Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wondering about Water

This fall, our Brownie troop will be starting a badge series on the Wonders of Water. The environmentalist in me is thrilled (especially since it wasn't my idea!). You forget how essential water is to everything you do until you really break it down - from basic survival to entertainment.

We've just begun our planning, but the ideas are endless - everything from water testing to growing mushrooms. I think it will be an interesting year!

Our two challenges are this: Limiting ourselves to activites that can be tackled in one meeting a month, and determining our service project relating to water. (Think of it almost as a capstone project for grade school girls.)

Today, I'm opening it up to Boothers. If you could propose a service project for second graders relating to water, what would you suggest?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Spring Yoga: How to Green Clean your Yoga Mat

EcoYogini is starting to get the itch to practice Yoga outside- so is sharing her how-to eco-clean your yoga mat tips...

How many Yogis here? Everyone and their cat has a yoga mat these days, and depending on where you live you may be seeing temptations of summer and outdoor yoga (trust me, if you haven't practiced yoga outside you are MISSING OUT. It's the best way to feel an environmental connection in your practice).

All this outdoor yoga (and just renewed energy for more asana practice in general) means a sweaty, dirty mat. 

Strangely, cleaning your yoga mat is a bit more complicated than you may think. There are a few things to keep in mind to keep your mat in pristine condition and lasting as long as possible.

1. Mat usage
Practicing yoga outside means placing your mat on dirt, wet grass, sand and bugs. It means you'll have to clean your mat after each practice, which can wear at your mat. It also means that your mat will be exposed to sunlight. Exposure to sunlight will significantly increase the breakdown of TPE and rubber yoga mats.  

Recommendation: If possible have a cloth or separate old yoga mat specifically for outdoor practice only. I don't recommend buying a new mat just for this purpose, however if you were thinking of replacing your PVC mat with a more environmentally friendly mat, consider reusing your old mat as your Yoga in the Park mat. (check out Jade Yoga's 25 uses for your old yoga mat or Recycle Your Mat for alternatives). 

2. Type of yoga mat
Some mats are more porous and absorbant than others. As a result, any soap will just be soaked right up and may squish out for days or even weeks to come (my friend JenP had this problem with a second hand yoga mat that must have been previously washed with soap). Rubber and TPE mats are more porous, so will retain any water or soap-y type substance that you put on them.

Recommendation:  Avoid soap in general and soaking mats for long periods of time either in a washing machine or a bathtub. It will either get squishy and soapy, or will stay slippery for quite some time.

General Yoga Mat Cleaning Tips
Some companies recommend washing your mat in the washing machine. Honestly, there is no real reason why you need to use all the energy and water required to run a load in the washer for your yoga mat. It's wasteful and unnecessarily energy intensive.

Other studios recommend special 'yoga mat cleaner' sprays or liquid soaps. Also completely ridiculous and a sad ploy to get you to buy an extra yoga accessory. Take a quick look and you'll see on the ingredient list some preservatives and chemicals all wrapped in a pretty plastic packaging.

How often should you clean your mat? It depends on how often you practice. If it's 3-4 times a week, then a 'Lazy Clean' at least weekly and a 'Complete Clean' at least monthly. Or, you can 'Lazy Clean' after every 4th practice and 'Complete Clean' when you think your mat is really gross... lol.

There are two basic ways to clean your yoga mat: 
1. The Lazy Yogi's Clean:
In an old spray bottle fill it 40% white vinegar and 60% water. Add a few drops of your favourite essential oil (lavender works well). If you're not sensitive to Tea Tree oil, it wouldn't be a bad idea to add some pure essential Tea Tree Oil. Sadly, I am allergic to Tea Tree Oil and that yoga experience wasn't pleasant. 
After your practice, spray liberally all over your mat. With an old cloth or rag, white down your mat. **Important**: allow your mat to dry draped over a chair or clothes dry rack for at least 24 hours, 48hrs is best. 

2. The Complete Clean:
Place your mat in the bath tub with the plug in. Using your vinegar+water, spray liberally all over the mat. Add about three cups of water from the tap. With a cloth or rag scrub vigorously. Flip over your mat, spray and repeat. Drain the water and with a dry towel pat your mat dry. You can either hang it on your shower to dry, or over a chair. 
**Important**: allow to dry at least 24-48hrs. Expect your first practice afterwards to be a bit slippery (especially if you have a rubber mat). 

That's it! Simple, easy, cheap and effective!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Great French Fry Experiment

The Conscious Shopper and family attempt a science experiment.

When my second grader announced that he was looking for ideas for his school science fair project, I knew just what he should do. A couple years ago, Jess of Sweet Eventide posted here at the Booth about starting an experiment to see if homemade french fries would decompose faster than fast food fries...only she never updated the post with the results!

The time had come, I decided, to find out for ourselves if fast food french fries really never decompose, as the Internet claims.

We bought a container of McDonald's fries and made a batch of homemade fries. Then we divided up the fries into glass jars. My son took photos and careful notes on the decomposing fries every week or so. Here's what they looked like after one week:

And here's what they looked like eleven weeks later:

Hopefully, it's obvious from the photos that the homemade french fries decomposed faster than the McDonald's fries.

However, when we sat down to do some research a week before the science fair (we are not proper scientists), we dug up some very interesting information. McDonald's french fries contain the preservatives citric acid and sodium acid pyrophosphate. Plus, the oil they're fried in contains TBHQ, an additional preservative. You obviously won't find those additives on the ingredients list of homemade french fries, and they're arguably not good for our bodies. But our research indicated that they are actually not the reason that McDonald's french fries take such a long time to decompose.

