Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Garden Alphabet

Guest poster Brenna Burke shares her garden alphabet.

Organic gardens. They are a wealth of wisdom rooted in the soil. Gardens provide sustenance, knowledge, and an opportunity to become closer to nature and all that it is. Children benefit from digging in the warm, moist soil, as do we.

Whether you have a couple of outdoor containers, a small windowsill garden, or a large property full of garden beds, there is a garden alphabet our children can learn from the planting, watering, growing, and patient waiting. Here are just a few entries in that alphabet...

Aphids are insects we don’t like to see, causing viruses and damage to our strawberries and tomatoes. So bring on the ladybugs and lacewings, for they are the key.

Bulbs often look like aliens, but they store enough energy for a plant to survive in awful conditions. They come back each year bringing our work to protect them from critters to fruition.

Compostable containers, like newspaper and eggshells, make it easy for children to start seeds and watch what returns back to the earth like it should.

Earthworms are our gardens good friends. They plow through the soil helping roots grow, creating healthy soil which our plants will depend.

Food comes from gardens, both big and small, not from the store. It takes sun, soil, water, and hard work to produce the food that we eat, that’s for sure.

Herbs are plants we use for aromatherapy, medicine, and cooking. Grow them outside or inside, wherever they can be available for the taking.

Organic means so many things in a garden, from healthy soil and plant growing to weeding and compost. For our gardens to be safe for our children and pets, we must follow organic principles the most.

Photosynthesis is the wondrous process by which plants capture the sun’s energy and converts it to the food they need to survive. Photosynthesis makes sure all living creatures thrive.

Roots lie beneath the surface, connecting us to our past and plants to the earth. They deepen and spread, anchoring, absorbing, providing nutrients for floral birth.

Slugs are an organic garden’s worst nightmare. They are difficult to get rid of, but there are so many eco-friendly methods from beer to vinegar, those slugs best beware!

What words would you add to the garden alphabet?

Brenna Burke is a mama of three trying to live a green life, pursue greater health and well-being for her family and the planet, while teaching her children well so they will grow up successfully and leave her. Almost All The Truth provides tips, insight, and a little activism for those wanting to go green. Brenna blogs at

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Versatility to love

From the laundry basket of the Homegrown Mama.

Canning season is gearing up and I'm taking inventory of all my jars.  I need to call and check prices for strawberries this week and plan for the year.  We go through a lot of jam in this house and I will not be filling any of the little decorative jars with jam as it's just pointless for us.  I'll save those for homemade sugar scrubs and such.

Anyway, my basement has a room that was designed as canning storage when my grandparents built the house (In fact, when we moved in and were cleaning, I found a jar of home canned peaches.  They were perfectly preserved, albeit horribly discolored, and almost 40 years old.  Lesson to be learned here: if you are short, don't place your canned goods above your head.)  I love the canning cellar and get an honest thrill out of opening the door to survey my work.  Since my canned goods are generally in the basement, I wash the used jars and set them on the counter to take down with me on my next trip to the treadmill or laundry.  Frequently, I forget and those jars find their way all over my home.  As I was planning my supply needs this afternoon, I realized I was missing a lot of wide mouthed jars.  Just where are they?

  • 7 pint jars are functioning as stand-ins for glasses that broke when Liam took initiative and "helped" do the dishes while I was diapering his sister.  
  • 2 regular mouthed pint jars are serving as vases.  I see Farmer's Daughter is also putting her jars to use!
  • 2 half pint jars are serving as containers for Liam's craft projects.
  • 1 half pint jar is lying on the floor of my living room after holding snacks and has been converted to a garage for race cars.
  • There are 2 jars in my shower, one for a sugar scrub and one for oil as I'm trying the Oil Cleansing Method (minimal success so far).
  • In my fridge, there is a jar containing strong brewed coffee for tomorrow's iced coffee, a jar with salad dressing, a jar with chocolate avocado pudding, and a jar of homemade hummus.
  • I found a quart jar on my sewing table holding my scissors and another half  pint is serving as my scraps catch-all.
  • In Sylvi's room, there's a jar holding all her little hair clips.
  • And in my room, there's a jar holding change... 50 cents go in every time I conquer a workout. 1 dollar for every pound I lose.
So there's 22 jars scattered around my house, each one being used in a simple, functional way.  Of all the things I've accumulated in my kitchen, the Ball canning jar is my favorite.  They fit my immersion blender like a glove, they hold homemade spice mixes, they are just the size to fit in little hands while they tote around a snack or cars.  I know that I'm going to need to restock my supplies, but I'm more than happy to.  

What's your favorite thing about Ball jars?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Save Money, Stress, and the Environment by Planning Early for Christmas

This will drive some people crazy, I'm sure but it's just over six months until Christmas and for once I'm trying to get an early start. I like to make homemade gifts and every year I say I'm going to start early so I'm done really early and can just enjoy the season.

This year I'm really hoping that will happen. I've started making my list of what I want to make. My hope is to buy supplies as they are on sale since I'm starting ahead of time. I dream of being all done with craft (other than food crafts of course) by Thanksgiving so I can relax during December.

If you plan ahead you can save money and handmade gifts can also be very eco-friendly. Last year I didn't have much time to craft because I started late but I did make some crocheted produce bags, softies, and a few other little things. I also made all of my cards for the third or forth year. For the crocheted items I used organic yarn I already had and the produce bags were extra green since they replace plastic produce bags. For the cards I did have to buy some paper and couldn't find recycled but I make sure to use every little piece so there isn't much waste and some of the paper was recycled.

In the past I also have made peppermint bath salts and for those I saved glass food jars to put them in. I've also saved cookie tins from my guilty, non-organic, pleasure, danish butter cookies. I plan to use those this year for any baked goods I make.

If you plan ahead you can really save money and make you Christmas greener this year. You will also reduce some holiday stress. So do you think you will start planning soon for the holidays? Also any tips for making green gifts and/or staying on track?

