Book Review: Children's Books

>> Saturday, February 28, 2009

Many moons ago, I wrote a post about arming my children against consumerism. I mentioned that my library had ordered a book called The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Commercials and that I would let you know how it was once I got it. Well, if you haven't figured it out by now, I'm pretty slow about getting things done. I got the book from the library two months ago, and I'm finally getting around to reviewing it. But to make up for my tardiness, I've included two bonus reviews. A three for one!

The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Commercials
by Jan and Mike Berenstain

Synopsis: Every time Brother and Sister Bear watch TV, they start asking Mama Bear for the newest and latest candy and toys. They're excited when she indulges them...until another commercial convinces them they need the next new thing. The unused toys are piling up, there are boxes of super sugary cereal going uneaten, and Mama Bear decides to come up with a plan to teach her cubs they can't believe everything they see on a commercial.

My opinion: I laughed as I read this book because Mama Bear could have been quoting me. Her explanation for the trouble with commercials was almost word for word the same thing I said to First Son. But having Mama Bear say it must be more effective than when I do. Maybe it's coincidence, but First Son hasn't asked for Motts applesauce since we read this book.

Too May Toys
by David Shannon

Synopsis: Spencer has too many toys. They are taking over the house: every step his mother and father take, they land on a toy. Finally, Spencer's mother decides it's time to give some of the toys away. Spencer argues and negotiates and says he can't bear to part with anything, but eventually he and his mother fill up a box of toys to give away. But when his mother comes to get the box after a tea break, she discovers the toys all over the floor again. Spencer explains, "Mom, we can't give away this box. It's the best toy ever!"

My Opinion: I love, love, love this book because it is so true. The toys my kids play with the most: boxes, paper and crayons, an old keyboard and anything they can bang on (they're budding artists and rock stars).

Miss Rumphius
by Barbara Cooney

Synopsis: As a child, Miss Rumphius decides that when she grows up, she will travel around the world and then find a place to live beside the sea. Her grandfather tells her those are worthy goals, but she must also find a way to make the world more beautiful. Miss Rumphius does exactly as she planned: she travels to exotic lands and then when she is old, she settles in a cabin by the sea. But how can she make the world more beautiful? Miss Rumphius decides to fill her pockets with lupine seeds, and everywhere she walks, she tosses the seeds. The next spring, lupines grow all over the town.

My Opinion: I love the message of this classic book, though I'm not sure about Miss Rumphius' method for making the world more beautiful. Planting flowers is all well and good, but maybe she could have become a motivational speaker or an activist to save the oceans or something that would really make the world more beautiful. Either way, this is a lovely and fun book to read to your kids.


I Need...Deodorant

>> Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An actual conversation between me and my husband a couple weeks ago:

Me: Did you try that Crystal deodorant today?
Hubby: Yes, did you?
Me: Yes. Is it working for you?
Hubby: I don't know. I haven't smelled myself. Is it working for you?
Me: I haven't smelled myself either. I guess we'll have to smell each other later.

Ah, the joys of testing out new deodorants!

I think we can all admit that deodorants are a very useful product. Not stinking is a pretty nice thing. So why do they put so many bad things in something so good?

Deodorants/antiperspirants contain three toxic chemicals from the Dirty Dozen, as well as a couple other suspicious ingredients:

  1. Parabens: Widely used preservatives, parabens mimic estrogen in the body and may increase the risk for certain types of cancer.
  2. Talc: This is that ingredient that used to be in baby powder that we're now told at the hospital, "Do not use!" Talc is a known carcinogen.
  3. Propylene Glycol: Besides being a neurotoxin and a skin irritant, propylene glycol "alters skin structure, allowing other chemicals to penetrate deep into the skin increasing the amount of chemicals that reach the bloodstream," according to the Dirty Dozen.
  4. Aluminum compounds: The ingredient that keeps you from perspiring, aluminun compounds have been linked to Alzheimer's disease, and some scientists have found correlations between anti-perspirant use and breast cancer.
  5. Triclosan: Classified as a pesticide by the FDA, this is that "antibacterial" ingredient that they're putting in everything these days.
Using deodorant also generates a lot of non-recyclable plastic waste.

So what's your average sweaty girl (or guy) to do?