It seems that the real culprits are 1) FAT and 2) SALT. Deep-frying the potatoes and then dousing them in huge amounts of salt removes almost all of the moisture in the fries, and the process of decomposition requires some moisture.

Which is why, it turns out, my family's french fry experiment was flawed from the start. We put the fries in glass jars covered in cheesecloth, and after a few weeks, even the moisture in the homemade french fries had all evaporated. By the time we were ready to put our experiment on display, we had a couple jars of slightly moldy rocks. Instead, we should have put the fries in lidded containers and/or periodically spritzed them with water.

So I guess one of you readers needs to take on this experiment one more time, set it up properly, and find out for sure how much faster homemade french fries decompose compared to McDonald's fries. Any takers?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring Cleaning Highlights and Link Up!

From Emerald Apron's dust-free keyboard...

The super heroes at the Green Phone Booth have spend the last month focusing on Spring Cleaning! Here are my three favorite posts that have been shared. Please check them out if you haven't already and then link up any post you have written about Spring Cleaning using our linky!

3. Easy Eco Silver Jewelry Polish Dip from Eco Yogini. If you hoard silvery jewelry, here's a great, safe way to clean it! I've never been a fan of chemical laden jewelry cleaners, so I'm going to give this one a try.

2. Sunshine and Baking Soda from Homegrown Mama. Spring is the perfect time to use the sun's power to kill microbes and naturally bleach your laundry, all while adding a fresh scent to it. What could be greener than solar powered cleaning?

1. Spring Cleaning: A Minimalist Approach from Eco-Novice. She's a super hero after my own heart. Eco-Novice tells us about how to focus on removing toxins and being "clean enough."

Which Spring Cleaning post at the Green Phone Booth was your favorite this month? And if you wrote about Spring Cleaning, please link up!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bringing home the bok choy. Or, maybe not.

The Booth welcomes guest blogger Kenna Lee...

I grew up with those old Enjoli ads. (Remember those? Or am I showing my age?) “Ican bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, never let you forget you’re aman… cause I’m a woman…”

Much as my feminist self would like to deny it, that song still hums somewhere deepin my subconscious image of How Life Should Be: I’m supposed to be able to do itall. And as a single mother, I often do “Do It All;” at least, I do everything that getsdone. I work full time, I pay the bills, I cook the meals, I check the web to ensure that the products I buy are actually healthy for kids, and in my spare time, I try to teach mychildren all the things they might need to know to survive in a post-carbon economy andlive a sustainable lifestyle. Whew.

Plus, I bring home the bacon. Totally righteous pasture-raised bacon, right there in the deep freeze alongside the rest of the pig. But in trying to keep up with the cultural sprinttoward sustainability, I’ve slowed down our consumption of aforementioned frozen pig infavor of mostly plant-based meals. Bok choy in place of bacon. Totally righteous, local,organic plants, grown by totally righteous local farmers. Sustainability, ho!

Each week I head to our local farm to pick up our box of veggies, and I used to bring itall home and scour my cookbooks for ways to cook the less popular options. By March,we are all feeling particularly oppressed by the surplus of greens, more greens, plus somebok choy. It’s so warm out, where are the strawberries? Really, not for another month yet? (My kids are finally getting old enough to really understand that the presence of fruit outside the grocery store does not necessarily correlate to the fruit actually being in season. But they still look longingly at the shipped-in strawberries.)

I used to dutifully transfer the contents of my veggie box into my bags. But the more I get used to the single-mothering gig, the more honest I have to be with myself about what “sustainable” really means at my house. Greens and bok choy that rot in the fridge and then get fed to the chickens, no matter how righteously grown, are not really sustainable. And they make me feel guilty for not being that mom whose kids just love those hearty greens.

I’ve spent many many hours pulverizing greens into specks too small to scrape off your pasta, or experimenting with seasonings (including bacon, of course), making kale “chips” and other “kid-friendly” suggestions (oh, please, no more suggestions, I swear I’ve tried). The real truth is, only my oldest child and I will eat more than a bite or two of greens that aren’t spinach.

This spring, I’m getting real with my sustainability, and really looking at what makes asustainable life rather than just trying to Do It All, so as a first step, I leave the bok choyat the farm for someone else to bring home. I bring home only as many greens as my ten-year-old and I will eat in a week’s time, and I do as much as I can. Which is enough.

You can follow Kenna’s journey toward sustaining her sustainable lifestyle at her blog. Her book, A Million Tiny Things: a mother’s urgent search for hope in a changing climate, will be available in stores and online by mid-April.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bread-baking, sandwiches, and hot cross buns!

