Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Will work for seeds

YamatoIt's that most glorious time of the year when the seed catalogs start rolling in the mail here in the dead of winter. Okay, we are only a few days into winter but, after 2 weeks of snow, all my unprepared winter crops aren't looking so good. But, I digress.

Seed catalogs. You know you love them. The excitement of planning the next year's bounty is heightened by the glossy nature of the catalog pictures and, since we are far enough away from harvest, we've forgotten all the work that went into it.

If you read some blogs, there's a lot of fear of seed shortages this year since there's been an increased demand in growing your own food. This is due to the obvious rise is food costs as well as a renewed interest of people wanting better control of where their food comes from.

I really don't think anyone will be turning tricks for seeds anytime soon but, that said, you may want to get your orders in early. Just in case. I really was joking about those Yamato extra longs.

Of course, all this assumes that you have already planned out what you are growing next year. I can't say that I'm that well prepared yet, but I have a ton of seeds already.

How about you? Do you have your list of seeds picked out already? Anything new you want to try to grow in 2009?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Circumventing circumcision

Circumcision in EgyptThis really is a taboo topic in our society and, regardless of whatever health benefits are purported one way or the other regarding male circumcision, there really isn't a whole lot of consistent data to back it up.

Some scientists argue that being circumcised protects the female partner from HPV and cervical cancer. Some say that it doesn't affect rates of HIV infection in homosexual men, but it does in heterosexual men. Recent research also shows that being circumcised doesn't affect male satisfaction. All these studies were reported over the last year, yet the evidence one way or the other really hasn't conclusively changed over the last 40 years.

So, what's the scoop then? Is there a "medical necessity" for circumcision even though the benefits in even some of the high risk groups studied can be deemed somewhat negligible? What are parents choosing these days for their children?

I highly suspect that the choice is driven not only by personal experience but by geography. But does it really all come down merely to aesthetics? Do we convince ourselves that there is a medical benefit because it backs up the fact that we, as Americans, prefer a circumcised "style"?

Since we rarely talk about this even among other parents at school, church, etc. I wanted to ask you what you think about circumcision. What do you think of the practice and what is your opinion of likening it to female circumcision? Is it the same thing, but just a different cultural, religious or aesthetic belief?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas debt

The money treeI heard the other morning that Americans spent, on average, $600 this year on Christmas gifts. Apparently, this is down from $800 in previous years. I don't know about you, but I was absolutely amazed that people spent that much on Christmas gifts!

No wonder we have a credit problem in this country. Unless these people are saving up all year for buying gifts or spreading it out, which is probably true for a percentage of Americans, they are really taking a hit at the end of the year.

I don't think I spent more than $200 mostly because the majority of the gifts I gave were made from scratch. The ones that I spent money straight out-of-pocket were toys for the kids and gift certificates for nieces/nephews out-of-state.

Did you end up spending more or less than you were expecting on Christmas gifts? Or, maybe the question should be, did you end up spending more or less than you wanted? How does it compare to the national average?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Four gardening wishes

Frozen pumpkinsHere are four things that I wish I had done earlier in the fall when I should have but was actually either too lazy (due to bad, cold, rainy or snowy weather) or my back was out. I'm trying not to kick myself too much, but I have these constant reminders every time I look out the window.

1. Take my pumpkins in and process them. I figured I'd have a heck of a lot more time to bring them inside before it got too cold out. Of course, I could do it now, although all 5 of them are frozen solid. Does anyone know if, when they thaw, they'll still be edible or can be processed?

2. Plant my garlic. I am sooo pissed off about this one. I could have planted it in early October, but I wanted to wait until closer to November. By the time November rolled around the weather on the days I had time to plant was pouring rain. On the days when it was nice out, my back was seizing up on me. No problem I thought. It's warm late this year. I can probably push it to early or mid-December. Well, it's been frozen and/or snowing and I can't exactly plant it with a foot of snow on the ground.

3. Plant my wine grapes. Man, I was being dumb about this. I kept thinking I needed to really prepare the area I wanted to plant this in and, because of time constraints, never got around to doing it. Is it too late to transfer them to the ground once the snow melts?

4. Move my lemon tree inside. Again, it's the back thing. I wanted to wait until after Christmas because, surely, we hadn't even had our first frost where I live until early December! Now that sad little lemon tree is covered in snow, cursing me for not living in Florida and for having no immediate hopes of hanging out with the Christmas tree.

What fall/winter planning items did you hope to get done, but didn't get around to doing this year? If you could go back and do something sooner, what would it have been?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Fertility drugs and cancer

I decided that I wanted to start doing some sort of Science Friday postings based on either something I wanted to discuss or on some science news that I had recently read.

Since we were discussing a few weeks ago whether or not there was an increased risk to women undergoing fertility drug treatment to harvest eggs (both as egg donors and for women undergoing IVF treatment), an article in the December 10th issue of New Scientist, Fertility Drugs Increase Cancer Risk, caught my eye.

Based on this most recently published study, ovulation-inducing drugs seem to have increased the risk of uterine cancer in a group of women who were treated with the drugs over 30 years ago. In a sample size of 15,000 women that had been followed for thirty years, the women in the group who had received the ovulation-inducing drugs had three times the incidence of uterine cancer than members of the group who had not been given these drugs.

For the women who were getting a specific type of drug which tricks the body into making extra eggs by blocking estrogen receptors (clomiphene), the risk was over four times greater. There were also smaller but significant increases in breast cancer, malignant melanoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma associated with taking the drugs.

While it's difficult to draw too many conclusions from this particular study, one thing it does do is bring attention to the fact that more research needs to be done. I think it's also important that the women receiving these drugs be aware of any potential risks so they can be monitored for them.

Now, I am in no way (as I said before in my previous post) against IVF or trying to dissuade women from using IVF as a method of fertility treatment. But, since I have friends who have donated eggs multiple times and my husband worked in IVF for a number of years, this has always been something that has nagged me at the back of my mind: what's the long and short-term risk?

It was one of the warnings on the consent form my friend signed: at the time they did not know what the long-term effects were from the fertility drugs. Mostly the unknown was related to future fertility. So, I wonder if there will be any new information or education (based on this study) given to women receiving ovulation-inducing drugs, or if the results aren't considered that statistically significant to warrant any additional warnings.

Would knowing that you are at a small, but increased risk for a variety of cancers prevent you from using IVF as a fertility treatment if you were a candidate? Would it prevent you from being a donor?

(Image: MBI/Alamy)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Greening your holiday parties

Green for ChristmasSince my son is keeping me busy with his stomach flu, I'm serving up an updated green holiday post for your reading enjoyment.

For many people, food and drink is what getting together is all about. And today's posting is all about how to make your holiday dinners and parties green.

Tableware - Let's start with the foundations. Forget the paper plates and plastic cups. Try to use real dishes if you can. If you must use disposable, try to get something compostable. There are a number of different options. If you must go with disposable, choose bamboo tableware, corn "plastic" or other biodegradable dinnerware.