Photo Credit:  Steve Snodgrass

Saturday, May 26, 2012

When bigger can be better

My first-grade friend Ashley Miller had the Barbie dream house. A three-story mansion. For a little girl living in a ranch, it was incredible. And I had to have it.

I asked for it for Christmas. I asked for it for my birthday.

My baby sister got one years later.

Instead, my homeless Barbies got to improvise. The cardboard cases of Girl Scout cookie boxes became the building blocks of some serious square footage. Our Barbie's homes would stretch in custom communes that covered my bed and bedroom floor. And each time it had a new look.

Flash forward 30 years, and my daughter tells me she wants  Barbie dream house for her birthday.

But you already have a Barbie house your uncle bought you at Christmas, I remind her.

But it's not a dream house. It's small.

I sigh. The "starter home" tucked away in the corner truly hasn't seen much play time, and she's asking for an expansion.

So I tell her the story of a little girl, whose imagination, a little brother and a lot of cookies made for great memories of building Barbie mansions. Her eyes light up. "That's a great idea!" she says.

Here's hoping that her dreams create that "dream house" of her imagination.  I can't wait to see what they bring.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Experimentation = Success + Failure

Eco-novice reflects on the inevitability of failure.

Since I embarked on my green journey, I have made numerous gradual changes to our lifestyle as time and budget have allowed. Making these changes has usually required not only some time-consuming research but a fair amount of experimentation. But here's the thing about experimentation. You will fail. At least some of the time. And that's kind of a bummer. Even when you know it's just part of the deal. Here are some of my recent green successes and failures.


Most of the time when I make homemade yogurt, it turns out pretty well. But every now and then, the yogurt doesn't set. So after incubating the yogurt all night, in the morning I find....warm milk (with a little yogurt in it). I have no idea if I can use this milk for anything safely (anyone???), so I end up throwing it away. Which is very depressing. Not least of which for the poor cow who put a lot of energy into making that milk (as I, a milk-maker myself, am well aware). When this happens, it takes me weeks to summon up the ganas to make yogurt again.

Oat Flour
I'm not ready to abandon gluten, but I am trying to broaden our grain horizons. I almost always make my whole grain pancakes with all whole wheat, and wanted to try incorporating oats, as in the King Arthur recipe. The King Arthur recipe calls for rolled oats ground up to a powder in a food processor. I don't have a food processor, but I do have a mill, so I bought oat groats and ground them to a flour, and then used some in my pancakes. The result? Gummy, rubbery pancakes. Even though this was an experiment, I had foolishly made the quadruple recipe. Phooey. My next move will be taking some rolled oats to a friend's house and using her food processor to grind up a bunch of rolled oats, and then to try using that in the pancakes. And I'm going to try the oat flour I already milled instead of whole wheat in my healthy whole grain "cookies."

I really want a garden. For about 100 reasons. I get jealous whenever I read about others' gardens. I have yet to plant a single thing.


Early Potty Training
Parenting is riddled with failures. At least for me. So it's nice to have a little glimmer of success now and then. I don't really take credit for making these successes happen, I'm just pleased that I didn't screw up so much that I prevented them from happening. I started putting my second child on the potty around 9 months, and from that time onward, 90% of her poops were in the potty. This meant a more environmentally-friendly diaper washing routine (I often skipped the pre-rinse and just ran a regular wash/rinse cycle), and an earlier transition to exclusive use of the potty. I've been putting my third child (now 6 months old) on the potty first thing in the morning for about a month now, and every single morning, she has made a deposit. It's awesome.

I'm not ready to abandon sugar completely, but I'm quite sure I don't need to be eating bleached sugar. So I've been looking into alternatives. The situation was made more urgent by the fact that I'm having trouble obtaining more honey from my local raw honey supplier (I often substitute honey for white sugar). Fellow Boother Retro Housewife suggested sucanat as the least refined alternative that could be directly substituted for white sugar (with some changes in taste). When sucanat and its accompanying molasses flavor would not work, she suggested organic cane sugar, opining that turbinado sugar was not different enough to merit the mark-up. So I bought some sucanat and have been trying it in various applications. So far I've used it in my whole grain pancakes and whole grain cookies with great success.

I've been wanting to buy a bird feeder for my backyard for over a year now. Still haven't gotten around to it yet. Nonetheless, a hummingbird has built a nest in our backyard. It is totally amazing. I love watching the hummingbird hover next to its nest and then, seemingly instantaneously, appear sitting motionless in the nest. I had never before seen a hummingbird with wings that weren't furiously flapping. I bet there are eggs in there. I can take no credit for this, but I still count it a success. I want my kids to have regular opportunities to interact with the natural world. Sometimes, just by luck, nature finds you.

What are some of your recent green successes and failures?
How do you cope with the failures?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

There should be dirt on your food!

From the Laundry Basket of the Homegrown Mama

I will never forget having friends over for supper several years ago, proudly picking tender lettuce leaves from my garden to serve and then watching the look of abject horror come over the wife's face when she saw the dirt on the ends.  I was truly not aware that people though lettuce was always as dirt free as it is in those puffed up salad mixes at the grocery.  For the record, I did wash the lettuce and toss it into a fantastic salad with homemade dressing, none of which was eaten by our guests because they "tasted dirt".

The only time in my life that I can remember not having a garden (complete with dirty food) was in college.  Now, I realize that not everyone actually understands where our food comes from, especially when it's packaged so attractively in our grocery stores, but it's really something people deserve to know!  I also realize I'm kind of preaching to choir by telling you vegetables start out dirty, but perhaps your mother-in-law doesn't get it yet.  Maybe your baby brother equates all natural foods with the strange TPV chili you ate during an ill-fated attempt at a vegetarian meal in the 80s.  Or perhaps, your neighbor who doesn't understand why you would want to spend weeks nurturing your tomatoes before harvest when you can just grab a bunch still on the vine, at Walmart.

