Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The New Year 50 and Resolution

I got this great idea from my friend over at Valley Girl Has Baby, Goes Crunchy. The idea? Get rid of 50 things from your home between now and January first. Of course, try to keep them out of the landfill at the same time. Upcycle, recycle, donate. You'll start the year off right!

Who's with me?

I'm resolving to write one blog post a week. I really do miss the blog. Maybe I need to give it a new look to give me some motivation. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Vent

On Sunday, our air conditioning went out. It was horrible. It's just far too hot and humid right now to be without it. By the time it was fixed yesterday, it was nearly 90 degrees in our house. But that's not my vent. My complaint is with a/c repair dude.

Dude comes over, checks out the unit, and tells me the problem is that some sort of critter chewed the wires. He the proceeds to lecture me as I hold my near-two year old on one hip, carefully avoiding my enormous belly. The dog runs circles around us. Dude says,

"You know, you really need to have poison around the perimeter of your yard and in problem areas. In this case, it would have saved you $400."

Seriously, dude? We LIVE here. This is our YARD. Where our dog and kids will play. $400 saved at what cost?

I say, "I was just thinking I'd find something to encase and protect the wires. I'd rather not use poison."

Dude replies, "I guess that would work. But poison is very effective."

I couldn't believe it. Does he go from house to house with this recommendation? Do people listen? I plan to call the company today, now that I've cooled off, both physically and emotionally. Sure, I'm a bit crunchy, and I don't do poison. But this was an asinine suggestion to make to ANYONE, no?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Just Four Wheels in Our Driveway

I have to catch up on some of the changes we've made in the last few months, and this is a big one...we are officially a one-car household! One of our cars needed some repairs and, in the meantime, was just sitting in our driveway. We quickly realized that we could live with out it...we only needed one car. But which to sell? We had the fuel efficient small wagon (which i LOVED) and a bus of an SUV. Seems like an easy choice, but it wasn't. My husband is very tall, and we are about to have two in car seats. The wagon was too small. We put the seats in the SUV and found that it actually didn't have room for Daddy when the seat was behind him either. I'll never understand how auto makers can build cars that are so friggin' huge and have no room. I'm sorry we ever got that SUV.

The solution? Trade them both in for something that meets our every (almost) need. We now own a Ford Freestyle (now the Taurus X) crossover. Part wagon, part SUV, it's just the right size for us. Lots of room up front, and two captains chairs in the middle that slide forward and back. We love the console in between for separating squabbling siblings and corralling their stuff. The third row is pretty much full-size (so much better than the old SUV), and not only folds flat to disappear, but it also folds backwards, for things like tailgating and parade watching out the back! The third row also has LATCH for carseats, should we be so lucky to add to our family.

The downside? Not so fuel efficient. But now that we do more carpooling and bike riding, we feel we help that a bit. Maybe someday there will be an even better option for us.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Surprise Use for Vinegar

By now we all know that vinegar is great for a plethora of things. I discovered a new use this weekend, and it surprised me a bit.

I have to start by sharing a funny story. The holiday weekend started with a birthday party for friends' little girl. Her dad loves to tease me about my green ways. He was talking about some of the work he'd done in his yard, including pest control, and said "Don't worry, Renee. It's all made of vinegar." :) I'm sure I talk about vinegar the way the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding talks about windex. It really is an amazing thing. So tease all you want, it's funny because it's true!

Anyhoo, today's use for vinegar? Taking the sting out of sunburn. Of course, you're better off not getting the burn in the first place, but if it happens, some vinegar in a spray bottle soothes!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Better Than Jell-O

Marlee is currently sick with croup, and doesn't seem to want to eat anything that's not cold and smooth. Jell-O seems like an obvious choice in times like these, but I was a bit put off by the ingredients list:

Sugar, gelatin, adipic acid (for tartness), contains less than 2% of natural and artificial flavor, disodium phosphate and sodium citrate (control acidity), fumaric acid (for tartness), yellow 6, red 40, BHA (preservative).

