Accentuate the Positive: December's Green Good News

It's not all doom and gloom in the world of environmental news. Hope you enjoy this month's edition of feel-good stories.

12 Wins for Wildlife in 2014 That YOU Made Possible
In my own home state of California, President Obama permanently protected 346,000 acres of critical habitat for mountain lions and other wildlife, such as California condors, yellow-legged frogs and Nelson’s bighorn sheep. What wins for wildlife have happened in your area?

Citing Health Risks, Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State
Not a fan of fracking? Neither is Governor Cuomo. Despite the tantalizing economic opportunities for depressed communities, the administration has decided that fracking poses "inestimable public-health risks." Acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker said "his review boiled down to a simple question: Would he want his family to live in a community where fracking was taking place? His answer was no."

Click here to continue reading at the Green Phone Booth.

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc

Ask Kroger to Keep Toxic Chemicals Out of Your Family's Food

Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and their partners have been working on a campaign called Mind the Store for nearly a year. I love the Mind the Store campaign, because while we certainly need and should continue to seek governmental action on toxic chemicals, the regulatory and legislative process can at times be painfully slow and disappointingly political. #MindtheStore is a fabulous way for consumers to directly demand quick action from businesses, who will in turn have a stake in pressuring the government to adopt meaningful reform. In response to the efforts of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and pressure from everyday consumers like you, big retailers like Walmart and Target have developed their own comprehensive policies to screen out over 1,000 chemicals in products on their store shelves.

Yet Kroger, the largest grocery chain in the United States and one of the largest worldwide, with over 3,500 stores and sales of over $98 billion, still doesn’t have a policy to screen out and eliminate toxic chemicals in their products. Yet we especially need grocery stores to keep toxic chemicals out of the products they sell. Recent studies show that food packaging is a primary route of exposure to dangerous toxins such as phthalates. Another study published earlier this year found 175 different toxic chemicals in materials that come into contact with food.

15 Favorite Children's Christmas Books

Growing up my mom always put out a big basket of children's books about Christmas and the holidays during December. Now with my own children we count down to Christmas by unwrapping and reading a beloved children's book about Christmas each night, some from the library and some from our own collection. (As a former elementary school teacher, I've always had a soft spot for children's books, and always keep my eyes open for Christmas ones at thrift stores and library sales.)

Here are 15 of our favorites. Many of these are out of print but easily obtained from your local library or used online. I have noted as "secular" the books that do not assume a belief in Jesus Christ for those who celebrate a nonreligious Christmas.

The Perfect Eco-Gift for Everyone on Your List

Still searching for the perfect gift for that special someone? Wild Mint Shop has everything you need whether you are shopping for your spouse, toddler, mother-in-law, or a favorite teacher.

Click here to read about nine fabulous products (selected by me!) from Wild Mint Shop -- there's something for everyone on your list!

Disclosure: I was compensated to be a blog ambassador for Wild Mint during December. Eco-novice loves working with and supporting small eco-friendly businesses!

5 Ways to Avoid Toxic Styrofoam

Polystyrene Causes Cancer and Messes with Your Hormones!

Styrofoam and other polystyrene plastics have been enjoying a bit of notoriety this year. Earlier this year styrene (the building block of polystyrene) was finally listed as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the National Research Council, a designation long fought by the styrene industry. More recently polystyrene, the primary building block of expanded polystyrene foam (a.k.a. styrofoam*) and other plastics, was found to seep estrogen when exposed to heat and UV light. That styrofoam takeout container isn't just carcinogenic. It's messing with your hormones too!

Bad for You, Bad for the Earth

In addition to causing detrimental human health effects, polystyrene products have numerous detrimental effects on the environment. The polystyrene manufacturing process creates large amounts of liquid, solid, and gaseous hazardous waste. Styrene plastic products are almost never recycleable and will persist for hundreds of years in landfills.

Foam litter is notoriously difficult to control. Polystyrene foam breaks apart easily and its lightness allows it to be readily dispersed by the wind, which is especially problematic and expensive for cities that need to limit trash in waterways. In California, styrofoam accounts for 15% of storm drain litter and is the second-most-common type of beach debris. It is also frequently mistaken for food by animals and seabirds. Due to these issues, dozens of cities have banned expanded polystyrene foam all together.

Eventually, I'd love to see this toxic plastic banned everywhere, but until then, here are some ways you can keep polystyrene's toxic chemicals out of your body and the environment.

November's Green Good News

Sometimes being green is a downer. You can't buy this, you don't want your kids to eat that, you go ahead and use this but you can't help but think about the toxic whatsit it contains, and don't even get me started on climate change! While I'm a full believer in knowledge, transparency, and facing the cold hard facts, our brains pay more attention to the negative, and in the high stakes world of carcinogenic toxic chemicals and slow-motion planetary suicide the doom and gloom can become downright paralyzing! So here is some green good news for y'all. If you enjoy this post, please leave a comment. I'm thinking of making it a monthly series.

Uncommon tactics (

How Texas activists beat the well-financed oil and gas industry to pass a fracking ban. By far my favorite story, and proof that ingenuity and wit can trump money in politics! Let's all take a page from their play book, shall we?
"A behind-the-scenes look at the anti-fracking campaign reveals how a relatively tiny group of combatants relied on creative tactics and political gimmickry to outmaneuver pro-fracking forces that outspent them 10-to-1. Their arsenal included puppet shows, flash mob-style improvisational dances and coffin races...The strategy worked. Voters approved the ban 59 percent to 41."

