Quick Tip: Fruit/Veggie Swap

>> Thursday, July 30, 2009

A few months ago, I picked up a used copy of Fresh Choices: More than 100 Easy Recipes for Pure Food When You Can't Buy 100% Organic by David Joachim and Rochelle Davis. I'm still testing it out as a cookbook. Sadly, it doesn't contain any glossy pictures of delectable dishes, one of my main qualifications of a good cookbook. But so far, the recipes we've tried have turned out very yummy.

But as a resource guide, I have returned to this book again and again. Besides the recipes, each chapter is packed with information about why you should buy organic foods and what to do if you can't.

The premise behind Fresh Choices is that the positive effects of eating a nutritious and diverse diet, especially large quantities of fruits and vegetables, far outweigh the negative effects of consuming conventionally grown foods. So if you can't afford to buy 100% organic, or if organic foods just aren't available where you live, you should focus on avoiding foods with the highest pesticide residues and instead consume more of the "cleaner" foods.

For example, the author describes a situation where he was developing a recipe for strawberry-stuffed french toast. But strawberries are on the EWG's Dirty Dozen. The solution was simple: use blueberries instead. Blueberries test much lower for pesticide residue but are comparable nutritionally.

All of the recipes in Fresh Choices use produce with lower pesticide residues and specify when you need to buy the organic version of the product. But you can accomplish the same thing in your own recipes using a couple of handy tables included in the book. When a recipe calls for an ingredient that you know is high in pesticides, swap it out for something that is nutritionally comparable. For example:

Fruit Swap

Swap peaches for canned peaches, grapefruit, tangerines, U.S. cantaloupe, or watermelon to get Vitamins A and C

Swap apples for bananas, grapefruit, kiwi, tangerines, or watermelon to get Vitamin C

Swap strawberries for blackberries, blueberries, grapefruit, kiwi, tangerines, or U.S. cantaloupe to get Vitamin C

Swap U.S. cherries for blackberries, blueberries, grapefruit, kiwi, tangerines, or U.S. cantaloupe to get Vitamin C

Swap Chilean grapes for U.S. grapes (in season from May to December) to get Vitamin C

Swap pears for bananas, grapefruit, kiwi, tangerines, or watermelon to get Vitamin C


Vegetable Swap

Swap peppers (sweet and hot) for asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, romaine lettuce, or tomatoes to get Vitamins A and C

Swap celery for broccoli, carrots, radishes or romaine lettuce to get carotenoids

Swap spinach for asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, chard, or romaine lettuce to get Vitamins A and C and folic acid


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Noteworthy Green: Shower Curtain Bags, Ice Cream Food Porn, Bye Bye Triclosan, and More...

>> Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Check out my post this week at The Green Phone Booth: It's in the Bag.

A few months ago on my personal blog, I wrote about how I was starting to use the bulk bins at Whole Foods, but I needed to get some cloth bags for them. A reader commented that she had made her own bags out of an old shower curtain. Brilliant! It just so happened that I had an old shower curtain lying around.

So the next time I visited my mom (who is a sewer extraordinaire and also happens to own a sewing machine, which I do not), I whipped up some cloth produce bags. The finished product is sheer, lightweight, completely free, and oh so adorable.
And elsewhere on the Internet:

::Michael Pollan talks with Lynne at The Splendid Table about how to lower the costs of healthy food. (Pollan may be last year's slow foodie, but he still has plenty of great things to say.)

::Gourmet.com has twelve fabulous ice cream recipes. Talk about some food porn...

::Grist discusses the controversy surrounding Chipotle, Food Inc, and tomato farmers.

::Lou Bendrick at Grist tells us why we should "flee triclosan, leaving nothing behind but a screech, a cloud of dust, and skid marks."


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Go See Food Inc.

>> Monday, July 27, 2009

Food Inc.
directed by Robert Kenner

Rating: *****

I hesitated to write a review of Food Inc. simply because there are already so many reviews out there by journalists who are far better at writing reviews than I am. But then I thought of the family and friends who read my blog and no other green blogs and who aren't likely to be found doing Google searches for "Food Inc. reviews." What if they hadn't heard what a fantastic documentary this is? And what if no one has already told them they have to go see this film?