For people in your life that you need to convince, here are a few talking points to refresh the argument for REAL foods!

  • Tomatoes are harvested unripe and then doused in ethylene gas to give them that glorious pop of color in your salad.
  • Cornell University pulished a study stating that force-ripened produce is less nutritious than ripe-harvested crops.
  • The wrappers on those "clean" veggies in the supermarket are often sprayed with fungicides/bactericides to prolong shelf life.
  • By the way, veggies that are grown on vines, stalks and other types of greenery shouldn't be subjected to cold storage... it turns their beautiful, naturally sweet sugars into flavorless and mealy starches.
  • No chicken should have to lose it's beak because the stress of being in a commercial production row could cause it to peck it's neighbor to death, thereby leading to the poor victim to be rendered and ultimately turned into additional "nutrition" for it's housemates or the cattle
  • Avoid irradated meat. It degrades that quality of meat, provides a false sense of security since it doesn't actually eliminate all pathogens, the results in nuclear waste and oh... the long-term effects on your health isn't fully know yet.
  • Avoid highly colored yogurt. It shouldn't be a purple and green swirl.
  • You want eggs that are from chickens that have met the grass and visit it often. These eggs are high in beta-carotene and have brightly colored yolks. 
  • When it comes to convenience foods, just don't buy them if you can avoid it. You are never going to get the "real thing" and that pretty package is filled with the cheapest food parts and loads of unnecessary dyes, chemical, preservatives and other yuck that you don't' need.
  • Also, note that the greatest majority of ingredients are made from corn or soybean products. Buying these "foods" only gives Monsanto a stronger hold on the farming industry. In increase in a demand for these products causes Monsanto to up their production and slowly continue to edge out the local farmers who don't want to use their seeds or cannot afford the high cost. 
In our society of pasteurized, sanitized, perfectly shiny grocery store displays it can be a shock for some to realize the actual origin of food.  If you are just now learning, glad to have you joining us at the farm markets and local butchers.  If you are trying to teach others, keep it up!  Someday, you might be able to teach them the joy of eating lettuce straight from the garden... even if there's a little bit of dirt!

** bullet points taken from notes I wrote out while reading The Real Food Revival

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tips from the Market

The Homegrown Mama sets aside her laundry basket for reusable shopping bags and heads to the open air market...

To kick off the Memorial Day weekend in my town, our Carousel District Farmers Market opens this Friday morning, bright and early.   It's been a while since I frequented the market, but I'm anxious to return.  Until my garden starts producing, I look forward to supporting our local farmers and their families.  I look forward to seeing them again and marveling at how their lives changed over the winter from the addition of a new baby to the improvement in the math skills of the sweet little girls at the Amish stand on the end (my favorite!). I'm anxious to take my children and spend the morning strolling down town, visiting the  vendors, listening to the music from the carousel and maybe even ending with a visit to the Little Buckeye Children's Museum.  

Here are 5 tips to maximize your Farmers Market experience:
  • Bring your own bags and cash.  Most of the vendors really appreciate the extra thought when you use smaller bills since they can't just run out and make the change you'd need if every one brought 20s from the ATM.
  • Get to know the vendors.  Spend some time chatting with them while you're surveying what they have to offer or counting out your change.  Doing this can and often will lead to new information or experiences.  Chatting with vendors at a market several years ago was how I came to discover a berry farm in the middle of nowhere which then lead to me finding locally grown wheat! 
  •  Ask questions about their produce.  It's really expensive to be declared certified organic and many small farms can't afford it, even though they fall within the guidelines.  Asking never hurt, the worst that will happen is that you'll actually know what's going into the production of your food... which is part of the reason behind buying from the source to begin with!
  • Bring your friends!  Take someone who has never been to a Farmers Market and introduce them to the excitement of local honey or handmade soap.   
  • Don't just find one market... find them all!  In my area, there are markets on almost every day of the week, in several locations.  Not all the farmers sell at the same locations and some of the prices are reflective of the locations (example: Greenhouse A farm market has higher prices than Town B farm market.  Same basic vendors, but the clientele at Greenhouse A is used to paying more.). 
In case you need some help finding markets in your area here are a few websites to help narrow down your search!

Have you already benefited from Farmers Markets this year or are you still waiting in anticipation?

Monday, May 21, 2012

I know I should do another DIY green birthday party...but I'm so tired...

Okay, ladies and gentlemen, I need your encouragement.
If our theme this month is about greening the birthday parties and stuff, I need some help. Not because I don’t have ideas—I’ve done this before, for the past 3 birthdays per kid, I’m just so damn tired now, and my daughter’s birthday has just happened and we need to schedule the “kid party” pretty soon. Like yesterday. And I just don’t know if I have it in me. Some of those party places are looking pretty tempting right about now…
Part of the problem might be how much energy I put into creating The Perfect Party those other times.  The year I did the Princess Pajama Party (a compromise, because she thought her brother’s “Almost Sleepover” was so cool she wanted one for herself, but she wanted the princess aspect as well) I made little capes, researched crafts, had them decorate homemade cupcakes and make their own pizzas and it was awesome…but exhausting.  Last year we went really late too, and she had a really fun summer “B-earth-day Party” outside, with painting little flower pots and making pinecone bird-feeders and planting marigolds and eating fruit and my questionably decorated “Earth Day Cake”…again, tons of fun, but really a lot of work to put together—even though the planning was kind of fun.
So…what I’m looking for now is perhaps the holy grail of parties: an eco-conscious kid party that’s not going to have me going nuts. Any suggestions, friends and neighbors? (And if anyone does have the energy to throw a party for their kids and is looking for green suggestions, click on the links above, which detail my own past experiences, for better or worse!)
--Jenn the Greenmom

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Biggest Green Party of My Life- The Wedding

EcoYogini shares some tips on how to eco-fy your wedding planning...