Click here to continue reading at The Green Phone Booth

photo credit: marcusjroberts via photopin cc

Is Your Home Shoeless? 3 Critical Reasons to Leave Shoes at the Door

As we enter the winter months and the holidays, keeping shoes out of your home can become a little more challenging. But the benefits are worth it! Removing your shoes (and encouraging your guests to do likewise) reduces the amount of toxic pollutants in your home, decreases the time and money you spend on cleaning, and promotes the development of healthier stronger feet.

Wild Mint Shop Helps Parents Avoid Toxins in Toys

This post was sponsored by Green Sisterhood. All opinions are my own.

Every holiday there are headlines about the toxic chemicals that can be found in children's toys. While some progress has been made in recent years, there are still plenty of materials to avoid. This situation presents many dilemmas for parents and gift-givers.

Let's say:

You want to purchase an open-ended well-crafted toy for a child you love, but when you browse the toy sections online or at major retailers, you can't figure out if the manufacturer uses safe materials.
Your mother-in-law is planning to buy a gift for her grandbaby, and you are worried she'll choose one you don't feel comfortable letting your baby play with and mouth.
Your child received cash as a gift that she plans to spend on a toy, and you want to guide her towards a non-toxic, sustainably-made toy without being a micromanaging negative controlling-pants.

What is the answer for all of these dilemmas?

Wild Mint

5 Ways to Practice Gratitude with (or without) Kids

Gratitude: the consummate antidote to consumerism. Gratitude is also one of the keys to living a happy, meaningful life, and a trait I hope to model for and foster within my children. Ironically, difficulty and scarcity seem to inspire gratitude more than abundance, and I am often frustrated by my own children's lack of gratitude. So in my readings on happiness and mindfulness, I pay special attention to the suggestions for practicing gratitude and establishing habits of thankfulness.

November and the Thanksgiving holiday are the perfect season to focus on gratitude. Here are 5 ways to practice gratitude this month with (or without) kids.

The Gratitude Tree

We did this last year and plan to do it again this year. You can find lots of elaborate ideas on Pinterest. I chose to keep it pretty simple: I drew a tree trunk and branches on a poster, cut out leaves in fall colors, and then wrote words on the leaves. On family night, we gave each of our kids several leaves and let them glue them on the tree after writing (with our assistance if needed) something they were grateful for on each leaf. After that, I kept a little box of leaves and a marker around so they could add leaves to the tree throughout the month as they thought of new things to add.

What Do You Do When Something Breaks?

In our disposable society, the ability to repair items seems to have fallen by the wayside. But it used to be a regular part of life, back when products were higher quality, more durable, and more expensive. If you couldn't fix it yourself, you took it to someone who could. Instead of tossing a pair of shoes when there was a hole in the sole, you took it to have the sole replaced at the local shoe repair place. I remember when I was a teenager, a favorite pair of black flats got a hole in the bottom. I knew I'd never find a pair of black flats that were as comfortable as my simple worn pair. So my mom took me to the shoe repair place about a mile away from our house to get a new sole. It was the only pair of shoes I ever had repaired.

7 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Family's Exposure to Toxic Flame Retardants


Flame retardant chemicals are Persistent Organic Pollutants, meaning that they are toxic, persistent, bioaccumulative, and capable of long-range transport from their original source (flame retardants have been found in high concentrations in polar bears and the Inuit people). They have been linked to "cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility" (source). Fetuses and young children are particularly susceptible to their effects. They are also nearly impossible to avoid.

5 Reasons to Choose Antibiotic-free Meat

Antibiotics are routinely given to livestock as a part of their feed to promote faster growth and to prevent diseases that may result from unhealthy living conditions. In fact, an astonishing 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals, not people. You can limit your family's exposure to superbugs and help preserve the efficacy of antibiotics for everyone by saying no to products from animals raised with antibiotics. 

Here are 5 reasons to choose antibiotic-free animal products.

Even Meat Labeled "No Nitrates or Nitrites Added" Contains Harmful Nitrites

For those trying to avoid the cancer-linked preservatives nitrates and nitrites, I have some bad news.

All processed meats -- that's bacon, deli meat, sausages, hot dogs, pepperoni, salami -- contain nitrates and nitrites, even those natural or organic products labeled as "uncured" with "no nitrates or nitrites added." Take a look at the additional (sometimes very fine) print on your favorite "uncured" meat and you will most likely find some wording similar to the following: "no nitrates or nitrites added except for those naturally occurring in ingredients such as celery juice powder, parsley, cherry powder, beet powder, spinach, sea salt etc." (emphasis mine).

The Perks of Being a Regular at the Farmers Market

No matter what time of day I shop, this farmer gives me the end-of-the-day special.

Find your local farmers markets here.

I've been shopping at the same small neighborhood farmers market for about four years. Shopping at the farmers market has numerous benefits, from fresher and better tasting produce, to the welcome absence of produce stickers and high fructose corn syrup. Here are some of the perks that I get for being a regular that go above and beyond the regular benefits.