  • Switch from an anti-perspirant to a deodorant. Sweating might not be the most comfortable thing, but is your desire to stay dry worth increasing your risk for Alzheimer's or breast cancer? Logically, it just doesn't sound very safe to plug up our pores with aluminum.
  • Prevent sweating the natural way by wearing light-colored clothing that fits loosely, choosing cotton over synthetic fabrics, and drinking lots of cold water.
  • Check Skin Deep for a less toxic deodorant. Beth over at Smart Family tips has created an awesome list of products that rate low on Skin Deep and can be found at most drugstores, Target, or Kroger.
  • Look for a solid deodorant bar that is packaged without a container, such as these from Lush.
  • Try a deodorant crystal like this. These all natural mineral salt stones neutralize odors, allowing your body to sweat without stinking.
  • Dust your pits with baking soda. This is probably the most popular "all-natural" deodorant. You can either use a cotton ball or powder puff to apply it to your fresh-out-of-the-shower armpits, or mix the baking soda with a little water to make it more like a paste.
  • Try out other all-natural deodorant recipes, such as these from

Tips for the Budget Conscious
Using baking soda is probably your best bet, but since I've never used baking soda as a deodorant for longer than a week, I'm not sure how long a box of baking soda lasts in this situation. Any users want to provide some input?

The deodorant crystal is only $7 at Whole Foods and should last a year. If you don't have a Whole Foods near you, deodorant crystals are generally available at health food stores.

Where I'm At
I've been using the deodorant crystal, and it's working great so far. But I'm not a very sweaty person. In fact, I barely sweat at all. So it's hard to make a judgment call until summer when I actually break a sweat. I will say though that I tried baking soda a couple years ago in the summer, and didn't like it at all. It mostly worked fine, but I was so paranoid about whether or not it was working that I never felt comfortable. And there were definitely one or two days that I started to smell a little.

My husband also tested out the crystal, and it worked okay for him. But as I've mentioned, he's a super sweaty man and it's winter. I don't think the crystal will hold up to a North Carolina summer, especially when he's biking to work.


Spotlight on Raleigh: Cool Cities

>> Sunday, February 22, 2009

It's probably been about a month now since I attended the Cool Cities Workshop that I mentioned as one of my goals in my January Round-Up. I always have lofty intentions for writing on this blog, and then other things end up taking priority (like spending time with my husband who turned 30 this weekend). So here is a better-late-than-never description of the Cool Cities program for all you Raleigh-ans out there. (Or really for anyone - it's a nationwide program.)

Cool Cities was started by the Sierra Club in 2005 in conjunction with the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement that was developed that same year. Communities who join the Cool Cities program commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions 7% from 1990 levels by 2012. So far, 20 North Carolina cities have joined the program, including Raleigh.

The idea behind the program is that local groups will work with their city government to establish an environmental advisory council and take actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including the steps I've listed at the bottom of this post (you can skim them -they're pretty wordy)

The meeting I attended focused on Action #5: Make energy efficiency a priority through building code improvements, retrofitting city facilities with energy efficient lighting, and urging employees to conserve energy and save money. I learned all sorts of fascinating and useful things (including the word "retrofit"). In fact, I learned so much that energy efficiency is going to have to be a topic for another post.

What I wanted to talk about here is how Raleigh's doing on the Cool Cities program, and how you can help.

Based on my general observations comparing Raleigh to Chapel Hill/Carrboro, I assumed that Raleigh was a pretty sucky member of Cool Cities. Turns out, Raleigh's not so bad, though there's much room for improvement.

The biggest action that Raleigh has taken is partnering with a company called Cree to switch as much of the city's lighting as possible to LEDs. According to Cree, "switching to LED-based lighting can save 40 to 70 percent of the electricity a city uses for certain lighting applications such as parking garage, parking lot, outdoor public area, street and portable lighting." When I first read that Raleigh was focusing their Cool Cities action on lighting, I thought, "Lighting, shmighting. Come on, Raleigh. You can do better than that." But actually, 22% of all energy in the U.S. goes toward lighting, so it's a big deal.

Raleigh's showiest example of LED lighting is the amazing Cree Shimmer Wall on the side of the Raleigh Convention Center. It is backlit by 56 LED fixtures.

Raleigh's 2030 Comprehesive Plan also includes a number of things in line with the Cool Cities program, including requiring all new buildings to be built to LEED standards and improving public transportation. The big thing is just making sure Raleigh sticks to the plan. If you're interested in helping Raleigh grow sustainably, you can:

  • Sign the petition supporting improved transit in the Triangle.
  • Join the Political Committee of the local Sierra Club to lobby area government officials on relevant issues.
  • Join the Conservation Committee of the local Sierra Club to get involved in conservation activism.
You do not have to be a member of the Sierra Club to get involved in any of their committees.