I decided to attempt my own version. Here is my ingredients list:

1 package kosher/vegan gelatin
3 cups Vruit brand juice
[Apple Juice, Orange Juice, Peach Juice, Carrot Juice, Cucumber Juice, Celery Juice, and Spinach Juice (Water, Juice Concentrates); Natural Flavors, Vitamin C, Beta Caroten]
1 cup water
frozen (or fresh) organic blueberries

Mix juice and water (I only did this to cut sugar content). Pour one cup juice in a large bowl and sprinkle gelatin on top. Let sit while you bring remaining juice to a boil. Pour the hot juice over the cold juice and gelatin and stir, about 3 minutes. Pour into a 13x9 pan and add blueberries. Chill until set, about 3 hours. Cut into squares or with cookie cutters.

Want a comparison?

Jell-O /My Version

Sugar 19g /12g
Protein 0 /1g
Potassium 0 /175mg
Vitamin A 0 /100%
Vitamin C 0 /100%
Iron 0 /2%
Calcium 0 /2%


(I'll post pictures tonight!)

Monday, June 22, 2009

MJ's Green Big Girl Room

We've been putting together a new room for Marlee so that it frees up the nursery for the new baby. Oh wait, I don't even think I told you I'm having another baby! See, that 's what slacking will do to you. I'm due September 29 with another baby girl...We're calling her "Slim," but that's another story for another post.

I've definitely taken the environment into concern when decorating Marlee's room. Some things are not in the budget for me (like organic or vintage quilts, which i REALLY wanted), but I have been able to take some steps that make her room a little greener.

1. Antique Market finds- I purchased an antique dresser, vintage chandelier, and lots of accessories at antique/flea markets. Every thing you buy used (like antique stores, garage sales, craigslist, etc) keeps it out of a landfill and prevents the need to have something manufactured. I think it's the biggest thing you can do.

2. Low VOC paint- It's readily available now in any color you could want. All the major paint lines offer low VOC options.

3. Sensibly manufactured new stuff- We bought a set of small bunkbeds and mattresses at Ikea. They have responsible manufacturing and business policies, so it's a good choice when you have to buy new. Not to mention it's kind on the wallet!

Pictures coming soon!

Friday, June 19, 2009


What an overwhelming response in just a few hours...just the motivation I need! I'm already pondering my potential post for tomorrow. Thanks for kicking me in the pants!


Anyone Still Reading?

I'm just curious. I need to get on it!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

We Wrote, They Listened

Here is an excerpt from a letter from members of the House of Representatives to chair Henry Waxman regarding CPSIA.

The emails, letters, and phone calls we have received from constituents about the unintended consequences of certain provisions and deadlines in CPSC's implementation plan now number in the thousands. Many involved in CPSIA's creation were passionate to improve the safty of our children's products, but surely no one expected or wanted to drive thousands of home-based and small businesses out of operation and turn thousands of Americans into surprise victims of a brutal recession. For example, it seems obvious to us tha t the hand-knitted sweaters and homemade hair bows sold by artisans on eBay are highly unlikely to endanger children's health.

The situation is urgent. On February 10, in less than three weeks, these tiny toy producers will be out of business. Their products, regardless of innocence and safety, will have to be removed from store shelves and the websites of their home businesses.

You have urged the Commission to deal with the problem by issuing new guidance. Regrettably, the kind of modifications to existing requrements needed to prevent a broad collapse of home-based businesses may take months to achieve. We are advised that even if the CPSC devotes full staff attention and moves at the most expeditious speed, it will be unable [to] issue the necessary guidance prior to February 10 without violating Federal rulemaking requirements.

Meanwhile, there is no evidence that these micro-producers are doing anything wrong or endangering anyone, and we believe there is no reasonfor them to suffer a dvasating economic blow simply because their government cannot find a way to help in time.

Thanks to ZRecs for keeping us up to date.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Let's Get Personal Part II: The Diva Cup

If you haven't been here for a couple of days, you might want to read the post below first.

Here is a post I wrote for another blog on my experiences with The Diva Cup.

The Diva Cup has changed my life. When I first heard of it 15 years ago, I was immature enough to think it was nasty. Now I wish I'd had it all this time. Seriously, life changing.