My Surrogate Garden: the Farmers Market

So here's the deal. I don't have a garden. I drool a bit over all the garden photos on The Green Phone Booth and elsewhere. I even have a Pinterest Garden board. I do aspire to having a garden, but I just don't have the mental space, time, or energy to embark on this new endeavor just yet. (If you'd like to come plant stuff in my yard for me and tell me exactly what to do afterwards, just let me know!)

But you know what I've got? I've got the farmers marketAnd oh, how I love the farmers market. I shop at one, sometimes two farmers markets every Saturday and purchase at least 90% of my family's produce there (bananas being the major exception). I kind of like to think of the farmers market as my garden. My surrogate garden, if you will. So for the last few weeks, I've been annoying my children by whipping out my smart phone to take photos at the farmers market.

Are you ready? Here are some photos of my pride and joy: my local farmers markets.

Click here to continue reading at The Green Phone Booth.

Hate Stirring Natural Nut Butters? Read This.

Does this happen to you?

As I get to the bottom of a jar of peanut butter, or almond butter, or tahini, I feel a vague sense of dread. It's the knowledge that soon, very soon, I will have to open a new jar of nut butter, and that entails trying my very best to integrate that layer of oil sitting on the top into the entire jar. Whether you use a fork, knife, or some other utensil, this process inevitably involves making a greasy mess on your hands, the outside of the jar, and on the surface beneath the jar.

At least that used to happen to me, until I discovered one of the finest inventions ever: the Witmer Mess-free Peanut Butter Mixer.

Are Full-fat Dairy Products Good for You?

Reconsidering Full Fat Dairy

For years my family has been eating organic whole plain yogurt produced by a local creamery. I chose whole yogurt (over lowfat or nonfat) mostly because it was creamy delicious. In addition, I had read that whole dairy products were important for women during their child-bearing years, and that doctors recommend whole dairy products for children under the age of 2 because young children need lots of fat for their developing brains. Also there is the fact that, as a general rule, we aim to eat foods in their most natural and least processed state as often as possible.

But recently I began questioning the healthiness of whole fat dairy.

Easy-peasy DIY Taco Seasoning Recipe

Not so long ago I used Trader Joe's envelopes of taco seasoning to season my taco meat. But then I discovered that it contained sugar, which meant my sister, who does not eat sugar and then regularly ate with us, could not eat it. Of course I had to browse dozens of recipes before trying a few and then finding my own favorite version through trial-and-error. I'd say of all the recipes I browsed, mine bears the closest resemblance to Alton Brown's.

I mix and store mine in the little glass jars that came with my yogurt maker (they hold a little less than one cup). I always make my yogurt in quart jars, so I can use the little jars for other things. After getting tired of searching for my favorite version of the recipe every time I needed to make a new batch of seasoning, I had a stroke of genius and affixed the simple recipe to the lid using part of a blank label.

7 Simple Low-risk Ways to Involve Kids in the Kitchen

Kids benefit tremendously from helping in the kitchen. Kids who help in the kitchen are more likely to try healthy foods and participate in family meals. They are also learning valuable cooking skills and building self-confidence as they contribute to the family. I try to frequently involve my kids in baking and cooking for these reasons.

But sometimes I am too short on time or patience to really let my kids (ages 6, 4, and 2) be fully involved. Or sometimes the child who wants to be involved is under two or just beginning to help in the kitchen.  At those moments, I need a simple way to let them feel involved that still let's me get the job done quickly and successfully. Here are some easy, low-stakes way that I let the kids help me in the kitchen.

Avoiding Toxins in the Backyard

School's out and that means that my kids are spending a lot more time in our backyard. I am a big fan of outdoor play for kids and adults. Unfortunately, there are several ways that we adults inadvertently make our backyards less of an ideal play location for our children by introducing toxic chemicals. Here are some ways you can make sure that your backyard stays safe and eco-friendly this summer.

Pesticide-free Bug Control

In my area, hot weather means bugs. They sneak in your home looking for moisture, shelter from the heat, and, of course, some morsels to eat. Just the other day the Pesticide Salesman stopped by my door to let me know that two of my neighbors were spraying for ants and spiders and did I want to sign up too (at a discount, of course!) so that they didn't all run into my house when he, "flushed them out" of the neighbors' yards and crawl spaces. Turns out I'm much more worried about the neurotoxins in pesticides than ants and spiders, so I turned him down. But I'm not a huge fan of bugs in my house. I've had ant, fruit fly, and cockroach invasions and lived to tell the tale, without the use of toxic pesticides! This is my tried-and-true ant bait/ trap (keep away from little hands and animals), and a non-toxic spray we use around the perimeter of our house to discourage cockroaches. House spiders are generally welcome at my home! Check out Beyond Pesticides for safe alternatives to toxic pest control.

The Non-toxic Eco-friendly Sandbox

Does Play Sand Cause Cancer?

Last summer I purchased a used rigid plastic sand box with a cover on Craig's List. Once I had the sandbox, all I had to do was buy some sand. Unfortunately, this decision was not as simple as I had hoped.

