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!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sustainable Food and Picky Kids

The Climate Crusader is trying to encourage her picky eaters to choose organic veggies over fast food.

Whenever we pass a McDonald's, my five-year-old reacts in much the same way. He gets really excited, points out the restaurant, and says, "Mom, Mom, Mom! It's a McDonald's! We should go there right now!"

I am not a fan of McDonald's and it's rare for me to eat there. I'm concerned about all the waste and packaging that comes with a fast food meal, as well as the quality of the food. Pink slime, anyone? I also prefer to eat ethically-raised meat. My kids, on the other hand, love McDonald's, which isn't surprising when you consider the way that the company markets to children.

My son's reaction to McDonald's is a symptom of a larger problem that many parents of picky eaters face when they try to choose more sustainably-produced, local, whole foods. While we're excited about trying sunchokes or making zucchini 'lasagna', our children are clamouring for highly-processed foods. They like the foods, they see their friends eating the foods, and they're afraid of something that seems unfamiliar.

I try to be zen about my children's pickiness. I know from experience that it's pretty normal for preschoolers to be choosy, and that as they get older they become more willing to try new things. I do my best to keep healthy foods in the house, so that I can feel good about whatever my kids are eating. Sometimes it does get to me all the same. When it does, I have a few tips I use to encourage my kids to eat the healthy, sustainable food I'm serving.

Encouraging Picky Eaters to Try Sustainable Foods

  1. Make the presentation fun. If I lay out fruit and veggies on a tray my kids are going to eat a little of whatever they're most comfortable with. When I lay out a plate for each of them with a fruit and veggie face on it, they're much more eager to try it. The tomato cheeks, carrot lips and broccoli hair are eaten far more quickly than if I presented each of those items on their own.
  2. Look for more eco-friendly substitutes for familiar foods. If you're trying to shift your family's diet, sometimes using eco-friendly substitutes for familiar foods is the easiest change to make. For instance, your kids won't know the difference between organic strawberries and conventionally-grown strawberries. In the same way, choosing a better cracker may be a more realistic starting point than giving up crackers altogether.
  3. Start small and work your way up. If you present a meal filled with completely new foods your kids will likely balk. If you present mostly familiar foods with one new dish, however, the meal won't seem so strange. If you've ever had a picky eater, you know that strange is bad and familiar is good, so by easing into change you're less likely to provoke a negative reaction. Over a few weeks or months, you can make some changes to your child's diet in a gentler way.
  4. Get your kids involved. If you let your child pick one new fruit or vegetable at the farmers' market or grocery store, they're more likely to try that food than if you impose it on them. Sometimes when you do this your kids may even surprise you by choosing something you wouldn't expect them to.
  5. Be flexible. When my daughter was a baby I read something that said if she didn't like a food the first time, or the second time, I should just keep trying. Eventually, they insisted, she would come to love it. Maybe that works for some kids, but it didn't work for mine. My daughter has hated avocados since the first time she tried them. If I insist she eat them, it becomes a battle. On the other hand, when I leave the door open she's more willing to try new foods of her own volition. I've found that encouraging kids to try something is good, but forcing them to eat something isn't. Flexibility is key.
How about you? How do you encourage your picky eaters to eat more sustainable food?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Lazy Composting 101

Queen Composter shares her composting method. 

After reading Eco Novice's post seeking suggestions for a lazy composting method, I decided to share how I compost. I have avoided talking about what I do because it didn't seem interesting or blog-worthy. I don't do funky, cool composting like worm compostingbokashi or even one of these rotating compost bins. I don't use a compost pile because we have neighbourhood "friends" like rats and raccoons. I have read that this shouldn't be a problem but I don't want to risk it because we live close to a river and ditches, and rats are an ever present problem. I really don't do much, and that suits me fine. Despite being passionate about gardening and composting, I am really lazy, and I do things in bursts of energy, interspersed with great periods of inaction. I need a method that works with my natural tendencies.

What I do is really very simple.

I purchased a reasonable compost bin from my city (dimensions: 36" x 22" x 22") and placed it in a sunny location at the back of my yard. The removable top has two hinged lids on top for easy dumping of food scraps.

