Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Choice of Urban vs Rural

EcoYogini ponders the pros and cons of living semi-rurally...

We bought our first house. (!!!)
(Andrew and I in front of our future front door!! LOVE that it is yellow :) )

It's an important, life-step decision that I am very proud to have accomplished (albeit later than my childhood peers) and very excited to move from putting money into the black hole of rent to an investment such as a house.

The search and purchase of this house definitely wasn't without compromise. My dream home wouldn't be anything big, but it would be on the Atlantic ocean without any neighbours in sight (key word: "sight", doesn't mean I would want a ton of land).

Unfortunately, in order to work to pay the mortgage we'd need to be within commuting distance to the city. And although Halifax is a port city, and it doesn't take long to reach the ocean, all ocean front and even rural-esque land and homes are hundreds of thousands of dollars out of our price range.

We considered building, since we'd be able to control the level of "eco" home we wanted... and were informed that recent laws in Nova Scotia make it near impossible for first time mortgage-purchasers to acquire a building mortgage.

Our compromise in this entire situation: A beautiful, 8 year old home 40minutes outside of the city in a semi-suburban, semi-rural neighbourhood on 1.34 acres of land. We have a well and septic (and a reverse osmosis full house treatment system!), an oil tank that accepts bio-diesel and bird feeders and deer poop! (re: deer!).

The closing date is January 7th 2014, and we're so excited to be picking out energy efficient appliances (those currently in the home are awful, worse than our apartment appliances), low VOC paint options and acquiring Nests (all future blog posts).

The downside to this entire experience: the extra-long commute which will add to our carbon emissions, and the necessity of purchasing a second car.

Yes, living in the urban centre is better for the environment. And yes, we could have found a condo or small home within our price range on a bus route. Unfortunately, 13 years of living in a city has truly begun to seep all levels of happiness from my life. Having lived for 19 years in a village of 500 people, I explicitly know how much more grounded, happy and connected to Nature I feel when I am living out of the city. A purely selfish reason, however I am a firm believer that life is wasted if a person is unhappy... so what's the point?

Another reason for the more rural route: Andrew and I want our children to know nature. Yes, I know it's possible to know nature while in the city... but parks and trips outside the city are not the same as wild, free exploration. A great example of this: our friends from the suburbs of Toronto have NEVER seen the milky way until this summer, while visiting my parents cottage in the middle of the woods.

So, although I know there will be those who will judge and condemn us for moving out of the city and being forced into buying a second car, I know it is the best decision for our family. We'll just have to work harder at making our home and lives as energy efficient as possible. Carpooling, buying a low-fuel vehicle, investing in solar panels or geothermal heating, gardening, purchasing carbon offsets... I'm sure our list could grow.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Litterless Lunch Dilemma

Queen Composter is pondering how to deal with her children losing expensive, eco friendly food containers. 

Every year for Christmas I like to give my daughters reusable lunch containers and snack bags. I have been slowly replacing the less environmentally friendly reusable lunch container options with safer ones. The stainless steel containers that I like are much more expensive than the more “disposable” plastic ones sold in the grocery stores, however, and I am tired of my daughters misplacing them. I have their names on everything, and occasionally they make their way back to my girls, or the missing containers are found in the bottom of a bag. But I am noticing the stock shrink over time and I don’t know what to do about it.

Our PVC and phthalate free lunch boxes. The stainless steel container
on the left is a two-level bento box, and can be great as an all-in-one lunch container.

With stainless steel containers ranging from $10 to $20 or more, and  snack and sandwich bags from $5 to $10, I cannot be replacing them every time they go missing. We are now down to enough supply to cover two days’ lunch for each daughter. There are times, however, when things have been left at school or daycare, or temporarily lost in a bedroom, and I have nothing “safe” to use to pack everyone’s lunch. In these cases I have had to resort to the dreaded plastic ziplock baggy (that has been washed and reused more times than I can count), plastic container that we still have hanging around, or glass containers that I prefer to use for work (but don't like to send with my kids).

I have looked into giving my girls stainless steel lunch systems for Christmas presents (all in one, no need for additional containers) but as they are often $50 or more, I find it hard to justify the expense. I have invested much money so far in the individual containers and cloth bags, I am unwilling to change gears at this time. They still have a need for smaller containers because they like to run around during recess and don't want to have to carry their whole lunch outside when they play. They like grabbing their snack and putting them into their pockets. 

Our other lunch box option, the BPA free Goodbyn system, which
we know is not ideal, but it does reduce the need for separate containers. 

So far I have tried the following strategies:
  • label every single item with our family name
  • remind my daughters every day to bring home their lunch containers
  • remind my daughters to clean out their school bags every day, and do spot checks myself
  • do regular sweeps of their bedrooms, playroom
  • reorganize storage spaces so that items are easy to locate (this is an ongoing issue as I’m not the most organized or tidy person)
  • talk to my girls about why they need to take care of their belongings
  • talk to my girls about why we buy more expensive containers instead of the cheaper, unsafe plastic items

Unfortunately, I still have a shrinking supply of eco friendly containers, and this year I am not buying replacements for Christmas presents. We will make do with what we have. 

Has anyone else experienced this problem? How do you handle litterless lunches for school or work?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Baby it's Cold Outside ... But that Doesn't Mean Global Warming isn't Real

The Climate Crusader explains why colder-than-normal temperatures aren't actually evidence that global warming isn't happening.

If it's been chillier than usual in your area lately, you're not alone. Cold weather swept across the continent last week, leading to plummeting temperatures and too much snow to handle in many cities across the US and Canada. It's not just chilly here, either. While they're entering summer in the Southern Hemisphere, the coldest temperature ever recorded was recently logged in Antarctica - minus 135.8 Fahrenheit, or minus 93.2 Celsius.


When the mercury starts to fall, some people may wonder why it's so cold out if we're supposed to be experiencing global warming. Can climate change really be happening, if we're shivering our way through late autumn? The short answer is Yes.

When you're talking about the impact of climate change, it's important to understand the difference between the climate and the weather. The weather is what's happening right now. It tells us about the current temperature, wind speed and direction, humidity level, cloud cover, precipitation and so on. The climate tells us about the weather patterns in an area over a longer amount of time. It tells us things like what the average temperature and precipitation accumulation are in a specific place over several years, decades or centuries.