It occurs to me that no one has posted much of anything about bread-baking lately.
Remember a couple of years ago when that Artisan Bread Baking in Five Minutes a Day book came out and we all went sort of berserk? (Okay, so maybe I was the only one who went berserk, but I really did…)  For those who have not yet bought this fairly awesome book or at least tried the master recipe found online, I highly recommend it: it basically involves mixing up a batch of no-knead dough and letting it rise for a couple of hours, after which you store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. During that time you can pull of pieces of it to make those round artisan loaves that go for $4.99 at the grocery store, or easy quick foccacia, or pizza, or whatever you want. Awesome way to have fresh bread at practically the drop of a hat. (Foccacia doesn’t even need a second rise; it’s done in half an hour, and I usually sprinkle a little fresh rosemary and rock salt on top…yummm…)
That basic recipe has become my go-to for bread on a regular basis; I use it all the time.  In the past month or so I’ve started branching out a bit to a few newer recipes…there’s an awesome recipe in there for “Granola bread,” where you add a cup of granola, a little honey, and some spices to the dough…it’s really amazing stuff.
I’ve also started working with making ordinary sandwich bread, which is challenging with this particular kind of dough: it’s very sticky, so even if you coat it with flour and put it in a greased pan it’s likely to stick to the sides and bottom. However, when I’ve used a nonstick pan and greased it well, and used one of the bread recipes with a little melted butter replacing some of the water in the recipe, I’ve been able to get something fairly sandwich-shaped out.
So…any readers who don’t bake bread, or who are intimidated by the idea of yeast and rises and kneading and stuff like I was until I tried this recipe, I beg you, follow those links and give it a try! It’s way easier than I ever thought it would be, and absolutely delicious. Any who do bake your family’s bread on a regular basis—any suggestions, recipes, links, and so forth?
In the meantime, as we approach Easter, let me link over to my artisan-bread-in-five-minutes version of Hot Cross Buns…give these a shot!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Adapting Earth Hour

On March 31, 2012, at 8:30 p.m., Earth Hour will celebrate a worldwide commitment to ongoing change for the betterment of the one thing that unites us all - the planet. Hundreds of millions of people, businesses and governments around the world unite each year to support the largest environmental event in history - Earth Hour encourages individuals and families to turn off their lights for one hour to take a stand against climate change.

It's a great idea, and one encouraged by Girl Scouts nationwide, except there is one problem: It hits at bedtime. If it's already lights-out, it defeats the purpose of them participating!

So while we did commit to doing Earth Hour this year, we're adapting it in our home to earlier in the day. Here's what we're planning:
  • Eat a cooking-free meal (salad? PB&J?)
  • Lights and A/C or heat off (if they are on)
  • No TV, computer or cell phones

How are you celebrating this year?

Friday, March 23, 2012

My Big Fat Green(ish) Remodel

From the bean of Green Bean.

Let's face it, no remodel is green.  Not really.  Most of it involves something discarded, something newly produced and so on.  But remodeling can be much greener than it used to be.  Here is the tale of how we remodeled a bathroom, added a closet and tried to stay true to our conscience - and our bank account.

ADVOCATE - My first step was to go all "enviro" on everyone and let them know that wanted to go as green as possible.  My contractor then was able to make suitable recommendations and steer me in the right direction with vendors.

The tile store pointed out their greener options (all marked with a green tag) after my contractor called them and told them that I was aiming to go recycled as much as possible.  We ended up with ceramic tile for the floor and shower wall that was 40% recycled content, accent tile that was 70% post consumer recycled glass, and a granite slab that was a remnant.

Although I had visions of a reclaimed wood vanity, it was harder to find that I had hoped so we ended up with one that has FSC-certified wood made by a company engaged in an Environmental Stewardship program.  Ho hum.  The new bathroom and closet doors were also relatively eco-friendly with the MDF version containing 82% recycled content and being produced through a sustainable manufacturing process. 

For the other items, if I could not find an environmentally aware product, I tried to go for this:

(Though I did allow myself the sink with no green strings attached).

SAVE WHAT YOU CAN - We threw out as little as possible.  My contractor reused as much of the wood as possible, recycled and composted (we have city-picked up compost) anything that could be treated as such.  He even went so far as to cut down old doors and turn them in to a place that turns them in to another product.  We passed the old bathroom mirror on to a friend who has it hanging in her bedroom, reused the old bathroom hooks in a closet, and freecycled the old towel bars and towel ring.

INCREASE YOUR EFFICIENCY WHEN POSSIBLE - With the new bathroom - and also my husband's office which had its ceilings scraped - we added a solar tube sunlight.  We did this in our previous house and it brightened everything without flipping a switch.  Same result here.  No lights needed during most day time hours.

Speaking of lights, though, we discovered that we could get new LED fixtures which slipped into the old ones.  Cheaper than CFLs and more efficient than both CFLs and incandescent.  We also slapped a ceiling fan on both adjoining rooms to the bath and, for good measure, had blow in insulation done on the exterior walls of those two bedrooms.  In just one month, we've already seen a major difference and our new PG&E bill arrived today with a notice that we used 20% less than last year.

We ended up with a space that is much more usable and enjoyable.  Not a green remodel but green(ish) and sometimes "ish" is enough.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring Cleaning: A Minimalist Approach

Eco-novice reflects on the merits of cleanliness.

I like a clean house as much as the next person, but I sure don't like cleaning. Before kids, I didn't mind cleaning too much and kept a pretty clean house. Of course, it wasn't that hard to keep the house clean when my husband and I both worked full-time and no one was dumping a bowl-full of food on the floor several times a day. But now that I have three little ones, and the amount of kid-free time I have to get anything done has shrunk to a pin-head, it's hard for me to spend those precious 5 minutes between nursing and wiping a bottom doing dishes or mopping the bathroom floor. In one of the great ironies of life, children bring more messes and infinitely less time to do anything about it.

Luckily for me, I've learned to lower my standards. I prefer a clean and tidy home, but I'm willing to put up with a dirty and messy one in order to do things other than cleaning. I like to look at cleanliness from a historical perspective. Take laundry, for example. If you had to wash your clothing by hand, how often would you wash it? Shouldn't I spend far less time on housework than previous generations with all of life's modern conveniences? Or has the advent of time-saving appliances raised cleanliness standards to the point that they haven't really saved us any time at all?