Ultimately, the biggest party I have planned in my life to do has been my wedding. Which took a full two years of organizing, searching and stressing out. And that's what everything except for the ceremony of a wedding is: a huge party where you and your partner are the hosts.
(our ceremony. It was hurricane weather until I stepped outside- it cleared only long enough for the ceremony on the ocean.)

There are several entire blogs with hundreds of posts committed to greening a wedding, so I'll just touch on a few things that we did for our families and life situations (ahem- budget).

Unfortunately, our wedding wasn't as green as I would have liked. Believe it or not, because we decided not to elope, we had to accept that it was our decision to involve our families... which meant certain compromises had to be made (like having a cake, not announcing both our hyphenated last names and having a dance).

That said, we did manage to sneak in a bunch of eco-friendly party tricks that I actually don't think many people even noticed the difference... (which for both our extremely conservative families, is a big deal).

1. No Save The Dates (or STDs in wedding land. No seriously, they are referred to as STDs lol). Ok, that's a slight lie, we only sent STDs (ugh) to relatives who were old school AND we made them extremely small (business card sized) to save on paper. Everyone else was prompted to email or call. Unfortunately barely anyone did... but from what I hear that's fairly common even with STDs. My mom was pretty darn excellent at tracking people down- so it worked.
(Our invitations. Because of the drama around our last name fusion, we left that off for the invitations too. Turned out alright for a DIY and someone with zero design skills!).

2. Invitations: were made with recycled cardstock by yours truly. They looked ok, and were much cheaper than custom designed and printed. Oh, and how many invitations do you save forever? Right, they go directly in the recycling (here in Nova Scotia it's the law to recycle... so this actually is most likely the case).

3. Guest Gift Packages: this was a silly idea, but I filled locally gifted and scrounged mason jars with locally roasted fair trade organic coffee, local pears from the farmer's market, local free newspapers and homemade delicious granola made by moi and gifted them to all the guests who were staying in cottages overnight for the wedding. The guests loved it, but delivering these packages the day before and morning of my wedding during hurricane rain storm weather resulted in some tears...

4. We requested that all our food and wine be local. It wasn't 100% unfortunately, but a lot of it was bought at the farmer's market. (The lack of local wine even though we specifically requested it is my biggest disappointment).

5. Flowers were all seasonal and from a local flower growing dude 5 minutes away from our venue. Since no one really remembers flowers and I just needed something to grip onto while I walked down that aisle. My friends helped me arrange my bouquet (less difficult than you think) and shove them into white wine bottles Andrew and I had been collecting for the past year (buying wine for the colour of the bottle is NOT the best idea...).

6. My dress was made in Canada using non synthetic fabrics. It wasn't organic, nor was it a sustainable fabric, but it wasn't made by slave labour using petrochemically derived thread. Which was my compromise since I was unwilling to buy a wedding dress online without first trying it on.

Our Guest Tree in action. The frame on the left was an old childhood "art" in my room that I repurposed to explain our favour-donation in memory of our loved ones who had passed. The two columns list them on each our side.

7. Our "Guest Book" was a Wedding Tree that took me 3 hours to paint. We set up the table with vintage (Value Village) tea bowls, some water, a face cloth and paint the colours of Fall with a few BTA (Bridal Team of Awesomeness) friends stationed to explain to more conservative relatives and guests what the heck they were supposed to do. Interestingly, only one (very eccentric anyway) guests refused. It's now on our wall and is a daily reminder of our beautiful event and the important people who were a part of our commitment.
The Guest Tree mounted in a shadow box. The cost was still cheaper than buying a fancy photo guess book and looks beautiful :)

8. My engagement ring isn't a diamond and our bands are made by local artists.

Our cake! On which we broke my Tante's 27 year old crystal wedding knife :S

9. My mom made dessert: local apple and pumpkin pies. Seriously, she's the best pie maker ever. And she made the pies in advance and froze them (and they were still delicious). We found glass pie plates at Value Village for super cheap and gave lots of them away to friends afterwards. She also insisted on cake, which was locally made with organic ingredients and sat on a piece of wood my dad especially cut for under the glass cake stand/plate that I also found at Value Village.

10. Instead of favours we donated money to the Canadian Cancer Society in memory of family members who had passed. All the money raised for the "kissing" part was also added AND we encouraged guests to donate to a few different charities for their gifts. In all we raised over 350$ (with our contribution), and we only had 50 guests. :)

I'm very happy with our mostly Green wedding, but my absolute favourite part of the entire experience was the 20 minute ceremony where we read our personalized vows to each other. Which really drives home that the most important part of a wedding isn't all the fooffy consumerism stuff, but the love and commitment made between two people and witnessed by their family and friends.

 The dip!

Both Andrew and I are very proud to live in a province (and country) where same sex marriages are legal and those who wish it are given equal human rights in love and marriage.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What do you do with old Disposable Dishes?

The Climate Crusader debates what to do with the disposable plastic dishes she already owns.

The Bad Old Days

In my last post, I advocated for using real dishes and cutlery - rather than disposables - at a kids' birthday party. I think it's a solid idea. However, like many people, I'm on a journey towards more sustainable living. I wasn't always as aware of my environmental footprint as I am today. Back in the bad old days, I bought a bunch of disposable plastic cups. I bought so many, in fact, that I still have dozens taking up space in a high cupboard in my kitchen.
These days I'm certainly not buying new disposable cups. But what of the disposable cups that are already in my possession? The packages they came in are already open, so I'm pretty sure no one else wants them. They already exist, they're mine, and now I need to decide what to do with them. As I see it, I have a few options:

  1. Use the disposables I already have until they're all gone, and then go reusable from there on out.
  2. Just chuck the disposables. It will de-clutter the shelf in my kitchen, and they're going to end up in the landfill sooner or later anyway, so why not sooner?
  3. Use the disposables judiciously, perhaps even washing them between uses to get as much wear out of them as possible, and then go reusable once they've fully expired.