When I was first prescribed birth control at 13, it was for relief of cramps, not sex (obviously). At the time, my doctor suggested something called "the Keeper." It was similar to the Diva cup...I think it's Canadian. He explained how cramps are worsened in some women by tampons and pads, which actually contain a chemical that makes you bleed more and cramp more (gross, right?). I was 13. It was nasty. I took the pills. My cramps continued, and I got an Rx for Percocet. I took it four days a month to even deal. Doctors said it would be better after I had a baby.

Flash forward 15 years. I get pregnant. Researching cloth diapers turns up good info on feminine products. Just as bad for you, just as bad for the environment. I take in the information, but don't really think much of it. Have a baby. 4 months later, my period is back, and bad as ever. I call my new midwife, and ask if she can get me and Rx for Percocet. She says, "Have you tried a Diva Cup? It can really help if you have chronic cramping." Seriously? I figure, everything is pointing to the fact that I should try this thing. So I order one.

Now I've had it for two months, and I want to build it a shrine. Not really. But this thing is awesome. On my worst crampy day, I took two Advil and was perfectly fine.

*no more buying tampons
*no more health risks associated with tampons or pads
*only think about it twice a day
*SO comfortable. one day, i completely forgot about it until the next morning!
*better for the environment (had to throw that in there :))
*NO MORE CRAMPS! (Well, almost)

I hate to think that I've been plaguing my body for 15 years with chemicals that had such a terrible effect on me, then masking it with pain killers. Yuck.

There are of course other healty, eco-friendly options, like sea sponges or cloth pads. This is just what's worked best for me.

If you are thinking of trying a Diva Cup, just know that there is a learning curve. Expect to take a few days getting the hang of things. Don't give up...you'll be glad you stuck with it! I ended up having to cut off the stem to make it comfortable for me. Lots of women do this, but try it first to see what works for you.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Let's Get Personal

Alright, girls.  It's time for a personal post.  This one is about Aunt Flo, the visitor, the crimson wave.  More accurately, it's about how you deal with the unpleasant monthly occurrence...your period.  For most of us growing up, we were presented with two options:  pads or tampons.  Tampons were scary at first, but then we learned they can give us freedom, and we weren't so scared anymore.  I'm here to put a bit of that fear back in you.  Sorry.  

Here's the thing:  Tampons are not so healthy.  

Of course, there's Toxic Schock Syndrom, or TSS.  That's the fine print warning that's on every box.  We all know about it.  It can be deadly, but it's really rare, right.  Sure.

Next up come dioxins.  Dioxins are an after-effect of the bleaching process.  Tampons are bleached because...well...bright white just seems cleaner.  Truly, this is the only reason.  It's marketing.  The FDA has looked into the presence of dioxins in tampons twice.  Once in 1988 and again in 1994.  Both studies found the amounts to be very low.  However, the latter year also saw another FDA study that proved that dioxins, even in trace amounts, can lead to immune suppression, reproductive problems and hormonal disruptions.  Two university studies point to a link between dioxins and endometriosis.  

Can you find a tampon without dioxins...yes.  A few manufactures make unbleached cotton tampons.  Be careful, though.  Unless they are organic unbleached tampons, they are made with pounds of pesticides, and that's another topic entirely.  Gross.  And don't forget, even organic unbleached tampons won't eliminate your risk of TSS, though they will lower it.

Pads don't pose a risk of TSS, but they are bleached and contain dioxins.  Of course, they don't pose as much of a threat outside your body.

Then there's the environmental catastrophe.  The average woman throws away 275 pounds of tampons, pads, and applicators in her lifetime.  That's a lot of trash.  Everything we flush is fished out by a skimmer net in the sewage treatment process.  From there, it heads to the landfill.

Fortunately, there are alternatives that are better for you and better for the environment.  I'll highlight these tomorrow, and leave you thinking about this post today.  My chocolate chip cookies are ready and calling my name. :)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Drain-O? Drain-Whoa!