If you live in California, you've possibly seen the Prop 65 cancer warning on bags of play sand. That's because the super cheap fifty pound bag of sand you can pick up at home improvement stores or garden centers isn't actually sand. According to Healthy Child Healthy World, "'Play sand' is a manufactured material made from ground quartz that can contain carcinogenic crystalline silica and a mineral called tremolite, which is related to asbestos."  You can read more about the classification of crystalline silica as a human lung carcinogen in this OSHA document.

Some emphasize that the risk is mainly an occupational hazard for sand blasters who experience intense and prolonged exposure to the crystalline silica dust. While children certainly aren't subject to the same degree of exposure as sand blasters, parents still may not be comfortable with their children inhaling respiratory irritants linked to cancer. The issue isn't the silica, which is present in all sand, but the size of the particles. Finer particles can be inhaled into the lungs, causing respiratory irritation and an increased risk of mutations and tumors. So if you see a dust cloud above the sand box, you have an issue.

Non-toxic Sand

Nature in Our Backyard: Hummingbird Chicks Leaving the Nest

I've been wanting to link up with Green Bean's Spot the Pollinator series, but haven't had a chance to take many photos of pollinators. But then I remembered the miracle we witnessed during June 2012 in our last home. And which, incidentally, I have never posted about (except a brief mention in this post on Green Phone Booth).

Two years ago, my kids and I got to watch a hummingbird build her nest right under the (plastic fake wood) lattice over the back patio of our rental home. We then watched that hummingbird sit on the eggs in her nest. I had never seen hummingbird wings as anything other than a blur before this experience. Eventually we saw little tiny hummingbird heads poking their heads over the edge of the nest as their mama brought them food.

Make Time Every Day to Do the Things You Love

On a walk around 7:30 pm. The kids should have been getting ready for bed, but oh well.

Once upon a time I taught elementary school for many years in Los Angeles. Although working with kids was often rewarding, there was plenty about teaching that I did not enjoy. Some of the required curriculum was decidedly lackluster. Then there was the endless paperwork, the depressing home situations, the demoralizing staff meetings (your test scores still suck!), the discipline issues, the test prep, and the staff politics. Worst of all, I felt like a failure almost every day. In the beginning, I just didn't know what I was doing. And even later when I did, there was simply not enough time in the day to do everything, and certainly never enough time to do it well.

But despite the overwhelming pressures of teaching in low-income under-performing schools (often in danger of being "taken over" by the state), I decided for my own sanity to spend some time each day doing things that I enjoyed and considered important, even if nobody else cared that I did them (or even if my principal and other higher ups actively discouraged me from doing them). I read aloud to my students every day. We exercised every day. And we talked about poetry and sang songs every single day.

Turns out that learning to cope with an incessant sense of failure and always having more to get done than can possibly get done were excellent preparation for being a parent. Now as a parent of three little ones, when the sense of failure becomes especially overwhelming, I remember this lesson from my teaching days: make time every day to do the things that you love.

How to Get Your Kids to Play Outside

Some weeks my kids practically live outside. But certain days they need a little nudge to go outside to play. Once I actually get them outside, mother nature usually takes care of the entertainment. Here are some ways I have successfully enticed my kids to go outside during our 30 x 30 Nature Challenge.

Non-toxic Baby Care: the Best Free, Online Resources

When I first became concerned about environmental toxins after my first child was born, there was plenty of information about eco-friendlier choices scattered around the Internet, but no concise simple guides to get me started. I ended up purchasing several books (which I now love), but as an eco-novice I found the amount of information in them overwhelming and difficult to absorb or implement. What I really needed was a short and sweet green guide for sleep-deprived new parents. But at the time, I wasn't able to find anything like that online. Not so anymore!

Here are a few excellent online guides for natural baby care that are free, concise, and doable.

Safe & Healthy Pregnancy: the Best Free, Online Resources

Pregnancy is a great time to go green! Here are several excellent online guides for a natural pregnancy that are free, concise, and doable.

Environmental Chemicals: Stay Safe During Pregnancy 

by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2013)
This infographic is the shortest and sweetest of all the recommendations, but it comes from an authoritative source. In 2013, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine issued a joint statement urging ob-gyns "to advocate for government policy changes to identify and reduce exposure to toxic environmental agents," and to counsel their patients on how to avoid environmental toxins.  Their infographic offers women six tips for a safe pregnancy, mostly related to diet. If you want to delve deeper into the reasons for their recommendations you can read the document "Exposure to Toxic Environmental Agents." Be warned though, it's scary stuff (I wouldn't read it if I were pregnant).

13 Benefits of Spending Time Outside

On an after-dinner family walk around our block.

We've completed Week 1 of the 30 x 30 Nature Challenge (30 minutes outside in nature for 30 straight days). I'm posting weekly on my blog and several times throughout the week on Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and Instagram using the hashtag #30x30challenge about our experiences and would love to read your comments and posts about your experiences completing the challenge as well.

For those who need some extra motivation to get outside, may I remind you that the benefits of being outside in nature are now very well-documented. I scanned a bunch of articles and quickly put together the following list.

