Friday, February 27, 2009

Evidence of spring, part 2

This has happened before. Sometimes by Friday, I've just run out of interesting things to say. But I wanted to show you what I got to do today. It's more evidence of spring.

I got to put laundry out on the line. It's not particularly sunny, but it's windy and 60 degrees. Spring is coming!

Enjoy your weekend. Go outdoors, find your own evidence of spring and take some time to appreciate it.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Online seed exchange: Get your seeds for free

I first read about this on Mother Earth News (not to be confused with Mother Nature Network). iVillage Garden Web has a seed exchange forum. Many people save the seeds from their plants. On the forum, some people are looking to give away seeds that they have. You simply need to send them a self addressed stamped envelope. Others are looking to exchange seeds.

Someday, I hope to talk about the problems with seeds in our country and beyond - how one big company, Monsanto is creating a monopoly on owning the seeds. I need to do more research on this, however. But it's important that we support those who are invested in saving seeds so we don't lose varieties of plants and we don't forget how to save our own seeds.

On that note, I think that this year, I will make a commitment to save one type of seeds at the end of the gardening season. I'm not sure which plant I'll choose, but I think it's something I need to learn to do. Apparently, there is a little more to it than just picking the seeds out and letting them air dry.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Green term of the week: ecomigration

You know how here in the U.S., retired people migrate to Florida or Arizona because they are looking for a more suitable climate to enjoy their retirement in? I suppose you could call that a form of ecomigration, but the trend to move from one region to another for climate regions is growing in leaps and bounds, and it's not just older people don't want to shovel snow.

A recent Washington Post piece says that climate fears are driving ecomigration across the globe. Ecomigration is when someone migrates from one region to another because of climate reasons. Sometimes, they are forced to during natural disasters, but recently more and more people have been ecomigrating in anticipation of the natural disasters that could happen due to climate change.

The piece tells the stories of several people who have picked up and moved. A Montgomery County, AL family moved to New Zealand because they see that as the best place to be, environmentally, in the next 100 years and are thinking ahead to future generations of their family.

After Hurricane Katrina, one New Orleans lawyer took a position further north in Louisiana. Last summer when N.O. was asked to evacuate in the face of Gustav, she was pleased with her decision.

Not everyone, however, can make the decision before the difficult times hit. 
In Bangladesh, about 12 million to 17 million people have fled their homes in recent decades because of environmental disasters -- and the low-lying country is likely to experience more intense flooding in the future. In several countries in Africa's Sahel region, bordering the Sahara, about 10 million people have been driven to move by droughts and famines.

In the Philippines, upwards of 4 million people have moved from lowlands to highlands as a result of deforestation.
Say what you will about New Jersey (I know many people say lots of  negative things about the state), one of the things I've always liked about living here is the absence of severe weather. Hurricanes, earth quakes, tornadoes, really bad snow storms and the like don't hit us often here. And I've thought about the fact that if we really are facing sweeping climate changes in the not so distant future, I'm not in such a bad place in the U.S. to be. 

What are your thoughts on this? Are you worried about the region you live in facing difficult climate changes? Have you thought about high tailing out of wherever you are to a place that is more likely to weather the changes better?

Thinking about this isn't particularly the way I want to start my day, but thinking about it I am. How about you?

Image: Calle v H
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Have you checked out ChicoBag lately?

I love ChicoBags. I've got several of them. I got my first one when they asked me to review their reusable bag for this blog, but since then they've created a couple of new bags that you should know about. 

The original ChicoBag was a brilliant idea. A durable, washable, reusable bag that folded up into a small pouch so you could put it in your handbag or your pocket and never be without a bag. 

I was listening to my favorite podcast, More Hip than Hippie, the other day while I was walking. The fabulous hosts, Dori and Val, were interviewing the founder of ChicoBag, Andy Keller. He was telling them about two new bags that the company now makes.

