The After-Christmas Cleanup

This is a guest post by Kelly Smith from miskellany, long-time blogger and the mastermind behind the Green Holidays series

I love Christmas – the warmth, the light, the togetherness, and, yes, the food. But there is also something so energizing and renewing about cleaning up after Christmas and starting the new year with a clean slate. If Christmas cleaning and organizing are not among your strengths, here are a few tips to get you started:

It’s Not Too Late for Intangible Gifts!

This is a guest post by Kelly Smith.

Are you a last-minute Christmas shopper? Or are you stumped by some of this year’s gift recipients? Do you have someone on your shopping list who already seems to have everything? Consider some of these eco-friendly intangible gifts for the people remaining on your list.

Green Gifts for Adults: Reusables

Don't forget the reusable gift wrap.

This post is part of the December Green Moms Carnival hosted by Citizen Green.  Click over to Citizen Green on December 10 for more green gift ideas.

Initially, [disposable] products were a tough sell – at least to the generation that had come up through the Depression…The ethos of reuse was so deeply ingrained that in the mid-1950s when vending machines began dispensing coffee in plastic cups, people saved and reused them. They had to learn—and be taught – to throw away…We learned to throw away so well that today half of all plastics produced go into single-use applications.
-- Plastic: A Toxic Love Story

My Favorite Cookbooks

Home-cooked meals, baked goods, and snacks save money, allow greater control over ingredients, reduce food waste, and eliminate the need for take-out packaging. Make cooking easier and more fun with the gift of a cookbook - for a loved one or for yourself! Here are some of my favorites.

Stuff an Eco-Stocking

This is a guest post by Kelly Smith from miskellany.

It can be expensive to buy eco-friendly Christmas gifts if you are shopping in green boutiques with high end organic wares. Fortunately, there are other ways to go green at Christmas, such as buying gently used gifts, making your own gifts, giving intangible gifts, and giving practical gifts that will actually be used.

Thanksgiving Reflections

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite holidays.  I love the traditional Thanksgiving meal. I love that gifts are not exchanged.  I love that the holiday has not been hijacked by marketers and retailers -- possibly because gratitude is in many ways the antithesis of consumerism. I love that it is a non-denominational holiday that unites all Americans.  In honor of Thanksgiving, here are a few things I am thankful for.

Eco Gifts for Little Ones

Welcome back to Kelly from miskellany.

1. Stainless steel thermos or sippy cup

With all of the concerns about the chemicals in plastics, it is best to play it safe and choose nontoxic dishes, cutlery, and cups for children. BPA-free plastic is available, but stainless steel can be an even more durable option for safe drinking.

Two Favorite Thanksgiving Side Dishes

This post is my kick-off of the Green Holiday series by Eco-novice and miskellany. 

Are you thinking about Thanksgiving yet? Here are two of my favorite side dishes anytime, but especially for Thanksgiving. Both can easily be adapted for special diets: dairy-free, sugar-free, grain-free, vegan, etc.  Sadly, I can't remember the exact origin of either recipe (both have been adapted from whatever the original source was), nor do I have my own photos of either of these dishes.  Oh well.  Enjoy!

Green Moms Carnival: How to Be a Green Consumer

Welcome to the Black Friday edition of the Green Moms Carnival: How to Be a Green Consumer.  Whether you are trying to spend less, buy less, or buy greener, you will find insightful and useful suggestions within the posts below on how to green your Black Friday as well as your holiday shopping in general.

How to Be a Green Consumer

In honor of Black Friday, here are some suggestions on how to be a green consumer.

Don't Buy It. 

Do without. When I was a teenager, agonizing over whether to buy the red shirt or blue sweater, my mother used to remind me, "you know, one of the options is to do without." Before buying something, stop and consider whether you could do without this purchase. Ask yourself whether you would be willing to pack this item up in a few months if you were to have to move suddenly. Or simply wait a week and see if you can find a different solution (or source of satisfaction) besides buying something new. Perhaps there is something you already own (stashed deep within a box or bin in the closet or garage) which you will remember that you could use instead. Because I consider shopping with children to be mild torture, things often sit on my "to buy" list for weeks or months on end before I go to the store, by which time I often discover that the item that I once thought was essential is actually entirely unnecessary. It is not unusual to decide that I don't really need or want half of the items on my shopping list. I also tend to deliberate endlessly about any purchase over $50, which often results in me buying exactly nothing.