Another way to put this is to say that the weather is the day-to-day variation, while the climate is the long-term trend. Here is a short and easy-to-understand video that explains the difference:

Of course the weather is colder in the winter than it is in the summer. And of course, we sometimes see temperatures that are unusually cold, just as we sometimes see temperatures that are unusually hot. Taken by themselves, they don't tell us how the Earth's climate is changing. Only measuring trends over time can tell us what's happening, and help us to predict what may happen in the decades ahead. Those trends are very clear: the average temperature on our planet is rising, and there's a strong scientific consensus that humans are causing it.

While the idea of global warming may sound appealing on a cold winter day, the evidence is pretty strong that it's actually not a good thing for plants, animals and people. It's important that we don't become complacent, just because it isn't warm out today.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Real vs Fake: the holiday debate continues

Mindful Echo is weighing her arbor-ous options.

Confession: I have never had a real Christmas tree. gasp! Allow me to explain.

As I mentioned in my last post, my birthday is in December. When my parents were first starting out, they were more concerned about supporting a baby on the incomes of a schoolteacher and a grad student than there were about doing it up big for Christmas. Still, my father wanted to do something special so he purchased an artificial tree for $10 (a big expense for them at the time) and on Christmas morning wrapped up my baby self with a bow and put me under the tree.

Blah, blah, blah, the sentimentality of the tree stayed with my parents for YEARS and, though it's a sweet memory, we celebrated every season under the slanted, sparse branches of that tree that wasn't even fit for Charlie Brown's living room. It wasn't until I was in high school, when a friend commented on how tiny it was, that it really occurred to me that it was a sad looking tree. Still, in the greater scheme of things, the size of the tree and it's pathetic acrylic and aluminum branches were still fun to decorate with homemade ornaments and strings of garland.

Since then I've always had an excuse to skip having a tree- despite the fact that I ALWAYS decorate. Every year I've either been travelling or just not had the space to justify something big. I'm currently living in around 800 sq ft with my partner, our dog, and two cats. We technically could make room for a tree...but that's were the problem really arises: to go fake or au natural?

My initial conflicting thoughts as argued by the two devils on my shoulders:
Chopping down our precious trees for decoration is harmful to our forests! 
Purchasing plastic products for decorations unnecessarily supports the evil oil industry!

So, which voice do I listen to? Google tells me I'm not alone in asking this question so here are a few articles that are also engaging in the debate:

It seems to me that the best decision would be to use a living tree, one with the roots still in tact. That way it can be replanted after the holidays. I'm not sure I have room for that this year, but it's a great idea! What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear which side you take. Leave a comment and let me know how you picked your tree this year.

Image source:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Seven Steps to a Nothing New Christmas

From the bean of Green Bean.

I embarked on this holiday season as a bit of a scrooge.  Even though we've tried to limit buying for years, our house still bursts at the seams with stuff.  I still spend hours every week cleaning stuff, organizing stuff, decluttering stuff and so on.

As we dragged down boxes of holiday decorations and I began, once again, arranging stuff, I wanted to scream: NO MORE STUFF!

It's not just my family and its not just Christmas.  The world just does not need any new stuff.  Our forests, oceans and skies are depleted yet our landfills are full.  Instead of busting down doors for the newest gadget, we need to learn to reuse what we, collectively, have.

Enter my Seven Steps to Nothing New Christmas.

1) Switch to a White Elephant Gift Exchange: Five years ago, my extended family moved from drawing names to a White Elephant exchange.  The rules are simple.  You can give something you already own or you can spend up to $15 on something new (almost always consumables).  This switch has ignited our family from ho hum holidays to laughter and tears.  No one dares skip a holiday gathering for fear of missing out on the event.  The trash talking starts as early as September: "Ohhh, wait until you see what we're going to give this year."  "I hope no one saved that hideous clown picture from last year."  The exchange, itself, is a raucous event with pictures taken, gifts snatched and memories made.

Here are the kids last year, starting their own White Elephant exchange.

2) Shop Your Closest and Save Your Clutter:  I declutter on a regular basis but before I list items on Freecycle or haul them to the local thrift store, I cull out the nicer items - things that are new or nearly so, high quality vintage or handmade goods and so on.  For instance, a good friend very much wants a marble rolling pin.  I have one that I've been meaning to let go.  Gift match made in heaven!

3) Shop Second Hand: Whether looking to reduce one's footprint or sustain one's bank account, giving used gifts is officially "in".  Antique stores are a classy route but thrift and consignment stores are, in my opinion, totally legit.  Many items are new, in the package, or like new.  Don't forget garage sales, eBay and Amazon (used books) as well.  Beyond scoring some really sweet finds, it is important to support second hand retail outlets.  Our town just lost a treasured antique mall due to increased rents.  If the demand was higher for pre-loved goods, we might have more space in our landfill.

My niece's gift: a book she requested from a library sale (brand new condition), a thrifted lunch box to wrap it in and a fox coin purse handmade from scraps.

4) Make Your Own Gifts: I've been busy knitting for my kids and their cousins, all with yarn that has been clogging up my closet.  It's a win win because I'm decluttering while creating meaningful items for people I can about.  As onerous as this sounds, I've opted for small and simple - picking quick knits rather than projects that take months to put together.

Here is my answer to the "Collect Them All" little plastic toys that my kids always want.  Each of these stuffies only took a couple of hours to knit. I made them all from scraps and they fit perfectly inside a repurposed egg carton.  

5) A Garden of Gifts: If you, like me, are a gardener, your yard is a shopping mall full of gifts.  While the flowers are mostly gone by now, I do still have some citrus, greens and herbs - any of which would make a lovely hostess gift.  With more planning, I could also be giving propagated plants and collected seeds - not only unique gifts but ones that encourage planting of natives or heirlooms in a world badly in need of biodiversity.

6) Can You Can Can?:  If yes, you can give some of summer's canned goods.  Jams, preserves, jellies and pickles are all special gifts and can be combined with garden gifts in a second hand basket for teachers, co-workers, friends.  If you bake, a loaf of pumpkin bread or persimmon tea cake or such would also be a wonderful addition.