The first is the Vita. It's made of the same material that the original ChicoBag is made from and folds up into a pouch, but this one has long handles that can be put over your shoulder so you can carry it as a shoulder bag. The original didn't allow you to do it. The Vita sells for $8 on ChicoBag's site.

The second new bag is really impressive. It's called the rePETe, and this one is made of almost all recycled material.

The ChicoBag rePETe Original follows our Original reusable shopping bag design but is made from 99% recycled content by weight! Each rePETe has uniquely accented handles with the phrase, "This bag is made from 7 plastic bottles!" accompanied by a custom illustration. A list of the recycled materials used in manufacturing the rePETe is printed on the inside of each bag.

The rePETe sells for $9 on their website. The original, which is designed the same but made from virgin materials, sells for $5. 

I haven't tried either of these bags, but if they are of the same quality of the original ChicoBags that I have, they will be durable and wash up well. 

Images: ChicoBag site
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Monday, February 23, 2009

Find a food co-op near you

Derek over at Natural Papa had a post on Friday about joining a food co-op so you can buy your natural foods in bulk. Here's what he has to say:
Join a co-op and buy your natural foods in bulk. Order ahead and get what you’d need for a month. You’ll always have the staples at hand, and you’ll save some cash at the same time.

Most whole foods are available by the bag or box, with 10, 25, and 50 pound sizes being the usual sizes. Rice, lentils, beans, oats, wheat, pasta, nuts and seeds are all available for much less than you’d pay for the fancy box with the cool colors, and you’ve contributed less waste to the landfill. Produce, grocery products, and personal care items are all great candidates for bulk purchases.
A co-op doesn't necessarily have local foods (but I'm sure at certain times of the year one might), but they are a way of buying healthier, natural, sometimes organic, whole foods for less money and with less waste because there is less packaging. 

In his post, Derek points to the Food Co-Op Directory where you can put your zip code in and find a co-op near you. There are a few co-ops within a 45 min to an hour drive of me, and I think I may check one out to see if it would be beneficial for my family to shop there once a month. 

Image: mcmorgan08
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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Evidence of spring

Do you feel it in the air?
Do you see the signs?
Spring is struggling to arrive, and I for one, am more than ready for it. 

The daffodils are budding and growing taller each day.

The rhodedendrum is also beginning to bud (below).

The parsley in my garden is beginning to grow where it was last year.

The ground cover is starting to sprout new leaves.

What's going on in your corner of the world?

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Re-think breakfast with me

I wrote a post on MNN - Everything is fair game for breakfast. For a week, I'm going to do untraditional breakfasts and see what comes of it. Any food, as long as it's healthy and I have the time to make it, will be an option for my family in the morning. 

Anyone want to join me in the experiment? Head over to the  post on MNN, read, and then say "I'm in" in the comments.
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Green term of the week: pre and post consumer waste

Last week, I wrote a tiny little rant about my 100% recycled tissues being made from 80% post-consumer waste, and I wondered what the other 20% was recycled from. Despairing from the Suitably Despairing blog, wrote in the comment section that the other 20% probably came from pre-consumer waste. What's the difference?

Post-consumer waste is from products that have been used and then put back into the recycling stream. As far as paper products go, this could be newspapers, magazines, junk mail - any paper that has been used.

Pre-consumer waste is reintroduction of manufacturing scrap back into the manufacturing process. When paper gets trimmed during the manufacturing process, the ends that are cut off can be recycled and made into new paper products.

So my 100% recycled tissues came from 80% used recycled materials (but hopefully not used tissues) and most likely the other 20% was recycled manufacturing scraps. That makes sense.

The terms post-consumer and pre-consumer waste don't just refer to paper products. Any products that are made from recycled materials can contain both types of waste.
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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

10 easy ways to be more sustainable when you're being frugal

Everyone trying to spend less money? We are around here. You know, frugality can lead to being much more green, but not always. I wrote on MNN last week about the fact that people are spending less on groceries and restaurants in general, but fast food restaurants have seen increased profits - people are taking advantage of those dollar menus. That's not particularly 
good for the environment (or your health).