Image credit: Arvind Grover on Flickr

Making a Decision

There are some factors to consider as I make my decision. The first thing I'm considering is that the more use I can get out of the disposables I already have in my possession, the better for the planet. If I can use a disposable cup five times instead of one time, I'm going to go through the cups that much more slowly, which is probably a good thing.

But is it safe to reuse a plastic cup that's meant for one use only? The answer to that simply isn't clear. Disposable items are generally pretty flimsy, which means that they're more likely to bend and break, and give way to the stress of multiple uses. As this happens, the plastic could be leaching harmful chemicals. Not so good. However, there really isn't solid evidence one way or the other for what the actual danger level is. Most of the warnings about the dangers of reuse come from the people who make the disposable item, who are invested in you buying more of them.

Last summer at the BlogHer conference our food was served on disposable dishes. I decided to tote a plate and bowl around with me, washing them between uses. For myself, I made the decision that the risks of reusing were low enough that I would do what I could to reduce my environmental footprint. I think I'll take the same approach with the disposable cups I already have in my house. I'll use them as many times as I can before I get rid of them, and hopefully reduce the waste I produce in the process.

I wonder what you would do. How would you handle a bunch of disposable dishes that you already had in your house? Would you use them, reuse them, or just toss them outright?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I'm Expecting A Greener Baby This Time Around!

From Emerald Apron's Growing Belly I'm so excited to announce that I'm expecting our second child, due to arrive in November! My son Joshua is two years old and I have learned so much since his arrival into our lives. Since this is our second time around, I feel like I've learned a few lessons about what I can do more sustainably with baby #2. Our family and friends were so incredibly generous with Joshua. I got so much baby gear at our shower that it was amazing! I didn't know if I could use it all, but I had it in case I needed it. I made sure that everything was gender neutral so it would be a snap to use it again, and I saved everything. Joshua always preferred to be in my arms, so the carseat, stroller, swing, play mat, exersaucer, jumparoo and other chair-type items got almost no use (except for car rides of course). I saved all those items and if this baby likes them, then we'll use them. I'm not going to buy any "gear" but I could use a nice, comfortable sling or soft structured carrier that's appropriate for a newborn and will grow along with my child. When Joshua arrived at a whopping 9lbs. 8oz., I realized the newborn-sized diapers and clothes were too small. He barely fit in the outfit I planned to bring him home from the hospital, and I ended up giving away all the teensy tiny diapers. As far as clothes go this time around, I'm mostly set. This baby will be born in November and Joshua's birthday was in March, so I may need to buy clothes because of the difference in seasons (we live in New England). I'm not going to buy anything smaller than size three months, that's for sure! If this baby turns out to be a girl, then I'll buy some girly clothes to supplement the hand-me-downs. (Don't start on me about gender equity and all that. I'm going to dress my girl in pink and purple and skirts and ruffles sometimes. Heck, I can solve complex physics problems without a calculator and I loved pink and purple and Barbies as a kid. So give me a break.) There's a great second-hand children's store in the area, and I'm going to scout it out as needed. We used disposable diapers with Joshua for the first three months or so, then we switched to gDiapers. I happen to love gDiapers because they still have a disposable option and have less plastic waste than conventional disposables, they are cute and colorful, and I don't have to wash them as often as cloth. Cloth diapers are just not for me, so gDiapers are a great option. With baby #2, we're going to start with gDiapers right away (well, maybe after the first few days). We'll need to pick up some small sizes, since Josh was already in mediums when we started. All in all, I'm hoping to curb the consumerism this time around. What are your best tips for being more sustainable when adding to your family?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Greener Redecorating

I'm working on redecorating my home, or should I say decorating it since I have never really done a lot in that area. We thought it was going to be temporary but we ended up buying the house so I guess it's not so temporary, ha. I want to decorate the house in an environmentally friendly fashion and also affordably.

One thing I'm doing is trying to use what I already have. For example one of the bathrooms is already done in blues but nothing on the walls and pretty boring. So that everything we already have can still be used I decided to do a beach theme. I love the beach and rarely get to go so I figure it will be nice to have a little bit of the beach here. And since I used to go to California a lot and I enjoy the beach I already have some beached themed items I can use. I found some shells we had around, a dolphin candle (that is gel so would never burn it but it's cute), and my husband has a sign that has a shark on it. I never knew where we could put the sign so the bathroom theme is perfect. I will need to buy somethings but not a lot since I already have a number of things around the house.

I also used to oil paint so I have a fair amount of paints that I will use for some of our art work. I'm also making some more myself. I plan to try and get back to painting watercolors and honestly the cost of artwork is pushing me even more to start. I also enjoy photography so I plan to use some of my own photos as well.

Etsy is another resource I will use a lot. I love supporting real people and it's also a great place for vintage pieces as well as unique, eco-friendly decor. I already ordered a sign for the kitchen that says "When Life Gives You Lemons, Add Vodka." Because it was handmade I was able to get it made to match the kitchen, can't do that at Walmart!

I also plan to check out the local Goodwill to see if I can score any good used items. By doing all of this I should be able to give the house a new look without spending much money and in a very green manner. I would love to hear your tips on this subject as well! Be sure to post links to good places to get eco-friendly decor as well.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Help! Anyone know non-toxic ways to get rid of an out of the way hornet nest?

Okay, friends, the clock is ticking.

We have a little hornet nest being built just under our mailbox, in the sort of useless "newspaper" slot no one ever uses. But it's tucked back in the corner, hard to reach.

We took care of one earlier that was in the garage door-jamb; that was fairly easy. We just waited till night, covered it with a tupperware container, jostled the nest off the wall, slid cardboard under it, and set it on the ground with a rock on top till they sort of suffocated. (Sorry, I'm very "I love all wild things," but wasps not so much.)