7) Couponing for Good:  Finally, give future favors. Personally (hint hint!), I would adore coupons for babysitting, a cooked meal, cookies of the month, cut flowers from your garden in the summer.  You get the hint - or at least I hope you do.

Here are more thoughts on how to give used items as gifts.

So far, my nothing new Christmas is going exceedingly well.  Consumables aside (because what is wrong with farmers' market olive oil and honey!), I'll probably only end up with a couple of new new gifts . . . and I'm feeling a whole lot less scroogey.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Skin Deep: An App Review

Queen Composter is looking for ways to make green choices easier when shopping.

I regularly visit the Environmental Working Group’s websiteSkin Deep to research the safety of the personal care products I may purchase. I particularly like their safety reviews of sunscreen products. Like many people, I am so frustrated with having to research the ingredients of everything I buy, which is why I have tried to eliminate the commercial products I buy as I gradually learn how to make my own with safe ingredients.

There are still some products that I buy, and some that I buy when my homemade items run out, and I appreciate Skin Deep when I need to research which product has the safest ingredients. I have found it inconvenient, however, when trying to access the website on my smart phone while out shopping. I am wholly reliant upon and addicted to my smart phone, and I am a stereotypical mom using her smart phone for shopping lists and organizing her kids' social calendar. When I discovered that Skin Deep has a free mobile app, I was naturally excited and looking forward to trying it out. 

The mobile site works in much the same way as the website. Products are rated according to a hazard score, with 0-2 being low risk (green), 3-6 being moderate risk (yellow), and 7-10 being high hazard (red). There is also a data score ranging from none available, through limited, fair, good and robust. If a product has a hazard score of 1 but the data is limited, it means that the known ingredients have a low hazard but there is little known of the other ingredients (very few products on their website have a data score of robust).

Both the website and mobile app include a breakdown of the health concerns of the product, although the mobile app edits the information from five areas to three (cancer, developmental/reprotoxicity, allergy).

The app has the option of scanning the barcode or typing in the name of the product, and it is here that I had my first difficulty with the app. I love the idea of quickly scanning the barcode to access the product information, but for the majority of products scanning did not work for me.

Another issue I had was that after typing in the product name and reading the data available, I was unable to go back to the previous screen to search other products as the app seemed to freeze. The only way around this was to close down the app and restart it each time, which is frustrating to say the least.

Obviously the website has many more available options, such as searching by category (sun, makeup, skin care, hair, nails, fragrance, oral care, babies & moms, men’s) that the mobile app does not, and that is to be expected. The app is limited to searching for a specific product, rather than browsing through various products, displaying the highest rated products first as the website enables users.

Definitely not a product that I purchase!

Despite the flaws and glitches in the app, I am happy to have the app for quick checks when I am in stores and needing to make a quick decision. I will still use the website to do more research before going shopping, but I can see situations when the app will come in handy. For example, this summer I left my sunscreen at home and I ran into an unfamiliar store on our way to the beach to grab some. My preferred sunscreen was unavailable and I tried to use the website on my iPhone to much consternation. The mobile app would have been very useful to help me make a quick decision.

I will be keeping the skin deep app on my iPhone to use in conjunction with research I do on the website. I just hope that the glitches in the app are worked out in a much needed update.

For another app review, read Mindful Echo's review of Buycott. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Tea You Can Feel Good About

The Climate Crusader is an avid tea drinker, but recent news about potential toxins lurking in her daily cuppa have her thinking.

I am a tea hoarder. As of today, I have 34 different kinds of tea in my tea cupboard. That's a lot of tea. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that I drink a lot of tea as well. I've never been able to stomach the taste of coffee, so tea is my hot beverage of choice. I drink all kinds ... white, green, black, oolong, rooibos, herbal, fruit infusions. I rarely meet a tea I don't like.

This was my tea collection 10 months ago
This summer, however, I noticed some news reports floating around that caused me concern. FoodBabe posted an article called Do You Know What's Really In Your Tea? Apparently, conventionally-grown teas often contain pesticide residues, which don't really sound all that appetizing to me. In addition, many tea brands contain catch-all ingredients like "Natural Flavors" or "Artificial Flavoring", that can include a whole lot of things, many of them not so good.

As if all that weren't enough to turn you off your afternoon cup of tea, there may be nasty stuff hiding in the material the tea bag is made of. Many higher-end tea brands use silky-textured sachets, which are made of plastic, PLA (plastic made from organic substances like corn starch) or food-grade nylon. Plastics are known to leach chemicals into food, especially when heated. Like, say, when you pour boiling water over your tea bag. Sadly, paper tea bags may not be any better, as the paper is often treated with chemicals as well.

FoodBabe isn't alone in sounding the alarm, either. An article posted to a New York Times blog discusses how lead has been found in green tea leaves, especially from China. While the article does point out that the lead doesn't migrate from the leaf to the tea, I still don't really like the sound of that. Dr. Mercola also raised some concerns around green tea on his site.

So, what's a tea aficionado to do? There are a few simple steps you can take:
  1. Buy organic - In order to be certified organic, tea, like other food products, can't be grown using pesticides. It also can't contain genetically-modified crops, or artificial colors and flavors.
  2. Choose loose-leaf - By choosing a loose-leaf tea, and brewing it in glass or stainless steel, you can avoid any chemicals that may be lurking in your tea bags.
  3. Buy local - Even before reading this article, I'd started shopping at a local, independently-owned tea shop. They blend their own teas in-house, and carry many organic teas, so I can know exactly what I'm getting. Plus, I feel good about supporting a local business.
If you're feeling more ambitious, you can even blend your own tea. You can find out how to do that in this Green Phone Booth post. And bonus points: specially-blended teas in pretty glass jars make excellent (and affordable) holiday gifts.

Are you a tea lover? Are you concerned about chemicals in your tea? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Fort McMoney: An Interactive Free Online Documentary about Alberta's Oil Sands

(EcoYogini shares a ridiculously awesome new online doc about Canada's oil sands)

The oil sands. They are one of Canada's greatest environmental shames. Outside of Canada it may seem like Canadians are all for the oil sands, from how our Prime Minister speaks, however this is far from the truth. Debates and media rage over the issue.

Despite all this, I don't know all that much about Alberta's oil sands or Fort McMurray. Which is a bit crazy considering the majority of workers who go there are from the Maritime provinces.