What are some easy ways to be frugal AND sustainable? Here are ten of them.
  1. Make a menu for the week, make a detailed grocery list*, and stick to them both. This saves time and money. If your grocery budget has shrunk (or stayed the same but grocery prices have risen), planning meals really helps with the budget. You can buy better food, make less last minute trips to the grocery store, and avoid having to run out for fast food because there's nothing to make.
  2. Get reaquainted with your local library. Books, music, and dvd's are there and they won't cost you a dime. Just make sure your return everything on time.
  3. If there is a book, cd, or dvd that you are interested in owning instead of just borrowing, try Swaptree, Paperback Swap or Book Crossing. You can trade media that you already have for media that you want.
  4. Need something that you don't have the money for? Put out an s.o.s. to friends and family. My son's trial clarinet rental was up last week. We were facing a $30 a month rental fee. I put out the word through Facebook and e-mail that I was looking for a clarinet. I friend of mine had one that she gave us. Everyone's got stuff lying around they aren't using. It can't hurt to ask.
  5. Hit the yard sales. In warmer climates, yard sales happen year round. Where I live the yard sale season will commence in about two months. I predict lots of people will be having yard sales trying to make a little money. 
  6. Reuse what you've got. I've been buying a lot of grains from the bulk bins lately. I was thinking that I needed to buy some glass storage jars to keep them in, and then it occurred to me - I can reuse my glass jelly jars or pasta sauce jars. 
  7. Go to or craigslist for things that you need. 
  8. Entertain in. Invite friends  to your home for an Oscar party this Sunday night or have the whole family over for a board game night. Make it potluck and serve inexpensive wine and beer - skip the cocktails. Tell everyone to bring some reusable containers to take home food in so there's no waste. 
  9. Walk. Leave the car at home when possible. Save gas. Get exercise. Frugal, green and good for you.
  10. Do without instead of going cheap. It's tempting to buy the cheap version of something you want when you don't have the money to buy quality. But cheap means it will wear out more quickly and you'll just have to replace it. Try to do without it for a while until you can save up the money to buy quality. In the long run, you'll save money because you won't need to replace it so soon, and you'll keep the cheap stuff out of the landfills. (Yes, I know this one's not so easy - we're programmed to have what we want, when we want it. While, it's not easy, it's also not as hard as you think. Give going without a try).

* I downloaded grocery i.q. for my iPhone. Now my list is with me all the time and I just need to tweak it from week to week instead of having to create a new list each week from scratch.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Divine praise

Short post today - the boys are off from school and I have to fit in working and mommying on a Monday. I wanted to share with you some praise I have for the chocolate that I bought the boys for Valentine's Day. I took the advice that Lynn and Corey from Celebrate Green gave me when I interviewed them for MNN, and bought the boys a small amount of really good, Fair Trade chocolate.

I bought them each a small bar of Divine milk chocolate. That was it for the candy. We gave it to them mid-morning Saturday. About a half hour after we gave it to them, my nine year old came up with one of the four small squares from the bar.

"Mom,  you've got to try this. This is the best chocolate I've ever had." He gave me a piece. He took another piece to his dad. 

A few minutes later, my six year old came up with a piece of his bar for me, and took a piece to my husband, too. He thought it was so good, he had to share it. They each gave away half of the best candy bar they ever had. My boys are awesome.

It was really, really good chocolate. I've had various fair trade and organic chocolates before, but this was by far the best. 

I'll be writing more about fair trade in the weeks to come, but for now, if you see this chocolate on a shelf, grab some. The small bar only cost $1.45 - certainly pricier than a Hershey Bar but worth every penny more.
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Friday, February 13, 2009

Altering the eco, one decision at a time

We're privileged to have Adam Shake from Twilight Earth guest posting for us today. Read more about Adam at the end of the post.