So I sat down to write a review and found myself faced with a problem. Is there a word that means the opposite of writer's block? In trying to write this review, I found myself so full of things to say that I couldn't organize anything into a coherent thought. All of the ideas and images from the film wanted to spill out of my brain more quickly than my typing fingers could handle, but the thoughts were disjointed and unconnected, and I quickly realized that I was giving the entire film away without doing it justice.

While writing this blog for the past year, I have read and researched and learned all about our broken food system, and I would have described myself as pretty informed. Even so, I walked away from this film knowing more than I had before. Food Inc. sums up the entire argument beautifully in 94 minutes - touching on everything from fast food to CAFOs to corn to obesity to GMOs to diabetes to abused farm workers to e-coli to so much more.

Food Inc. is everything a documentary should be. I teared up within the first fifteen minutes, felt like throwing up later in the film, and left the theatre deeply moved and inspired to continue fighting for changes in our food system.

So in the end, I've decided that the best thing I can say: Go see Food Inc.

Find the nearest theatre and go see it as soon as you possibly can. And then come back here, and let's talk about it. I know you will have plenty to say.


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Profiles of the Green and Frugal: Megalos Gardens

>> Friday, July 24, 2009

A year before we moved to the Triangle, we drove down to see how we would like it. When we got home, friends asked what we thought, and the best thing I could think to say was, "There are a lot of trees."

I've lived on the eastern side of the Mississippi most of my life. I'm used to trees, and if I ever had to move West, it's one of the the things I would miss the most. But I've never seen a city with so many trees - and I'm not talking Bradford Pears. These are grand old oaks, pines, and maples growing densely together as if the houses sprouted up in the middle of the woods, rather than the trees growing up around the houses. Standing in my husband's office in one of the skyscrapers in downtown Raleigh, I look out and see a great sea of green - instead of the usual urban expanse of concrete and pavement.

The trees are one of the aspects of this area that I love the most. They are beautiful but also valuable for their shade and carbon storage. But there is a downside to having so many trees - you can't have a garden without lots of sun.


One Cary resident has found a unique solution to the problem of a shady yard. Betsy Megalos has been gardening her whole life, receiving a BS in Horticulture from Pennsylvania State University and an MS in Horticultural Science from NC State. But when she and her husband bought a house in Cary over 15 years ago, they found that their backyard was too shady for a garden. So they looked to the front yard.


Over the years, Betsy removed a few trees in her front yard, creating an open sunny place for vegetables and herbs. She also added several terraced levels since her house is situated at the top of a small hill. She has tried to keep the costs of her large garden to a minimum by using recycled or borrowed materials, such as bamboo from a friend's yard to create a trellis for beans and squash.

Betsy suggests that beginning gardeners start with an herb or container garden, which can be situated close to the house. She explains that herbs are generally hardier and therefore easier for inexperienced gardeners to grow.

Betsy has also put in a children's garden with her next-door neighbor. She loves to plant sunflowers in gardens for children, although she says that she has had a problem this year with the squirrels making off with the sunflowers. "One of the problems of gardening in the suburbs," she says. "There aren't any predators to keep the squirrels in line."



Although Betsy tries to use organic methods in her garden, she focuses more on sustainable gardening and building a balance in the natural wildlife. She explains, "Some 'organic' methods that can kill your pests also end up killing your beneficial insects." Betsy mixes flowers with her vegetables, both for aesthetics and also to encourage pollination. She also loves to see lizards lurking in her terrace walls.


Betsy teaches horticulture at Wake Tech Community College but is also available for workshops and private instruction at her home. You can learn more about Betsy and her classes by visiting her website.


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I Need...Bug Spray

>> Thursday, July 23, 2009

It's a typical summer evening. You've settled into your usual spot on the porch swing, swaying gently in rhythm to the chirping of the crickets. The kids are laughing as they chase fireflies across the lawn, and a cool breeze carries the charcoal-laced scent of your neighbor's barbecue into your yard. The evening is perfect.

Except - swat! - for those dang - slap! - mosquitoes!!!