And last of all, here are the actions included in the Cool Cities program:
  1. Inventory global warming emissions in City operations and in the community, set reduction targets, and create an action plan.
  2. Adopt and enforce land-use policies that reduce sprawl, preserve open space, and create compact, walkable urban communities.
  3. Promote transportation options such as bicycle trails, commute trip reduction programs, incentives for car pooling, and public transit.
  4. Increase the use of clean, alternative energy by, for example, investing in "green tags," advocating for the development of renewable enrgy resources, recovering landfill methane for energy production, and supporting the use of waste to energy technology.
  5. Make energy efficiency a priority through building code improvements, retrofitting city facilities with energy efficient lighting, and urging employees to conserve energy and save money.
  6. Purchase only Energy Star equipment and appliances for City use.
  7. Increase the average fuel efficiency of municipal fleet vehicles; reduce the number of vehicles; launch an employee education program including the anti-idling messages; convert diesel vehicles to bio-diesel.
  8. Evaluate opportunities to increase pump efficiency in water and wastewater systems; recover wastewater treatment methane for energy production.
  9. Maintain healthy urban forests; promote tree planting to increase shading and to absorb CO2.
  10. Help educate the public, schools, other jurisdictions, professional associations, business and industry about reducing global warming pollution.


Do It Yourself, But Do What You Enjoy

>> Friday, February 20, 2009

There's the implication on many eco-blogs that "do it yourself" and "homemade" is the answer to all environmental conundrums. They talk about do it yourself projects with a sense of deep satisfaction, as if learning to make your own cheese will lead to life contentment.

I enjoy do it yourself projects. I really, really do. I like the feeling of independence and pride I get from making my own, and I like the savings. But there are actually very few things I do myself. And there are many things that I could do myself, but I choose not to.

For example:

  • The other day I made my own tortillas. I enjoyed it, like I always enjoy cooking from scratch. But will I do it on a regular basis? Uh, uh. Not a chance. Even though buying tortillas means excess plastic waste. Even though there are probably some suspect ingredients in my preferred brand of tortillas. The thing is, we eat a lot of burritos around here because they are so exceptionally convenient. I can get burritos on the table in ten minutes if I use store bought tortillas. I'm already making my own bread, muffins, pitas, and granola. Homemade tortillas just don't fit into my schedule.
  • I buy Charlie's Soap laundry detergent powder and Seventh Generation dishwasher powder. In theory, I could make my own, but I choose not to. When I've crunched the numbers, the savings have been minimal, and both of those products work well for me. Plus, I'm supporting two companies whose values I appreciate, and I'm sending a message to the economic market that I want to see more companies and products like Charlie's Soap and Seventh Generation.
  • I would like to learn some basic carpentry skills, but I have absolutely no interest in learning plumbing or electrical wiring. Even if it meant I would save money that I could then spend on locally made organic cotton jeans, those are just not skills that I want to acquire.
  • The Mitchum anti-perspirant that my super-sweaty husband prefers does not rate too bad on Skin Deep. I would prefer that he use a cheap homemade version, or even a brand made by a company I like. But he sweats a lot, and Mitchum keeps him from stinking. Plus, I can get it at Kroger, so it's convenient.
When Clorox first came out with their GreenWorks line of cleaners, I was annoyed that people would choose to support Clorox rather than spend the two minutes it takes to mix up some baking soda, borax, and water. But since then, I've come to realize that I can't expect everyone to make the exact same choices I do.

The average person is not going to do most things themselves. The average person is not going to start shopping at Whole Foods or another health foods store. And the average person is not going to plop down more money for a Seventh Generation product when they can buy Clorox GreenWorks at their local Walmart.

This is not a race to see who can singlehandedly save the planet through their self-sufficiency. This is not even a race to see who can be the most green. We're all in this together, and unless we all make it to the other side, none of us win.

So my point is, be as green as you possibly can, but do it your way. Be conscious about your choices, but be green in a way that makes you happy. Do it yourself, but do what you enjoy.


Budget Input and Advice

>> Wednesday, February 18, 2009

This is another one of those posts where I'm looking for some input. Please? Pretty please?

I started this blog about six months ago with the primary goal of seeing if I could "be a responsible consumer and still stay within my budget." The secondary goal, if I succeeded with the first, was to disprove the myth, "I can't afford to go green." I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job with my primary goal. There have been some ups and downs, and there are still many ways I could be "greener," but overall I feel like I've proved to myself that I can go green on my budget.