Now we've got one in a hard place to reach, and my husband has decreed that he'll be buying a can of Raid to get rid of them. And unless I have a better idea to try, I don't really have a leg to stand on in arguing with him.

Anyone have experience with this? I've heard soapy water, hair spray, traps, various stuff like that...but has anyone actually tried this stuff and had it succeed without getting attacked?

Time is running out...any day now he'll remember to go shopping and come home with that foam-squirting can...Help!
--Jenn the Greenmom

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Let's get this (deck) party started!

From Truffula's deck, where the kale is in flower, the asparagus is shooting up, and all will now be exquisitely pollinated...
Bees hanging out at the hive entrances
What an exciting week!  The short version is that Hotel Melissa is now totally a-buzz with inhabitants.  Our deck is any family member's first stop upon returning home.  Even guests have bypassed the front door to sidle around the side for a look.  There, we watch the party going on!

We opted to keep bees this spring. But, in a way, these bees chose us.  Our bee order hit a snag, and I was despairing over what to do.  Then, an email offering a swarm came across the bee club's email list.  The address was close by.  Within about five minutes, I was on the phone with the offerer.  The entire family piled into the car, and off we went.

The swarm awaited us in Ms. P's shrubbery
Kind Ms. P already had four hives, and was happy to share her swarm with us.  She suited up, and helped us collect it.  Our little car was filled with a loud hum as we drove carefully back home.

Using a branch from the swarm as a bee brush
I'd pored over instructions and studied YouTube videos about how to install bee packages.  In the end, none of that time was wasted.  But, pouring that swarm into our waiting top bar hive ended up being a by-the-seat-of-our-pants adventure.

Five days of comb building progress
We haven't seen the queen yet, but we sure hope she's in there.  In the meantime, the worker bees are hard at their task.  Truly, the process of comb building is amazing.

 But, let's get back to the theme here!  While the bee party has been going on outside on our deck, we're looking at parties here in the Booth...

Birthday parties short on cash and long on fun

The "make it, take it" approach to parties has yielded some good celebrations for us.  The main event of the shindig was a creative activity.  In place of a goody bag, the guests took their creation home with them.

One year, we made wilding sticks.  We collected suitable tree branches in advance, and then offered them to guests as they arrived.  Our living room was soon full of wafting feather bits as the children snipped and taped.  When they finished, we gathered the children and their sticks, and went on a walk.  An unexpected side benefit was that we had some really nice conversations along the way, as various grouping of kids and adults found themselves next to each other.

Another year, we dyed silks using Kool-Aid.  I had several pots with different colors set up in the kitchen.  The guests took turns coming in, selecting their color, and then dipping in their fabric.  The finished products went outside to dry.  Before the guests left, we took a group photo of them draped in their creations.

Silk scarves drying

Post-party cleanup

When we host gatherings at home, our table is full of mis-matched glasses, mugs, plates, bowls, and cutlery.  However, when we've been involved with away-from-home events, schlepping all of that along for a group is not always feasible.  

One of my early Booth posts described my composting after a pot-luck.  Since then, I've continued composting as much as possible after our church coffees on Sundays.  

Here's how my thinking has changed a little...  paper plates and napkins generally compost well.  Paper cups are another matter.  With their plastic liners, they end up being little wads in my compost, which I then need to fish out.  I'm ok with the fishing.  What's less ok with me is that a certain amount of compost clings on.  While I'm rescuing the paper fibers on the cups from a fate in the trash, I'm then wasting them when I toss out the plastic wads.  

So, I've stopped collecting cups.  For picnics, that might actually be fine.  So many people carry beverage bottles with them these days, making it less urgent for them to use a cup.  The problem is when you have events at which bottle-toting is less appropriate, like the reception we're attending this weekend.  I'm open to suggestions for solutions!

Party on, Booth readers!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Simplifying from Store-Bought Parties

Six weeks until my daughter's seventh birthday party, and you'd think we'd be planning it for years.

She's inherited her aunt's desire to start planning things early. As in "Here is what I want to celebrate next time" just a day or so after the year's celebration!

The good thing about a long lead time on themes is it's allowed me to extend my creativity on party planning and source out items from unexpected places.

Like the year we did a Fancy Nancy tea party. We hit Goodwill on one of its half-off days and invested in "fine china" to celebrate the big event. Even better, the dishes were washed and re-donated the next day!

Or our luau party, where we sourced decorations from of all places, our office storeroom during a staff clean-up day.

We've also found that splitting our family and "kid" celebrations, we wind up with happier guests and less disposable trash, even if it means holding two events.

What's your favorite tip to create a party while holding the line on waste?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lazy Homemade Ice Cream Cake

Ice cream cake: name obscured b/c I'm a privacy nut

From Eco-novice's recipe archive

I never saw it officially announced, but it looks to me like the Green Phone Booth theme for May is Greener Parties!

If you are too lazy to make the ice cream cake posted earlier this week, here is the truly lazy method:

You need:

  • 9 x 11 pan, or something close
  • 1 carton vanilla ice cream (the ones that come in boxes are easy to use)
  • 1 carton other flavor ice cream (chocolate chip, cookies 'n' cream, etc.)
  • 1 box not-too-terrible chocolate sandwich cookies (I usually use Whole Foods or Trader Joes -- and, yes, they both contain palm oil)

  1. Crush up the sandwich cookies. You can use a food processor or a rolling pin or whatever. They do not need to be ground to dust, different sized pieces are fine, but a portion should be crumb-size.
  2. Press about half of the crushed cookies into the bottom of the pan.
  3. Let the ice cream warm up a bit. 
  4. Spread the non-vanilla container ice cream over the crushed cookies. I like the rectangular boxes because you can just tear off the entire box and then slice the cake into rectangles to fit your size pan.
  5. Spread the other half of the crushed cookies on top of the ice cream layer. Ice cream should be melty enough that you can press the cookies into them. This is important or the cake will just fall apart in the middle when you serve it. Not that anybody would really care...
  6. Spread the entire box of vanilla ice cream over the top. Again, slicing it into rectangles saves you a lot of spreading. I like to use vanilla on top so you can decorate the top.
  7. Put the cake in the freezer and let it firm up a bit. Then use chocolate chips or something else to spell your child's name, age, etc. 
  8. Insert candles just before lighting.
  9. Enjoy!