At the first sighting of those pesky insects, you probably reached for the bug spray. But if you have children, you might want to pause and reconsider.

The main questionable ingredient in commercial insect repellents is DEET, a pesticide that has been associated with headaches, insomnia, disorientation, and mood swings. As with any toxic chemical, the risk of side effects increases in children and with overuse. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics states that DEET is safe to use in children over two months old, you should still take proper precautions when using bug spray. Plus, there are enough alternative options that you might decide to avoid DEET completely.


BABY STEPS

  • Use clothing as a barrier. If you know you're going to be in an area where ticks and other pesky insects are going to be a problem, wear a hat and long pants, and tuck your pants into your socks. There also seems to be some evidence that mosquitoes are more attracted to darker clothing.
  • Do the daily tick check - especially if you've been playing in a grassy or wooded area or have pets.
  • Avoid places and times when bugs are worst. Ticks hang out in grass, trees, and shrubs. Mosquitoes like stagnant water and are most prevalent at dusk. The peak season for blackflies is spring and early summer.
  • Avoid applying bug spray to your children's hands since they are very likely to put their hands in their mouths. Also avoid applying DEET around food.
JOGGING STRIDE
  • Choose a product that contains a lower percentage of DEET. According to Healthy Child, Healthy World, concentrations below 10 percent are best for children.
  • Avoid applying DEET more than once a day and apply sparingly. Reapplying too frequently can lead to overexposure. Also consider using a lotion instead of a spray to avoid inhaling the repellent.
  • Try a DEET-free insect repellent. These alternative products generally rely on essential oils to repel pests and can be found at natural foods stores. The downside seems to be that they don't last as long, but persistent reapplication may be worth the trouble if it means avoiding a toxic chemical.
  • Light a citronella candle. Citronella, which is the essential oil of lemon balm, has been proven to repel mosquitoes.
MARATHON RUNNER
  • Make your own insect repellent with this recipe from Care2 using essential oils and vegetable oil. The most common essential oil to repel mosquitoes is citronella (lemon balm). My mom grows lemon balm in her herb garden and has even experimented with rubbing the leaves directly onto her skin. The jury's out on whether or not this works.
  • Use a few drops of a repellent essential oil in the rinse water of your laundry.
  • Put a drop of a repellent essential oil once a week on your pets' collars. More than that can irritate your pets.
  • Chose plants for your yard that have bug repellent properties such as lemon balm and lavendar.

Tips for the Budget-Conscious

If you're looking for a more natural insect repellent, making your own is probably the cheapest strategy. If you choose to use a product containing DEET for budget reasons, be sure to use proper precautions: use sparingly, avoid applying on hands, avoid cuts and open wounds, and keep away from food.


Where I'm At

I've been buying a product from Whole Foods called Buzz Away. It works fine (and I like that it comes in a metal container rather than plastic), but it has to be reapplied every two hours or so. I've thought about trying to make my own, but so far, laziness has won the battle with frugality.

Photo by tanakawho


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Noteworthy Green: Hobbit Homes, The People's Portable Garden, Big Box Mart, and More...

>> Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Check out my post this week on the Green Phone Booth: Home Sweet Hobbit Home.

The house is way out in the country, set midway up a large wooded hill. As you pull into the drive, you might not realize that it's a hobbit house. With it's brick facade and overhanging eaves, it looks almost like any other house.

But as you pull up a little closer, you might realize that the roof doesn't peak the way most roofs do. In fact, it curves a little bit. And there are plants growing on top. Read more...

And elsewhere on the Internet:


::Grist explains why a gust of wind or a negligent crop duster is really bad news for an organic farmer.

::According to Simply Green, you can donate all of your clothes to charity (not just those you think can be sold) because textile recyclers buy the unwearable clothing. I don't think this is true for all thrift stores, but at least for Goodwill.

::The Simple Dollar has a nice article about aligning your frugality with your values.

::The Utne Reader offers one city's solution to unsightly undeveloped land and a desire for more community garden space: The People's Portable Garden.

::JibJab has the funniest cartoon that explains perfectly why I avoid shopping at Walmart.