We all rembember from making that volcano in elementary school that baking soda + vinegar = a frothy explosion.

You can put this oozing wonder to work on your clogged drains. Just unscrew the stopper if applicable and remove any hair or other nasty trappings that are right on the surface. Then shake baking soda into the drain. You may need to pack it in with your fingers. Then pour in the vinegar. Let sit for several minutes while the magic happens.

(I recommend skipping the lava red food coloring. This can have an adverse effect on your porcelain ;))

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Made Yogurt!

I've been dying to try the recipe for yogurt on Crockpot365. Yesterday, I got the chance...It turned out great! I've decided that using the Crockpot was actually kind of silly, and more a a gimmick for this blogger. It could have been done just as easily in a pot. You only use the pot to heat the milk. Here's how I would do it:

Heat 8 cups (1/2 gallon) of whole milk on the stove until it boils, then let cool. Milk should be warm, but not hot (like you could stick a finger in it and not burn yourself). Heck, I imagine you could do this in a microwave. Scoop up two cups of the warm milk and put into a bowl. Wisk in 1/2 cup live active culture yogurt. This is your starter. The next time you make yogurt, you can use some of your first homemade batch as a starter. Pour the mixture back into the pot of milk and wisk it all together. Put the pot in a warm place (I used my oven, not turned on) and let sit for 8 hours. You've got yogurt! This comes out the same consistency as store-bought organic whole yogurt, but thinner than brands like Yoplait.

I'm sure I don't need to tell you the benefits of making your own yogurt. First, the cost savings. Homemade yogurt boasts a 25 cent/ounce cost savings over the store-bought stuff...that's real! Then there's the lack of plastic tub. Finally, a healthy alternative that you can dress up and flavor as you wish.

I flavored mine by adding 2T vanilla and 1/4 cup agave nectar to the whole batch. Then I separated into smaller batches and flavored with fruit purees. Finally, I poured individual portions into baby food jars (scored these on Freecycle) for ulimate convenience.

From left to right: Blueberry, Peach, Cherry, Raspberry....Yummy!

This recipe makes so much that I also made frozen yogurt and yogurt popsicles.

Fruit Purees

My next post is going to mention fruit puress, and while I was writing, I decided they deserve a post of their own.  

I always have freezer bags filled with cubes of different fruit purees.  They're very nice to have on hand.  They're perfect for stirring into plain yogurt, oatmeal, pancake mix, and more!  Sometimes I even mash frozen cubes with a fork and MJ eats it like a granita.  Yum.  Each little bit really packs a punch:  A whole peach yeilds about 2 Tablespoons of puree.  Stir into 1/2 cup yogurt, and your kid just ate a whole peach!  That's one serving you can check off for the day.

Fruit purees are not only a great way to get some fruit into your kids, they can also save you from unhealthier choices.  Here's an example:

This compares a packet of instant oatmeal to plain instant oats prepared with skim milk and strawberry puree.  It takes no longer for a mom to whip up.  Just nuke the oats with the milk and stir in a cube of puree.  It will melt into the oatmeal, adding fruity goodness and cooling it to a kid-friendly temp.  Voila!

What if your kid eats breakfast in the car or at daycare?  Skip the Eggos and stir some fruit puree into homemade pancake mix...I add some flax meal for bonus nutrition!  Make the pancakes and freeze 'em.  Thirty seconds in the microwave on the way out the door, and junior gets a serviving of fruit disgused in a portable breakfast treat.

Yet another use for fruit purees in my next post.  I can hardly hide my excitement!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Trip to Target

Target has that cool annual home decor section that takes up the space between christmas and summer.  They have several great eco-friendly things--like organic bamboo sheets and sustainably harvested wood accents.  They even had a few organic toys at the end of one aisle.

When I was checking out, I experienced a first...no plastic bags for four people!  The first lady asked for all of her things to be stacked in a single paper bag, the second had only one item and said she didn't need one, i had my own, and the guy behind me loaded his canvas bags onto the belt before his loot.  It was so great!  On the downside, when lady #2 said she didn't need a bag, the cashier pulled her single item out, handed it to her, and threw the bag in the trash.  Sheesh.  I came thisclose to saying something.