Until recently, and even today, the term “Altering the Ecology” of something has had negative connotations associated with it. But how do we alter the eco in a good way?

My philosophy is that environmentalism isn’t about saving the planet. Environmentalism is about saving us.

I’m reading an interesting book by Malcolm Gladwell entitled “Blink – The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” and in it, he reaffirms some of the things that I’ve always thought. One of them is that some people place “representative feelings on things” and some don’t. You see, we as humans have an intrinsic relationship with nature. We are a part of it, and yes, we need to use it for our survival, but we over use it. It would make sense that we would want to take care of something that we depend on. After all, we take care of our cars, our tools, our homes, all the things that we use to survive. Why wouldn’t we take care of the planet? It’s the planet that provides these things to us!

A person with Autism has trouble creating attachments with other people. Often times, people with autism will look at your shoulder or your hand or at a light switch when you talk to them, because they do not have the ability to see outside themselves and recognize other people as having an intrinsic relationship with them on a human level. To some severe autistics, other people are nothing more than objects.

As a human species, we’ve become autistic to nature. It holds no intrinsic “value” to us, other than what we can take from it. We alter the ecology of the rivers by buying soda, we alter the ecology of trees by overhunting wolves, and we change the frequency and intensity of storm systems by utilizing fossil fuels, resulting in millions of deaths each year. We have altered the ecology of the Wolf and Moose predator / prey cycle on Isle Royal in Lake Superior because Climate Change has increased the number of ticks on the island. The Moose are dying from the ticks and the Wolves are being affected. These are just a few of the hundreds of things that occur when we think of our planet as being “outside of ourselves.”

When we don’t value our planet, we don’t value ourselves. Everything that we do has an effect on our environment, albeit a small one, and it is the accumulation of those billions of effects, that have an effect on us as individuals.

Often times, the negative effects that the environment places on us as a result of our actions, are felt the least by those who are the greatest contributors to environmental damage.

The gold jewelry and diamonds we buy in 1st world counties are mined in 3rd world countries using heavy metals that poison the earth and the people who mine them. The amount of HFCS that we consume in the United States effects the global price of grain, affecting three quarters of the world’s populations whose staple diet is grain and rice. These are just a few of the examples of transitioning global effects of individual consumer decisions. The high amount of CO2 in the atmosphere can not be transferred back to oxygen by the world’s oceans, so the oceans are becoming acidified. That acid is killing the coral around the world and as the coral dies, tidal swells and flooding are occurring more frequently on shorelines around the ocean. But we are not thinking about someone’s fishing village being devastated when we buy that S.U.V.

How do we Alter the Eco? We Alter the Eco by keeping things simple.
  • Home grown food (1 process) is better than farmer’s market food. (2 processes) Farmer’s market food is better than store bought natural food. (3 processes) Store bought natural foods are better than store bought processed foods. (4 processes)
  • Tap water is better than bottled water, bottled water is better than soda and soda is just down right silly.
If we try to keep things as natural as possible and keep the production processes for those things as low as possible, then we are Altering the Eco.

We need to realize that we are involved with the planet. We have a relationship with it, and whether we are held accountable by our society or even our God, we are accountable to ourselves and our children.

Environmentalism is not about saving the planet, it’s about saving ourselves.

As always, keep up the good fight, and Alter the Eco! (In a good way!)

Adam Shake is the founder of Twilight Earth, a blog that brings news and excellent commentary on what is going on with the environment worldwide that we need to care about. Whether he's educating about the environmental impact of things like coal or simply sharing his breathtaking photos of nature, I always learn something at his site. Visit Twilight Earth and look around (and check out my guest post on his site later today). 

On his blog he says "I’m about sharing with you what I know, what I’m learning, and what I’m ignorant about in reference to this huge subject that we call the environment." That's what we appreciate around here. 

Image: petra
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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Things that keep me up at night

I bought tissues tonight at Trader Joe's. They're 100% recycled, made from 80% post-consumer content. How does that work? What is the other 20% recycled from? Paper that hadn't been used yet? Why did that need to be recycled?