Spending time in nature
  • reduces stress
  • improves attention and memory
  • speeds recovery from surgery
  • reduces pain
  • promotes good health
  • boosts immune function
  • improves creativity
  • improves mood and energy levels
  • boosts empathy
  • relieves anxiety and depression
  • improves cognition
  • extends life span
Sources: Spending time in nature makes people feel more alive, study shows; Medical: Spending time outside has many health benefits; The Claim: Exposure to Plants and Parks Can Boost Immunity; Connecting With Nature Boosts Creativity and Health; Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning; The Value in Reconnecting with Nature; Health Benefits to Children from Contact with the Outdoors & Nature

I'll mention one more benefit I reflected upon this week: community! When we spend time outside in our neighborhood, we frequently cross paths with our neighbors. These impromptu interactions lead to learning each other's names, planning play dates, and the borrowing and lending of tools. 

Here is how our first week of the 30 x 30 Nature Challenge went. 

Ten Tips for a Terrific Staycation

Imagine a vacation where:

  • You experience new adventures each day but sleep in your own beds each night.
  • You can eat homemade, healthy foods every day.
  • You don't have to help your children use a restroom in a gas station or at the back of an airplane.
  • You don't have to listen to small children crying/ screaming/ whining/ complaining/ fighting for hours on end in a confined space or while surrounded by unsympathetic strangers.
  • You don't have to pack any clothes, toiletries, or favorite children's toys.
  • You don't waste any of your vacation budget on airline tickets or car fuel.
  • None of your precious vacation days are wasted traveling to and from your destination.

Say hello to the Staycation: the vacation you take right in your own backyard.

Our Accidental Staycation

30 Ways to Enjoy 30 Minutes in Nature with Your Kids

Image credit: David Suzuki Foundation

This May I'm joining the David Suzuki Foundation's 30 x 30 Nature Challenge (30 minutes outside in nature for 30 days) and I hope you will too! I'm going to skip right over the part where I convince you how important it is to spend time in nature each day (see a cool infographic about that here), and dig right into the deets. I'm hoping to post weekly on my blog and several times throughout the week on FacebookGoogle PlusTwitter, and Instagram using the hashtag #30x30challenge about how we are doing and would love to read your comments and posts about your experiences completing the challenge as well.

I plan to do this challenge with my children: 30 minutes of time outside with my kids every day, but I will also accept separate time if necessary. For example, I sometimes go for a walk with my youngest in a stroller for exercise in the morning (while my older two are at school/ preschool), but then if the older two spend 30 minutes in the backyard in the afternoon, we've completed the challenge! But I'd prefer to do it all together if possible.

Goddess Garden Spray Sunscreen: Convenience without Toxic Chemicals {Review}

This post is sponsored by Green Sisterhood. All opinions are my own.

Summer is just around the corner (at least here in Northern California!). It's time for me to sign up my three little ones for swim lessons and to get out the beach and swim gear. This is the time of year when I make sure we are well-stocked with non-toxic, broad spectrum sunscreens so that I'm not stuck with an old expired sorta icky tube of sunscreen the first day of swim lessons or the first time we head for the beach. This summer we will be using Goddess Garden Organics sunscreens. Goddess Garden sunscreens are safe, effective, convenient to use (non-toxic sunscreen spray, anyone?), and non-whitening.

Safe and effective ingredients

Here is a surprising truth: there is no proof that sunscreens prevent most skin cancers. Researchers offer several explanations for this counter-intuitive finding: one is that people who use sunscreens spend more time in the sun than those who don't (ultimately exposing themselves to more UV rays than the non-sunscreen users who stay out of the sun); there is also evidence to suggest that some ingredients commonly used in sunscreens (such as vitamin A/ retinyl palmitate) may actually speed the development of skin cancer; finally, another possible explanation is that many sunscreens protect users only against sunburns from UVB rays without protecting users from UVA rays, which are linked to skin cancer and premature aging.

How to Engage the Unengaged on Green Issues {and Do Small Changes Even Matter?}

Small steps matter because they have the power to shift our perspective.

Last month I discussed how it's tough to get folks to pay attention to issues such as climate change because 1) the consequences are far off and the problem is impossible to perceive with our senses and 2) it's depressing and humans avoid thoughts that cause negative emotions. In light of these challenges, on this blog as well as on Facebook I posed the question:
What are your best strategies to get others to be interested in green issues and to change their behavior?

Thank you to all those who took the time to respond! Responses included:
  • Use a positive "hook" (going green is fun, happy, saves money!) that often involves self-interest
  • Avoid preachy stance (avoid shame, judgy-ness, greener-than-thou attitude; be empathetic; admit own shortcomings)
  • Keep it light (use humor, be lighthearted, skip all the depressing details)
  • Lead by example
  • Provide actions to empower people
  • Focus on the next generation
  • Be aware of the power of language (some uncomfortable being "environmentalists")
  • Seek common ground (for example, everyone who gardens/ farms feels connection to planet)

Some expressed skepticism about the impact of small individual changes, arguing that the problem is urgent and what we need are big changes such as getting climate deniers out of elected office and dramatic policy changes at all levels of government. Of course, how exactly to make those big changes happen is the gazillion-dollar question.

I mostly write about small incremental changes on my blog. In the face of an enormous and complex problem such as climate change, it's easy to wonder if that's useful or if it's enough. Here is why ultimately I think it's worthwhile to continue to do so:

Would you like more ideas and tips about Going Green Gradually? Sign up for my free email subscription to get each of my posts delivered to your inbox (I usually post one or two times a week). You can also follow me on Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, Twitter, or with your favorite RSS Reader. I hope to see you again soon!