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July Round-Up

>> Sunday, July 19, 2009

This month is sort of transitional because I'm working on a new budget but haven't finalized it yet. Now that we've sold our house, money isn't quite so tight, so I've upped the miscellaneous spending (we always went over in that category anyway). Plus, our new house is within walking distance of most things we need, so presumably we'll need less for transportation. And I changed the grocery amount to reflect our green grocery spending.

I haven't quite figured out how much to budget for electricity/gas and water since we still haven't received a full month's bill for either of those and we're still adjusting to the new house. I should have the new official budget by next month.

Transportation is high this month because we took a trip to Kentucky/Tennessee to see family. We have another long trip coming up later this month. I didn't realize how much we travel until I started this blog!

Monthly Spending (budgeted amount in parentheses)

  • Groceries: $644.73 ($650)
  • Transportation: $260.47 ($150)
  • Energy: $59.10 ($150)
  • Water/Sewer: $16.96 ($50)
  • Entertainment/Miscellaneous: $322.38 ($400)
  • Clothes: $56.95 (no set budget)
  • TOTAL: $1,360.59 ($1,400)

Trash Report: 6 bags of trash (13 gallon bags); 1 recycling bin with plastic, metal, and glass; 1 paper grocery sack of paper


Changes I Made This Month:
  • In some areas, I've had to start all over again because of the move. I just barely got all 21 60-watt incandescent bulbs switched to CFLs. And the former resident of our house sure gets a lot of catalogs that I now have to cancel!

Goals for Next Month:
  • Time to address my water use.
  • Look for less toxic bug spray and sunscreen.


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>> Friday, July 17, 2009

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Spotlight on Raleigh: Recycling Facilities

My husband and I have moved five times in the seven years of our marriage. Usually, there comes a point in the moving process where I shout, "To heck with this!" and start throwing away anything in sight. This time, though, I am happy to say that I resisted temptation and did my best to dispose of things responsibly.

And that gave me a chance to get to know two of Raleigh's recycling drop off locations:


Swap Shop

Location: 900 N. New Hope Road in Raleigh

Description: The Swap Shop is located at the Yard Waste Center. It's a couple of shacks off to the side where you can drop off working, usable goods and take anything that was left there by someone else. Everything is free. Visit the City of Raleigh's website to find out what's acceptable to leave at the Swap Shop.

My Experience: I found some great treasures at the Swap Shop: an old but functioning camera that I gave to my delighted First Son and a couple sets of headphones, also donated to the boys. I left behind some mismatched dishes sets and some baby clothes, and I hope they've found a good home.

The only disadvantage of the Swap Shop is that it's kind of out of the way for most Raleigh residents. But if you check in anytime you have to take a load out to the yard waste center, you could get some awesome finds.


Multi Material Recycling Facilities


Locations: 9029 Deponie Drive in Raleigh and 6130 Old Smithfield Road in Apex

Description: These are the places to take any recyclable materials that aren't accepted in your green bin. In fact, you might be surprised at all the things that can be taken to the multi material recycling facilities. It's really awesome, so I hope they're recycling responsibly.

My Experience: I visited the North Wake Multi-Material Recycling Facility since it was the closest to me. It was a little confusing to figure out where to put things, but the workers were friendly and helpful. I left a broken CD player, a broken box fan, and a few other broken items that I can't remember now. Third Son went on a destruction spree right before we moved. :(


If you hadn't heard of these facilities before, I hope you'll take advantage of them in the future!

Photo from the City of Raleigh's webpage


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Seasonal Recipes for the Summer

>> Thursday, July 16, 2009

More seasonal recipes to help you eat locally and live frugally!

What's in season in July/August?

To find out what's in season in your area, you can google "produce availability" and the name of your state, or choose your state on PickYourOwn.org. The latter has to be the worst designed and yet most valuable website I've seen. Anything you want to know about pick-your-own farms and preserving foods can be found there.

If you live in North Carolina, you will likely see the following fruits and vegetables at the farmer's market this month: green beans, butter beans, blackberries, blueberries, cabbage, cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, grapes, leafy greens, okra, peaches, peppers, potatoes, raspberries, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes, and watermelon.