Borrow. Talk to neighbors or send out an email to friends to let them know what you need and you may find that you can borrow (often indefinitely) instead of buying. It's always nice to try something out first before buying it.  You may even discover that you don't really like using or caring for the item in question. Borrowing instead of buying is an especially good idea when it comes to any and all baby gear, since your baby will hate over half of it anyway.

Find it on Freecycle. Join your local Freecycle group and post a "Wanted" ad. Someone may be willing to give you exactly what you are looking for for free.

Rent. If no one you know has what you need, and you might only end up needing it short-term or aren't sure if you want to own the item yourself, see if there is a way to rent the item instead of purchasing it.

Fix what you already have. The ability to repair items seems to be a dying art, and getting an item repaired often seems much more of a hassle and even more expensive than just buying a replacement. How I wish we could have found someone to fix our toaster oven. But at least consider whether you can possibly repair an item you already have instead of buying something new. Here is an inspiring story of fellow green blogger Beth finding someone to help her repair her rice cooker!  A few resources for fixing it yourself include IFIXIT, the Fix It ClubRepair Cafe, and of course Fix-it-yourself Books, Knowing someone who is handy with mechanical and electrical items, as well as someone who can sew, can save you from a whole lot of unnecessary consumption.

Instead of Buying New, Buy Used. 

Craig's List. My favorite way to buy (and sell) used items. While you can save tons of money by shopping using Craig's List, it can be time-consuming. I have had the best luck on Craig's List with shopping for baby/kid items (clothing, toys, and other gear), small and large appliances, and furniture. Consult this savvy guide for tips about how to buy successfully on Craig's List.

Thrift Stores.  I like to shop for children's clothes, toys, books and gifts for all ages at thrift stores. Before I had kids and had the patience to try on dozens of items, I was also quite good at shopping for myself at thrift stores. Here are my tips for shopping successfully at thrift stores. One thing I love about thrift stores: if you buy something, and decide you don't want or need it, just donate it back to the store.  Your purchase almost always supports a charity, and you've done zero damage to the environment. One friend of mine actually views the thrift store as a place to "rent" toys (picking out the toy is the main entertainment, and toys are returned/donated after several weeks). I usually find my local thrift stores by "searching nearby" my house in Google Maps for "thrift store" but you could also try consulting a directory.

Garage Sales. If you are willing to get up early on a Saturday and have the patience to look through other people's castoffs, there are tremendous deals to be had (usually much cheaper than Craig's List or a consignment shop, for example).  Find local listings in your local newspaper or Craig's List.  Or just walk/ drive around your neighborhood looking for signs on the weekends.

Consignment Shops. You will generally pay more at a consignment shop than a garage sale, thrift store, or even Craig's List, but the items also tend to be better organized and in better condition.  You can also call the store and see if they have what you are looking for.

If You Buy New, Buy Green.

Buy high-quality durable goods instead of whatever is cheapest. Do a little research on reliability and quality using Consumer Reports or Consumer Search.

Buy the simplest model possible, so that there is less to break and a more likely possibility of being able to repair the item if it breaks.

Consider the amount of packaging (one of the best things about buying used = no packaging).

Buy local; buy handmade; support your favorite eco-friendly socially conscious businesses.

For gifts, consider giving products that reduce overall consumption, such as reusables or cookware.

Consult eco-friendly buying guides before purchasing. Some of my favorites:

What is your best tip for being a green consumer?

This post is for this November's Green Mom’s Carnival, which I am hosting.  Check back here on Monday for links to posts by other green bloggers full of tips and suggestions about how to be a green consumer.

Click here to read the complete Green Holidays series.

Green Phone Booth: The Push for Safer Chemicals

Today is the Stroller Brigade for Safer Chemicals sponsored by the organization Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.

For more information about how to join this campaign for safer chemicals, including how to participate today in the digital stroller brigade, click over to today's Green Phone Booth post: The Stroller Brigade for Safer Chemicals is Today!