11 Things You Will Not Find at a Farmers Market

photo credit: Patrick Kuhl

I stepped into a Safeway the other day to pick up a few things for a sick child, and was surprised by the number of organic foods available. That's progress, I think. Still, I could have done without the helium balloons, aisles of candy and toys, and row upon row of packaged foods. My little shopping trip left me with a renewed appreciation for the farmers market.

11 things you will not find at a farmers market

  1. Little plastic stickers on every piece of produce
  2. Foods with tie-ins to popular TV characters
  3. High fructose corn syrup
  4. Magazines with scantily clad photo-shopped women prominently displayed
  5. Cheap toys
  6. Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners
  7. Candy at my kids' eye level in the checkout line
  8. Fluorescent breakfast cereals and yogurt
  9. Bread with more than 20 ingredients
  10. Eggs from caged chickens
  11. Sodium Benzoate and other preservatives

When I shop with my 3 little ones at the farmers market, instead of my kids nagging me for Doritos or Fruit Loops, they beg me for blueberries, dried persimmons, and grapes. If you are trying to switch from food-like substances to real foods, the farmers market is a great place to start! Find your local farmers markets here.

Feel free to pin or otherwise share:
photo credit: Natalie Maynor

What would you add to the list?

Related Posts

Check out these additional posts about real food by Green Sisterhood bloggers:

Would you like more ideas and tips about Going Green Gradually? Sign up for my free email subscription to get each of my posts delivered to your inbox (I usually post one or two times a week). You can also follow me on Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, Twitter, or with your favorite RSS Reader. I hope to see you again soon!

6 Strategies for Choosing Non-toxic Personal Care Products

This past week concerned customers have been taking letters to Walgreen asking them to #MindtheStore by keeping products containing any of a list of 100 hazardous ingredients off their shelves. Similar previous efforts have resulted in Target and Walmart agreeing to take steps to reduce and eliminate hazardous chemicals in their products. Some might wonder whether this course of action is really necessary. I mean, don't our national laws and regulations prevent retailers from selling hazardous products in the first place?

Acceptable Levels of Risk

Although most consumers believe the U.S. government regulates the safety of personal care products, the sad truth is, personal products (a.k.a. cosmetics) are among the least-regulated products on the market. The current cosmetics law in the United States dates back to 1938, long before thousands of ingredients had even been invented. The FDA (charged with oversight of the cosmetics industry) has no authority to require pre-market safety testing, does not have the authority to regulate what goes into cosmetics before they are marketed for consumer use, and has no authority to require recalls of harmful cosmetics or even to require that manufacturers report cosmetics-related injuries to the FDA (source).

In fact, the cosmetics industry rather than a government agency is in charge of policing itself. Like many other industries before them (tobacco, alcohol, and now food), when faced with the possibility of meaningful government regulation (in 1978), the cosmetics industry volunteered to regulate itself by creating the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Panel. Who determines if ingredients are safe enough to be used in personal products?
"Acceptable levels of risk are entirely at the [Industry] Panel's discretion" (source).

Whole Grain Chocolate Chip Snack Bars

Here is another recipe that has made it into our homemade snack rotation. They started with the very popular recipe Playgroup Granola Bars on My friend Lys made them for me and my kids during a play date and they were a big hit. As always, I have made many modifications. I use chocolate chips instead of raisins, which was actually Lys' innovation. Of course, if I had used only raisins I could have called my recipe "refined sugar-free" or something. But oh well. Chocolate chips make them extra appealing.

I use white whole wheat flour (instead of white flour plus wheat germ). You could probably use whole wheat flour plus wheat germ, but I don't happen to stock wheat germ. I cut the brown sugar entirely, because they really are plenty sweet with just the honey. I also tried substituting applesauce for some of the oil and that works too. I make them both ways depending on whether I have an open jar of applesauce on hand or not. I also added some nuts. As with all my favorite healthy homemade snacks, these freeze extremely well and are perfect for lunch boxes, picnics, and on-the-go snacking.

How to Turn Cereal Boxes into a Lift-the-Flap Toy

Breakfast is my favorite meal and I make hot breakfasts several times a week. Still, we manage to go through quite a bit of boxed cereal at my house. Enough to make me want to do something useful with the cereal boxes before they hit the recycling bin. When I noticed by chance that the boxes of several of our favorite cereals perfectly nested inside each other, I just knew there must be something they would be useful for. Eventually, I came up with the perfect upcycling project, thanks to my middle child's love of lift-the-flap books (which she calls "peek-a-boo books").

Here's how to turn two ordinary cereal boxes into a fun crafty project that your kids will love making and playing with. We call them peek-a-boo houses at my house.

How to Upcycle Cereal Boxes into a Peek-a-Boo (Lift-the-Flap) House

6 Ways to Ditch Disposables

Over the last few years, one of the strategies I have used to green my lifestyle is to switch from single-use disposable products to reusable ones. In addition to trimming my trash's waistline significantly, these changes have reduced my family's exposure to toxins and saved me buckets of money. Here are 6 switches I've made that you can make too!

Goodbye, Paper Napkins and Towels. 