Table decorations - As with the rest of your house decor, go for the natural. Decorate with bowls of edibles, vases filled with cranberries, etc. For place markings, you can make your own using old Christmas cards or gift tags.

Food - Follow the same guidelines as you used for the Eat Local Thanksgiving Challenge. That is, try to find foods that are local and in season for your area. Choosing organic is even better. If you must have something out of season, look for the organic versions before settling for the conventional. If you eat local, you'll save tons of food miles and if you choose organic you be saving the soil from all those petrochemicals used to grow it.

Beverages - Stick with local or organic wines, local juices and stay away from soda and bottled water. Most people won't notice that the pitcher of ice water on the table contains tap water.

Cocktails - What's a holiday without a little classic cocktail party? Just make sure you choose fruits and juices that are organic, if possible, and try some of the following organic spirits if you can find them:

     4 Copas Organic Tequila
     Juniper Green Organic Gin
     Square One Organic Vodka
     Rain Organic Vodka
     ModMix Organic Mixers comes in the following flavors:
  • Pomegranate Cosmopolitan
  • Citrus Margarita
  • Mojito
  • French Martini
  • Lavender Lemon Drop
New Year's Eve - There are a few organic champagnes out there or you can choose any sort of bubbly organic beverage. Again, keep your tableware to reusable, decorations on the natural or reuse side. For example, reuse silver or gold wrapping paper over cardboard boxes to make silver stars you can hang from the ceiling with leftover silver ribbons or even raffia. Dig out that silver tray for your drinks. Frost some grapes in superfine sugar and egg whites for the table (see directions at the bottom of this page).

Stay away from fireworks and throw confetti instead. Preferably something recyclable. You'll save yourself from toxic chemicals and spare your lungs from air pollution.

Host an Eco New Years Resolution Party where each guest commits to a resolution to do something new and green in the New Year. Make a list of green ideas for party goers to choose from.

Ambiance - If you want to light candles, go for the soy or beeswax ones to eliminate breathing in petroleum byproducts from paraffin. If you want to
roast your chestnuts by an open fire (especially if you're Freezing Yer Buns) then choose a Java Log or other eco-friendly firelog instead of a Duraflame. The Java Log burns hotter and higher than the average firelog, diverts coffee grounds from the waste stream and produces far less emissions.

So spend some time this season planning to green your holiday parties. But just remember to eat, drink and be merry!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The pets in your pet food

Yummy, downed meat filled kibbleI ran across this information while I was researching something else, but I thought it was important to share this with you. With the recent melamine scare in our pet foods, this should help bring to light what also is in your pet's food.

Most commercial pet food ingredients all start at the rendering plant, where carcasses of various dead animals are rendered into a by-product that is used primarily for animal and pet feed. What goes into this mix? Well, downed farm animals, dead laboratory animals, what's left over after slaughter of meat and hide animals (such as heads, hoofs, bowels, diseased parts, tumors, bones, contaminated meat and the like), road kill, euthanized or dead companion animals (aka pets), restaurant grease and garbage, and pastries and meat past their pull date from grocery stores.

Given that the amount of money spent on the rendering process does not allow for simple processing of the inputs into the plant coupled with the volume being dealt with, things like flea collars, metal tags, plastic bags, pesticide ear tags from cattle, and the Styrofoam and wrappings from bad grocery store meat all get thrown into the grinder. This is also not to mention the quantities of Sodium Phenobarbital in the bodies of euthanized animals and how that survives the rendering process. I can't imagine these things can be good for your pet in any amount.

When you see the upscale "real meat" stamped proudly on the side of your bag of pet food, they are not referring to the happy chunks of meat that are shown on the packaging and in commercials. Real meat, as defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), is anything but that.

What you are getting in "real meat" is the "flesh derived from slaughtered mammals and is limited to that part of the striate muscle that is skeletal or that which is found in the tongue, diaphragm, heart, or esophagus; with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and the portions of the skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels that normally accompany the flesh." Meat by-products are pretty much what's left that wasn't included in that list. Basically, anything listed as "by-product" or "meal" is generally bottom of the barrel material and probably inedible, at that.

As for what is listed as "lamb" or "chicken", the AAFCO allows the rendering plant to call whatever the dominant amount of animal is in that run. Say, for example, that 20% of a run consisted of lamb parts, 15% chicken parts, 15% beef parts, 15% cat and dog carcasses, 15% grocery store refuse, 10% roadkill and 10% waste kitchen grease, that run can be legitimately called "lamb".

And it will be sold as "lamb" and packaged as such on your pet food ingredient list, even though it contains, as you can see, pretty much everything and the kitchen sink. And I'm not including the excrement and trace bits of plastic and garbage that got ground in there as well.

Finally, not all of this rendered material gets exclusively sold for pet food. It also gets sold as livestock feed used to feed the animals that are raised for human consumption.

Now, before we get into a major cracker grinding session here, let me also point out that rendering plants provide an extremely useful service without which there would be tons of rotting animal carcasses spreading diseases far and wide. So, how do we deal with the issue at hand? The rendering plants reduce the carcass burden and turn it into something less of a public health threat - at least directly. The pet food industry fills the gap of what to do with the rendered product. I can't say I could, in good faith, feed my pets this output since I've read this, but what do you do with all this junk?

Essentially, humans are mostly at fault for the necessity of rendering plants. If we didn't raise farm animals, own pets or buy meat from restaurants and grocery stores, there would be no input into this system. Any roadkill or animals dying on their own could be buried or decompose in the wild. In other words, the volume would be considerably less and more manageable.

So, is the very act that we demand meat and companion animals creating this burden on the other end that, literally, feeds back into the system? Rendered products feed livestock and pets which is turn get rendered into feeding more livestock and pets, ad nauseum. It's easy enough to say that we should demand that our livestock and pet food be human quality feed, but then what do we do with the output of the rendering plants? The only way I can see a solution to this problem is to reduce the inputs.

Does anyone have any other ideas on how to solve this problem? Has this changed your perception of the pet foods you purchase?

Additional reading:
Food Pets Die For
Protect Your Pet

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Freeze Yer Buns check-in

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008Holy smokes, people, we are having a cold snap and, as such, we are freezing our buns off! We are supposed to have the lowest temperatures that we've had in twenty years over the next week or so.

We are still sticking to our pledged temperature ranges, but we are using space heaters in the living room and the kid's bedrooms where the central heat doesn't exactly work very well (just to heat them up in the morning and right before bed). The rest of the house is kept relatively cool.

I've been pretty much using my cherry pit bed warmer every night since the beginning of the challenge. I tell you, I love that thing. Nothing makes me more happy than snuggling up to a hot cherry pie. Okay, maybe a few things, but not when I'm cold. Every night my husband has been using one of the microwaveable rice bags that I made for Christmas gifts last year (I had a few left over). So his side of the bed smells like rice pilaf. It's a regular culinary delight at night, I tell you!