Maybe I don't understand fully. If I'm thinking about this wrong, feel free to set me straight.
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Zumbox: sending you paper mail so you don't have to get paper mail

I received a press release e-mail the yesterday about Zumbox, the first free Web-based, all-digital postal system alternative to the USPS for sending and receiving paper mail.
Free for consumers and businesses (except advertisers and marketers), Zumbox
is a cost-effective, easy-to-use, and environmentally responsible new way to
send and receive mail. It is also a timely option - given the condition of
the present postal system.

Zumbox is based on the *current street address system* and operates within a
closed, secure system with bank-level security.
Zumbox will be free to you and me. We will be able to send and receive mail at no charge. It's the advertisers and marketers who will pay to use it.
Zumbox will derive revenues from charging advertisers and marketers that utilize the service. Zumbox is set to dramatically improve the efficiency of direct response marketing and enable real-time campaign measurement through powerful analytics tools, which are unavailable for traditional direct mail initiatives.

By using Zumbox, advertisers and marketers will enjoy lower customer acquisition costs and an enhanced digital offering, while benefiting from real-time distribution to consumers and prospects. The service allows for mail to be sent to a single address, a mailing list, or a geographic region, which enables targeting of all addresses on a street, in a building, within a radius or in a city, ZIP code, county or state.
I went to Zumbox to check it out for us all, I typed in my name and address, and was taken to my personal virtual mailbox, and surprise! I had mail - from Zumbox, of course. This is what I read.

This letter was sent to your street address electronically. It was not printed, folded, enveloped, and stamped. It was not picked up by a person, driven across town, sorted, re-sorted, and hand-delivered by another person to your mailbox.

In order to investigate any further, I need to enter my pin, which get this, will be mailed to my house in the next three to four days! I understand it's for security reasons, but it really struck me as funny. Once I receive my pin, I'll investigate further.

But here are my first thoughts. I'm all for going as paperless as possible. There are some things however, that I want to receive in the mail. Like letters from friends. Christmas cards. The journal that my college roommate and I mail back and forth to each other. Most of the rest of the stuff can be sent electronically.

However, I'm still not sure how different this will be from the e-mail system we already have. People and businesses that I chose to can already correspond with me through e-mail. This seems more of an opportunity for marketers to target me. All of those companies that despite my best efforts to get off of their lists still send me advertisements in the mail. It looks like with Zumbox that I will be able to delete their mail unopened, and even block their mail. So will they just go back to snail mailing me?

I'll know a little more in a couple of days. Until then, you might want to snoop around a bit yourself.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Are you planning your garden yet?

We've had three warmish days in a row. It's been wonderful. The children have been outside a lot, I've been outside walking, and I've been wandering around my yard, thinking about gardens. 

It's that time. Time to plan your garden. Time to order your seeds. And almost time to start a lot of those seeds indoors. Are you planning yet? I am.

I'm thinking about what worked last year and what didn't. I'm paying more attention to the growth time of particular seeds so I can start some earlier than others. I'm figuring out how soon I can plant certain plants so I can get them in the ground as soon as possible. 

Last year, I started everything at the same time and planted it all on the same day. Some things started to thrive immediately. Other things, like my oregano, took many weeks to start to grow once it got in the ground. Turns out, it takes oregano a really long time, compared to say basil, to start to thrive. So this year, I'll be starting it from seed indoors weeks before I start my basil.

I'm also not going to bother growing those things that the critters ate completely before I had a chance to get to them like the carrots. 

One other change I'm going to make is to take the small sunny spot on my front lawn and plant some herbs there. What I'd like is for it to be available to everyone in the neighborhood. Partly because I want to share and partly because I want those who don't garden to get a taste for fresh and local.

Last year, I started my organic garden knowing not much of anything. I learned a lot. I'm excited to put what I learned to practice this year and learn even more.