Summer Seasonal Recipes

I decided this time around to provide some of my favorite "universal" recipes - that is, generic recipes that I can alter easily to fit what's available. I've found that using universal recipes has been the best strategy for my family to eat seasonally - meal planning is simplified, yet it still feels like our meals our diverse and interesting.

First off, a muffin recipe. We're still in the midst of berry season, so this is a good recipe to have on hand to carry you through the summer. I experiment regularly with the ingredients in this recipe, so my notes are at the end.

Berry Muffins
(slightly modified from The Ultimate Muffin Book)


MAKES 12
COST: $0.56 per muffin*

1 3/4 cups plus 1 Tbsp flour, divided
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 pint berries
1 large egg, at room temperature
3/4 c. buttermilk
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease the muffin tins.
  • Whisk 1 3/4 cups of the flour, the oat flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl until uniform. In a small bowl, toss the berries with the remaining 1 Tbsp. flour. Set both bowls aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the egg, buttermilk, melted butter, and vanilla until smooth. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the flour mixture just until moistened. Gently fold in the flour-coated berries, incorporating them without breaking them up.
  • Fill the prepared muffin tins 3/4 full.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, or until the muffins are browned with cracked but rather flat tops. A toothpick inserted into the center of one muffin should come out with one or two moist crumbs attached, provided the wet berries don't gum up the toothpick as it pierces the muffin.
Notes:
  • I generally do half white flour and half whole wheat. The muffins turn out less fluffy, but more nutritious.
  • I use quick oats instead of oat flour because I don't buy oat flour and am too lazy to make my own.
  • I've experimented quite a bit with using honey in muffins rather than sugar since I can buy honey locally. Basically, you just need to add 1/2-3/4 as much honey as sugar, decrease the amount of liquid slightly, and lower the temperature 25 degrees since honey browns faster than sugar. The muffins end up with an obvious honey flavor but taste just as delicious.
  • If using frozen berries, do not thaw them.
  • The muffin pictured has an oat crunch topping made by mixing some butter, oats, flour, and sugar and then sprinkling it over the muffins. Normally, I don't make this.



A stir-fry makes a great universal recipe. Mix and match your vegetables to create a new dish every time. Some options include carrots, peas, corn, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, greens, cabbage, squash, zucchini, and scallions. In the winter when vegetables are scarce, you can even sprout your own bean sprouts. Almost anything tastes good in a stir-fry.

This dish can be served with rice or over Chinese egg noodles.

Stir-Fried Vegetables with Cashew Nuts
(from The Cook's Encyclopedia of Vegetarian Cooking)


SERVES 4
COST: $1.325 per serving*

2 pounds mixed vegetables
2-4 Tbsp. sunflower or olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger root
1/2 c. cashew nuts or 4 Tbsp. sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or sesame seeds
soy sauce
salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Prepare the vegetables according to type.
  • Heat a frying pan, then trickle the oil around the rim so it runs down to coat the surface. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring. Add the harder vegetables and toss over the heat for another 5 minutes, until they start to soften.
  • Add the softer vegetables and stir-fry everything over high heat for 3-4 minutes.
  • Stir in the cashew nuts or seeds. Season with soy sauce, salt and pepper. Serve at once.



This recipe calls for cherries, but it works just as well with other berries. You might need to adjust the sugar slightly, depending on the tartness of your berries. If you're using cherries, beware! I completely destroyed this cookbook with cherry juice the first time I made this cobbler.

Cherry Almond Cobbler
(from Fresh Choices)


SERVES 6
COST: $0.84 per serving*

1/3 c. butter
1/4 c. whole grain pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 c. sugar, divided
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. organic buttermilk
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 pint sour cherries, pitted and halved
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the butter in a 9" deep-dish pie plate or shallow 2-quart baking dish. Put the pan in the oven until the butter melts, about 5 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, 1/4 c. sugar, the baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together the buttermilk and almond extract, then whisk the mixture into the dry ingredients just until moistened, leaving a few lumps.
  • Pour the batter over the melted butter in the pan. Scatter the cherries on top of the batter. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Bake until browned around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.