I'm also totally impressed at how many people have signed up for the challenge so far. I know a lot of you haven't exactly hit cold temperatures yet, while others have been consistently freezing their buns for a few months already.

That said, how are you guys faring? Have you been able to keep to your temperature pledges? What are you doing to keep warm?

By the way, I've been seeing a lot more articles in magazines and newspapers this year about people keeping their heat low and trying to push their limits. Who knew that it was cool to keep the heat low?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My favorite comment of the day

From yesterday's post (regarding stripping the Endangered Species Act and further endangering polar bears, wolves and a whole host of flora and fauna to serve industry):

Actually global warming is a farce!

Oh and if nature is limiting/killing animals...why would we try and save them? Nature is taking into action it's own population we don't all get eaten...

Comments on this analysis, anyone?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Farewell to Bush fantasy

Polar bear vs. PresidentI was just reading about how President Bush is limiting the protections on polar bears as he makes his way out of office. Basically, he is denying America’s vanishing polar bears some desperately needed protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). And then later in the day yesterday, he finalized new ESA regulations that cut huge holes in the safety net that protects wolves, polar bears and other animals and plants in danger of becoming extinct.

According to the Defenders of Wildlife, polar bears are drowning and starving to death as the sea ice they need to survive disappears. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey say that polar bears could disappear from Alaska within the next 50 years.

So, while I was looking at the accompanying pictures of these beautiful polar bears, the thought occurred to me: wouldn't it be kinda fun to put George Bush together alone with a polar bear? And wouldn't it be interesting if somehow the bear knew what he had done and just see what happens? Kind of like a Polar Bear vs. President Bush cage match.

I know this sounds horribly cruel and petty and I know at least 5 of you will comment on how childish I am, but, hey! It's my fantasy! No one's getting hurt. Only, in real life, the polar bears are getting decimated. That's what's horribly cruel and petty.

Anyway, since this is a moderately entertaining thought experiment, I thought I'd open it up for you to submit your favorite fantasy with President Bush. And I'm not talking about bondage or anything that will make me want to hurl. No, really, a lot of you have some bad vibes about the outgoing president. What would you subject him to in your fantasy, based on what he's done in office?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Giveaway winner: How to Store Your Garden Produce

How to Store Your Garden ProduceThe winner of the book, How to Store Your Garden Produce: The key to self-sufficiency, by Piers Warren is:

Green Mama

Congratulations! Send me an email with your mailing info to

I hope that this book gives you some new ideas on how to store next year's produce!

Caramel covered homemade marshmallows

Williams Sonoma versionFollowing the theme of recreating Williams Sonoma food gift ideas, I wanted to share with you our latest knock-off. It's the caramel covered marshmallow treat. Also called Modjeskas, these candies were purportedly named after a beautiful Polish actress by an admirer. Shouldn't they be called Pavell's instead?

Anyway, they look a heck of a lot more complicated to make than they actually are. These make great gifts wrapped in wax paper. Especially when you aren't paying $27 a pound for them!

To make the marshmallows:

1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup hot water (about 115 degrees)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla

Oil bottom and sides of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some confectioners' sugar.

In bowl of standing electric mixer, sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let stand to soften.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, hot water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240 degrees, about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

With standing mixer beat on high speed until white, thick and nearly tripled in volume, about 6 minutes. In a large bowl with cleaned beaters beat whites (or reconstituted powdered whites) until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat whites and vanilla into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan and sift 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least three hours, and up to 1 day.

Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto large cutting board. Lifting up 1 corner of inverted pan, with fingers loosen marshmallow and let drop onto cutting board. With a large knife trim edges of marshmallow and cut marshmallows into roughly 1-inch cubes. Sift remaining confectioners' sugar into a large bowl and add marshmallows in batches, tossing to evenly coat. Marshmallows (without caramel) keep in an airtight container at cool room temperature for 1 week.

To make the caramel:

1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
16 marshmallows (see recipe above)
Wax paper

Cut the wax paper into 2 inch x 3 inch wide strips. You may need to adjust the size of your wax paper depending on how big your marshmallows are.

Place the sugar, water, cream, and corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the butter until it is melted. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the caramel reaches 238 degrees, then remove from the heat.

Stir in the vanilla and salt. Allow the caramel to thicken and cool for 10-15 minutes until it cools to about 175 degrees.

To dip the marshmallows:

Using a fork, drop a marshmallow into the caramel and turn it over until it is completely covered. Remove the marshmallow from the caramel, letting excess caramel drip off. Place the marshmallow on a piece of wax paper.

Continue dipping with the remaining marshmallows. If the caramel becomes too stiff, place it over the heat for a minute or two until it becomes easy to work with.

Allow the candies to set fully at room temperature before wrapping. Store excess candies in an airtight container at room temperature.

Related posts:
Chocolate peppermint bark
Holiday gift basket
White chocolate raspberry jam

Repurposing wool into critters

Wool crittersDo you have some old wool sweaters or skirts you don't know what to do with? How about some pillows that you'd like to recycle but don't know how?

Well, here's a craft project that takes that wool and pillow stuffing and makes some super cute stuffed animals to give as gifts.

Now, I really can't stand Martha Stewart for a variety of reasons, but I have to admit, she does some cool stuff. Basically, for this project, all you need to do is felt the wool you are going to use (essentially washing it in hot water - 100% wool works best) and cut out the pieces based on the templates from the website. You then stitch the pieces together, stuff with your old pillow polyester filling or other batting and you are done!

Another fun idea is to make mini Christmas ornaments out of the templates by shrinking the templates down to a smaller size before you print them. You'll most likely have to handstitch the critters since they'll be so small, but think of the fun menagerie you'll have on the tree! Just don't forget to stitch in a ribbon for hanging. You can also attach the mini ornaments to gifts to help share the repurposing love.

If you don't feel like giving these barnyard friends away, they can easily double as pincushions (especially the pig). Just size them accordingly when you print out the patterns. Finally, if you have kitties, you can also make these critters mini sized and fill them with catnip to keep your furry felines happy for the holidays.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Giveaway: How to Store Your Garden Produce

How to Store Your Garden ProduceIn the book, How to Store Your Garden Produce: The key to self-sufficiency, author Piers Warren contends that, with less than an acre of garden, you can grow enough produce to feed a family of four for a year.

However, without the proper storage, most of it will go to waste since much of the produce ripens simultaneously in the summer. So, this book teaches you simple techniques for storing your produce so you can enjoy your home grown produce year round.

Piers starts out by describing the various methods of storage beginning with basic methods and covering the whole gamut including clamping, freezing, drying, vacuum-packing, salting, canning and fermenting and ending with pickles, relishes, sauces, jams and jellies. In the second part of the book, the author goes into detail on how to preserve various kinds of produce from fruits to vegetables - including such unusual items like chicory and salsify. Celeriac wine, anyone?