Oh, and my six-year-old insists that we grow cantaloupes this year. That should be interesting. I've never grown fruit before. 

What are your plans?

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

EcoSteal: Bringing you one eco-bargain at a time

I came across a website the other day called ecosteal. They offer "one organic, eco-friendly, or recycled steal at a time: get it before it's gone." Here's the deal. They offer one product at a time at a 40-80% discount. When they are gone, they're gone. Then they put up the next deal. 

Right now the eco-product they are offering for a steal is a Mountainsmith - Cyber II Recycled compact digital camera case for $9.99.

I don't see myself ordering a new ecosteal every day, but I can see this being something where perhaps there might be a good deal on something I'd like to get for a gift for someone. So I signed up to receive their alerts. The other day when I first came across the site, they had some cute organic t-shirts with hip designs that would have been perfect gifts for my nieces had it been closer to the holidays.
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Monday, February 9, 2009

Sign up for Earth Hour

Last year, my family and I participated in Earth Hour. It's one hour when people volunteer to turn off all the lights in their home. We played Monopoly by candle light. It was fun. While we the only ones in my area participating that I knew about, across the world, communities turned off off their lights. 

You might wonder what one hour can do. Look at what happened in one hour last year.
Chicago kept 840,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
In Canada, there were significant savings in energy, including an 8.7% reduction in Toronto.
In Manilla, Earth Hour was hailed a huge success as power companies saw a huge dent in consumption.
Melbourne had an impressive 10.1% drop in energy usage.
This year, Earth Hour 2009 is on March 28th (thanks to Adam at Twilight Earth for reminding me). You can go to their website and sign up to participate by volunteering to turn all your lights off between 8:30 and 9:30 pm. You can also organize your community to join in and have your friends and neighbors participate, too. 

My family will be doing Earth Hour on March 27th because we have a fundraiser to help a family in need in our town on the 28th. 

What about you? What will your family be doing that night? Will it be in the dark?

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Friday, February 6, 2009

First Thursday: Bread pudding with whiskey sauce

Last night I participated once again in First Thursday over at Thursday Night Smackdown. This month's theme was romantic cliches. In other words - Valentine's dessert. Since First Thursday is all about testing the mettle of your cookbooks, I decided to grab a cookbook that's spine has never been cracked. I also decided since this was supposed be Valentine's-ish, I'd let me husband choose which dessert in the book I'd make. Then I'd make it as organic as possible.

A few months before Hurricane Katrina hit, my husband and I had gone to New Orleans. To tell you the truth, it's not a place I'm in a hurry to get back to. Maybe it was the creepy mannequin heads in our B&B room that had dusty wigs on them. But I did like the food. So I bought a New Orleans cookbook before we left, but I've never once used it. Until last night.

My husband chose bread pudding with whiskey sauce from The Best of New Orleans: A Cookbook for me to make. It wasn't too difficult to organic it up - bread, cream, eggs, butter, sugar - all easy to get organically.

The whiskey sauce was awesome. The bread pudding was just okay. But pouring the whiskey sauce all over the bread pudding made it very edible. I could have poured that whiskey sauce over my infamous chili cornbread pie from Susan Powter's Stop the Insanity cookbook that I made back in 1995 that still haunts my husband and me to this day, and it would have made it good (the dog wouldn't even eat the chili cornbread pie and looked up at us as if to ask if we hated her when we tried to feed it to her).

The bread pudding was just bland. And since the recipe said that the pudding could be eaten with or without the sauce (kids had to eat it without - the whiskey does not burn off), I would think that the pudding would have been stand alone good.

But this First Thursday was not a complete loss because now I know about whiskey sauce. I think it would be good on ice cream or drizzled over apples or just out of the pan with a spoon. It would be worth it to find a different bread pudding recipe and pair it with this sauce.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

School fund raising makes me wanna scream

Last night, I went to the parent/teacher association meeting at my school. When I arrived there was a representative of a school fund raising organization giving her spiel. She had catalogs of candies, candles, wrapping paper and easy to grow seed bags and mats. With the exception of a couple of soy candles, there was nothing in these catalogs that even gave a hint that this company was trying to change their line of products to become a little more responsible ecologically. 