Enter a neat and revolutionary documentary: "Fort McMoney". This online (free!) interactive documentary allows you to experience and learn about Fort McMurray, interact with key, real, people from the actual mayor, environmental activists, oil industry representatives and the homeless- who live there and hear different perspectives on the oil sands.

The interactive documentary was created by a Quebecois francophone director: David Dufresne and the online doc is available with subtitles in both English and French (you'll notice some of the people interviewed will comment on French or in French as I assume the director speaks with a strong French accent while interviewing).

I played the doc for about 30min and was hooked. It was so interesting and engaging; a completely new way to experience a documentary. (I would recommend playing it on a PC as it doesn't load on my mac).

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Save the World in 30 Ways

Mindful Echo is turning the big THREE ZERO. *gulp*

IT'S ALMOST MY BIRTHDAY! You guys, I really, REALLY love my birthday. Like, a lot. Having a birthday at the beginning of December is great because it's already the time of year when the air is rich with holiday spirit, people's houses are filled with decorations, and everyone is up for eating some delicious treats. I'm big-time into Christmas so it's fun for me to think about my birthday as kicking off the holiday season. Growing up, my birthday weekend was always when we put up the Christmas tree and started to plan for the rest of the month. It. Was. Great.

This year I'm turning 30. It's kind of a big deal. I'm still bouncing around a few ideas for how best to celebrate the occasion, but in the meantime, I thought it would be appropriate to give a list of 30 ways we can all save the planet. Because birthdays should be used for good, right?

  1. Opt out of junk mail and flyers
  2. Recycle, Recycle, Recycle
  3. Cold water laundry
  4. Only print when necessary
  5. Use both sides of a piece of paper
  6. Shower shorter
  7. Shop locally
  8. Switch to electronic billing
  9. Take your canvas bags to the supermarket
  10. Save a flush: if it's pee, let it be!
  11. Save another flush: pee in the shower
  12. Use rechargeable batteries
  13. Turn off the lights when you leave the room
  14. Compost
  15. Turn off your car instead of idling
  16. Buy used
  17. Donate your old clothes/items
  18. Drink tap water (filter if necessary)
  19. Clean naturally and chemical-free
  20. Wear your slippers
  21. Properly insulate your house
  22. Unplug electronics that are seldom in use
  23. Cloth napkins
  24. Take the stairs
  25. Shop mindfully
  26. Fix leaky taps
  27. Plant local trees and plants
  28. Be heat conscious
  29. Stay informed and spread the word
  30. Be hopeful!
I spend a lot of time dwelling on the fact that we are in a bad way when it comes to our environment. It really stresses me out. This birthday is the beginning of a new chapter for me. It's a new decade of my life and I want to approach it with hope for my future and the future of our planet. If we continue to stay mindful of our earth's issues, and with some hard work, we can make a difference and change things for the better.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Staying Warm in a Cooler House

The Climate Crusader updates us on her quest to reduce her energy consumption.

Back in early September I made some suggestions for going green this autumn. One of them was turning down the temperature on the thermostat, so that your furnace isn't running as much.

I've done this myself this year. It isn't the first time - my thermostat has gone up and down a few times. With small children at home, my life has been a little bit unsettled. With my youngest now five years old and in kindergarten, though, I was forced to admit that this was no longer a valid excuse. It was time to take aim at my family's energy consumption.

It just so happens that I had some work done on my house in the summer, which helped me in my quest. We have a small sunroom in our kitchen. Previously, it was a big energy suck, becoming unbearably hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. We had it renovated so that it's now properly insulated with low-emissivity windows. This has definitely helped our house to maintain a more liveable temperature.

Let's be honest, though - renovating is a big step, which isn't necessarily practical for everyone. It's also not enough, all on its own. There are a number of other, smaller, steps I've taken to help make my home more liveable at cooler temperatures. Here's what's helped me adjust to a lower thermostat.

What's Kept me Warm in Cooler Temperatures

  1. Wearing a sweater. Kind of obvious, I know, but having a number of sweaters on hand and ready to wear has definitely helped.
  2. Basket of blankets. When I'm up and walking around, I don't really feel the cold. When I'm sitting still, however, it's a different story. Keeping a basket of blankets beside the couch for when I'm watching TV, and having a blanket to wrap around me in my computer chair, have both made a big difference.
  3. Wearing slippers. When the house is cold, the floors are cold, and by extension my feet are cold. Wearing slippers avoids that and keeps me much warmer.
  4. Drinking hot tea. I am what you would call a tea hoarder. I can't pass a tea shop without buying tea. However, until recently I didn't drink much of it. Now I have a hot cup of tea every morning, which is not only a lovely way to start the day, it also helps warm me up.
What about you - how do you stay cozy when your house turns cooler?

Friday, November 15, 2013

I Would Do Anything For Love, But I Won't Do That

Queen Composter discusses her toilet paper habits.

Everyone has their line in the sand, the one thing that goes too far. For some people it is too much to ask them to compost their food waste. For others it is too much to ask them to use a menstrual cup.

I believe I have found my line in the sand. For all that I love the environment and would do anything to protect it, I won’t use “family cloth” instead of toilet paper.  As the lyrics of the Meatloaf song say, I would do anything to be more eco, but I won’t do that.

What is family cloth you ask? In the quest to reduce single use disposable items, many people are using small pieces of cloth, like a small face cloth, instead of toilet paper.  The idea is that the cloths can be kept near the toilet, like toilet paper, and placed in a sealed container when soiled or wet. Then they are washed in the washing machine and reused again and again. A quick Google search will bring up hundreds of blog posts on this subject, the pros and cons and how to use them. One of my favourite companies, Luna Pads, sells them and promotes their use

In theory I am down with this idea. After all, I used cloth diapers with all three of my daughters and I use cloth feminine pads. I think nothing of washing them. Why would I throw away diapers and pads when I don’t throw away my underwear?

In my mind, however, using reuseable “toilet paper” just seems different. Without getting too detailed, I think it is the soiled part, rather than wet part, that has me squeamish. It’s just a bit of toilet paper, no big deal, right?