I'm not sure if I'd use many of the recipes included in the book (the British have an inordinate fondness for gooseberries), but if you are wondering how to preserve a certain type of fruit or vegetable, this book gives you some good suggestions. And, even though this book is a little light on in-depth techniques, you'll still want to cuddle up with Piers in bed this winter to learn about and plan how you'll store next year's garden bounty.

If you are interested in signing up for this book giveaway, add your name to the comments of this post. The giveaway ends this Thursday, December 11th at 6:00 pm PST. I'll be doing a random drawing and announcing a winner shortly thereafter. If you've won a book (or blanket) from me recently, I haven't forgotten about you... since my back went out I haven't been able to lift the boxes to take to the post office, but I'll get them out this Friday.

Related posts:
Fresh Food from Small Spaces
Preserving food for the winter

Monday, December 8, 2008

American population control

As somewhat of a follow-on to last week's post, I wanted to discuss the issue of demographics and population control outside the emotional considerations made in last week's comments.

Given that Americans use, by far, considerably more resources per capita than any citizen of any other country in the world, should population control measures be introduced (a la China) to acquire better control of environmental and resource impact? Since Americans seem rather unwilling to substantially lower their carbon footprint on their own, perhaps controlling things on the other end of the coin makes more sense.

By controlling the number of Americans on the planet, or those living a high impact lifestyle, do we achieve the same goal of resource preservation and reduction in environmental degradation? In other words, by advising (or requiring) that Americans only reproduce at the replacement rate of approximately 2 children per mating couple (that is, maximum two offspring per person), can we mitigate disaster? This is sometimes called a birth permit system (1.05 permits per person, where each couple gets 2.1 permits), thereby essentially allowing a cap and trade system on reproduction.

I know that many will argue that the biggest upcoming threat to the environment are developing countries such as China and India, but the reality is that the individuals in those societies use far less resources than Americans do. And, when you stop to consider it, a large proportion of pollution generated by countries like China is due to demand of manufactured goods by Americans.

Our demand for cheap products drives the industries that pollute. For us to turn around and complain that this pollution is unfair is really, actually, unfair. The Chinese individual, for the most part, does not benefit from the cheap Elmo toys and dollar goods being generated. Quite the contrary, they suffer immeasurably due to polluted air and water. You can argue that the demand is providing jobs, but given the pittance they are actually getting paid for that labor, it is an arguable benefit at best.

So, what's the solution? If we don't voluntarily and drastically reduce our per personal carbon and resource consumption, is population control of high impact societies a realistic alternative? Would you support a restriction on reproduction?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Greening your holiday decorations

Green for ChristmasToday, I'm serving up an updated green holiday post to get you in the spirit. This post covers everything you wanted to know and then some about greening up your holiday lighting and decorations.

Outdoor Christmas lights - I live in an area well-known for it's Christmas lights and yard decorations. In fact, we actually have tour buses come through the neighborhood. It's a bit insane and the pressure is intense. Last year I went on the hunt for LED lights (since we didn't yet own any outdoor lights), but they were hard to come by. So, I'm happy to see that this year more stores are carrying them. They are still more expensive, but you save money because they are soooo much cheaper to run since they use a fraction of the electricity (10% of incandescent) and they last forever. I'm not going to replace our new bulbs due to the cost, but I will be running the lights less this year. Eventually I will replace them with LED when the old (new?) ones wear out.

Christmas trees - If you can, make sure you get a fresh Christmas tree from a sustainable source, like a tree farm. Choose organic if you can find one. You can make getting a tree a family tradition by going to a U-Cut tree farm to select and/or chop down your own tree (see the Puget Sound Fresh listings if you live in Western WA). If you do get a fresh tree, look into the tree recycling options in your area. Or rent a wood chipper and make you're own mulch - just be safe and stay out of it yourself.

Artificial trees consume significant energy and petroleum-based materials (and lead!) during their manufacture and transport, but a one time purchase that gets used for years and years and years may make up for the gas spent in transporting that fresh Christmas tree as well as the chemicals used in growing the trees. In my mind it's a bit of a trade off if you can't find an organic tree. You might want to see if you can find a used artificial tree - you may even be able to find one on Craigslist in your area.

Wanna see the details on the Christmas tree debate? Well, the real winner is not having one at all, but like the picture above says, you don't have to be the Grinch to be green for Christmas and I don't think many people will budge on this one, so go organic if you can.

Christmas tree trimmings - Again, go with the LED lights and string up strands of popcorn or cranberries (if they are local). Use old craft paper to make paper chains. Of course you should reuse all those old tree trimmings but ask yourself if you really need more. If so, make it into an annual family event where each person picks out a new decoration. At the thrift store. Or better yet, take old knick knacks, jewelry, pins or other suitable things that you don't want anymore and convert them into something you can hang on the tree.

Home decorations - Attach those Christmas cards you get in the mail onto a long ribbon with double sided tape (or reusable small safety pins) and hang on the wall. Get creative! Collect scraps of fabric, old cards and boxes and get your family and friends together to create decorations that will have more sentimental value than anything you can buy. You can do pretty much anything with non-toxic paints and glitter.

If you need ideas, check out 101 Ideas for Christmas Decorations. Note - they aren't all environmentally friendly, but you'll get the idea. For a more natural looking home (think Pottery Barn), decorate the mantel with fallen branches and pinecones. Trim some of that overgrown holly and ivy from the yard and put it to good use.

Instead of buying another poinsettia this year, decorate the table with an arrangement of rosemary, sage, thyme or other woody herbs. Or you can fill a vase with pinecones or cranberries. Put out a bowl of edibles such as fruits and nuts - whatever's in season in your area. And, if you use candles, make sure you choose soy or beeswax candles over the petroleum-based ones, they are better for you and the environment.

If you still want more decorations, check thrift stores and garage sales for recycled decorations.

Crunchy's holiday gift basket

Okay, since I'm actually busy this weekend trying to squeeze in making all the handmade things that will go into the holiday gift baskets I'm giving away for Christmas (nothing like waiting until the last minute!), I don't have time to write a super thoughtful post for today.

So, instead, I'm going to tell you what's going into the gift baskets. I'm including links for how to make the items yourself if you want to know how I'm doing them:

1. Peppermint bark
2. Spiced nuts
3. Homemade, dried pasta (if I have time)
4. White chocolate raspberry jam with coffee liqueur

5. Candy cane sugar scrub
6. PiƱa colada whipped body butter
7. Silk lavender eye mask

I had so much lavender that I dried from the garden over the summer that I really wanted to make something to give away. I'm not sure if I'll get around to making the sleepy eyes on them, but it's a cute idea.

I'm trying to go for a mix of things that will appeal to both genders (food for the guys and pampering for the gals). I still have a few things left over from last year (like microwaveable rice bags and bath scrubbies that I knit) that will go into gift bags for those who didn't get them last year.

I'll also be including a cheat sheet with the gifts to explain how to use certain items and include ingredients instead of trying to write individual tags for them. Call me lazy, but I think it will be easier and I can spend my energy on the gifts themselves instead.