But see, that's the problem, as far as the second goal goes. It's my budget, and since many people feel uncomfortable talking specifics about their spending habits, I don't have a clue how it compares to anyone else.

Do people come to my blog and say, "Well of course she can go green. Her food budget is twice as much as ours. And why on earth is she spending so much on gas?"

If you don't feel comfortable giving specific numbers on the Internet, that's totally understandable, but can you all give me a clue how my budget compares to your family's?
And if you spend less than me in any category, I welcome any and all advice! Please, please share!

So for comparison's sake, here's about how much I've been spending on my family of two adults and three kids under five:

  • Grocery (this includes anything you can get at a grocery store, so food, health, beauty, cleaning, etc): $600-700
  • Transportation: (gas and parking) $150-250
  • Electricity: $75-100
  • Water/Sewer: $20
  • Entertainment/miscellaneous (movies, eating out, magazine subscriptions, cold medicine, home improvement products, etc, etc, etc): There's been some big fluctuation here. I have it budgeted at $300, but I think I'm being optimistic.
  • Clothing: varies widely, but on average it's been about $50 a month
  • Total = $1195-$1420
I should add that we pay for cable television, and we have subscriptions to Netflix and eMusic. I don't include these things in the entertainment section, though they obviously are, because they are fixed expenses and wouldn't fluctuate based on my green spending.


February Round-Up

>> Tuesday, February 17, 2009

We did pretty well this month, but there have been some consistent differences in each category between what I'm spending and what I've budgeted. I need to adjust the categories of my budget to better reflect our spending, but I'm waiting for our house to sell (fingers crossed, sometime next month).

Monthly Spending (budgeted amount in parentheses)

  • Groceries: $686.14 ($500)
  • Transportation: $134.93 ($300)
  • Electricity: $96.14 ($150)
  • Water/Sewer: $20.00 ($50)
  • Entertainment/Miscellaneous: $298.03 ($300)
  • Clothes: $0 (no set budget)
  • TOTAL: $1235.24 ($1,300)

Trash Report: 5 bags of trash (13 gallon bags); 1 bag each of metal, plastic, glass, and paper (reusable bags about the size of a paper grocery bag)

Changes I Made This Month:

Goals for Next Month:
  • Deodorant, shampoo, and conditioner
  • Check out Durham SEEDS
  • Attend more Sierra Club meetings


Book Review: The Green Collar Economy

>> Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems
by Van Jones

Rating: *****

Van Jones proposes that establishing a strong green collar economy is the solution for both the climate change crisis and the economic crisis. His subject is timely as the economy continues to stagnate, prices continue to rise, and the effects of climate change become more and more evident. Ironically, Jones notes in his afterword that when he first began writing the book, "very few people had heard the term 'green collar job'," but by the time the book was published, it was a political buzzword.

I've been seeing this book mentioned all over the Internet, and at first I thought, "That is not a book that would interest me." I figured it would be a heavy read full of economic jargon (read: boring). I don't know why I had that impression because I was completely wrong. Just shy of 200 pages, this book is brisk and pleasant, but at the same time, thought-provoking and inspirational.

Jones proposes that to revive the collapsing economy, the government should establish a Green New Deal by building up the green collar jobs sector in energy, food, waste, water, and transportation. He details how investment in each category would lead to thousands of jobs in technology and labor, and as an added benefit, we would save the planet. Some examples:

  • A group in Milwaukee has come up with a way "to retrofit practically every building in the city to save money and put lots of people to work...Property owners or renters (with landlords' cooperation) receive an audit listing all conservation measures that can be paid for out of energy savings in a given period. They repay the cost of the measures via their utility bill."
  • "The first turbine on Native lands was installed in early 2003 on the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota. It produces enough clean electricity to power over two hundred homes...Rosebud alone aims to produce 50 megawatts by 2010."
  • LaDonna Redmond turned her backyard in Chicago into an urban farm. Neighbors got involved, "one thing led to another, and today the Redmonds' organization, the Institute for Community Resource Development, secures empty lots from the city, oversees a whole network of lots-turned gardens, manages a farmers market, provides technical support and nutritional education, and is planning the opening of a retail store."
  • "A nonprofit in Baltimore called Second Chance launched its architectural salvage and deconstruction services in 2003. Over the next four years, the company grew quickly, filling a 120,000-square foot warehouse space and engaging more than 50 employeese - three deconstruction crews and a retail store crew."
The most inspiring chapter for me was Jones' analysis of the division between the environmental movement and the social justice movement. He asserts that the two sides need to come together, creating a powerful forward-looking group that would be able to solve both environmental and social problems. Environmentalists would benefit from the grassroots growth, and workers in social justice would benefit from the establishment of green jobs. He used the term "environmental justice activists," which is not a term I've heard before but perfectly describes the type of activist-thinking that I'm drawn to.