Actually it is a big deal. The more paperless society goes, the less recycled pulp and paper there is available for recycled toilet paper. And all that ultra comfortable pillowy softness we like for our business? It comes from virgin wood, as in not recycled. Never mind that it is bleached to achieve the whiteness we seem to like. We use it for a moment and that’s it. In my family of five we go through a great deal of toilet paper, too. Like many families, we buy ours in bulk.

I have a little secret…

Once in a while, when I’ve run out of toilet paper and there’s none nearby, I’ve been known to grab one of those little facecloths I bought when my girls were babies and use them instead. I guess it is fitting, as I liked using those cloths for reusable baby wipes when at home.

So maybe this isn’t my line in the sand? It would be easy to keep a lidded container like a garbage can beside the toilet for the dirty cloths.
I could easily keep the basket with the cloths (and some reading material)
by the toilet instead of by the bathtub. I use the toilet more than I have bath.

I won’t be adding this to my new year’s resolutions anytime soon because I think this would be a hard sell with my family. I've learned to be careful what I wish for - we taught our girls to only flush for number two and now they never flush, even when outside the home. Rather embarrassing. But it is something I might consider down the road, or perhaps just for myself. 

What about you? What is your eco line in the sand? Have you tried family cloths?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to Reconcile Being Crafty and Being Green

Mindful Echo is lost in a tangle of wool roving, glitter, and scrapbook paper.

Although I titled this entry as a "How to," I really meant it more of a question. Seriously. How do I reconcile the two corners of this dichotomy?

In some ways, being crafty and being green make total sense together. Craftiness can be borne from a desire to be thrifty, to reuse, and to repurpose. However, if you're anything like me, it takes no time at all to get lost in a list of attempted projects, many half-completed, and most requiring mountains of supplies.

I made this Venn Diagram to help me better understand this complex issue. :)

Now that the holiday season is rapidly approaching (side note: Christmas music was playing in the grocery store yesterday!), I'm starting to organize myself for handmade gifts. Sure, there are some no-brainers that amalgamate being crafty and being green such as consumables (homemade jams, soaps, etc.), but what about the other stuff? What about the ornaments, decorations, and toys?

I guess the big question can be broken down to this: Is it worth purchasing *new* craft supplies for the purpose of a handmade gift? The answer, I think, is yes (but carefully). 

It is SO EASY to get caught up with every "____-in-a-jar" recipe, and book-page garlands, and designs for winter jackets made entirely from coffee filters. So I think the solution is two-fold: first is to get organized and second is to embrace that inner environmentalist.

Organize Yourself
  • Make a list of the handmade items you're going to attempt. 
  • Find detailed instructions or tutorials that clearly outline what products you will need. 
  • Take an inventory of what needed craft items you already own.
 Embrace your Inner Environmentalist
  • Decide if there are any items on the list that are particularly harmful to the environment. Does your wreath project really need a styrofoam base? Can those items be substituted for a less-harmful alternative?
  • Consider if you can find any of the items in your recycling bin. Jars, cans, paper bags, magazines, are often valuable items in the realm of craftiness. 
  • Check your thrift stores. It's no guarantee but I have often found packages of brand-new craft items at my local thrift store, including yarn and scrapbook paper.
Once you've gone through these steps, consider yourself cleared by moi for a trip to your craft store. I think by this point it safe to say that you've done well to stay green. Now, go forth and craft. And may the force be with you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Plea for Compassion This Holiday Season

From the bean of Green Bean

I'm feeling a little down today.  Its not the upcoming holidays bringing me the blues.  Not the post-Halloween, I shouldn't have eaten so much candy depression.  Nor the shorter days and the colder weather.

I made the mistake of letting myself read comments on an Internet article.  Which article?  It doesn't matter.  Which news outlet?  That doesn't matter either.  If you have ever read any comments on any article in the last few years, you know what I'm talking about.

Comments are nearly always dominated with vitriol, hate, and sheer giddiness at the discomfort/pain/suffering of others.  I'm not the only one who has noticed.  Two months ago, Popular Science took the unprecedented step of shutting off its comments, noting that "[u]ncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant's interpretation of the news story itself."  (Read the article here.  It's quite fascinating and more than a little disturbing).

As I sit here, down in the dumps, I'm not sure if turning off comments is the right way to handle this.  And I wonder, do these comments represent a prevailing view or an angry and loud fringe?  Why do so few compassionate voices rise up to counter this negativity?  Are we too few?  Too busy?  Too quiet?

I have no answers but simply a plea for compassion this holiday season.

A plea to remember that the person who cut us off on the freeway may be rushing to an emergency.  That the gentleman who gestured rudely to us at the stop sign may be in the midst of a divorce.  The disorganized shopper in front of us at line may have a mental challenge that makes it hard to focus.  The overly loud diner next to us may be trying to drown out loneliness.  The squirrel who dug into our front planter is just preparing for winter.

A plea for compassion for all of this planet's inhabitants - humans and non-humans.   Please can we move past the hate, the anger, the happiness over someone else's misfortune and realize that we are all on this planet together.  We all have something in common.  We all have been "there".  We all can understand and maybe, just maybe, be a little more patient, a little more accepting and a little more compassionate as we embrace the true meaning of the holidays.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Lululemon is Now the Walmart of the Yoga World

EcoYogini shares yet another rant on the bane of the yoga corporate world... the big L...

Lululemon. Just the name evokes a whole slew of feelings: most negative and derisive for myself. Even if you don't practice yoga, you've likely heard the brand name, seen the pants (maybe you own a pair).

Lululemon is becoming the Walmart of the Yoga world.

When I make that comparison, I AM referring to cheaply and non-environmentally friendly made materials (overpriced), made on factory, cheap (and arguably unsafe and unfair) (child) labour and shipped across the world in huge, polluting container ships and trucks.

The coup de grace; Lululemon's outrageous, insensitive and often offensive advertising tactics within stores as well as directly from former CEO, Chip Wilson.

Lulu and I broke up about five years ago, not long after the sold the majority of their shares to American stakeholders and changed their clothing from "Made in Canada" to "Consciously Formulated in Vancouver, Made in China". Weirdly, Lulu's popularity has continued to grow. It's like no one else got the memo that trashing the planet and being offensive and sexist just isn't cool.

