderation, so those items aren't gone forever, but they're not going to be as common in my diet as they used to be.

Did you do the October Unprocessed Challenge? How did it go?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Grateful Is as Grateful Does

From the bean of Green Bean.

Halloween is over.  Lost in a mass of non-fair trade candy wrappers and rotting pumpkins.  November - and Thanksgiving - occupies that space between the party of Halloween and the party of Christmas.  It lounges there, full of obligation and severity.  But really, who has time for Thanksgiving. The meal is fine and another pumpkin pie is always welcome!  The days off of work and school are met with joy.  They give us time to shop early for the "real holidays".  And seeing family?  It's all good but, seriously, we'll see plenty of those folks between now and the end of the year.

So, what does Thanksgiving and the bleak month of November offer besides an onramp to the winter holidays?


The thankfulness.  The importance of pausing.  Of relishing.  Of savoring.  Our family.  Our homes.  Our jobs.  Our food.  Our ability to cloth ourselves and to give and receive something this holiday season.

Gratitude is something often overlooked.  Shoved aside in our rush to the Christmas tree.  But I believe November was put here for a reason.  It offers us the opportunity to realize how fortunate we are.

Every year, in our house, we do a gratitude tree of some sort.  The kids and I cut out leaves from colored construction paper.  As the days tick by, we write down things we are grateful for.  The leaves can be taped on a drawn tree.  Tied to a garland.  Looped over a branch brought into the house.  Stowed in a box.  On Thanksgiving Day, we read the many people and things we've remembered and for which we are grateful and truly embrace the meaning of the day.

Other Ideas for Developing Gratitude

- Write what you are grateful for during the month of November on small strips of paper.  In December, turn those strips into a paper chain and let gratitude wrap your Christmas tree or decorate your mantel.

- Place a kernel of corn on each Thanksgiving plate.  Everyone states what they are grateful for before eating Thanksgiving Dinner.

** This is a Meaningful Memory Post.  If you would like to share your greener holiday traditions in a guest post, please email us at greenphoneboothATgmailDOTcom.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Have Yourself a Very Recycled Christmas

The Conscious Shopper pops back into the Booth to share some ideas for free Christmas gifts.

In October every year, the church that I attend organizes a day where we gather to make a variety of inexpensive crafts that can be given as Christmas gifts. This year, the women in charge asked if I would head up a free gift - perhaps something made of recycled materials. Ah, my reputation precedes me.

After pondering their request for only fifteen minutes, I knew exactly what craft I wanted to teach: recycled paper beads. You may have seen tutorials for these beads around the interwebs, but if you haven't made any yet, you have no idea how cool these beads really are. You start with a paper triangle, twist it around something tubular, glue the end, and voila! you've made something that looks from a distance like a real plastic bead.

But it gets even cooler! The color of your beads depends on the recycled paper that you choose (magazines, maps, posters, scrapbook paper), and unless your paper is a solid color, each bead will be unique. You can also vary the length and width of the paper triangles you start with, creating long beads, tiny beads, fat beads, and skinny beads. You can string the beads on elastic to make a bracelet, on cord to make a necklace, or add store bought beads for a more polished look. So many possibilities, and all with materials you have lying around your own home!

You can find a full (illustrated) tutorial for making these beads here. Or if you are not the crafty type, you can also purchase recycled paper beads from Mzuribeads, a cooperative of Ugandan women who handmake the beads.

For the activity at my church, I taught a class on how to make these beads and also set up a display table filled with other things I've made by repurposing what I already have. Although I'm a pretty sad sewer, I pull out my machine every now and then, and I've come to view many items that most people would throw away as a gold mind of fabric, especially shower curtains, sheets, jeans and other pants, and wool sweaters. You've seen my shower curtain produce bags before, and here are some napkins I made out of an old sheet. I also displayed a jeans quilt that my mom made out of my old jeans when I was a teenager - it's one of my most prized possessions.

Finally, I provided the class with a long list of ideas of other things to make out of trash. Maybe you'll be able find an idea or two in the list. Get ready for some scrolling!

Wool Sweaters

** This is a Meaningful Memory Post. If you would like to share your greener holiday traditions in a guest post, please email us at greenphoneboothATgmailDOTcom.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Johnson & Johnson in Deep Water

Back in 2009 bloggers and environmentalist were talking about Johnson & Johnson products containing ingredients that are known to cause cancer but it wasn't until the Campaign for Safer Cosmetics released the latest study showing the ingredients are still there but only in some countries, that the media has taken notice.

Now the story is viral and parents are pissed. This news has parents wondering what they can use on their babies instead. Here are just a few options that will be safe and gentle for your baby.

Earth Mama Angel Baby is a trusted brand that carries many different baby products as well as products for mom.

Soap for Goodness Sake has a very gentle lavender soap that is great for babies and mom.

Nurture My Body not only carries safe baby products but you can also choose to have them put in glass containers making them even more environmentally friendly.

You can find even more safe baby products on Skin Deep. All of the products listed here rank 0 on the site meaning they are the safest products. If you have favorite safe baby care products be sure to list them in the comments below.


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