My only criticism of this book is that it focused so much on how the government (rather than the average joe) can build up the green jobs sector, boost the economy, and solve the climate crisis. Jones' ideas would make a great handbook for President Obama, Governor Bev Perdue, or Mayor Meeker, but they are less useful for the average person, like me, for example. I kept waiting for him to say, "If you want to see this kind of change in your area, you should..." Write letters to my congressman? Lobby my mayor? Establish my own non-profit? Go door to door handing out copies of The Green Collar Economy? Or just keep doing what I've been doing...

Overall, this was a great book, and I strongly recommend that you read it. And then maybe mail a copy to your mayor.

Next up on my reading list...Your Money or Your Life


I Need...A Happy Period

>> Friday, February 13, 2009

My husband mentioned to me today about a website where you can track days that your female friends, boss, coworkers, etc. are acting grumpy, and it uses that info to try and figure out their "time of the month." I responded, "I need to use that on myself! I can never remember when my time of the month is coming."

Considering I experience this lovely part of being a girl every single month, this change has been a long time coming. I swear I've been planning to switch to something more "natural" ever since I started cloth diapering because it's kind of hypocritical to put cloth on my baby and not on myself, but, well, uh, I'm a procrastinator...and, um, eeeewww!

Have you ever wondered why people are always arguing about cloth versus disposable diapers, but no one ever talks about cloth versus disposable pads. According to Grist, "the average woman will menstruate for about four decades and use an estimated 16,800 sanitary pads or tampons in the process -- that's 250 to 300 pounds of waste." Over forty years, that would look a little something like this:

(Thanks to The Keeper for that great visual image.)

Besides the disposable factor, most feminine products are made of pesticide-drenched cotton and chlorine-bleached rayon, and tampons can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome.

So if you desire a healthier, greener menstrual period, you basically have four options:

Biodegradable Pads

  • The Good: If you're used to pads, these are exactly the same as conventional pads except that they don't contain chlorine bleach. Natracare pads are also rayon free.
  • The Bad: Although less environmentally damaging, these pads don't even make a dent in the feminine product waste. They are also costly.

Organic Cotton Tampons
  • The Good: Like the biodegradable pads option, these tampons are identical to conventional tampons so you can seamlessly transition to this more earth-friendly option.
  • The Bad: Again, waste is still an issue, and they cost more.

Cloth Pads
  • The Good: These are washable, affordable, and last a long time.
  • The Bad: Because these have to be washed, the same arguments could be made here as are made against cloth diapers. Also, any cloth diaper user could tell you that managing cloth is not the easiest thing if you're spending a long time away from home. Plus there's the "eeewww" factor of wearing a bloody pad.

Menstrual Cup
  • The Good: These cost about $25-35 and last up to ten years, making them the most affordable with the least amount of waste. They are similar to tampons, but you can wear them up to 12 hours without worrying about TSS and they even hold up well during strenuous physical activity.
  • The Bad: There's still the "eeewww" factor, and not to be too graphic here, but they are much more "hands on" then inserting or removing a tampon.

Tips for the Budget Conscious

Although the cost is high upfront, a menstrual cup can last up to ten years, so you end up saving hundreds of dollars over the life of the product.

Where I'm At
For me, it seemed like a no-brainer to go with a menstrual cup, so it was really just a choice between The Keeper/Moon Cup and the Diva Cup. I ultimately picked The Keeper because it was recommended in The Tightwad Gazette and by Umbra Fisk, and also because I thought the packaging sounded better. So far, I've been very happy with it, and that's all I really want to say on a blog read by my mother and brother....


Vegetarian Recipe: Macaroni Stuffed Tomatoes

>> Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I heard a fascinating interview on NPR today with Berry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill. He recently published a book called The World Is Fat, analyzing the amazing statistic that 1.6 billion people worldwide are overweight (compared to 100 million only 50 years ago). According to Popkin, there are twice as many overweight people in the world as are underweight or starving.

Explaining the rise in obesity, he said, "It's really a confluence of very rapid changes and accessibility to cheap animal foods, to cheap edible oils, to global sweetening of our diet, particularly the way we drink has changed remarkably..and at the same time the rapid shift in technology for how we move at work, at travel to work, at home, in producing food, and at leisure."