As I sat and listened to her talk about how their wrapping paper was the highest quality and the thickest, I searched through my sample catalog for any sign that perhaps this wrapping paper was made from recycled paper, but I didn't find it. I felt the blood drain from my face as she talked about all the prizes the kids could get for selling. Most kids will end up with cheesy plastic crap like beach balls the size of my palm because they won't sell more than one or two things.

Then she said something that made me want to stand up and scream. She said that the sales packets that the children would receive would come to the teachers in an eco-friendly reusable bag that they could keep. She threw the word "eco-friendly" out there like it made their company hip and responsible.

All the while, the president of the group kept asking us if we had any comments or questions. I had a ton of them, but I kept them to myself. Why? I don't regularly attend these meetings. It's not that I'm not involved with my kids' school. I am, but there are only so many meetings a week I can go to before I'm neglecting my family, and these meetings fall low on my priority list. However, next month, I am running the scholastic book fair, and I needed to be at the meeting to talk about it.

And there lies the reason I felt like I needed to keep my mouth shut. Is the book fair any less environmentally damaging than this fund raiser? My head was swirling during the meeting. I started mentally making a list to convince myself that the book fair was completely different than the other fundraiser.
  • It's books. Kids need books. Nobody needs overpriced chocolate bunnies made from low quality ingredients.
  • Books tend to have long lives. When you're done with them you give them to someone else or donate them somewhere. Wrapping paper just gets thrown out, usually without even being recycled.
  • Nobody is pressured to buy anything at the book fair. I completely ignore all of the "selling suggestions" that the company throws at me. I set up the book fair and let the kids come. We sell what we sell. With the catalog type fundraisers, grandparents, neighbors and co-workers usually feel pressured to buy something they don't really want.
  • It's books. Books are magic.
It's easy to come up with a list to justify the thing that I like while totally trashing the thing that I don't. But if I'm honest, there's a lot of environmental damage created to host these book fairs. First there's all the paper and inks used for the books. Then there's the shipping of the big cases of books to and from the school. Add the disposable plastic table cloths that are provided to decorate the fair (I've always kept them and re-used at least once before disposing of them), the piles of little crappy things that we're supposed to sell at the register like pens with fuzzy tips and erasers that look like dollar bills, and it's actually one big wasteful endeavor. 


I entertained the idea of standing up and saying, "I can't do this." But the fair is in six weeks. If I don't do it, someone else will. And if I were to bail at this late date, none of the good people in my small town would ever listen to me again. And they do listen. I know I have their ear on these issues. Many of them read this blog. I get questions about different things as I'm picking my kids up after school. 

So my conundrum is, how do I change this for future years? It's happening this year. But next year, what can I do? My first thought is to suggest a library-type book sale instead of the book fair. Have everyone in town donate books and sell used books. Store them - where I have no idea. 

If you have any bright ideas, feel free to post them.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Green term of the week: bird friendly certification

I'm getting such late start this morning. The boys have a two hour snow day and we all just stayed in bed. I love mornings like this until I realize that I still have a job to do and now I have to scramble! Eh, it's worth it.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to interview Lynn and Corey from Celebrate Green for a piece I'm doing on MNN. They mentioned something to me I hadn't heard about before. They were talking about chocolate, and they said when you're buying chocolate you want to look for a triple certification on the label - organic (know what that is), fair trade (know what that is), and bird friendly (huh?).

If a chocolate is certified by a third party as bird friendly, it means that the cocoa pods were grown in their natural habitat - in the shade of the trees that they are supposed to grow in. If the trees are cleared to make the cocoa beans grow more quickly - more sun equals more rapid growth but less quality in the cocoa - it destroys the natural habitat for birds. Some birds have become extinct or are facing extinction because of the clear cutting of trees to grow cocoa (and coffee and other crops). 