Other great recipes for summer:

Prudent and Practical offers up a Fresh Blueberry Pie.

Going Green Mama has several recipes for using your summer squash harvest:
Green Bean at the Green Phone Booth went crazy with cherries.

And Arduous is asking everyone to dish up some mouth-watering but healthy food porn.



This will be an ongoing series of posts throughout the year. If you would like to participate, you can:
  1. Post a recipe on your personal blog, and add the link to the comments of this post.
  2. Email your recipe to consciousshopperblog [at] gmail [dot] com, and I will include it in the next post.
  3. Post a recipe on your personal blog, email the link to consciousshopperblog [at] gmail [dot] com, and I will include it in the next post.
*Note that all costs are estimates based on prices in my area. Your costs may vary.


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Noteworthy Green: Country Mice, Garden Porn, and More...

>> Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Check out my post this week on The Green Phone Booth: Country Mouse Goes Green


I spent the last week at my parent's house in Small Town, KY, population 8000. From a green perspective, my parents have the dual disadvantage of living in a small town and living in the South. (Southerners are near and dear to my heart, but let's face it, they are not the fastest bunch to jump on the green bandwagon.)

In my parent's town, there is nary a Whole Foods in sight. In fact, you'd have to drive 45 miles to find a wider organic selection than is stocked at the local Walmart. Read more...



And elsewhere on the Internet:

::In The New York Times, Elizabeth Royte of Garbageland fame spends some time with urban farmer extraordinaire, Will Allen.

::The Washington Post takes a closer look at organic certification and finds that it's not all it purports to be, and Organic Mania gives some suggestions for what you can do about it.

::The New York Times looks at one organization's efforts to boost recycling in low-income areas.

::Food Renegade reports on Wendell Berry's passionate opposition to the NAIS legisation. He's willing to go to jail over it!

::EnviRambo at The Green Phone Booth shows you how to get your squash to mate. Nothing like some good garden porn.


Photo by teliko82

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Book Review: The Creative Family

>> Monday, July 13, 2009

The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections

by Amanda Blake Soule

Rating: **1/2


Synopsis
:

Amanda Blake Soule never considered herself creative. That is, until she was pregnant with her first child, and she got bit by the knitting bug. Suddenly, she found herself consumed with the passion to create. After her son was born, her creative desire was fueled by the natural creativity she observed in her child - the inherent creativity found in all children. Soule found that her own creativity and the creativity of her children fed into each other. She asserts:

Being creative (in whatever capacity) is important: important to me, because I feel myself to be a more complete person when my creativity is expressed; important to my children, who witness adults growing, sharing, and learning creatively; and important to my family, who grow and connect by creating together.
Soule began sharing her family's creative spirit on her blog, SouleMama, where she posts photos of her family and their projects, particularly sewing and knitting.

In The Creative Family, she continues to share ideas and projects from her own family in four categories: gathering (provide good quality materials in an accessible and inspiring location), playing (encourage opportunities for imaginative play and set aside times to be creative), living (find inspiration in nature and family rituals), and connecting (creatively celebrate family traditions and holidays).

These four sections are peppered with projects to stretch your family's creativity, including making a child's pants out of the sleeves of an old adult's shirt; teaching your child simple embroidery, sewing, and knitting; building homes for fairies; and sewing birthday crowns and garlands.

My Opinion

We drove the 1200 miles to Kentucky and back again this week, and I zoomed through this book on the long car ride. When I finished, my opinion of it was a casual shrug. It was okay. It wasn't the best parenting/education type of book I'd ever read, few of Soule's ideas were original or inspiring, and I had some criticisms. But overall, it was an okay book.

Then I visited her blog, and my opinion dropped down another half a star. The photos on her blog are gorgeous. Where were those photos in the book! And her sewing and crafting ideas on the blog are original and inspiring. Where are those ideas in the book?

I can only guess that she wrote the book before her photography improved and that she was targeting it at a beginner audience. Also, when she wrote the book, she had three children under five years old - meaning she was actually fairly inexperienced at creative living and parenting.