Here's a recipe to help you reduce your meat intake:

Macaroni Stuffed Tomatoes

Stuffing one food into something else somehow makes the meal seem so much fancier, but I admit that when I usually make this meal, I just chop up the whole tomato and mix it all together. From start to finish, this dish takes 15 minutes or so to make.

COST: $1.75 per serving*

1/2 a box of macaroni
4 large tomatoes
1/4 c. olive oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. garlic
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups cooked pinto beans (or 1 can, drained and rinsed)
1/2 c. cheese
  • Cook pasta according to package directions.
  • Core the tomatoes. Scoop out the pulp and chop it up.
  • Stir oil, vinegar, herbs, cooked macaroni, and beans into the tomato pulp.
  • Stuff the tomatoes.
  • Sprinkle cheese on top.
*Costs are estimates based on prices in my area. Your costs may vary.


Clean, Green, and Fair for Everyone

>> Sunday, February 8, 2009

This post is my submission for the Green Moms Blog Carnival. The topic is "I believe...." Check out the musings of all the great Green Moms on February 9 at The Smart Mama.

Last August, Slow Food USA held a festival in San Francisco to celebrate and promote their belief in local and sustainable food. The slogan of the Slow Food movement is "good, clean, and fair food," but over and over when I read media reports describing the event, it was labeled as an elitist gathering for wealthy yuppies. Admission to the various pavilions and panels was expensive, and the many displays of high-priced artisinal foods made slow food seem out of reach for the average American, used to Walmart and McDonalds prices.

Sadly, the stereotype of the 21st century environmentalist is a white college graduate driving a Prius, shopping at Whole Foods, wearing over-priced organic cotton clothing, and reprimanding everyone for not doing the same. The stereotypical image of environmentalism from the last century was a poorly dressed, Birkenstock-wearing, treehugging hippy...but still white.

But is environmentalism really just a movement of the white and affluent, who have the time and the means to enjoy a green lifestyle while the poor and minority populations are left behind?

I don't think it has to be that way. I believe there is a green hat to fit every head, blonde or brunette, buzzcut or dreadlocks, black or white (or as First Son would say...peachy or browny.) I believe in clean, green, and fair for everyone.

But how do we make going green accessible and desirable for everyone?

Here are some possibilities:

Promote Energy Savings

The media has done a good job of selling compact flourescent lightbulbs as energy and money savers. But I recently learned that an energy efficient home retrofit can shave as much as 30% off of the average home energy bill. Why isn't the media advertising that? For low-income families who can't afford to retrofit their homes, the U.S. government has created a Weatherization Assistance Program. But let's face it. Government sponsored programs are slow and often ineffective. If we're going to have clean, green, and fair for everyone, we need more programs, perhaps sponsored by charities and non-profits, that help low-income people make their homes energy efficient.

Promote Green Jobs

If the future of America is clean, renewable energy, we are going to need lots of people to make that happen. Instead of bailing out companies that have already demonstrated bad business practices, we should be investing in future jobs: installing and maintaining solar panels, building wind farms, retrofitting houses, and rebuilding America's infrastructure. We will also need people to develop these new green technologies. Going green will provide thousands and thousands of people with a new reliable source of income.

Promote Affordable Public Transportation

As energy prices rise, it's going to be more and more important to improve public transportation options in our cities. Besides reducing energy consumption and pollution, a good transit system can stimulate economic development by revitalizing aging downtowns and urban neighborhoods. Clean and affordable public transportation will be especially beneficial to poor and minority populations, the majority of which live in cities.

Promote Health Benefits

Huge numbers of low-income people live near oil refineries, garbage dumps. waste treatment plants, polluted waterways, and other sources of pollution, leading to higher incidents of cancer, asthma, and other illnesses among the poor. A cleaner, greener world would lead to fewer health problems among the poor, as well as less money spent treating those health problems.

Promote Urban Gardening

Organizations such as Urban Farming, Food from the Hood, and The Garden Project teach urban gardening techniques to low-income people, at-risk youth, and former offenders, providing educational opportunities, skills, and food for people in need. Additionally, urban gardening can provide independence and self-sufficiency, important qualities in hard times.

I believe that if we don't show environmentalism in a way that will attract more diversity, we will fail. Our green umbrella must cover a broader group of people or we will never build up the momentum to have a long term impact. If we are going to succeed, we need to declare, "Clean, green, and fair for everyone!"


I Need...A Shopping Guide

>> Tuesday, February 3, 2009

This is a list of the shopping guides I've posted on this blog. It will be updated on a regular basis as I add more.