It's pretty clear that our hygienic aspirations can certainly be taken too far. We know now that the commonly used antibacterial triclosan helps create super-bugs. We know that a little dirt and hanging around animals are good for us. Which makes sense given that humans evolved living in far from sterile environs. And we know that the gazillions of products purchased to clean our bodies and homes create a mountain of plastic waste and a host of health issues.

So here is my minimalist approach to cleanliness:
  • Focus on cleaning that mitigates exposure to toxins. One of the only things that actually motivates me to clean is the toxic soup we live in. I know dust and dirt harbor the likes of PBDEs and lead, and this knowledge is the main reason I dust the furniture and mop the wood floors. Maybe more often than I clean the toilet.
  • Get rid of stuff. It's easier to clean if you don't have to move a bunch of junk off the floor and other surfaces before cleaning.
  • Feed the kids outside whenever weather permits. Although it is a large hunk of plastic, how I love the Little Tikes picnic table we purchased on Craig's List. We use it daily for eating and crafts outside. No cleanup required! 
  • Make your kids help. This is one of the great benefits of non-toxic cleaners like vinegar and baking soda. No fumes, no warnings, no questionable chemicals, no gloves needed. I'm working on this one.

How clean is clean enough in your home?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sunshine and Baking Soda

From the laundry basket of The Homegrown Mama

This week has been in the low 80s.  Clearly, it's a record for Ohio.  Everyone is excited to see the flowers blooming and the green grass and the happy children playing outside.  I'm a little skeptical.  As badly as I want to get rolling on my garden, I know that the instant I get those delicate seeds in the ground it will snow.  Instead of planting, I cleaned.  There was a nasty bug traveling around my house for the last few weeks and I've had enough of it.

So yesterday, I stripped all the beds, all the way down to the mattresses and washed all the bedding.  Even the mattress pads were hung out on the laundry line.  It was perfectly sunny and warm, and I was thrilled that those nasty microbes were being killed.  The sun's rays can be used as a powerful disinfectant in addition to it's bleaching power, since the UV rays are capable of killing bacteria and yeast microbes.  Bonus: even my toddler commented on the nice smell.

The kids' mattresses have a smooth surface, so I scrubbed them down with vinegar and set them out in the sun to dry.  Our mattress is huge and has a cloth surface.  Dragging it out to the sun isn't really an option.  Instead, using my kitchen sifter, I sprinkled the whole mattress with baking soda.  I let it set there for a while, with the windows open so the sun shone in and the breeze blew by, and then vacuumed it up.  Because of the chemical makeup of baking soda, it can act both as an acid and a base.  This handy feature allows for it to neutralize compounds, bacteria, and dirt in your mattress, but it also can dissolve them.  It's been a while since I last cleaned my mattress like that and the canister on my vacuum was embarrassingly full.  I can only imagine how bad it would have been if I had left the baking soda on for a few days before vacuuming it off!

Up next, I need to clean out the humidifiers and refill them with tea tree oil spiked water and clean the air vents.  Even though we didn't have the furnace running very much this winter, the vents are still a haven to all sorts of dust and debris.  Even with this list, I woke up this morning feeling energized and much less stuffy!  For the last several weeks, I've woken up almost every morning convinced I was coming down with whatever was floating around the house.  Turns out, a little baking soda and some sunshine did the trick!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

If they don't die they could buy- The Environment, Retail and the Bottom Line

Happy Spring Equinox! EcoYogini gives a rant on corporate, retail culture in Canada....

Last evening I did my husband a favour and was a guest speaker for his second year commerce class. (Yep, my husband is still in University, guess you can't really do anything with a Sociology Degree, who knew? Accountant it will be!). Although I was supposed to be "last resort" I quickly became Plan A as no  one in his group had any "business-y" connections. So a 45 minute talk on Consultation Strategies it was!

I was one of three speakers, one of which was the Executive Vice President of Loblaws Canada (Superstore, Zehrs, SaveEasy etc). A quick google search of "Loblaws+environment" and you see a slew of news items that pop up favouring Loblaws in a positive light with regards to environmental policy.

My personal experience, above all other bits of information, is that big stores such as the Atlantic Superstore (and Sobeys) carry more imported produce, meat and food items than any local food. I don't typically feel like I'm doing the environment a huge favour when I shop there, especially since they have such a poor selection of local food items.

I had an inkling that the EVP of Loblaws might be an interesting corporate culture, master of the bottom line, and I wasn't disappointed.

It was interesting sitting and listening to this EVP pay lip service to Loblaws commitment to "making our environment better than it is" (instead of stop destroying it) and their "environmental policies". He named a few: how Loblaws began charging for plastic bags in the central and western parts of Canada. Unfortunately, he had to admit it was a huge failure here in Atlantic Canada...

His talk was a study of conflicting statements:

Proudly stating that Loblaws cares deeply about the environment with the products they offer, charging for plastic bags to discourage use as opposed to for the extra revenue, 100% fundraising to their children's charity completely on a volunteer basis.

Interspersed within the main discourse of:

  • Finding new and weekly ways to save money. Every penny earned is worth it, the more profit the company can make is First Priority (*but* don't forget that we charge for plastic bags only because we care about the environment, NOT for the extra money!).
  • It's all about finding new customer pockets. How can we maximize different cultural potential consumers and encourage them to buy our products? Ways to take advantage of different ethnic groups, age populations and of course, female shoppers (his comments on ethnicity and women were insulting to say the least. He actually said "some ethnic groups are really LOUD").
  • How important it was to keep good relationships with their main suppliers; Coke, Proctor and Gamble (as he dropped a few names). (But don't forget how Loblaws is working hard to assure products are sourced and manufactured responsibly! Never mind that their biggest suppliers contribute to slave labour, carbon emissions and toxic chemicals in personal hygiene products).