That last factor is probably the main reason I wasn't thrilled with this book - although I don't exercise my own creativity as much as I could, my children are already very creative. They are amazingly talented artists, they have a band called The Banders and have written some of their own songs, and they are developing a series of comic books starring their imaginary heroes Crack-a-Man and Gogog.

I don't need someone to tell me how to encourage imagination in a five-year-old. What I would like (and what I was hoping to get from this book) is someone who can show me how to preserve their natural creativity as they grow older.

Having said that, Soule did provide a few ideas that have stuck with me:
  • Soule comes from the school of parenting that prefers natural, homemade toys to the plastic, electronic kind most children play with nowadays. However, her reason surprised me. Besides the common belief that simple toys encourage more imaginative play, Soule believes that providing your children with toys made from natural materials is another way to encourage a connection to the earth. She encourages letting your children play with wooden toys, fabric toys (or just fabric, yarn, and string), and "found" items such as rocks, shells, acorns, and pinecones. She also encourages using natural materials (like wool and cotton as opposed to polyester) in your children's art and sewing for the same reason.
  • I enjoyed some of Soule's ideas for developing a child's love of nature by bringing nature into the home. We've long had a rule in our family - "no rocks or sticks in the house!" But Soule encourages her children to bring rocks and sticks into the house and even sets aside a table for them to display their rocks and shells and leaves. She also puts a "seasons tree" on the table - an empty branch from which they hang various ornaments depending on the season.
  • Another intriguing idea from this book is the concept of craftivism, or activism in social justice or environmentalism through crafting. For example, sewing blankets or knitting caps for children in need. I'm not a crafty enough person to want to be a craftivist, but it's an interesting idea.
  • Finally, I think this book is worth picking up just for the resources section. Besides providing a great list of other books about crafting and creating with children, she also includes a list of websites where you can find natural art supplies and materials.
As a final note, if you're really looking for ideas for creative projects to do with your kids, I think the best resources on that subject are any of the books by MaryAnn F. Kohl. My favorites are Preschool Art and Making Make Believe.

Up next on my reading list...Common Wealth by Jeffrey Sachs.


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Send Me Your Seasonal Recipes

>> Sunday, July 12, 2009

I'll be doing another post with seasonal recipes this week, so if you have any awesome recipes, email them to me at consciousshopperblog at gmail dot com. Or post them on your personal blog and email me the link.

To find out what's in season in your area, you can google "produce availability" and the name of your state, or choose your state on PickYourOwn.org. The latter has to be the worst designed and yet most valuable website I've seen. Anything you want to know about pick-your-own farms and preserving foods can be found there.

If you live in North Carolina, you will likely see the following fruits and vegetables at the farmer's market this month: green beans, butter beans, blackberries, blueberries, cabbage, cantaloupe, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, grapes, leafy greens, okra, peaches, peppers, potatoes, raspberries, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes, and watermelon.

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First Post at the Green Phone Booth

>> Thursday, July 9, 2009

Check out my post from yesterday at The Green Phone Booth:

Green Superhero Origins: The Conscious Shopper

I tell the story of why I decided to green my life and some of the challenges I've had in doing it. Regular readers of The Conscious Shopper are already familiar with the story, but it's still worth reading because of the super awesome illustrations by my First Son. Here's a taste:

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My Response to Fake Plastic Fish: What Is Plastic Good For?

>> Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I have a dirty little secret to tell you...My dad works for the plastics industry. He's an accountant at a plastic bottle plant for a large plastics company.

Here's another little secret...I worked at that plant for a year when I was in college. Yes, I have made many, many, many plastic bottles.

So when I read about (and even write about) the problems with plastic, I really weigh the pros and cons of the issue. My dad's job is involved. And because of that, I think I end up being a little less extreme than some so-called anti-plastic bloggers.

To be honest, I think extremity in any form hurts a cause more than helps it. And that's why I've been intrigued to read Fake Plastic Fish's back and forth discussion with a plastics industry insider. Both of them have presented their arguments rationally and without finger-pointing, and surprisingly, they believe many of the same things. This kind of discussion gets me excited because I think it's through this kind of finding-a-common-ground dialogue that real progress can be made.