Natural Cold and Flu Remedies

Actually, I don't really know much about natural cold and flu remedies.  Note that I am not a medical professional nor an herbalist. But I have survived many, many, many illnesses with children too young to take common cold remedies such as decongestants or cough suppressants, as well as many colds myself while pregnant (when I try not to take any medications unless absolutely necessary).  So how do we deal with the stuffy noses and sore throats and other miseries of minor illnesses around here?

10 Places to Use Your Toy Roll Up

Toy organizer travel roll-up ($15)

The toy organizer travel roll up ($15) by Kidsstore features seven pockets of various sizes that can hold crayons, paper, and small toys such as a deck of cards, Hot Wheels, or little play figures. The roll has a fold over flap and attached elastic closure (thick hair band) to hold everything inside once it's rolled up. It rolls up quite compactly and could easily fit in a purse or small bag. I've already used our toy roll ups at church and at a restaurant.  These are perfect for anytime you need your child to stay put and play quietly for a period of time. The fun of simply taking out and putting back the objects into their pockets should not be underestimated. Here are 10 places where I believe a toy roll up would come in particularly handy.

Warm Fuzzy PJs without the Flame Retardants

By rolling the cuffs at the ankles and wrists,
this 3T 
Snug Organics sleeper fits my 2-year-old just fine.

Do you like to dress your children in fuzzy polyester fleece pajamas during the colder months, but have serious misgivings about the synthetic flame retardant chemicals in those pajamas? (ALL synthetic fleece pajamas for children above 9 months until size 14 contain chemical flame retardants.) Perhaps you've even tried to remove the flame retardant treatment from your fleece PJs by washing with soap or vinegar? Well, then, this post is for you.

Green Phone Booth: No-sugar Strawberry Freezer Jam

This week at the Green Phone Booth: No-sugar Strawberry Freezer Jam.  Freezer jam is about the easiest entry into food preservation, by the way. But I still needed a friend to motivate me to actually do it. My lovely friend Marcie helped me with this very first attempt of mine at preserving the summer's bounty (this was before my adventure canning tomatoes with Heidi).  Was the no-sugar strawberry jam a success or a failure?  Click over to find out.  If you are even more of a novice than I am, you might appreciate the step-by-step photo instructions as well!

No Recipe Healthy, Veggie Filled, Mac and Cheese

This is a guest post by Katy Farber. Katy Farber is an author, teacher and blogger. She writes the blog Non-Toxic Kids, which features green parenting news, environment issue reporting, opportunities for activism, and book, music, and eco-friendly product reviews. You can find more tips for safer, greener, and healthier eating in her newest book, Eat Non-Toxic: a manual for busy parents, that was just released and is available now at Non-Toxic Kids

Treasures at the Restaurant Supply Store

I like restaurant supply stores.  They are the poor man's (disorganized and non-aesthetically-pleasing) version of Williams Sonoma.  They are also a bit like thrift stores in that you never really know what you'll find.  I have had especially good luck finding stainless steel items. Here are some of my finds from my local restaurant supply store.  (Note that there are many online restaurant supply stores with an amazing selection, but they often have very high shipping costs since they are really set up for huge orders from actual restaurants, so I would shop at a local store first if you can.)

10 Finds at the Restaurant Supply Store

Make Your Own Cooking Spray

Are you still buying PAM, or the equivalent?  In addition to being a waste of a metal can, those nonstick cooking sprays you buy in the store can have some weird ingredients: lecithin (an emulsifier usually derived from soy); a propellant such as food-grade alcohol, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide or propane; and sometimes even silicone to help promote the formation of a nonstick film.  When I used to use these cooking sprays, I remember that they often left this strange filmy substance around the perimeter of the pan that could not be cleaned off, no matter how much I scrubbed.  Certain pans I owned even recommended not using cooking sprays on the pans, probably for this reason.

Repurpose Your Duplo Blocks into Word Builders

The results of my second, more systematic approach.

Do you have some Duplo blocks in the garage that your kids have outgrown?  Or would you like to acquire a word or sentence building activity for your young child, but don't want to buy anything?  Look no further.  In this post I'll show you how to turn your ordinary Duplo blocks into word builders with nothing more than return address label stickers and a Sharpie marker.

First, let us give credit where credit is due.  I got this idea from Filth Wizardry.  But I made a few changes (some might even say improvements) and learned a few tricks that I would like to pass along to others.