By the way, for the Candy cane sugar scrub I ended up doing colored layers rather than a swirl since it was much easier that way.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Candy cane themed holiday gift ideas

As promised, here are a few easy to make homemade holiday gift giving ideas. I've included one food item and one beauty care item in case you prefer one or both!

Layered peppermint barkI suspect I'm not the only one being bombarded by Williams Sonoma and Crate and Barrel catalogs all sporting delicious tins of chocolate peppermint bark. I've had the stuff from Williams Sonoma and it's mighty tasty, but for about $30 a pound, I knew I could do much better (Crate and Barrel's is something like $15 for 14 ounces).

So, even with using high quality Callebaut chocolate (on sale this week in the Seattle area at Town and Country Markets for $4.99 a pound) it's much, much cheaper to make it yourself.

Peppermint Bark


16 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
12 ounces high quality white chocolate, chopped
6 candy canes, coarsely crushed (about 6 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil.

Melt bittersweet chocolate in double boiler until it is melted and smooth. Stir in peppermint extract. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Pour bittersweet chocolate mixture onto cookie sheet. Using a spatula, spread the chocolate so that it is about 1/4 inch thick. Chill for about 15 minutes or until it is set.

Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate in a double boiler until it is melted and smooth. Cool until it is barely lukewarm (about 5 minutes). Pour the white chocolate onto the cooled bittersweet chocolate, using a spatula to spread out the chocolate to cover the first layer evenly.

Immediately sprinkle top layer with crushed candy canes. Let it sit for about 10 minutes and then chill just until firm, about 20 minutes. It can be broken apart or cut into rectangles. Store in an airtight container in a cool place or freeze. Allow it to come to room temperature before serving.

You can pack the bark in glass jars that are decorated with red ribbon and candy canes for a sweet touch.

Candy Cane Sugar Scrub

Crushed candy canes are really just sugar right? So, why not add them to a sugar scrub to make a super festive beauty treat?

1 cup granulated white sugar
6 candy canes, finely crushed almost into a powder
1/2 cup sweet almond oil (or olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon vitamin E oil (optional - used as a preservative)
1 teaspoon cocoa butter (optional)
6 drops peppermint essential oil

Mix all ingredients until well blended. Place into a clean glass jar with a tight lid and add a fancy label. I highly recommend the 1/2 pint wide mouth canning jars and wide mouth plastic storage lids.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Handmade holiday gifts

Over on Simple, Green, Frugal Coop they've been discussing lately about what they would like to give away as handmade holiday gifts. Heather did a bang up job with her Homemade Laundry Soap gift bags (run, don't walk, to steal this great gift idea). It looked a little complicated to me, but I'm still wary of making your own laundry soap and using it in a front loading, low-water washer. I really don't want to break my overpriced piece of equipment, but I'm in love with her gift bags.

Paul's starterPaul, God love him, also presented something that, in theory is a fantastic gift, but in practice, comes off a little creepy. His Homemade Sourdough Starter would, frankly, scare the crap out of any recipient I know. I can only imagine their surprise when they open up this gift and discover a jarred frothy swish of Paul's, um, starter.

Now if you read his post you will find that he started it from packaged yeast and its been fermenting a long time, most likely intermingling with wild yeast native to where he lives, but how do you explain this gift?

"Hey, yeah, no, let me explain. My husband's been working on collecting that for about a year and a half now and we wanted to share it with you. No, really, he says that it 'only tastes better with age!'. I hope you like it."

Okay, Paul, I sure as hell hope you have a good sense of humor. You know mine is two steps left of disgusting. Anyway, if I had the huevos, I think it would be great to pass these out, adding a little gift tag with the origins of the starter yeast:

This sourdough starter has been in our family for over 25 years. The original yeast was collected from the unwashed stomach folds of my 350 pound grandmother during one of the hottest summers in Mississippi right before she passed away. It is considered a family heirloom and I'm glad to share it with you. Each time you bake using this starter, I hope it reminds you of my grandmother's good cooking.

Alrighty then. Congratulations if you made it this far. Tomorrow, I swear that I'll share with you the recipe for an easy homemade holiday gift.

In the meantime, what's your favorite handmade gift to give away?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Homemade clay mask

Clay mask ingredientsWell, after yesterday's rousing post I thought I'd do something a little more inert today. I wanted to share with you how to make your own homemade clay facial mask.

People have used clay masks for thousands of years to help clear pores, slough off the dead outer layer of skin and soothe and calm inflammation. It's really very simple to make at home and you can get the clay at a natural foods store.

In this recipe, the lactic acid in the milk (alpha hydroxy acid) helps slough off dead skin cells, the clay helps to clear out your pores and the honey helps to soothe.

3 - 4 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons clay (Green or French Clay and White Kaolin are good choices)
1 teaspoon honey
4 drops essential oils (optional)

Clay and aspirin maskMix the ingredients together adding more milk or water if the mask is too dry. Apply evenly to face (and neck if you want) avoiding the eye area. Leave on for 15 minutes or until dry and rinse off with warm water. I usually wash my face following a mask just to ensure that I've removed all of it.

Now, my favorite facial mask is an aspirin scrub that I use in conjunction with a clay mask. This works well only if you have oily skin that is not sensitive. Essentially, the salicylic acid in the aspirin works like any commercial product in helping clear out your pores.

What I end up doing is dissolving about 3 uncoated aspirins in a very small amount of water and mixing it into the clay mask. It acts as a scrub when you put on the mask. Leave it on for the same amount of time and voila! Clear skin.

Related posts:
Hand Rescue Cream
Sugaring hair removal
Coconut oil hair conditioner

And the (Amazon) winner is...

The winner of the $75 Amazon gift card giveaway is:

Equa Yona (Big Bear)

Congratulations, Roger! Let me know what email address you want the gift certificate sent to!

Now, let's see here. That's 4 male winners in a row. What's going on with you ladies? Did you do something to piss off the random generator?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Turkey post-mortem

Eat Local for Thanksgiving 2008With all this yackety-yacking about my pastured heritage turkey, there seemed to be some interested in doing a follow-up or, post-mortem, on what we all thought of the turkeys we chose.

This was the first time we got a heritage bird that was pasture raised. In the past we have gotten organic "free-range" turkeys that have always tasted a lot better than the standard commercial butterball style turkey. This year's turkey was just as moist and tasty as the basic organic bird, but its anatomy and flavor was totally different.

There was quite a bit of meat on the bird and it was more like pork than turkey. It wasn't flavorless like your average turkey and it had an amazingly thick layer of subcutaneous fat on it, which made it super-moist. I'm not sure if that's because of the breed or because it was pasture raised. Not too surprisingly it didn't have humongous breasts, but they weren't paltry either and it had a good bit of meat on the legs. The most striking thing was how sturdy the carcass was - probably because it spent all its days running around on a farm.