Composting of organic matter involves alternating a green layer (nitrogen rich) with a brown layer (carbon rich). A green layer can include kitchen scraps (egg shells, vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, not meat or cooked food), garden cuttings, grass clippings and wet leaves, and a brown layer can be dirt or dried material like grass and leaves. But because I'm lazy I often forget to add a brown layer to my compost bin until the next time I add a large amount of green material.

Composting also needs moisture and oxygen. I give my compost bin a shot of water when I remember, or when it looks dry. People who have a compost pile need to turn their compost with a shovel or pitchfork to aerate it, but in an upright bin it is next to impossible. I use this gadget called a wingdigger to dig down into the composting material to create aerating holes as it is pulled up and out. I probably should do this more than I do but my lazy method seems to work for me so I'm not worrying too much.

The Wingdigger

I keep adding the green and brown layers, and if the bin becomes too full I leave it for a while and the materials become more compact as they compost, creating more room in the bin. I leave the bin for about one year (recommended 12 - 18 months), and when I'm ready to add compost to my garden I open the front panel to access the compost.

Gorgeous compost ready for my garden.

My laziness comes out in this photo: I
didn't cut the garden scraps small enough
and when I used the compost the next
spring I had to pick out the partially
composted Brussels sprout stalk.
To summarize my method:

  • add kitchen scraps, lawn and plant cuttings, leaves to compost bin
  • forget to add a brown layer
  • add more green material, then remember just before going inside to add a brown layer
  • forget to water or aerate
  • add more green and brown material
  • remember that I haven't aerated or watered in a while so do it
  • lather, rinse, repeat as needed

I am also very fortunate to live in an area that supports composting by providing homes with a green cart for curb side pick up of food scraps and garden trimmings. This makes it very easy to jump on board and make composting a way of life. Because I have a vegetable garden there are periods when I have more green material than can fit in my compost bin, so it is nice to have the green cart for the overflow. We also use the green cart for composting of our cooked food, meat, or anything that we don't feel comfortable putting into our backyard bin.

I do need a backyard for my composting method. My brother who lives in a condo downtown has used the bokashi method and I know of other people without yard access who have used the worm composting method.

This past spring I researched rotating compost bins to increase the amount of compost I could produce for my garden and decrease the amount of time it would take, but the reviews are mixed at best. I will be sticking to my compost bin, perhaps adding another one so that I can have compost available twice a year.

Before I composted I thought it was complicated and I was a little intimidated. I have found, however, that my lazy method does produce useable compost.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

In Need of Natural Hair Help

Julia of Color Me Green mourns how going 'no poo has changed her hair and seeks natural solutions. 

My hair used to be totally straight and fine and shiny and long, and I considered it one of my nice features. But it's changed over the past couple years, I think in part due to 'no poo. I went no 'poo (no shampoo that is) in March 2011 and loved it. For a while, my hair felt the same as when I used conventional shampoo, but without the added chemicals. However, around two years later I realized that my split ends had gradually grown out of control. So out of control that my hair had gotten shorter, I had given myself layers, and even after getting a trim, I still have split ends all along the length of my hair.

Comparing my hair before I started no poo (left) and after

This is partially due to my bad habit of breaking off my split ends. However, I googled it and found claims from others that baking soda had caused their hair to become more brittle. I had been using a thick paste of baking soda because I found that easiest to apply, but maybe I would have been better off with a more watery baking soda-to-water ratio.

I've also noticed some other changes in my hair over the past couple years. It has a little wave (but maybe that's age, since my mom's hair got wavier as an adult), and it's now kind of stringy.

my baking soda for hair washing

In an attempt to repair my hair, I've gone back to regular shampoo and conditioner - using Aubrey Organics products for dry, damaged hair - but I'm still finding split ends all the time. I know regular trims are recommended to clean up split ends, but I'm loathe to get it trimmed since that will just keep it shorter without growing much in between. My goal is to have hair that looks somewhat long and lovely by next summer for a certain special occasion. So - I need help!

I recently tried doing a natural hot oil treatment, which is supposed to improve your hair's feel and appearance. I used a recipe from Crunchy Betty based on coconut oil, since I had it on hand. However, I found the process awkward and messy rather than luxurious as she claims. My hair was extremely oily for the next couple of days and washings, and after that it was back to its brittle appearance.

Have you tried no poo? How did your hair react, and what ratio of baking soda to water worked best? Do you have any favorite natural conditioners?


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