In Search of the Affordable Natural Bed

The Pièce de résistance.

I truly believe that if you are going to green one thing, you should green your beds, because people (babies and children especially) spend so much time sleeping.  About a year ago, we bought a full size bed for our 2 small children to sleep in together.  I couldn't afford my ideal bed (all natural materials, no plastic, no toxic chemicals), but I ended up with a decent compromise. Below you'll find information about my ideal bed, very affordable eco-friendlier options, and what I actually bought.

But what if you aren't in the market for a new mattress right now?  Hopefully, you'll find the information below on bedding, pillows and mattress protectors useful.  Honestly, I chose not to research the mattress issue until I was ready to buy a new bed to avoid unduly stressing myself out.  I will say that if I had a new baby sleeping in a crib it would be my number one shopping priority to buy a 100% natural crib mattress (probably made of organic cotton and wool) with zero added flame retardants and a wool puddle pad for protection.

I Love Line Drying

I've been meaning to line dry for a long time.  Now I'm finally doing it! -- thanks to my engineer husband (and a very inexpensive nylon line).  When my first was in cloth diapers, I frequently dried the diapers on a rack, but drying them like this on a line is way more awesome.  In a matter of weeks, I have gone from a reluctant foot-dragging I'll-get-around-to-it-someday line dryer to a true believer.

Green Phone Booth: Meaningful Memories Holiday Challenge

This week at The Green Phone Booth: The Meaningful Memories Holiday Challenge 2011.  Former Boother Conscious Shopper instituted this challenge last year, and we are continuing the tradition this year.  Check out my post to find out topics we'll be discussing and ways that you can contribute to the conversation (including opportunities to guest post on Green Phone Booth!).

Green Phone Booth: The Rhythm of Family

This week at The Green Phone Booth I posted my review of The Rhythm of Family: Discovering a Sense of Wonder through the Seasons by Amanda Blake Soule.  Reading the book has helped me remember to slow down, look around, learn the names of birds and wildflowers, resist the busyness of our daily lives.

Read my full review here.

Does Your Child Walk to School?

I hate to drive.  Always have.  I used to make my friends in high school pick me up and shuttle me around.  I didn't bother to get my license until several months after my 16th birthday.  And having children and dealing with car seats has only made me dislike driving even more.  Whenever we move to a new place, I check the walkability index, and try to live within walking distance of several parks as well as the local library, farmer's market, and a few stores if possible.

My children aren't yet school-age, but when they are, I am really hoping to be able to walk to school, because if you can't walk or bike to school, you have two times per day when you automatically have to get in a vehicle (bleh).  Also, I love taking daily walks with my kids, and once kids' schedules are filled up with school and school assignments, it seems like getting a daily walk in for my kids would be extremely challenging if we weren't able to walk to and from school.

Reuseit™ Insulated Lunch Bag: Review and SALE!

Reuseit's large insulated bag pictured
with what I usually put inside it.

For months and months, I took lunch for me and my kids to the park in a backpack.  This arrangement had a number of drawbacks.  I love my Klean Kanteen water bottles for my kids, but the sports cap sometimes would get opened in the bag and then water would drip all through the bag. Also, any food in reusable bags was liable to get smashed.  If we took cheese or other perishables to the park and didn't eat all of it, I usually felt like I had to toss it by the time we got home because it was, by then, lukewarm.  Finally, it was often just annoying to rummage through the large backpack (full of other various items) to find what we wanted.  Several of my mom friends brought their food in insulated bags, and I often looked at those bags a bit enviously, so eventually I decided it was time to try one.

10 Ideas for a Greener Celebration

First, you should know that I'm not really into parties. So if you have several Pinterest folders related to parties and party themes, this post might not appeal to you. If it were up to me, my kids would have a birthday party maybe once every 5 years. And I don't like baby showers either particularly. But I have thrown my fair share of parties in the last few years, and I try my best to keeping them as eco-friendly as I can handle.  Here are some of my easiest ideas for simplifying and greening your celebration.

10 Ideas for a Greener Birthday Party or Baby Shower

Green Phone Booth: Canning

I wrote about some lessons I learned from my first time canning over at The Green Phone Booth this week: Lessons Learned by a First-time Canner.