For those of you who tried out a turkey you hadn't had before (organic, heritage, wild, free-range, pastured, etc.), did you notice a difference? If you spent extra money getting a more high-falutin' bird, would you do it again?

Don't forget - you still have time to enter my Thanksgiving giveaway. It's too hard to pick just one of you so I think I'll do a random draw. So, if you've not entered because you didn't want to "compete", don't worry about it. You'll have an equal chance.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Green Beauty Guide

We've discussed a number of times on this blog alternatives to beauty care products that not only reduce your impact on the environment by using less packaging and less chemicals, but also on reducing your cost.

Well, in this new book, The Green Beauty Guide: Your Essential Resource to Organic and Natural Skin Care, Hair Care, Makeup, and Fragrances, author Julie Gabriel goes into great detail discussing not only the effects that synthetic products have on your body but she also shares with her readers organic alternatives that are affordable. She also details how to spot organic frauds and gimmicks since those are abounding like crazy with everyone jumping on the greenwashing bandwagon.

This book is chock-full of recipes for making your own cleansers, toners, facial scrubs, skin care, shampoos, conditioners, baby care and even sunscreen. Interspersed between the recipes is information on off-the-shelf products which lets you know the inside scoop on not only their ingredients but their effectiveness.

Now, normally, this is where I say that I'm doing a book giveaway, but I think this one's a keeper. Do not despair, however. If I find something I really like from the book you can be sure that I'll share it with you! Here's one to get you started:

Hand Rescue Cream

1/2 ounce beeswax
Juice of one freshly squeezed lemon
1 tablespoon sweet almond oil
5 drops lemon essential oil
2 drops lavender essential oil

1. Melt beeswax in pan. 2. Add lemon juice and oils and stir with a wooden spoon until blended. 3. Transfer to a jar. Shake occasionally until the cream is cooled and uniform.

Don't forget to sign up for my Thanksgiving giveaway for $75 from Amazon!

Related posts:
Sustainable hair removal
Coconut oil hair conditioner
Sustainable shampoo

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving thanks to my readers

Well, Thanksgiving is where I traditionally look around me and give thanks for the many things that I have to be thankful for. Of course, there are a lot of things that I can still count my blessings for: my family, a roof over my head, a good job, food to eat, etc.

But the old adage about health - well, that's where things are falling quite short lately and it's hard not to focus on it since the last year has been a complete and utter roller-coaster filled with crisis after crisis punctuated by stem cell transplants and scares that would reduce any mortal to a blubbering lump of flesh.

Maybe I'm being extra cynical because I've been in terrible pain since Sunday since my back decided to go south on me and I'm getting sick of the pain and inability to walk and pretty much do anything.

But, enough complaining. What I do have to be thankful for (besides my children, friends and family) are you dear readers for keeping me entertained and putting up with my constant stream of shenanigans and, sacre blue!, actually participating alongside me in this madness.

So, for Thanksgiving I'm giving away a $75 gift certificate to Amazon that will hopefully help out one lucky reader this holiday season.

This contest ends Sunday, November 30th, at 10:00 p.m. PST. If you would like to enter, add your name to the comments of this post. The drawing may or may not be random, it all depends on how entertaining your comments are!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Electric blanket giveaway winner #2

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008Congratulations to mnultraguy of The Quince Urban Homestead as he is the winner of the Sunbeam Luxurious Herringbone Heated Blanket (Full Size).

So, mnultraguy, email your mailing info to and I'll get that out to you dyrectly!

For those who didn't win this time around, stay tuned - tomorrow will be the mother of all giveaways!

The waste of toilet seat covers

Riding bareback!A friend asked me a while ago if I used those little paper toilet seat covers or if there were some ecological alternative that I knew about.

Depending on the restroom, I'll either use the paper seat cover, hover or go bareback. But it got me thinking, was there an industry for take-along handsewn fleece toilet seat covers made by SAHMs? I know you can buy disposable covers for your kids, so I went on a search.

I didn't find any for adults, but I did stumble across this complete waste of plastic: toilet tattoos. They are actually kind of cool, but what a useless product.

Anyway, in my search I also came across an article discussing the merits of even using the paper covers. They state that the seat covers really only mentally separate your backside from those that have visited before you and that you have more to fear from the door handles and faucets than from the toilet seat.

In spite of the vinyl products geared towards kids, I can't really find any suitable environmentally friendly alternative that isn't a pain in the ass to carry around and use. So, I can only suggest that you skip the paper seat covers and save some resources. If the seat is too disgusting, then work on your quadriceps muscles and hover.

Here's a tip for those of you who hover and have terrible aim... lift the seat up (you won't be needing it anyway), do your business and put it back down. That way you won't leave a damp seat for the next person who may choose to ride it bareback.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The overzealous environmentalist

We all know them - they are the environmentalists who make everyone feel inadequate. The ones who push the issues so hard it turns off everyone else, even other environmentalists. They are the die-hards who set the bar so high that people don't even bother listening to what they have to say anymore because they accept no compromise and make you feel inferior to boot.

So, how does an environmentalist get their message across and educate others while at the same time seeming reasonable and open-minded? Well, for starters, leading by example is the best approach. You can lecture people all you want about any given issue, but the end result is generally raising people's hackles. Nobody likes to be attacked or criticized for their choices.

As we head into the holidays, it is likely that we'll be interacting with a lot more friends, family and co-workers and the topics of saving money and the environment are sure to come up. When they do, use it as an opportunity to educate people with some easy to digest facts and offer up what you do to mitigate your impact.

Wait for their lead to offer more information. You will find that if you throw out a few ideas or facts about a topic, people are generally interested in learning more and they get excited if they feel like they are part of the process, rather than approaching it with a series of "you shoulds" or some long-winded response.

When I'm in a mixed group, I'm oftentimes reluctant to spew too much information for fear of overwhelming people. In addition, the possible result of coming off as too stern is offense at one end and boredom at the other.

Once someone realizes that you have information about something they've heard about they are oftentimes interested in learning more. The goal is to offer the information in a non-accusative way. I find that people know a lot more than I think they do (from the news or TV), but they just don't know what to do with the information or where to go next. I've had people corner me for hours, picking my brain about various environmentally related things. People who I wouldn't in a million years expect to be interested in it.

We have a great opportunity these days, now that the door to environmental acceptance is wedged open just a little bit. If we take these opportunities as a way to hook people's interest, educate and show them easy ways to achieve some goals, then you have moved a little bit towards getting people to accept these ideas even more. However, if you come across as an overzealous environmentalist, lecturing and accusing people, they not only shut down, but it will be really difficult to budge that door open again.

I know we are all very passionate about many things, whether it be issues with energy, pollution, plastic, climate change or animal rights and the best way to get people to listen to new ideas is with an easy-going, open-minded approach that takes into consideration their ideas and values without incrimination.

How do you go about educating people on environmental issues?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Giveaway: Another heated blanket to warm you up

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008I know a lot of you are still freezing your buns and signed up for the last heated blanket giveaway. Well, now you get another chance at winning, this time with a bigger blanket!