The latest fiasco: offensive comments regarding the female body made by former CEO Chip Wilson (video interview here), is just one more reason why hip yogis don't wear Lulu. When asked about recent complaints regarding Lulu's new pants (a response to last years see-through mess), Chip responded with:

"There's always been pilling.The things is that women will wear seat belts that don't work (with the pants), or they'll wear a purse that doesn't work, or quite frankly some women's bodies just actually don't work for it"

"Even our small sizes will fit an extra large. It's really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there, over a period of time..."

I'm sorry, adult women's thighs are supposed to touch. It is an anatomical reality. Many body image and eating disorders organizations are concerned about the "Thigh Gap" trend. Yep. There is a scary trend where "thighspiration" pins on pinterest, tumblr and the interwebs encourage girls and women to lose dangerous amounts of weight to try to achieve an (unachievable) gap between their thighs.

So, according to Chip Wilson, Lulu pants are for prepubescent girls who aren't fully developed yet, or women who are dangerously unhealthy. Right.

Instead of feeling like the Lulu logo is a status symbol, I now feel ashamed when I'm sporting my old Lulu clothing... it's a symbol of all that is wrong with the yoga corporate world.

There are so many other, environmentally friendly, options out there for yoga clothing! A quick search and you can quickly find some alternative options, many of which are most likely carried in specialty stores in a larger city centre near you.

Say NO to body shaming, to clothing made from non-eco material, to clothing made by people in factories under unsafe and underpaid conditions. Say NO to Lululemon.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Homemade Deodorant Recipe

Interested in making your own deodorant? The Climate Crusader shares her favourite recipe.

I've spent a number of years working to shift my personal care routine to safer options. I've been washing my face with honey since 2006. I've been washing my hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar (also called 'no poo') since 2010. And for the past year and a half when I need a little bit of moisture on my skin or hair, I've been using coconut oil.

Earlier this year I decided to try greening one more of my personal care products: deodorant. I was a little bit leery about this one. I've tried so many 'green' deodorants, and I haven't really been happy with any of them. I was skeptical that something I made myself could really work. However, I'm happy to report that after some months, homemade deodorant is my favourite deodorant. I use the crystal as a back-up, and I'm perfectly satisfied with it, but I don't love the crystal like I love my deodorant.

This isn't the first time we've talked about homemade deodorant here on the Green Phone Booth. You can find a homemade deodorant recipe round-up here. All the same, everyone has their own favourites, and so today I'm sharing mine:

Homemade Deodorant

  • 4 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 Tbsp beeswax
  • 5 Tbsp arrowroot flour
  • 2 Tbsp baking soda
  • 12 drops grapefruit seed extract
  • 10 drops tea tree oil
  • 10 drops lavender essential oil
  • 5 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 2 old, clean deodorant tubes

Melt the coconut oil and beeswax in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring to blend. Remove from heat. Stir the arrowroot and baking soda together in a medium-sized glass bowl and add the melted coconut oil and beeswax. Mix well to combine. Add the grapefruit seed extract, tea tree oil, lavender and peppermint. Stir well again, and then use the mix to fill the deodorant tubes. Place the filled tubes in the refrigerator, with the lids off, until they've thoroughly hardened.

  • I grate the beeswax so that I can measure it more easily, and so that it melts more quickly. I recommend warming the beeswax for a minute in your hands before grating it, to make it easier.
  • Many people use corn starch instead of arrowroot flour, but I've heard it can encourage the growth of yeast, which is why I use arrowroot.
  • You can replace the lavender and peppermint with essential oils of your choosing, or skip them altogether.
  • It's really tempting to try to fill the deodorant tubes all the way to the top, but don't, because it's messy, it will be harder to use later, and the lid may not fit.
  • The reason you leave the lid off while it's hardening is because a little bit of the deodorant often ends up on the outside of the tube while you're filling it, and if that hardens with the lid on, the lid will be very hard to get off.
  • If you don't have enough to fill a whole tube, move the dispenser up until it's at a better height.
What about you - have you made your own deodorant? How did it work for you?

Monday, October 28, 2013

What Do You Do with Unwanted Halloween Candy?

Eco-novice considers a Halloween dilemma.

Halloween is just a few days away and I've been making my preparations for the Switch Witch's visit. My children leave all their candy for the Switch Witch on Halloween night, and in return she leaves them a gift and a small quantity of better (less bad) candy. I can handle my children having extra sugar for a few days but hold the chemicals please! Sometimes the gift is a toy. This year it is a gift card to Barnes & Noble that I received for my birthday. My kids love picking out a book at the book store (or thrift store, or library book sale).

But then the question remains, what to do with the unwanted junky candy? 
  • Should I collect it from my kids the second we get home so I can give it out to other trick-or-treaters?
  • Should I give it out on other candy holidays? There are so many these days, sadly.
  • Should I mail it to the troops?
  • Throw it in the trash?

What do you do with your unwanted Halloween candy?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

When Environmental Issues Overlap with Culture and Heritage: PART 2

Mindful Echo is helping spread the word on fracking. And you should too.

A few months ago I wrote this post about some of the cultural impacts of fracking. It was spurred by a series of protests that were happening in New Brunswick, Canada particularly amongst the community of Signigtog, part of traditional Mi'kma'ki territory.

Well, here we are just a few months later and the situation has escalated, for the worse. Peaceful protests have become violent, people are getting hurt, and there is still no long-term resolution in sight. However, a minor, albeit brief, victory can be counted for Team Environment and the First Nations Peoples when shale gas company, SWN Resources, was denied the bid to extend the court injunction preventing protests.


New Brunswick Premier, David Alward, is committed developing a shale gas industry. He argues that First Nations people will share the economic benefits. What he doesn't realize (or seem to acknowledge) is that the future of our communities cannot be economically driven at the expense of our environment. He asserts that fracking will create jobs that will entice those who have moved west for jobs to come back home. What is missing from that equation is the fact that it will not be a home that anyone will recognize. It will be a home without access to clean water. It will be a home saturated with chemicals like lead, mercury, uranium, radium, and formaldehyde. It will be a home with contaminated air and acid rain. It will no longer be home.*

There are a number of videos that capture the ugliness happening here; the violence, the desperation, and the anger. Click the links to see. On GPB, though, I thought I'd share one that highlights the positive - if there's any to be found in this type of situation - the unity, the strength, and the hope.