Special thanks to my friend Heidi for introducing me to the wonderful world of canning.  Eventually, I'll get around to posting the nitty-gritty details of the experience (with photos!) on this blog.

Green Phone Booth: Etsy Favorites

Last month a large portion of my shopping budget was devoted to purchasing more of several Etsy products that have helped me to reduce my plastic consumption.  This week on The Green Phone Booth I wrote about these Etsy favorites:  Celeste Blake Designs (just got some new gallon-size bags), Kidsstore (just got some additional 100% cotton bibs), The Mulled Mind (just got some more steel straws), and Green Store (my first foray into shampoo bars).

Read my post A Little Etsy Love and then share your Etsy favorites -- especially those that have helped you go green -- in the comments.

How to Avoid Eco-Hysteria

I fell down the rabbit hole of toxic information soon after I had my first baby. I spent hours and hours on the computer researching safer, more natural options with an infant on my lap. I had just left a job in policy research, so I was still in the research mode. And I was worried. And a bit obsessed. I wanted to know everything, change everything, fix everything - immediately!  Eventually, I chilled out. And now I'm going to share with you my tips for achieving some balance in your quest to go green.

Quiz: Are Cloth Diapers Right for You?

Some people are absolutely sure they want to use cloth diapers and some are just as sure that they will never ever ever use cloth diapers.  I never had any intention of using cloth diapers but ended up switching from disposables to cloth when my first child was one.

If you answer YES to even 5 of the following questions, maybe cloth diapers really are for you.

Quiz: Are Cloth Diapers Right for You?

1. Do you have a baby or are you expecting a baby? 
Cloth diapers are one of your options!

2. Do you feel like you are flushing money down the toilet every time you change a diaper?
Cloth diapers are cheaper than disposables and can be significantly cheaper depending on what kind of cloth diapering system you use and how many children you diaper.  Financial considerations were not enough to get me to switch to cloth, but I can remember days that I had to change my baby's diaper so many times that I was calculating the money lost in my head as I changed his diaper.

3. Are you able to change a dirty diaper without feeling ill?
When I was pregnant, I had to use a swimmer's nose plug to change my kid's diaper because the smell grossed me out so much.  But usually, poop is just poop. That being said I never and I mean never volunteer to change another child's diaper, because I really do not enjoy changing diapers.  And yet I can handle washing cloth diapers. If you have changed over 100 diapers, then you are familiar enough with poop that removing the poop from a cloth diaper (and you have several options for doing so) and putting your cloth diapers in the washer shouldn't be too traumatic.   My mother-in-law washed cloth diapers by hand, and that makes me believe that most people can definitely handle putting cloth diapers in the washing machine.

4. Do you want grandchildren?
One study found that the scrotal temperature of baby boys was higher in a disposable than in cloth.  Some researchers think disposables might partially explain the increase in male infertility in the last several decades.  One hot day (no A/C) I opened my son's diaper and literally felt a wave of heat come out of it.  That's when I really started thinking about using cloth diapers.  How comfortable can it be to have impermeable plastic wrapped around your bottom on a hot day?

5. Do you have misgivings about the ingredients of disposable diapers?  Or, have you ever found little gel beads on your child's bottom and wondered "What the heck are those?"
If you are a bit concerned about all the toxic chemicals in your child's world, then both the known ingredients (such as the Super Absorbent Polymers pictured above) and the undisclosed ingredients (such as the components of the fragrance) of disposable diapers will give you pause.  If you are going to pay attention to the ingredients in any product, it might as well be one of the products that comes in contact with your baby's private parts all day or several times a day (for example, diaper cream, wipes, and diapers).  These considerations were the #1 reason I switched to cloth diapers.

6. Do you feel a little guilty about dumping gallons and gallons of non-degradable plastic as well as human poop that could seep into ground water into landfills?
A little known fact is that all disposable diapers packages have instructions that tell you that you really are supposed to remove the poop from your disposable diapers and flush it down the toilet before throwing your diaper away (rather than putting the poop with the diaper in the garbage, as 99.99% of all disposable diapers do).  Poop belongs in the sewage system, not the garbage dump, where human waste can create public health issues.  Also, you know those disposable diapers aren't going anywhere for millions and gazillions of years, maybe forever.  Some folks think the environmental impact of disposables versus cloth is a wash.  If you take a few simple steps (for example: don't use several extra rinses, use cold/warm water instead of hot, occasionally line-dry, purchase some used diapers, use diapers for multiple children, resell your diapers), I think you can be pretty sure you are leaving a smaller footprint by using cloth diapers.