This simple cake is beloved by all, adults and children alike. It can be assembled the morning of the party or the night before. 

Thanks to my sister-in-law for this awesome recipe.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Consider the handmade

 From the laundry basket of the Homegrown Mama

I think that one of my favorite things about having kids is their desire to make something for special days.  A card, a craft, a cookie.  My kids aren't yet to the point where they come up with their own ideas, but they are happy to lend their little fingers to make sweet crafts and color the pages designated for Grandma or Uncle Chris.  I am so excited for the day we get to take clumsily wrapped packages of their homemade gifts to holidays and watch their faces beam when the recipients open them!

In my opinion, the best gift that can be given is something handcrafted.  It doesn't have to be perfect.  It doesn't have to be skilled.  To quote Paul Rudd in Our Idiot Brother: "there's no such thing as an ugly homemade candle."  I must say that I agree.  Life doesn't have to be about perfection.

Parties, gift giving, and celebrations don't have to be about the commercialized perfection of our society.  Instead, they can be about creating a memory with those you love.  For my daughter's first birthday, a friend of mine made her a little shirt.  She picked out the fabric knowing what I would have chosen and made it with love for my little one.  Of all the gifts she was given, that gift will always stay with us.  Someone cared enough to take the time to make something for my baby.

Another friend brought us a plant. Every time I walk out to get the mail, I see the Bleeding Heart and think not only of a sweet friend, but of the blessing one year with my daughter has been.  There is a time and a place for perfection, but if you are looking to make someone's celebration special, don't forget a handmade gift or a plant.  Anyone can choose a plant and you don't even have to worry about keeping it alive!  Just because you aren't a "crafty" person doesn't mean you can't give something handmade.  This is the reason why Etsy, craft fairs and farm markets exist.  Even if you can't be the crafter, someone else made their creations with love.  

This year, I challenge you as you are planning birthday parties and attending baby showers, think of a way to not only give a gift, but give something of yourself by giving homemade.  Pinterest is a glory of ideas and if you are looking for some inspiration to get started you can find my idea boards here.  And with that, I'm off to come up with an idea for thank you gifts for the Moppets workers that have been caring for my kiddos twice a month while I get to actually eat a warm brunch...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Homemade Ice Cream Cake

My little girl turned seven this week. She’s my little green mini-me, who weeps when she sees trees with the ominous orange dot spray-painted onto their trunks, because she knows it means they will soon come down. She’s the one who, if she ever sees me accidentally turn toward the trashcan with something that could go into recycling, reprimands me in no uncertain terms, and then lectures me about the planet. The next generation’s green blogger in the making.
We haven’t had “the party” (meaning the one for other kids) yet, so I’ll report back when that happens, but we did have our little “family” gathering on the actual day of her birthday. As always, we asked the birthday child what she wanted for dinner on her birthday, and what kind of cake she wanted.
For dinner, she wanted Pizza Hut. (Clearly my little environmentalist needs some work. Has Michael Pollan written anything for small children yet? He should get on that…)
For dessert, she wanted an ice cream cake.
These are the kinds of things we used to order from Oberweis or Baskin-Robbins or something, but I didn’t want to go that route, I wanted to know more about the ingredients, avoid artificial colors and growth hormones and HFCS and such.  But thinking about it, I realized it’s actually pretty easy. So here's how it works:

How to Make an Ice Cream Cake (9” round)
·         Half a gallon of good ice cream, flavor of choice
·         1 quart of good ice cream, contrasting flavor of choice
·         1 or 2 layers homemade cake (I use the “one bowl cake” recipe, either on its own or halved for only one layer)

Start the night before:
Set the half gallon ice cream out to soften for 20 minutes or so; stir well so it’s easily spreadable.
In the pan where you will bake the cake (I use the basic 9” round layer cake, but you could do whatever you want, I guess), spread the half gallon of ice cream as thick as you want your ice cream layer to be; we usually just use the whole half gallon.
Freeze overnight till very solid. (If you need to re-use the pan to bake the cake, once it’s solidly frozen, take the ice cream round out of the pan and wrap it in something like parchment paper or—if you’re like me and sometimes suck it up and use plastic—cling wrap and put back in the freezer.

The next day, or whenever you want if you have 3 cake pans, which I don’t:
Bake your layer cake. Cool completely.
If you baked only one layer, split it evenly into two layers by wrapping a strong piece of thread or dental floss around the circumference and gently pulling through to create two layers.

At least a few hours before serving:
Soften the contrasting quart of ice cream for 20 minutes or so and stir till spreadable
Working quickly, assemble your cake: one cake layer on the bottom, ice cream round in the middle, another cake layer on top. Spread with the softened ice cream as frosting.
Immediately put back into the freezer before it starts melting and becomes a mess. Decorate or garnish as desired, again, just working fast so it doesn’t melt on you. Strawberry halves, cookie crumbs, toasted coconut, whatever sounds good to you…

This cake was a huge hit. Way less expensive than the store-bought alternative. And surprisingly easy, despite the amount of pre-planning required.  If you have a lot of birthdays in your house, or are a better planner than I, you could probably make and freeze a few ice cream rounds and/or cake layers at a time, so you can pull it all out and assemble it as you wish. 
--Jenn the Greenmom

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mama made compost!

Composting may be nature's fertilizer, but I'll be the first to admit that I've been a bit scared by the concept.

After all, doesn't rotting food stink? And we have such a small lot for our home. And I have to work around a grouchy home association and uncertain neighbors...