Green Phone Booth has a great geographical diversity amongst its readers. I think it's beneficial for all of us to stay informed on these issues that are happening globally because they clearly extend beyond national borders. We all have a vested interest in taking action to protect our precious earth. If you're wondering how to help, the easiest way is to stay informed and help share the information with others.

Here are a couple more current articles that highlight the issues. It's a good place to start.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Remembering to be Green

The Climate Crusader is trying to remind herself to be green.

One of the biggest battles that people face when adopting a more sustainable lifestyle is remembering to be green. It sounds a little funny when I type it out that way, I know, but it's true. You may want to reduce your environmental footprint, but you keep forgetting your reusable bags at home. When you're cleaning the kitchen, you automatically throw your food scraps into the garbage instead of the compost. Or perhaps you've been meaning to decrease the temperature on your thermostat, but you haven't quite gotten around to it yet.

Your intentions are good, but you can't remember to follow through, because you're in the habit of doing things a certain way.

If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Many environmentalists talk about the difficulty of shifting their behaviour in their efforts to be green. It's one reason that many experts recommend starting with small changes and growing from there. The easier you can make something, the more likely you are to do it. The more often you do it, the more entrenched the habit becomes. Eventually, things like recycling and composting and carrying a reusable water bottle become second nature - but it takes time and effort to get there.

I forget about things, too. For instance, I totally forgot I was scheduled to publish this blog post yesterday. It's not that I didn't want to, or didn't care. I just didn't remember to do it, and then when I did I was in the middle of something else and I couldn't sit down to write it.

One of the biggest boons to me when it comes to remembering things is my digital calendar. Thanks to technology, these days when I put something in my calendar it automatically shows up on my computer, tablet and smart phone. 10 or 15 minutes before an event happens, I even get a little pingy note reminding me where I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to be doing. It's very helpful as a mom of two little kids to get those reminders.

If you're someone who also forgets about the green changes you're trying to make, you can harness the power of technology to help. For example, set reminders in your calendar to put your reusable bags in your car on the morning you normally go grocery shopping. If you're going on an outing, add a note about bringing along reusable water bottles (and maybe dishes and cutlery, too, depending) to the calendar entry so that you see it when you get the event reminder. If you're gardening, you can also add notes to your calendar to remind you when to plant, mulch or water.

Green reminders can be lower-tech, as well. Leave yourself hand-written notes reminding you to compost, recycle, or bring along your reusables when you leave the house. Put a timer in your shower where you'll see it to remind you to keep it short. Leave notes for your kids reminding them what kind of trash goes where.

Forgetting things is part of making changes. By giving yourself as many green reminders as possible, you can make sure you forget less and remember more.

What about you - do you use reminders when you're trying to make changes so that you don't forget to be green? What kind?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Feminism Versus An Eco DIY Lifestyle

Queen Composter is sharing her review of the book Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity.

I am passionate about gardening, the environment, my family, and making things with my own two hands. Now that I have gotten off my lurking behind and fully embraced social media with a Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest account, and a personal blog, I feel like I have found my tribe. I used to be more quiet about my crunchy leanings, but now I feel more confident to embrace what makes me happy.

After seeing author Emily Matchar interviewed on television talking about her book Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracingthe New Domesticity, I was intrigued enough to buy the book. She spoke about the rising trend of people, with women leading the charge, who are moving toward a more sustainable, eco-minded, DIY lifestyle, and she cites the thousands of blogs about modern homesteading, slow food, natural parenting, knitting, sewing and overall eco DIY lifestyles. Sounded good to me!

The subjects of her case studies are primarily American white, middle class, educated women who have left lucrative jobs because of the economic downturn, disillusionment with the corporate world, or to start a family. This is the first area of her book with which I have problems. This is hardly a wide cross-section of society and it is not representative of all people who are moving toward the "natural" DIY lifestyle.

She goes on to state that women who are growing their own food, raising backyard chickens, practicing extended breastfeeding, and making their gluten free food and personal care products from scratch are not only doing a disservice to the women's movement but are also taking away from the fight for more socially conscious programs and leaving the economically disadvantaged behind. In fact, she feels that these more educated and liberal women may have more in common with their conservative counterparts than they realize. These are very bold ideas that got my blood boiling almost immediately. 

She discusses several groups of women who feel the allure of the “new domesticity” and how they are setting back the women’s movement.

Crafting and food blogs abound.
Some women are stepping off the career track to focus on their home because they do not find a demanding career as fulfilling as they thought it would be, or were told it would be by the previous generation’s women’s movement. They aren't continuing to fight for more representation in management positions or seeking political office to fight for reproductive rights, and instead are glorifying domestic tasks on their blogs that previous generations viewed as drudgery. Some of these women are creating their own employment with home-based businesses like ETSY shops. By creating their own work, rather than pressing for equality in the workplace, they are allowing companies to use the recession as an excuse to claw back on progress that has been made, and to continue to see women as undesirable employees because they are not committed to their job and companies in the same way men are. 

People are growing their own food
for their health, for the environment,
and to reconnect with their food.
Then there are those women who have more environmental reasons for focusing on their home rather than their jobs. They are growing and canning their own food, making their food from scratch, sewing and knitting their children's clothes and making their own laundry soap because they don't want to expose their families to toxic ingredients. They do not trust the government to properly regulate industries and companies, and see the line between industries and government to be too blurred for any real change from within. They are frustrated with greenwashing and so are opting to do things themselves so that they know what is in the products they use. The author feels, however, that by turning away from consumerism, they are not exerting any pressure on the system to make positive, environmental changes. In fact, they may be similar to their conservative counterparts by pushing for fewer regulations, as is the case with the selling of raw milk and eliminating fluoride from water sources. They are turning in ward, opting out and focusing on their own home and family at the expense of others, rather than using their education to push for more regulations for the greater good of all.