I still keep a roll of paper towels on an upper shelf in a kitchen cabinet, but probably only go through two or three rolls in a year. Switching to cloth napkins and towels was not nearly as painful as I thought it would be. First, we switched to cloth napkins. When we ran out of paper napkins, I simply dug the cloth napkins (wedding gift) out of a bin in the garage instead of buying more paper ones. Then I stocked up on some fabulous sponges and plenty of kitchen towels, and made sure to stash them in convenient locations. You can read more about my switch to a paperless kitchen here.

How to Be an Environmentalist without Being a Total Downer

Why don't more people care about the environment?
Why aren't more people anxiously engaged in addressing climate change?
Why are so many good smart people seemingly indifferent to the looming catastrophes?

We greenies muse about these questions now and then. And sometimes thinking about the apathy of others gets us really discouraged and stuck in a feeling of hopelessness (what's the use?). Green Bean shared with me an interesting article that explains that the green movement has a major PR problem, and that the solution is to never say "earth" or "planet" or "environment," to focus on people (not polar bears), to enlist celebrities, and to repeat, repeat, repeat.

Recently I've been reading Daniel Goleman's book Focus about the nature of attention, and his discussion of attention has an enlightening explanation about why are paralyzed by climate change. He gives two very compelling reasons why we are very ill-equipped to address "our slow-motion mass suicide as human systems degrade the global systems that support life on this planet."

Continue reading at The Green Phone Booth

Would you like more ideas and tips about Going Green Gradually? Sign up for my free email subscription to get each of my posts delivered to your inbox (I usually post one or two times a week). You can also follow me on Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, Twitter, or with your favorite RSS Reader. I hope to see you again soon!

Why I Don't Use Tampons Anymore

I had no intention of ever writing about this. Menstruation isn't my favorite topic, and I am a rather private person. Even after I became one of those weirdly enthusiastic menstrual cup users, I still wasn't planning to publish a post about alternatives to conventional feminine products. It was when I read the troubling report Chem Fatale by Women's Voices for the Earth about the potential health effects of toxic chemicals in feminine care products that I decided I would write a post about my experience switching to eco-friendlier menstrual products. As the report points out, "products intended for use on or in an incredibly absorbent part of a woman's body are marketed and sold with little to no data assuring the ingredients they contain are safe." That's in part because tampons and pads are considered medical devices by the FDA, and "medical devices lack any government requirement to disclose ingredients to the consumer."

Unfortunately, according to the report Chem Fatale, studies have shown that many chemicals of concern can be present in tampons and pads.

Hazardous chemicals in tampons may include:

Easy-peasy DIY Trail Mix

A few months ago, my husband returned from a business trip with a  partially eaten bag of trail mix purchased in the airport. It was probably the healthiest option available in the airport convenience store. Snacking on the store-bought mix had given my husband a new appreciation for trail mix, and he told me he planned to stock up on bags of trail mix at the grocery store to keep with him at work for healthy snacking.

That I simply could not stomach. Making trail mix is far too easy to spend your money on the version at the grocery store. Plus the airport version included fake M&Ms and hydrogenated vegetable oil. Yuck. Even the mixes at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods often have added sugar and other unnecessary ingredients. I quickly whipped up a version using ingredients I already had on hand. If you make granola, or regularly purchase nuts and dried fruit, you already have everything you need to make your own trail mix.

DIY Trail Mix

2 parts nuts
1 part dried fruit
1 part chocolate chips
Measure and mix. Store in an air-tight container (I like to use a glass quart canning jar). Lasts for several weeks. 

Why should you bother making your own trail mix?

Two Things to Do Before You Spring Clean

Get Rid of Stuff

Before spring cleaning is the perfect time to ruthlessly eliminate clutter, since deep cleaning often involves moving lots of stuff around. And by clutter I mean stuff you own that you don't use, don't need, and maybe don't even want. I've seen a lot of spring cleaning checklists that include tossing clutter while cleaning out this or that. This would never work for me. If I were taking everything out of a drawer to wipe it out, and I stopped to consider whether I should keep or get rid of each item, I would never finish cleaning anything. Take the week before beginning spring cleaning to purge the contents of one room each day and get rid of as much as you can before you ever spray a cleaner or wipe down a surface.

100% Whole Grain Muffins with Applesauce

In my endless quest to amass a repertoire of healthy kid-friendly portable snacks, I stumbled upon this Healthy Applesauce Oat Muffin recipe on Mel's Kitchen Cafe. These muffins have turned into a huge hit at my house. They are perfect for a little breakfast snack or sweet snack any time of day. I now make the quadruple recipe because I am all about baking and freezing in bulk. Since they are whole grain they freeze and defrost very nicely.

I have modified the original recipe quite a bit. The first time I made it, I followed the recipe. They came out much too wet (little puddles under the cupcake liners) and excessively sweet, although still entirely edible. I imagine that what kind of applesauce you use, and how thick (versus watery) it is will affect how much applesauce it is appropriate to use. I use Trader Joe's organic unsweetened applesauce and found that decreasing it by a quarter worked well. I also cut the sugar by half (still plenty sweet!) and found that I could decrease the fat by a quarter. I also tend to be generous with the cinnamon and vanilla, with no ill effects. In addition, I let the batter sit for a bit after mixing to make sure the whole grains have plenty of time to absorb the liquid. I'm not sure this is strictly necessary, but I find this to be a good policy in general when dealing with whole grains (I do this with my whole grain pancakes).