The idea for the "Baby Step," "Jogging Stride," and "Marathon Runner" categories came from a post by No Impact Man, and I explain the thinking behind it in more detail here.

Looking back over some of the posts here, I'm worried that a first time visitor to my blog would get the wrong impression about living a green lifestyle. I don't want people thinking that going green is really hard because you have to stress about every detail, including your razor blades. And I think it's dangerous to get caught up scrutinizing little details but end up missing the big picture. On the scale of things that matter to the environment, razor blades are pretty far down there.

As a Conscious Shopper, I personally want to be conscious about the buying choices I make in every aspect of my life, down to the smallest detail. And if you're like me, I hope you'll see this information as a handy guide to get you started.

But even if you're not interested in changing your razor blades, I hope these posts will at least set you on a path toward my overall philosophy: that we need to live more consciously, aware of how our purchases and actions affect others and the environment.

READ THIS FIRST: Conscious Shopping Tips

Grocery shopping:

A Paper Primer
Plastics Primer, Part 1: The Problems with Plastic
Plastics Primer, Part 2: Solutions (sort of)
Seven Reasons to Eat Organic



I Need...Smooth Legs

According to the EPA, every year Americans throw away 2 billion disposable razors. Considering the size of a razor, that's probably not too much landfill space, but why we're using so many disposable razors is still beyond me. I've always thought of disposable razors as a surefire way to cut up your legs.

Shaving cream is a whole other can of HCFCs. Although aerosol cans no longer contain the ozone-depleting chloroflourocarbons (CFCs), the replacements (including hydrochloroflourocarbons or HCFCs) are less harmful but still lead to depletion of the ozone layer.

I'm a girl, so my focus is on legs, but for any male readers, you can modify the information to suit your needs.


  • Switch from disposables to razors with a replaceable head. If you don't already own one, a great choice is the Preserve razor. The handles are made from recycled yogurt containers and are recyclable if you mail them back to Recycline using the mailer enclosed in their packaging.
  • Dry your razor after using. Awhile back, I read about a guy that extended the life of a disposable razor blade for an entire year just by drying it out after each use. Drying your razor keeps it from rusting.
  • Recycle your aerosol shaving cream cans. When thrown into a landfill, aerosol cans are a hazard because they are pressurized and can explode, especially if a fire breaks out. Most recycling centers take these as long as they are empty and you have removed the plastic top.
  • Go old school and try a safety razor or a straight razor. Here's a guide from Mother Earth News about how to use a straight razor for any brave souls out there.
  • Check Skin Deep for a less toxic shaving cream.
  • Use a brush and mug shaving set. My husband gave this a try using our regular glycerin soap and a brush I picked up from Whole Foods. He said it worked fine, but I have my suspicions it would work better with soap specifically designed for a brush and mug. Any experienced users have suggestions?
  • Try sugaring. Here's a sample recipe from Crunchy Chicken. All I've got to say is "Ouch!"
  • Stop shaving. For the brave non-conformists out there, this option is the most natural and least toxic. Shaving is a cultural thing anyway, and a recent one at that.

Tips for the Budget Conscious
The less you use, the more money you save. So whether you're using a plastic razor with replaceable heads or a safety razor, shaving less often and drying the blades between uses to keep it sharp is a good idea. Soap makes an affordable shaving cream, but make sure you work up a good lather or use a brush and mug to avoid painful nicks.

Where I'm At
I ran out of replaceable heads for my Venus razor about six months ago. Since then, I've been drying my razor after each use and storing it in the medicine cabinet instead of the shower. Last week, after way too much over-analyzing, I finally decided that I wasn't brave enough to try the safety razor (and I didn't want to waste money on one just to find out that I don't like it when I already have a perfectly good Venus razor). So I picked up a new pack of razor heads at the grocery store.

For scientific purposes, I shaved one leg with the old blade, and the other with the new blade, and then had my husband rub each leg to see if he could tell the difference (if only all scientific experiments were so much fun!). He guessed right but said he could barely tell. So if each blade will last at least six months, I now have a supply of blades for the next four years. Maybe then I'll consider trying the safety razor.

As far as shaving cream goes, I always used plain old soap when I was a teenager, and I only started using real shaving cream when I got to college because it made me feel more grown-up. But now I'm back to my childish ways.

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Photo by Viewoftheworld


Make Your Own: Sea Salt Scrub

>> Monday, February 2, 2009

A friend of mine gave me a jar of some fancy sea salt scrub after Third Son was born, and I looooved how silky smooth my skin felt when I used it. But I did not love the price tag (about $20 for a 16 oz. container).