My favourite quote of the evening: "We do our children's charity because it's the morally right thing to do. And because these children could be future customers"
(read: If they don't die, they could buy)

At the end of his talk I was so disenchanted from his business-speak, greenwashing spin-offs of "Win the profit!!" sports game analogies that I realized two things:

  1. There's a reason I work in a helping professions- I could never work in such a soul sucking, constant "spinning it" corporate culture. 
  2. Big businesses will only be ethically and environmentally responsible if it helps their bottom line, or they're forced to because of government regulation.

Monday, March 19, 2012

What I did on spring break (Did you know you can clean your tub with half a grapefruit?)

this suburban greenmom is probably the last person on here to finally get around to spring cleaning...
Spring break. It’s not at the same time as the kids, which means I now have five whole days, uncommitted, no schedule, no kids. Also no opportunity to run away to Vegas or anything, but I’ll take it.
While I fully plan to spend a decent amount of time being a schlub, reading junky books, and watching chick flicks, I also plan to do a significant amount of spring cleaning. In this house the first round will without a doubt be about simple uncluttering: sorting, filing, shelving, and tossing the vast majority of the papers and weird random Stuff that finds its way into the house and seems to bother no one but me.
The school papers will be sorted through, most put into the recycling bin, and a few saved for sentimental purposes. The toys will be put away.  The random junky little “goodie bags” that have shown up when kids at school had birthdays or come home from birthday parties—these will be dissected and stored for Halloween or other such moments. (My kids won’t notice. Trust me.)
Once the surfaces are cleared off, they get cleaned: mostly a vinegar-water solution will take care of whatever needs cleaning, but I may have to try one of the furniture polish recipes I’ve found online—especially one of these lavender ones—for our various wood pieces.  I’ll hit the bathrooms and possibly the grungy stove pieces with my homemade soft scrub recipe. (Although this highly creative grapefruit recipe looks really cool! I may have to try it!)
If I get really ambitious, I might even try to clean the carpets—those carpet cleaners are pretty easy and cheap to rent at the local supermarket, and honestly using nothing but hot water (spraying it on and sucking it back out several times) gets out an amazing amount of dirt and grunge from the carpets, without the toxic weird chemicals from standard carpet cleaning solutions. You rent the thing for the day, usually, so you can just go over it again and again until the water rinses mostly clear. This site also suggests you can add half a cup to a cup of vinegar to the water solution for really bad carpet, but honestly I’ve never needed to do that. (If I can’t manage the whole deal, I’ll sprinkle the carpet in the rooms with baking soda--possibly with a little essential oil mixed in with it--and vacuum it up afterwards. Also works on upholstery!)
So…I’ll go get on that. After I finish watching this movie…

Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tornado relief

The Green Phone Booth welcomes Going Green Mama's favorite girl, the Green-Eyed Monster (age 6)...

This week my troop was going to collect shoes for the tornado in Henryville and it's really important to us. We made signs. It was fun. We had 164 pairs of shoes and more are coming. They are going to Henryville. It's fun to help out people.

Mom's note: You can read more about how kids can help with tornado relief - just by cleaning out their closets - at my post today at Going Green Mama.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Easy Eco Silver Jewellery Polish Dip

EcoYogini does a happy dance to celebrate her magical eco silver polish discovery

I am like a crow. Seriously, I hoard shiny, sparkly baubles and have been fortunate enough to be gifted with them over the years (with a few investments myself).

Unfortunately, my earring and necklace collection is forever doomed to be consistently tarnishable. My repertoire of jewellery that I can wear had actually significantly decreased due to the ugliness of their status.

I didn't want to use disgusting, chemical filled silver polish- that stuff smells like chemical death for a reason. According to MedlinePlus jewellery cleaners can have corrosive alkali, ammonia, detergent and soap which can have a variety of sketchy health reactions.

Unfortunately toothpaste wasn't going to cut my cleaning needs, nor would a cleaning cloth. I have little loops, and tiny spaces that are impossible to polish with a cloth. I needed a dip... and therefore resigned to living with a pile of brownish silver jewellery.

Until... I googled how to 'eco' clean silver and discovered the easiest, cheapest and extremely environmentally friendly way to do a jewellery cleaning dip! I'll admit I was doubtful... until it worked!!! Cue Happy Dance. Seriously, this is the bestest, easiest and very eco-friendly silver jewellery dip!

What you need:
1. a ceramic bowl- sized to support your jewellery pile.
2. recycled aluminum tinfoil (we have 'If you care')
3. 2 tablespoons of salt
4. Boiling water
5. 4 minutes of humming jeopardy or a little happy dance.

 Enter exhibition A: dingy tarnished silver jewellery.

Post Eco-Dip: The light doesn't do it justice, it was sparkling!

Time span 5 minutes: and everything is just perfectly shiny!! It was like MAGIC. I will say, that I wondered at a little residue, so just to be sure I may have tasted my earrings to confirm that they were a bit salty (what? no judging!). A quick no-salt water rinse and they were fine.
It even cleaned away tarnish in the tiny little loops and inbetween spots on my Trudy Gallagher earrings and this pretty yoga pendant Andrew had bought me a few years ago.

How does it work? According to when salt and aluminum foil and water combine there's an ion exchange (chemical reaction) where the tarnish on the silver is transferred to the aluminum. Supposedly if there's enough tarnish you can see it on the foil, but we checked and no tarnish spots were noticed.