There aren't a lot of chocolate makers who have this certification yet, but there are some working towards it. Two of the third parties who are involved bird friendly certification are:

I would also think that a product certified "shade grown" that is also organic would  be considered bird friendly even without the particular bird friendly certification. If you read this, and I'm wrong about that, please let me know.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

10 Easy Ways to Be More Sustainable with Valentine's Day

Only eleven days until the holiday where we celebrate love. Of course, showing our love to the people in our lives is paramount on Valentine's Day, but showing our love to people all around the world by helping to make sure they have a healthy earth is important, too. Here are ten easy ways to be a little more sustainable with your celebration this year.
  1. If you're eating out, find a local restaurant that serves most of its food from local sources or small organic farms. A good place to locate one is at
  2. If you're eating in, buy what you can locally, and make sure your ingredients are organic and all-natural.
  3. Use soy or beeswax candles to set the mood.
  4. Make a card from things you have around the house instead of buying one.
  5. Buy organic, fair trade chocolates. Try Sweet Earth Chocolates if you can't find any in your local store.
  6. Give locally grown flowers (if you can find them this time of year) or at least make sure the flowers you give were grown organically.
  7. Don't buy new music for your in home dinner. Go to and create a Frank Sinatra station. All night long you'll have a swinging rotation of Frank and his Rat Pack buddies along with some of his other contemporaries and some of our contemporaries like Harry Connick, Jr. and Jamie Cullum. It may not be your normal nightly listening, but for Valentine's Day, it's perfect.
  8. Buy her recycled jewelry.
  9. Buy him a pre-owned box set of Die Hard movies or James Bond movies.
  10. Agree to forgo gifts altogether. Your love is enough, right?
Image: aussiegall
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Monday, February 2, 2009

Valentine's Day: Lovin' Green While Saving Green

Valentine's Day is a little less than two weeks away. I'll be having several posts, both here and on MNN, talking about ways to show your love to the earth over the next week or so. 

Everyone likes to get a Valentine's card, and if there was ever an appropriate time for a homemade card, Valentine's Day is it. Making a card from what you've already got around the house is more earth friendly than buying a pre-made card, it can save you several dollars, and it's more personal than a manufactured card. 

Today's post on homemade Valentine's cards comes courtesy of Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson , a mother and daughter team who co-authored Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at Lynn and Corey have graciously allowed me to reprint their advice.

The card

Valentine's Day is the second biggest holiday for greeting card sales. Literally billions of cards are sent each year and most come from virgin trees. Making your own cards from recycled and or unconventional materials leaves trees standing and your sweetheart thanking the stars for your creatively thoughtful gesture.

And what to say inside a custom card?

You may not believe you are a writer, but honestly, can a professional truly express what is in your heart in a more meaningful way than you can? Even if you believe she can, just for the fun of it, why not give it a whirl? You (and your love) might be pleasantly surprised. Here are a few pointers for producing poetic prose:

· Five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables--that's haiku, a simply beautiful form of poetry that you'll catch onto quickly. Read a few, then give it a try.

· Of course, a letter or free verse is always an option, or if you're really wanting to knock your partner's socks off, how about writing a sonnet?

· These sound to difficult? Here's an easier, but still romantic idea. Take each letter of the words "My Valentine," and next to it, write something about your beloved. Here's an example:

M My heart
Y You are the only one I'll ever love

V Very best
A Always my partner
L Love you forever

· If your words don't capture the exact tone you're looking for, remember that laughter is a gift - even if it is unintentional.

Beyond the card

And if you're feeling creative, how about making some seeded paper or thinking inside the box? Select a small box. Cover the outside with pictures of you and your honey or appropriate words cut from a magazine. Inside, place some stones on which you've stamped words of love, a small bag of beans with a tag that says, "I love how you've always BEAN there for me," or come up with a (much) better play on words and items to go with it.

Image: Sister72

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