Today's giveaway is a Sunbeam Luxurious Herringbone Heated Blanket (Full Size). This blanket includes a 10 hour auto-off back-lit digital control with multiple warming settings. It also features a preheat setting to warm up cold sheets before bedtime and a warming system that can sense and adjust to deliver consistent heat. You can machine wash and dry it as well and the color is dark blue. The list price on this product is $125.

Sunbeam claims that you can save up to 10% a year on your heating bill by turning on your heated blanket and setting your thermostat back 10% to 15% for 8 hours while you sleep. The benefit here is that you are heating locally rather than the whole house.

Caveats: this blanket is 70% polyester and 30% acrylic, so if you have issues with synthetic fibers, consider yourself warned, or, should I say, "warmed"? Also, some people have concerns with using electric blankets and EMF, but it is up to you to determine if the alleged risk is worth it. I suspect there's just as much a health risk burning oil heat in the house every night all winter, but that's up to you. There's also the pre-heat option if you don't want it going all night.

Okay, now that I've alerted you to the obvious, if you want to be entered in the giveaway, add your name to the comments of this post. This giveaway is open until Wednesday, November 26th, 6:00 pm PST. I'll be doing a random drawing and announcing a winner on Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 27th.

Good luck!

Related posts:
Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008
Bun warmin' bed warmers

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eco-living as fodder for ridicule

I don't mind so much when family members make fun of the choices I make in order to live a little greener and lighten my carbon footprint in person, but when I found out yesterday that my acting brother-in-law had decided to use our heritage turkey purchase as a source of material for his comedy performance last night, I was a little irritated. And I'm trying to figure out why.

As much as Colin suggests that we all wear our green on our sleeves, and make a spectacle of our green choices, there's a distinct reason why many of us hide our "alternative" choices. It's the fear of ridicule. Not everyone is open-minded and anything that goes against the status quo is definitely fodder for comedy. But why is that?

Partly because making fun of things that we don't do make us feel better about our choices. Partly because we are repulsed or don't understand other people's choices. And, partly because it helps assuage the guilt that maybe people are doing things that we all should be doing and aren't.

However, why is buying a heritage turkey humorous? The concept of writing letters to the bird being raised for eventual slaughter can be ascribed a bit of humor if done properly (and I have no doubts that it was). Yet, if buying a conventionally raised, possibly tortured turkey or even a free-range organic turkey is not at all funny, why is going just one step further considered worthy of a joke? Because it seems so extreme that someone would bother being concerned about the life of a turkey?

Maybe I'm being paranoid, but I'm wondering what else in my life was going to be ridiculed. I know there's plenty to choose from - I certainly make them public for your reading enjoyment. But mostly I feel safe because the audience is more or less accepting of new ideas.

So, if non-mainstream environmental ideas are to one day become mainstream behavior, how do we cross that barrier without losing ourselves in the process? I guess the best we can do is to wait it out until seemingly foreign ideas eventually turn into common-sense.

How much do you suffer at the hands of non-environmental friends and relatives?

Eco-Friendly Families winner

The winner of the Eco-Friendly Families book giveaway is:

Jason C from Scream to be Green.

Two guy winners in a row! It must be your manly luck, Jase, or else I've got more male readers than I realize.

Anyway, congratulations! Email your mailing info to and I'll ship it your way.

Tomorrow I'll be doing another giveaway. The fun just never ends around here!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Talking Turkey for T-Day

Eat Local for Thanksgiving 2008It's been getting around the parents at my son's school that I bought a $95 turkey for Thanksgiving this year. The consensus has run somewhere between general disbelieve and the statement that my turkey sure better be laying some golden eggs to justify the expense. So, let me back up and explain.

Late last spring I heard a local farmer discussing his pasture raised beef on our local NPR station. The farm, Thundering Hooves, also offers pasture-raised, heritage turkeys, but you'd better get your act together because they sell out as soon as they go on sale in July.

Who wants to think about Thanksgiving in July? Well, I for one, and it certainly appears that plenty of others do as well. So, we dutifully ordered our turkey as soon as we could and have been diligently waiting ever since. The turkeys were processed a few weeks ago and we picked ours up last weekend. We'll be roasting it rather simply since we want to be able to really taste the meat and see how it compares to the standard breeds.

How's it heritage?
This bird is a rare heirloom Unimproved Standard Bronze. Thundering Hooves keeps their own flock and so the eggs are produced and incubated on site (rather than chicks purchased from another grower). According to their website:

"... there are extremely limited numbers of breeding flock [of unimproved turkeys] left in the country. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy estimated that in 1987 there were 'less than 300 breeding hens' found in America with the possible exception of a limited number of turkeys used by hobbyists and show goers."

These birds are becoming endangered simply for the fact that turkey growers are breeding birds that have larger amounts of white meat. I'm sure you've heard of some commercially grown broad breasted birds that are so busty they can barely walk and are so far removed from nature that they don't know how to mate and must be artificially inseminated in order to breed. A more thorough examination of the issues with commercial turkeys is made in Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Out to pasture
Most commercially grown turkeys are raised in confined and cramped quarters, given little access to the outside (if at all) and are fed a limited and unnatural diet. This makes for a very low-quality life for the turkey and some argue that it results in a less flavorful and nutritional meat.

Pasture raising is a method of raising flocks that is more than just "free range", which generally means that the birds have access to a small outdoor area that they may or may not actually use. On the other hand, our pasture ranged turkey roamed freely in the fields, eating bugs, grasses, and vegetarian feed. The birds on the farm are free to roam about as they please and their roosts are periodically moved throughout the field. This is generally referred to as pasture rotation and it allows the birds access to new areas of grass and bugs for their dining enjoyment.

Eat Local for Thanksgiving
Not only was it important for us to purchase a turkey that is raised sustainably and preserves a heritage breed, but it was important for us to buy local. Each year I host an Eat Local campaign urging individuals and families to choose local foods for their Thanksgiving table. Not only does it help support local farmers, but the reduction in transportation of foods also results in lower carbon emissions, some say as much as 2.2 lbs of CO2 per plate of local foods chosen.

So, if you are interested in joining the movement to Eat Local for Thanksgiving, stop by and sign the pledge!

[Don't miss out! The book giveaway for Eco-Friendly Families is still going on until 6:00 pm tonight!]

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Giveaway: Eco-Friendly Families

Eco-Friendly FamiliesJust because the previous giveaway ended last night doesn't mean I'm going to leave you in the lurch. Fear not, frugal friends, today starts a new giveaway, one that would also make a great holiday gift.

Eco-Friendly Families, by Helen Coronato, is a guidebook for learning how to raise your kids in an environmentally friendly manner. This book is suitable for those just starting out trying to green their lives, but it also offers suggestions that are useful for the more seasoned veterans among us.

The author includes a monthly calendar of four things to do or change, loads of projects for kids and different ways to reuse or repurpose items. She also discusses different areas of your home that could stand some improvement, touches on environmental eating choices and wraps it all up with a list of links for finding out more information.