But that all changed a year ago, when my husband got me a flexible composting bin for Christmas. It was easy to install - insert three poles, use a few zip ties to keep it closed - and all I had to do is add my composting fuel!

From what I had read, composting is about as easy as you could get: layer brown ingredients (straw, dead plants) with green (veggie peels and cores, etc.) and keep it moist, turning periodically. But I will admit, as the summer wore on, I saw no major breakdown in our compost. I bought composting accelerator, and saw nothing. I was getting worried. Have I wasted all these goofy trips to the bin for nothing? 

As spring approached, I realized my poor bin was becoming the leaning tower of compost, so we decided to rebuild it (we're adding landscaping stakes to keep it down). I spent a half-hour pitching out semi-decayed material into my wheelbarrow, and lo and behold: About half-way down, I was finding compost!

I wound up with four large pots filled with composted materials - about the equivalent of a large bag I'd find at the store - that will make my garden happy. My worries were unfounded - we put in the produce, God and nature takes care of the rest!

I still have a wheelbarrow filled with brown and semi-decomposed matter (and a few worms as well) that will get replaced into the bin.

I learned though, that some things do take longer to compost: those snapped-off asparagus stems, corn cobs, brussels sprouts and broccoli stalks. But I'm not deterred.

No excuses here: Those orange peels, apple cores, onion tops...They're all going into the pot this spring and summer. After all, it's for a great cause.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Five Easy Ways to Reduce Birthday Party Waste

The Climate Crusader knows how to throw a kid's party ... sort of.

Before I was a mom, I found the idea of throwing kids' birthday parties more than a little daunting. Lots of sugared-up children running around my house, or forking over so they could run around a rented space? That didn't sound like fun to me. Once my daughter was in kindergarten, though, there was no avoiding it. I accepted the inevitable, and started planning. Long before I'd chosen a theme or decided for sure where to host it, I did know one thing, and that was that I wanted to reduce the environmental impact of the party.

Traditional kids' birthday parties can generate a lot of waste. Think balloons, streamers, disposable dishes, plastic forks and spoons, and lots and lots of packaging. All of that adds up to a lot of stuff headed straight for the landfill, where it will sit for hundreds or thousands of years. Not good. I decided to do a little bit of investigating, and look for an alternative.

With several kids' birthday parties under my belt now, I'm happy to say that party hosting is actually far more fun than I'd expected. I'm also happy to say that I found some easy ways to reduce the amount of waste that I was generating. Here are my tips.

Five Easy Ways to Green Your Birthday Party

  1. Go high-tech with your invitations. Electronic invitations are still viewed with suspicion for formal events. But a kids' birthday party is not a wedding, or even a baby shower. So why not ditch the paper invitations in favour of an email option? If you want it to look nice, you can get creative in Photoshop. Plus, electronic invitations make RSVP-ing a snap, so the other parents will have no excuse for not replying.
  2. Look for reusable decorations. I got some felt butterflies and a cloth banner with my daughter's name on it the first time we hosted a kids' birthday party. The butterflies are scattered on the rug and pinned on the wall at each party, and used as toys the rest of the year. The name banner hangs in my daughter's room, and comes downstairs to the living room on the big day. These decorations are festive and they have staying power.
  3. Use real dishes and cutlery. I don't like washing dishes, but thanks to my dishwasher one load takes care of the plates, bowls, cups and cutlery from my kids' parties. If you need extras, you can always borrow some for the occasion. And if your party is away from home, laundry baskets make great transportation devices.
  4. Re-think the loot bag. Most kids' parties feature plastic bags filled with plastic trinkets, which will likely end up in the trash sooner rather than later. Why not mix it up a little, and do something different? Make a craft at the party that the kids can take home. Or consider paper bags as an easy alternative to plastic. They're not waste-free, but they are recyclable. A few mindfully-chosen items also beat lots of cheap stuff.
  5. Re-use the gift wrap. True fact: I have not purchased gift wrap in years. Instead, I keep all the gift bags and tissue paper I receive, and re-use them. It gives new life to gift wrap, saves money, and eliminates that big garbage bag full of wrapping paper you may remember from your own parties as a child. What's not to love about that?
Those are my tips for reducing waste at a kids' birthday party. How do you green your birthday parties?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tornadoes, Climate Change and Being Prepared

I was trying to write a post last night for today but ended up watching weather instead as my county was under a tornado watch. I also happened to be writing about climate change and extreme weather for my blog, talk about ironic.

While tornadoes where I live aren't a new thing, I live in Oklahoma, they seem to be getting more common and at least this year, our season started early. Normally tornado season in Oklahoma starts in May but we have already had a lot of tornadoes this year, including one that killed five people in Woodward, Oklahoma on April 14th. And last night a tornado hit some small towns near Medford, Oklahoma, thankfully no injuries have been reported with that tornado. 

Last year was a very scary year for me, for tornadoes. On Earth Day a tornado was headed straight for my town. Our sirens were going off and we were being told to take cover. I have a scanner and I was listening to the storm spotters to know when my area was in danger so I could get in the closet, thankfully right before it hit town it disappeared. It would have likely hit very close to me with the path it was on. Between that storm and the sirens going off a few other times this past year, we have been seriously looking into buying an in ground shelter.

So, what does all this have to do with climate change? Well like I talked about on my blog today, while no one weather event can be linked to climate change, the growing trend of more extreme weather is consistent with the expectations of climate scientists. 

With this being the case it's more important than ever to be prepared for disasters. Last year my area experienced all kinds of extreme weather, from a major snow storm, to a 5.6 earthquake, lots of tornadoes, flooding, a major drought and wildfires. It got me thinking more about being prepared for these kinds of things. 

So this leaves me with some questions for everyone, first are you prepared for a disaster? If so for how many days? Do you store canned food or have you found good options that are bpa-free? How do you store water? 

Photo credit: NOAA Photo Library


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