How to Eat Less Meat

For the sake of the health of the planet and our family (not to mention the pocketbook), we are always looking for ways to lower our meat consumption. Here are some methods that have worked for my family.

Use meat as a seasoning rather than a main dish.

I could eat vegetarian (vegan would be much tougher) if I really wanted to. I could do it. But the truth is, I like a little meat. One of my favorite ways to enjoy the taste of meat while consuming less of it is to use meat as a seasoning rather than the main attraction of a meal. A perfect example is my delicious hearty lentil soup. This filling soup is mostly lentils and vegetables, but the few ounces of bacon plus chicken broth make this a very flavorful and hearty soup.

Kids' Party Favors on Etsy

These are the wands we gave out as party favors.
Sadly, they are no longer available.

Climate Crusader's excellent suggestions for goodie bag alternatives reminded me of an Etsy treasury list I started a couple of years ago when searching for party favors for my children's joint birthday party. First I'll say that I think the whole goodie bag business is completely superfluous, but oh well. I still feel obligated to give out something. But I try hard to only give out something I would want my own children to receive. A couple of years ago that something was a Hot Wheel for the boys and an Etsy flower wand for the girls (no points for gender neutrality).

While spending too much time searching Etsy for affordable kids' party favors, I found many additional possibilities depending on your price range (items below range from about $1 to $5 each). I've also pinned all these on my Kids' Party Favors from Etsy board.

Click here to continue reading on The Green Phone Booth

What have you found on Etsy lately?

Would you like more ideas and tips about Going Green Gradually? Sign up for my free email subscription to get each of my posts delivered to your inbox (I usually post one or two times a week). You can also follow me on Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, Twitter, or with your favorite RSS Reader. I hope to see you again soon!

Winter Favorite: Hearty Lentil Soup with Bacon

Lentils are a poor meal planner's best friend. When there's no meat defrosting in the fridge, and no pinto beans or black beans soaking overnight, I turn to lentils. Here is one of my favorite soups to eat in winter (it's based on a recipe I saw on Everyday Food). I make it extra thick so it's almost like a stew but you can make it brothier if you prefer. This less meat-a-tarian or nearly-vegetarian soup can easily be made vegan: simply skip the bacon and parmesan cheese, and use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. Although I will say, just a touch of bacon makes it so delicious. This soup showcases one of my favorite ways to use meat: as a flavoring rather than as the star of the meal. I generally freeze my bacon, but it defrosts in just a few minutes submerged in water. Use the rest of the package of bacon for a special weekend breakfast.

I always make a huge batch of this soup. Then we have either leftovers for another dinner and several lunches, or I have enough to take a large container to a new mom or someone else who could use a delicious hot homemade meal. If you want to make a smaller batch, I've included ingredient amounts for that at the end of the post (the first version makes about 50 percent more than the smaller recipe). Homemade white rolls or wheat rolls make a fabulous addition to this tasty, filling, and comforting meal.

Hearty Lentil Soup with Bacon

Serves 6 to 10
3-5 strips bacon (3 to 6 ounces) cut into small pieces
2 medium onions, chopped
6 medium carrots peeled, halved lengthwise (if thick), and sliced
3 to 5 garlic cloves minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 1/4 cups lentils picked over and rinsed
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
5 1/4 cups chicken broth plus 3 cups water*
1 to 2 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
3/4 teaspoon table salt (or more to taste)
Freshly ground pepper (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon)
Chopped fresh parsley
Parmesan cheese

*I use 8 cups water total plus 2 T Better than Bullion. You can adjust the water slightly up or down depending on whether you want your soup to be more like a stew or brothy.
  1. In a 5-quart pot with lid, brown bacon for 8 to 10 minutes. The original recipe instructs you to pour off all but 1-2 T of bacon fat at this point, but I never do. 
  2. Add onion and carrots and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. 
  3. Stir and garlic and cook 30 seconds. 
  4. Stir in tomato paste and cook 1 minutes. 
  5. Add lentils, thyme, broth and water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. 
  6. Cover and cook until lentils are tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Add an additional cup water if the soup becomes too thick during cooking. 
  7. Stir in vinegar, salt, and pepper. Top with fresh parsley and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
I like mine topped with plenty of fresh parsley and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Yum!

Hearty Lentil Soup with Bacon

Serves 4 to 6
2-3 strips bacon (3 ounces) cut into small pieces (I use kitchen scissors)
1 large onion, chopped
4 medium carrots peeled, halved lengthwise (if thick), and sliced
2 to 3 garlic cloves minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups lentils picked over and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 1/2 cups chicken broth plus 2 cups water*
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon table salt (or more to taste)
Freshly ground pepper (1/4 teaspoon)
Chopped fresh parsley
Parmesan cheese
See directions above.

Related Posts

Would you like more ideas and tips about Going Green Gradually? Sign up for my free email subscription to get each of my posts delivered to your inbox (I usually post one or two times a week). You can also follow me on Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, Twitter, or with your favorite RSS Reader. I hope to see you again soon!


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