This would make a great gift for new parents or for those who need a little, ahem, nudge in reducing their impact on the Earth.

If you want to be entered in this book giveaway, add your name to the comments of this post. This giveaway is open until Friday, November 21st, 6:00 pm PST. I'll be doing a random drawing and announcing a winner on Saturday, November 22nd.

Related books:
The Green Parent: A Kid-Friendly Guide to Environmentally-Friendly Living
EcoKids: Raising Children Who Care for the Earth
Living Simply with Children: A Voluntary Simplicity Guide for Moms, Dads, and Kids Who Want to Reclaim the Bliss of Childhood and the Joy of Parenting
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fresh Food from Small Spaces book winner

The winner of the Fresh Food from Small Spaces giveaway is that lucky bastard, Rob Johnson, from Rob's World.

Congratulations! Email your contact info to Unless you are afraid I'll stalk you or something in which case we can meet to do the book handover in a public area with witnesses around.

Tomorrow I'll be doing another giveaway, so stay tuned!

The future of fur

With all the animal rights activists protesting the selling of fur, the fashion industry waxing and waning on the subject and certain celebrities getting floured over their choice in outerwear, is there a future for fur?

I know you guys have pretty strong opinions about these sorts of things and I wanted to pose a question to you: Is there ever a good time and place for wearing fur in modern times? So, here's some food for thought...

What about re-purposed or resold furs that were raised and "harvested" years or even a lifetime ago? Is that okay to wear? What about people who sustainably and legally hunt animals for meat and use the fur for fashion purposes? I'm hard pressed to think of why someone would wear a deer or elk fur coat, but you never know - maybe it's really soft.

Perhaps a better example is for those people who raise rabbits for meat and use or sell the fur pelts for making coats. Is that okay? I would argue that since you are using the whole animal and creating less waste it's better than incinerating the "waste" or throwing it to the landfill. And, one could argue, it's even more respectful to the animal.

But, what message does this send out? Some fur is okay and some isn't? How is a consumer able to discern which one is "right" and which is "wrong"? And how is an animal rights activist able to tell who they should be throwing fake blood on?

There are also issues to be considered with alternatives to fur outerwear. Fake fur generally uses a plastic or acrylic material and synthetic coats (nylon, Gortex, etc.) all most likely use a high amount of energy and water in their processing and creation. Leather and wool coats just affect a whole different group of animals. Can it be considered lower impact to raise and harvest animals for both meat and fur rather than promoting an industry of synthetics?

Does there need to be the fur equivalent of the Forest Stewardship Council for furriers to create sustainable products? Or should it just be across the board "no fur" even though there are some good reasons for using pelts from animals used for other purposes? So, instead of eschewing fur, should it be promoted as a more sustainable product than some of the alternatives?

Finally, is it hypocritical to be against fur but turn a blind eye to leather or should both be pursued equally or both let well enough alone?

Phew! That's a whole lot of questions. What do you think?

Related posts:
Down the rabbit hole
Save a horse, eat a cowboy
The other white meat

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Eco-dishwashing detergent that actually works

Catch the Wave!I know I said I'd have a book discussion post for you, but I didn't finish reading the chapters I was supposed to post about so it will have to wait. I should know better.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you all about some magical eco dishwashing detergent that doesn't suck ass. Now, I say this with impunity because we've tried a number of them and every single time we've been horribly disappointed. Not only do you get your environmental hopes up, but then you end up having to wash the dishes twice once you realize that the crappy eco dishwashing detergent you were trying out left your dishes all greasy, powdery or just plain dirty.

Let me first point out that we have a cheapo dishwasher. When we bought this house 2 years ago the previous owners just slapped in a "new" dishwasher. I'm figuring they bought the cheapest thing they could find. It doesn't exactly clean very well and you have to do a bit o' scrubbing of the dishes before you run the thing. Even still you need to apply a dollop of Cascade or Electrasol to actually get the dishes clean.

Now, I'm sure that the other eco dishwashing detergents out there work fine if you have one of those fancy Swedish dishwashers that will also clean the floors while it's at it, but for the rest of us with a less than effective dishwasher, they just don't work (this probably includes most apartment dishwashers).

We've been using the newly updated Wave Gel Dishwashing Detergent HP from Earth Friendly Products for a few weeks now. I have to say that, hands down, it is every bit as effective at washing the dishes in our overstuffed dishwasher than any of the more commercial detergents. Apparently, they have (Earth Friendly Products) some independent lab report on their site comparing this Wave stuff to Cascade and I'd have to agree.

My only complaint is with the consistency. You have to shake it up each time you use it as it tends to separate. If you don't, it seems to appear similar to a, how shall I say this, particular human male body effluent. Albeit with a delightful lavender scent. Probably not a good marketing hook, however.

How earth friendly is this Earth Friendly Products' product? From the manufacturer: "Wave is phosphates free, chlorine free, caustic free. It works beautifully on your dishes, silverware, and glasses. Wave is neutral ph, all plant based and totally biodegradable."

So, if you have been heartily searching for an environmentally friendly dishwashing detergent that works under most circumstances, I suggest you give this product a try.

[Don't miss out! The book giveaway for Fresh Food in Small Spaces is still going on until Wednesday...]

Related posts:
The deal with dishwashers
Green clean

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Giveaway: Fresh Food from Small Spaces

Fresh Food from Small SpacesTis the season for giving thanks and for, well, giving. So, from now until Christmas, I'll be reviewing and giving away 8 books and a bunch of stuff for the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge. This means that I'll be holding giveaways at least once and sometimes twice a week.

Today's giveaway is for the fantastic book, Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener's Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting.

If you don't live on a farm, have any acreage or, heck, even a backyard, this book will show you how to maximize growing your own food even if you only have a spare closet and a windowsill to work with. Of course, if you have a backyard there's a lot more you can do, but even if you have a shared space (condo or apartment), it's possible to squeeze in chickens and beekeeping if you pull a few strings.

In addition to teaching you the basics of gardening and composting, this book tells you which fruit trees work well in containers, how to sprout grains, beans, wheatgrass and sprouts in your kitchen, and how to cultivate mushrooms. There's also a chapter on making your own yogurt (the author even mentions my Euro Cuisine yogurt maker) and other fermented foods.

Finally, this book wraps it up with a section on how to survive during resource shortages that takes a well balanced look at a possible future living with less without going overboard. He even offers some tips on how to help build a sustainable future.

So, if you are short on space but long on dreams of self-sufficiency, this book is an excellent starting point to get you going. The only draw-back is that it will get you so excited to start some of these projects, you'll wish it weren't November.

If you want to be entered in this book giveaway, add your name to the comments of this post. This giveaway is open until Wednesday, November 19th, 6:00 pm PST. I'll be doing a random drawing and announcing a winner on Thursday, November 20th.

Related books:
All New Square Foot Gardening
Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long
Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times