I've been saving a CPSIA post as a draft for weeks, adding to it when I could find spare moments. Then I came across a post on another bloggers site, and she says everything I wanted to. Here's some CPSIA info from Sarah, author of My Charmed Life.

"Safe" at What Cost?

You know what keeps me up at night? Well yes - two fussing four month olds - but what do I lie in bed and think about after they are again sound asleep? What interrupts those precious few minutes of peace I get each morning in the shower and hangs over my head like a dark cloud for the rest of the day?

Five letters. CPSIA. Implementation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act begins on February 10. Sadly, most of the general population has never even heard of it. Many of those who have heard of it may assume it's a good thing - with a name like that, how could it be bad? We want safer products, right?

This legislation is troubling on so many levels. It will have a severe impact on my business to be sure, but it also affects me generally speaking as a parent. I love my children, they are my world. Of course I want to protect them. The original intent of the CPSIA was likely just that, to protect our children from harmful substances such as lead and phthalates. Somewhere it got off track, way off track, and now I firmly believe it will do more harm than good.

The CPSIA comes after a year which saw recall after recall in the toy world, largely involving toys imported from China which contained dangerous amounts of lead. As written, the CPSIA requires that each and every children's product (the definition of which is VERY broad) be subjected to costly third-party testing and issued a certificate of compliance with stated levels of lead and phthalates. Products which do not have this certificate of compliance will be treated as banned hazardous substances. Even inherently lead-free items such as unfinished wood and unembellished fabric are subject to these requirements. Simply stated, under the CPSIA, products will be treated as hazardous until they are proven otherwise.

The cost of compliance will simply force many small businesses and artisans who produce small runs of handcrafted items out of business. The vast majority of these products are safe and ironically, in many cases, were intended to provide an alternative to the questionable, mass produced, imported children's products on the market. It's hard to imagine how the new law will be enforced, but the penalties for non-compliance are stiff.

Raising kids in today's economy is not easy and I like to save money where I can. This past fall, I went to a local kids consignment sale. The sale was held in a large warehouse and everything from clothes to highchairs, toys to baby carriers and more was available at a fraction of the retail cost. I was able to purchase two enormous bags of clothing for my kids, along with a couple of puzzles for around $150. These clothes will make up the bulk of their wardrobes for the year. Included in the haul were many items that look just like new and several complete outfits for my daughter (Gymboree, no less) with the tags still on them. Kids outgrow their clothes so fast, particularly in the smaller sizes, that many hardly get worn at all. It makes sense as a budget-conscious mom to take advantage of this fact, right?

Being that the twins are our last children, we had planned to sell some of their gently used things as they are outgrown. Clothing, bouncer chairs, furniture...these things aren't cheap and recouping some of their cost would certainly help us down the road. You'll find parents reselling items on Craigslist, eBay, at yard sales, consignment sales and the like. This is about to change. The CPSIA is retroactive. This means that any selling of children's products currently in existence is about to become illegal. Billions and billions of products will become contraband literally overnight. They will have to be destroyed because they cannot legally be sold. Imagine the environmental impact.

There will be no more consignment sales, or bargains to be found on kids items at thrift stores and yard sales. We'll have no choice but to shop retail, from products produced by manufacturers who are large enough to incur the required testing. Undoubtedly that cost will in turn be passed onto the consumer. Poor selection at a higher price, just what we need in an economy that already finds many on the verge of bankruptcy.

Is there hope that this legislation can be amended before it is too late? I wish I knew. There are efforts underway by the handcrafting community to bring attention to this issue, but time is growing short. In an article published in Friday's Los Angeles Times, only one of six children's thrift stores contacted had even heard of the law. Many parties who will be deeply affected have yet to learn of those five little letters: CPSIA.

You can read the entire law here.

You can read my previous post, which includes links to help you contant your senators and representatives here.

Bottom line, CPSIA needs some tweaking to save handmade toys, consignment stores, work-at-home moms, our budgets, the environment, and everything else in danger if the law passes as written.