Lastly, there are proponents of natural parenting who have taken raising their children to "extremes" (the author's words) with their anti-vaxination views, extended breastfeeding, cloth diapering, cosleeping, making baby food, and homeschooling. They have taken the focus on their individual families to perfectionist heights in their belief that only they can provide the best nurturing and education for their children. They would never allow their children to sleep alone, drink formula, eat sugar, go to daycare or attend public school. The mother is the centre of the family because of her biological role, which is reinforcing traditional roles within the family of the father as the breadwinner and the mother as the homemaker. Natural parenting as a movement is holding women prisoner to their biology (with their babies as their oppressor) in the way that patriarchy has done for centuries. Furthermore, this parenting style is helping to increase the gaps between the Haves and the Have Nots. If liberal, educated people are opting out of public education and public health they are not in a position to put pressure on the system to provide quality care and education for all, including the economically and socially disadvantaged.

The author then goes on to discuss how the more left-leaning liberal DIYers of the new domesticity are finding common ground with conservatives, including the religious right, as if this is a disturbing development. The new urban homesteaders and self-sufficiency advocates may be neo-hippies, evangelical Christians, Catholics, atheists or neo-pagans. I see this as a positive development. Many of our political problems today result from people being close-minded when new ideas do not fit into their chosen ideology or belief system. The environmental problems that we face today will not be solved unless everyone of all walks of life and beliefs can pull together and support the changes that are necessary.

Women are rediscovering the joy
of making from scratch.
I take great issue with the idea that by turning inward to creating an eco DIY lifestyle women alone are threatening gains made by previous generations of women. First and foremost I do not believe that women are putting pressure on themselves to reach new boundaries of perfectionism, which in turn will control women as it has in the past. Many couples that I am aware of, whether gay or straight, men or women, have found a division of labour that is unique to their situation. One person in the relationship is better at cooking or cleaning and one is more patient with childcare duties. Of course if one of the partnership is working part-time or has left the workforce, even temporarily, these tasks will fall on their shoulders more. 

My case may be somewhat typical; I do the bulk of the day-to-day childcare tasks, the cleaning, vegetable gardening, yard work, researching a more sustainable lifestyle and making things from scratch, while my husband does more than half of the shopping, cooking and laundry and is very much a hands-on father and when time permits is happy to participate in the other necessary tasks around the home. I believe that the author is presenting a very narrow view of families today to argue her case. The women that I know realize they cannot “have it all”, and they see that compromises in life are necessary to seek balance and therefore contentment. 

I also believe that it is not fair to dismiss those of us who feel strongly about creating a more sustainable life. By living by example, voting with our dollars and raising awareness by blogging about issues we care about, we hope to make even a small difference with our voice. It is not an all or nothing situation that the author presents; if we make changes in our own lives it does not mean that we do not advocate for change in government and society. Many people, myself included, are beyond frustrated by the prevailing attitude of caveat emptor. Those of us, men or women, without chemistry and biology degrees do not have the knowledge to research every ingredient on the products we buy and we are angry that we cannot trust the government to adequately regulate the products we use.

Growing a garden has become
a political act.
It is time to move beyond the traditional debate about working outside the home versus staying at home, and we must stop pitting women against one another. This is a dated dichotomy with the lines between work and home blurred by telecommuting, home-based businesses and part-time or self-employment for both men and women. Feminism to me means having the freedom to choose my path in life and seek happiness in the way that is best for me. It also means that I must be vocal about my beliefs about equality, reproductive rights, maternity and child care issues, living sustainably and having a social conscience. Perhaps many people are seeking a new way to fight for change that is outside the traditional methods. I believe that opting out and creating one’s own path can provoke change. 

Overall I am glad that I read Homeward Bound because it has given me new insight into differing points of view. It has also strengthened my own beliefs about feminism and how it relates to the choices I have made in my life. I do not, however, appreciate the dismissive tone, inflammatory language and stereotyping that the author uses when discussing her subjects, especially regarding the natural parenting movement. It is clear that Emily Matchar aligns with traditional, orthodox feminism (second wave feminism) and has not included any new feminist thought in her thesis. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Is There Rain Forest in Your Halloween Candy?

From the bean of Green Bean.

What to give out on Halloween night is always such a conundrum for me.  I began by avoiding High Fructose Corn Syrup.  That stuff is really not good for you!  Then came Fair Trade.  Then the question of all those plastic candy wrappers that will be on this planet for pretty much forever.

This year, I'm also trying to avoid Palm Oil.  Once thought to be a healthier type of vegetable oil, palm oil has become very popular amongst manufacturers and can be found in more than 50% of products including baked goods, cosmetics, body care products, cleaning products and, yup, you guessed it, candy!  Given its popularity, palm oil is now responsible for major deforestation of rain forests, pushing its inhabitants - including elephants and orangutans - toward extinction.  (To learn more about palm oil, check out and how to help, check out RAN's page and heart-wrenching video.)

So, if you cross out HFCS, non-fair trade chocolate, palm oil, not packaged in plastic, what's left?  What do you give out?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Green Your Halloween

Mindful Echo is being ghoulishly green this Halloween. 
It's that time of year again! If you've been following the Green Phone Booth for a while now, you'll know that there have been lots and lots of great ideas for helping to make getting ghoulish a bit greener.

To refresh your memory, here are some great tips from season's past:

What to do with CANDY

DIY Halloween Costumes 
and Making them the Easy Way

Keeping it Simple

Swapping it Up

Personally, I love Halloween. I'm not always the biggest on getting into costume myself, but I more so love seeing people using their imaginations and thinking outside the box. Store-bought costumes are so banal and they really don't make sense to me. They are more expensive than DIY or recycled, they are rarely decent quality, they never look as good, and they are not nearly as much fun.

Last year my partner and I did some Parks and Recreation cosplay and went as Ron Swanson and his picture of breakfast. It was awesome, if I do say so myself. I loved being able to use items I already had around the house and I had a tonne of fun making it as well!

My other recommendation is to make use of thrift stores. Now, I know that this is not a revelation, particularly around greenies like you, but I don't think a reminder can hurt! One of my main go-to thrift stores here in Halifax is Value Village. The problem, unfortunately, is that Value Village is capitalizing on the Halloween surge in costume seekers and they've begun carrying a huge supply of pre-made costumes. It totally defeats the purpose! So, if you're going the the thrifty route, I urge you to resist the allure of these plasticy aberrations!

Treehugger has always been one of my favourite green sites. Follow this link to see some of their posts on keeping the Halloween traditions as eco-friendly as possible. They have some great ideas.

Happy (early) Halloween!


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