The homemade version is significantly cheaper than the kind my friend gave me, but it's still not super cheap (about $5 by my calculations for 1 cup sea salt plus 1/2 cup olive oil). This is more of an indulge yourself kind of recipe, and would also make great gifts.

The basic recipe is 2 parts sea salt to 1 part oil plus 20-30 drops of essential oil. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Store in a glass jar with a lid.

To use, scoop a small amount into your hand and gently rub onto your body. Rinse in the shower or bath.

Use whatever kind of oil is best for your skin type. Some good choices are olive oil, grapeseed oil, and almond oil. The essential oils are mostly for scent, so use whatever combination you like. Lavender is a good choice because of its relaxing quality.

Here are some sample formulations:

Body Polish recipes from Eden Foods

Salt and Sugar Scrubs


Spotlight on Raleigh: Thrift Stores

>> Sunday, February 1, 2009

It's funny the things you end up missing about past places you've lived. Of course, I absolutely miss my old friends the most, but after that, the thing I miss most about Silver Spring, MD is the Unique Thrift Store and Value Village. It's two thrift stores housed in one building making it a gigantic Walmart-sized warehouse of every used item your heart could possibly desire.

Okay, maybe it's not quite that big. But I can say this...When I lived in Silver Spring, I broke the number one rule of thrift store shopping, which is "go often, weekly if possible." I made a trip out to the Unique Thrift Store and Value Village about once a month, and I was still always able to find exactly what I needed. Since we moved, we've been back up to Maryland three times, and I've made a point of popping into my favorite thrift store each trip. And I've found just what I wanted every time.

Now that I'm in Raleigh, I have to make more of an effort to thrift store shop. Luckily, I have four thrift stores within a five mile radius of my apartment, so I can make a quick stop at each one on my way home from running errands. I keep an ongoing mental list of things I need, and I can do a walk through of a thrift store looking for items on my list in five to fifteen minutes.


Location: 321 W Hargett Street

Revenue goes to..."education, training, and career services for people with disadvantages, such as welfare dependency, homelessness, and lack of education or work experience, as well as those with physical, mental and emotional disabilities."

My Humble Opinion
: Of all the thrift stores near my apartment, this has the biggest and best clothing selection. The clothes are organized by color and style, making them easy to browse, and they have a nice selection of children's clothes. There's even a dressing room. I wish though that there was a bigger shoe selection and that the boys' and girls' clothes weren't all mixed together.

Cause for Paws

Location: 1634 S. Saunders St.

Revenue goes to..."Second Chance Pet Adoption, a non-profit animal rescue organization which has served homeless animals since 1989."

My Humble Opinion: This store has a rundown, dirty feel, the clothes are more dated than at Goodwill, and I hate how they have all the kids clothes thrown into one big bin, so you literally have to dig to find anything. On the other hand, they have a large selection of non-clothes items, including large pieces of furniture, appliances, TVs, dishes and other sundry kitchen items, decorative items, and toys. They also seem to be having a sale every time I drive past, and from what I've observed, their prices are cheaper than Goodwill and the Salvation Army.

Tryon Hills Thrift Store

Location: 329 Tryon Rd.

Revenue goes to..."the N.C. Children's Promise, the fundraising arm of North Carolina Children's Hospital."

My Humble Opinion: This store is small but nicely organized and has a variety of items, including a nice selection of kids clothes and shoes. Larger furniture pieces and bikes are in the back. They have periodic sales, and on those days, they get pretty crowded. And don't forget to leave your hangers on the rack! They announce that over the intercom about every fifteen minutes. :)

Salvation Army Family Store

Location: 205 Tryon Rd

Revenue goes to..."the many outreach programs managed by the Social Ministries department."

My Humble Opinion: This store has the smallest clothing department of all the thrift stores near my home, but the biggest selection of furniture, including couches, entertaiment centers, dressers, bedframes, etc. Like the Goodwill store, the items at this store seem to be in better condition than at the other two thrift stores. I found a like-new Pack N Play there a couple weeks ago. Score!

Shopping at thrift stores is a win, win, win activity. It's good for the environment because it keeps usable items out of landfills. It's good for the pocketbook for obvious reasons. And it's good for the community because revenues from thrift stores are used to help local charities. So get out there and discover your local thrift stores!

And if you live in Raleigh and know of a thrift store like the Unique Thrift Store and Value Village I discribed above, please please please let me know!

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