Never again to buy chemical silver jewellery polish and cleaner! Success!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Honey Do List

From the bean of Green Bean.

At my beekeeper class, learning all about bees and honey do.

A year ago, Amber Strocel wrote a guest post here at the Booth about washing her face with honey.  She referenced her sensitive skin as well as her concern for chemicals as the reason for choosing honey.  I was intrigued.

My dermatologist calls my skin "exquisitely sensitive."  I call it haggard and blotchy.  I've never found a face wash that hasn't left my skin drier, tighter and even painful.  I also have rosacea and have not received much relief from over-the-counter or prescription treatments.

So, after a year of hemming and hawing about washing my face with honey, I attended a beginner beekeeping class.  The beekeeper lauded the benefits of using honey at home.  His adolescent daughter used it as acne treatment.  His wife worked at a hospital where honey was employed to treat cuts instead of polysporin.  I headed home with three jars of his honey and a determination to stick at least one of them in the bathroom.

Since then, I wash my face with honey nearly every day.  My cheeks are far less red, my skin feels supple and smooth, and nothing beats the ability to lick your lips and not worry about swallowing some weird chemical you are applying to your skin.  Speaking of skin, honey and nutmeg is supposed to be great for break-outs and acne scars.  (Thank you, Pinterest!)

That same day, I switched from sugar to honey for my tea and am sneaking honey instead of sugar in here and there in my baking.  Unlike sugar, I can get honey locally and packaged in a reusable glass bottle.  Moreover, honey is supposed to boost your metabolism and such.

I've also used honey for years to treat burns.  It has prevented many a scar for this clumsy chef.

Plus, honey and cinnamon not only makes the medicine go down.  It is the medicine for a common cold.

Lastly, I began using it in lieu of conditioner - on the tips of my hair.  It works well, doesn't contain anything I cannot pronounce, and leaves me feeling sweet all day!

With all the things that honey can do, I'm left wondering just what it can't do?

* Join the Facebook page and stay sweet all week long!
* I'm linking to the Homestead Barn Hop for this post.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring cleaning for my thoughts

From the laundry basket of the Homegrown Mama

I was going to post about amazing disinfecting qualities of the sun today, but a different topic in Spring Cleaning has been going through my mind lately: Weight loss and cleaning up my attitude about the path necessary to achieve my goals.  Here's the thing: in the last 5 years, I've been pregnant 6 times.  My 2 pregnancies that have gone full term have had perfect weight gain, but the other 4... not so much.  I'm sitting on a good deal of extra weight and although spending a lot of time outside playing with the kids and eating "healthy" foods, it's not budging.

Two months ago, I set myself up with a friend of mine who is a trainer for Mommy and Me Fitness and have been working like a mad woman ever since.  I've drastically changed my eating habits, so much that I'm personally consuming a minimum of 15 pounds of raw vegetables and fruits a week.  Yet, no matter how many classes I attend a week, no matter how few calories I consume per day, I haven't seen much of a difference on the scale.  Last night, while running with the class, I was so tired.  I fell further and further behind the class and just couldn't get it together to even start to catch up.  Back in my college days, I used to pray while I ran.  I would pray for strength and for the people in my life who need strength.  So I started praying last night and soon enough, I was bawling as I ran.  I finished class and went home, where I sobbed to my husband about how frustrated I was with my growth.

That's what exercise is, though.  Growth.  This Spring as I clean out the flower beds and plan my garden, I anticipate growth.  I know that with my garden, it takes time.  There isn't a quick fix and poof!  Harvest!  We spend time with our gardens; choosing the right plan, the right seeds, we water and cultivate and are patient.  How then does it figure that as I am so careful and patient with my garden, I cannot be patient with myself?  How is it that I resist all the chemicals touted to improve my garden's production, I am sometimes tempted by the infomercials on tv?  And how is it, that I'm willing to spend hours on my knees weeding, but running another 2 minutes is just too much?

Last night, as I rubbed my aching legs, I realized that right now, I need to treat my self the same way I treat my garden.  I need to be patient, gracious and dedicated.  I need to spend time weeding out the poor attitudes of defeat and discouragement.  I need to make sure I'm getting enough water and enough proper feeding.  When the time is right, I'll harvest if I can be faithful.  

How about you?  Has your garden inspired any changes in your mindset this Spring?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Staying Positive When Your Neighbor Puts Trash in Their Recycling Bin

I was riding my bike around my neighborhood today and trash cans were making their way out because tomorrow is trash day. I was pretty discouraged by one house, which almost always has an overflowing trash can, however today was even worse than normal. Their 95 gallon trash can was overflowing into their recycling bin, as you can see in the picture below.

People can get more trash cans and they are pretty darn cheap so this is really silly. It also sometimes has me questioning all the work. I even helped get this trash service and curbside recycling to my town and often have to hear people complain about it and not following the simple instructions.

So how do you keep hope? Well, it's important to remember you aren't alone. Blogs like this one help remind me of that and also I remember at one point I wasn't doing all I am now. I drank bottled water, I didn't recycle as much as I do now, I used single serving food, and so on. So there is hope people will end up on a similar path.

Also focus on the positive. A couple of days ago I learned participation is up to approximately 70-80 percent participation. And not long ago it was only 25 percent! So even this small town, where many don't believe in climate change, change is happening. So we must all stay strong and remember what we are doing matters!