7. Does your baby leak through her nighttime disposable diaper practically every night?  
Dealing with leaky diapers at night can drive you crazy, especially when you are already sleep-deprived.  I co-sleep with my babies, so they nurse (and pee) A LOT at night.  I tried nighttime disposables (so expensive!), 2 disposable diapers (one on top of the other), changing diapers during the night -- nothing worked consistently until. . . cloth diapers!  You have so many more options with cloth.  I found a solution that worked for me, and now we enjoy dry nights every night.

8. Do you own a washing machine?
Some folks are so dedicated to using cloth that they do so even though they have to lug their cloth diapers to the laundromat or the apartment building's laundry room.  But if you do have your own washing machine, than using cloth diapers can be even more convenient than disposables.  Oh no!  Are you out of diapers?  Just throw a load in the washer instead of packing the kids into the car and driving to the store.

9. Are you daunted and confused by the choices out there for cloth diapers?  
In many ways, the bewildering number of cloth diapering options is the biggest obstacle to using cloth diapers.  Once I found a system that worked for me, I found that using cloth diapers was no more difficult or time-consuming than using disposable diapers.  I also found there were many advantages to using cloth, so much so that when we travel (and use disposables for a week or so), my husband and I are both anxious to get back to using cloth.  If you are thinking of switching to cloth diapers, I recommend asking a cloth-diapering friend or a local baby store to show you in person a few of your cloth diapering options, or you can use one of the many cloth diapering trials offered by online diapering stores to help you decide which styles fit your baby and your lifestyle. For a brief introduction to your cloth diapering choices described in terms any disposable-diaper-using parent can understand, read this post.
10. Do you think it is so darn fun to dress your kids in those tiny little clothes and hats and hair ribbons?
Some moms go nuts over all the cute prints and colors of cloth diapers.  Some moms (not me) actually have to control themselves from spending too much money on diapers.  If you love dressing and accessorizing your child, you might love this aspect of cloth diapers.  They are way cuter than disposables.

What do you think?  Are cloth diapers maybe for you?

Eco-novice's Cloth Diapering 101
Cloth Diapers Explained in Disposable-eese
What Do You Do with the POOP???
Cloth Diaper Tutorial - The EASIEST Way to Use a Prefold
Washing Cloth Diapers
Wiping my Baby's Bottom
Why I Love Cloth Diapers
My Favorite Nighttime Cloth Diapers
My Favorite Daytime Cloth Diapers

Other Useful Diapering Resources
Diapers: Cloth, Disposable, Stinky Pails & More (Healthy Child Healthy World)
Quick Tips: Cloth Diapering System (Healthy Child Healthy World)
First Steps: The Diaper Debate (Healthy Child Healthy World)
New to Cloth Diapers? (Jillian's Drawers)

Note: this is an updated version of a post first published July 2010.
Photo credit (top of post): Liz (

This post is part of

Green Your Fall

Shopping at the farmer's market, opening your windows, line drying -- there are lots of ways to green your life that fit in perfectly with fall.  Check out my guest post over at Oh Amanda, the blog host of Top Ten Tuesday, to read about 10 ways to go green this fall.  Then add your own suggestion in the comments!

Green Phone Booth: Flame Retardants

"Californians are among the most highly polluted people in the world with flame retardants."
So says the lead author of a recently published study that shows that California pregnant women have the highest levels of PBDEs of any pregnant women ever studied.

Read more about flame retardants in the news and how to avoid them in my post over at The Green Phone Booth: Hold the Flame Retardants, Please.

Be sure to check out the discussion in the comments too.

Green Moms Carnival: Back-to-School Edition

Click over to Mindful Momma to check out the latest Green Moms Carnival: the Back-to-School edition.  Full of links to great posts about greener shopping, healthy eating, greener schools and eco-activism, it is definitely worthy checking out!

You can find my contribution about my family's favorite eco-friendly lunch gear HERE.


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