Do you find yourself discouraged when you see others not doing their part?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spring is springing

A suburban greenmom ventures out to see if it might really possibly be spring…

Yesterday it hit about 65 degrees and sunny in my Chicago suburban neighborhood. I took my first walk out into the yard to see what the plant life was up to, or if it was even doing anything yet. All of you readers who live in places where you are already harvesting things—I was, until yesterday, still waiting for the first crocuses to bloom.
I found a blooming crocus. The pussy willows are fuzzy. The yarrow is green little clumps around the ground. The hyssop as well. The lemon balm is giving off its characteristic citrusy fragrance.
It’s officially spring in Chicago, no matter what the calendar says.
Last year we did a big re-landscape on our yard, and I put in a whole mess of bulbs and perennial herbs. We transplanted some rose bushes from my late in-laws’ house. We planted an apple tree and several berry bushes.  And as of the first frost, I had no idea whether any of it would make it through to spring, though with every non-crazy-cold week that went by all winter my hope grew. And it looks like it’s all good. Both elderberries show little greenness at the base of last year’s twigs. The blueberries are budding, as is the apple tree and the tiny Carmine Jewel cherry bush. The roses appear to still be “wick,” as Dickon in The Secret Garden would say. Not too surprisingly, I also discovered my old nemeses already hard at work: a number of the bulbs and the chamomile patch are already nibbled down to the soil by our resident marauding bunny tribe.
Our new landscape is working on two main principles: edible perennial landscaping, and weedless gardening. We’re mixing edible perennials and annuals, berries and vegetables, with other more ornamental companion plants and herbs, especially ones that will decompose into fertilizer and compost for the next spring’s growth. And we’ll do one more year of manure and mulch to feed our sort of dead clay soil until this batch of plant life gets vigorous enough to produce its own decaying organic matter for the next year. Then…hopefully it will be able to mostly continue on its own, the way natural wild berry patches and herb beds do when we aren’t tilling, planting monocrops in rows, and doing all that other civilized human stuff to our gardens.
Once you start thinking outside the box on gardening methods, there are actually a good many resources available to get you going. Shawna Coronado’s “Casual Gardener” site has some good info, and there are a few sites with information about “lasagna gardening,” a no-soil way to create a garden by making layers of organic material in a raised bed. And this site has some lovely pictures of gorgeous edible landscaping…if you have any other suggestions or resources, please list them in the comments!
--Jenn the Greenmom

Friday, March 9, 2012

Spring Cleaning from the inside out

This season, my urgent Spring cleaning has little to do with wielding my spritz bottle of homemade cleaner and cloth rags.  To be sure, I'm clearing dust and attempting to ditch clutter in the house.  In the garden, I'm working my compost piles, plucking weeds, and planting.   The "heavy lifting", though, is going on in my heart and head.

Some weeks ago, my mother remarked, "I don't know how you do it all."  Her words -- well meant, and spoken with admiration -- hit me like a stone.  Family, work, house, garden, community... I don't know how I do it all either!  What's more, I realized that I'm not sure that "doing it all" is what I want as a mark of distinction.  In my 20's and 30's, yes, it was exciting to defy 24-hour days and 7-day weeks.  Now?  Not so much.

This is where I should show you photos of the to-do lists I make for myself.  (How I *love* crossing things off!   Sometimes, I break a task into smaller items so I can check 'em off with satisfaction.)  I should also show you my calendar, its squares too often (still!) bursting at the seams.  I'll spare you; we're here to celebrate Spring, seasonal change, and new beginnings!

Aspects I'm working on "cleaning up" include:

Challenge #1: Getting up early
This had been recommended to me for a while as a great way to prepare the day for myself and my family, to give concentrated focus to reading, planning, learning, and more.  When I came across the same advice in other places, I took that as a call to action.  I've been keeping my alarm set for Oh-Dark-Thirty not only on weekdays, but also on the weekends and holidays.  Sure enough!  Those quiet pre-dawn hours have a special quality to them.  When you add a cup of tea, they are divine.  Which leads to...

Challenge #2: Going to be early(ier)
The rub is that getting up early is directly at odds with the late nights which have been my hallmark for so long.  How hard it can be to hit the "off" switch instead of clicking through to read "just one more email", a slippery slope which can (oops!) easily lead to a second and third email!  Are evening meetings worth the cost of long days which have you leaving the house at 6 a.m., packing breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and returning home just shy of midnight?  Which leads to...

Challenge #3: Changing obligations
Whether the word is voiced or typed out on a keyboard, it's hard to say n-o and it's hard to l-e-t g-o.  I've shed a few biggies on the obligation front, and dropped another one in January.   There's one before me this week, to which I need to either recommit, or... not.  My heart and head are having a little battle with each other over this decision.  Saying "yes" means helping to support an organization which gives our family much value.  Saying <whisper>no<whisper> means more time to stay home, to garden, to sew, to prepare food, to watch the children playing, to visit with friends, to tend the bees I hope to keep... also things of much value, and obligations in their own right.

Really, I should subdivide #3 into smaller bits.  That would let me cross off more challenges as I achieve them - lol!   More seriously, where's that balance between doing it all and doing enough?  Between doing for others and doing for yourself?  Between packing your days full and having space for spontaneity?

"See" you in the comments!  In the meanwhile, I'm off to bed. :-)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Get the Arsenic Out of Our Rice

You may have heard by now that a study by Dartmouth has shown high levels of arsenic in products like organic toddler formulas, cereal bars, and energy products. The common ingredient in these items in organic brown rice syrup.

Anna Hackman of Green Talk also found that a study in 2007 showed people who consumed more than the average amount of rice were being exposed to arsenic. If you are like me and eat a limited amount of meat you likely eat a lot of rice. Sometimes for lunch I just eat a big bowl of rice with a bit of cheese and we eat it often as a side or even the main dish for dinner.

So where is the arsenic coming from? Well it comes from soil that has been contaminated by arsenic based pesticides. The pesticides were used on cotton crops and now a lot of rice is now being grown on these old cotton fields. So even though these pesticides have been banned the arsenic is still in the ground.

Thankfully there are ways to protect yourself. Anna has a great post on her blog, Green Talk, about eating rice safely. Check that out and also sign Anna's petition on to tell the FDA, EU, and the rice industry to set arsenic limits for rice and by-products.

Photo Credit: babbagecabbage

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Spring Cleaning with Linky!

Our monthly Wordless Wednesday from Emerald Apron

Thanks to Homegrown Mama for sharing her beautiful clothesline full of diapers!

Show us your spring cleaning pictures, or any Wordless Wednesday pictures, by joining the linky! Don't forget to use our button if you post about spring cleaning at all in the month of March!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Plea for Help: Mold

Oh no! Not bleach!

Eco-novice wants your advice

Mold: the bane of the green cleaner's existence.  The list of possible DIY solutions is long:
  • vinegar
  • tea tree oil
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • baking soda
  • borax
But do they work? And what about the many green cleaners that claim to combat mold? With equal parts relief and despair, I read that Crunchy Chicken (aka Deanna Duke) found bleach to be the least toxic solution that actually worked against mold. Relief, because I haven't found anything non-toxic that works either (and I don't even live in a particularly humid place), and despair, because I'd really rather not have to keep a bottle of bleach in my garage.

Crunchy Chicken does have good ideas for preventing mold. As with so many things, prevention is really the least toxic solution. In The Non-Toxic Avenger, Deanna suggests spider plants and a dehumidifier (particularly if you don't have a bathroom window) to prevent mold from getting a foothold in the first place.

So my question to you, Readers of Green Phone Booth, is what has worked for you? 
How do you prevent mold? And how to you get rid of mold you neglected to prevent?
DIY cleaners, green store-bought cleaners, magic spells?
Please share!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Creating Emotional Space for More Green Changes

EcoYogini contemplates how to Spring Clean when she's surrounded by snow...

Being a Haligonian (person who lives in Halifax Nova Scotia!) means that Spring *might* arrive in May. Maybe. I say this knowing that this isn't a 'Canada' specific thing, as I've lived in four other Canadian cities that had lovely Spring-y Springs filled with flowers and green things growing all starting in March.
Our earliest Yoga in the Park out of the four Halifax Springs we've lived here... warm enough to practice in March!! (2010). 

We had our second snow storm of the week this morning.

The long drawn out drizzle, grey, cold and ugly months until May means that while everyone else is spring cleaning, I just feel like huddling into a little warm ball while hoping the temperature will rise above freezing. (Can you tell I hate Maritimer Springs?)

What I've decided to do is an emotional Spring Cleaning.

Over the winter months we tend to accumulate 'stuff', stuck within layers of our daily work and routine. Spring is actually the perfect time for new beginnings. It almost feels like I fell asleep in January with my 'winter' routine and BLINK I now have to start thinking about my life in spring.

Winter living in the city makes it difficult to connect with nature. I strongly believe that in order to really 'get' why we're doing all this stuff for the environment and our health that we need to actually spend some time there. Sure, a park can be a nice break, but when you can still hear the container ships, sirens in the distance, see the smoke stacks of the refinery across the harbour (ew) the unconscious reminder of busy, pollution and work is there.

As new agey as it sounds, it's true that once we take some time to renew and re-centre our emotional selves we can make some room for all the hard eco-work as well as leaving space for new green changes.

Making Space for Spring Change (EcoYogini's plan):
- Vocal and Singing Practice: It's time for to dust-off the good ole vocal warm-ups and work in a singing practice. Almost like meditation, vocal warm-ups, although ugly sounding are so repetitive and will help me shut off that work part of my brain. My goal is 30 minutes right after work, but I'll start with 15.
- A quiet walk through the woods. Thankfully I'm travelling to rural areas of the province for work in April and will be able to take some time for quiet and Nature.
- As soon as the weather permits; practice yoga outdoors. I'm thinking with long sleeves and a tuque we could manage between 8-15 degrees C (46 to 59F).
- A regular weekly spiritual and connection time. I'm considering creating a simple and cleared out small sitting space where I can light a candle, sit in quiet and peace and connect with my spiritual self. 10 short minutes is all I'm hoping for.

When we have busy lives, families and extra activities, it's difficult to fathom finding time for ourselves. It's so easy to let winter's obligations and events add emotional and spiritual layers that take up space.

A few strategies that might helpful for finding those 10 minutes to reconnect:
- Discuss this with your partner if you have one. Mention how this is important for you and you'd like their support in a) leaving you the space b) keeping the children (or cats!) out of the room for 10 short minutes a day.
- Set a timer.
- Clean out a small space that has minimal visual distractions, perhaps a nice beeswax candle and a meditation pillow or folded blanket.
- Find some 'sounds of nature' or music without words to help block out the noises of everyday life.
- Add a reminder on your smart phone (if you have one, I don't!)
- Draw a small symbol meaning 'me' time in your agenda- pencil yourself in for 10 minutes!
- Don't answer the phone, knocking or non-urgent questions during this time. They can leave a message or wait another 5 minutes.
- Allow yourself a break on the weekends when your routine has changed.

What strategies to make emotional and spiritual space do you use?


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