In her post yesterday, Fake Plastic Fish posed several questions about plastic. Here are my answers:

What do you see as the major problems with plastic?


Wastefulness. Somehow, we've decided that plastic, more than any other non-biodegradable material, is disposable. So we use endless numbers of plastic bags, plastic cups, plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, plastic packaging, etc. Why on earth would we think that something primarily made of a nonrenewable resource that does not biodegrade could be called disposable!

Disposal. I doubt I'd see plastic as such a problem if I hadn't seen all those pictures of dead birds and turtles with plastic-filled stomachs. And after reading Cradle to Cradle, I've come to the conclusion that all plastic should be fully recycled, and if it can't be, it shouldn't be made.

Health. This is a minor reason for me - as I've mentioned before, I tend to tune out when people start taking about how something is bad for my health. Everything is bad for our health. But when it concerns my children, I adopt a "better safe than sorry" attitude.

What uses for plastic (if any) are necessary and beneficial to society?

There are so many beneficial uses for plastic. Health and safety are probably the main ones for me. But honestly, I can't see how they could make most of the items we use everyday without plastic.

Would you like to see a world without any plastic at all? What would that look like?

I don't think it's necessary to have a world without any plastic at all. What we need are better designed products, better produced plastics, and a better recycling system. We also need to eliminate the idea of plastics as disposable. No more one-time-use plastics! And if plastics are used as packaging, they should be compostable or biodegradable (and there should be systems set up so they can be composted).

Do you trust the plastics industry to tell you the truth about their products? Why or why not?

No. I don't trust any industry to tell me the truth. They're in business to make money, and if telling the truth will hurt their bottom line, they're not going to tell the truth. That doesn't necessarily mean they'll lie (though many industries do). But there might be some truth-stretching and some truth-hiding.

Do you trust the American Chemistry Council to tell you the truth?


I don't know anything about the American Chemistry Council, so I can't answer this question.

What questions would you ask a plastics professional if you could?

What steps are you taking to solve the problems with plastic?
What will it take for the plastics industry to decide to change?

What role do you think the plastics industry should play in solving the environmental problems associated with plastic?

I would love if the plastics industry played a major role in solving the plastic problem, but only if they're going to do it for the right reasons and in the right ways. If the plastics industry is going to get involved, I want to see real solutions. Like plastics that don't leach harmful chemicals into our foods. Like plastics that are fully recyclable in a cradle to cradle life cycle, or plastics that are truly compostable or biodegradable.

Beyond the plastics industry, I'd like to see other businesses making smarter decisions. Like designing good products that last and can be recycled when their lives are over. Like truly weighing the environmental effects of different materials and choosing the best material, not just the cheapest. Like minimizing or eliminating plastic packaging. Like more opportunities to buy food and personal care products in bulk.

What else would you like to share?


Plastic is just one aspect of our overall waste problem, and I am convinced that the most important thing we can do to combat waste is consume less. Buy less, use less, reuse, and repair. And then recycle.

Photo by Shazari


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I Need...A New Laptop

>> Monday, July 6, 2009

I'm dreaming about getting a new laptop, but since I've decided to stick it out with our seven-year-old desktop for at least a few months, this is a post with more questions than answers. The environmental impact of our endlessly upgrading technology is a topic I'm just beginning to take a peek at, and the more I learn, the more overwhelmed I feel as a consumer.

Here are just a few problems with laptops:

Short Lifetime

While researching this post, I stumbled upon this "eco-claim" from the XO Laptop by One Laptop Per Child: "The laptop lifetime is 5 years or 2.5 times longer than a typical laptop."

That means that the typical lifetime of a laptop is only two years!

I can attest to that statistic from experience. My defunct laptop was an Asus Eee PC, and I loved that it was compact and highly portable, but it died after a year and a half. Before that, I had a Dell that lasted for a year before becoming a permanent dust-collector in my closet. My husband, a software engineer, says he's never had a laptop last longer than three years.

An average lifetime of only two years seems utterly ridiculous for a product that can carry such a high price tag. Especially considering all of the toxic substances it can contain...

Harmful Substances

Laptops contain a number of harmful substances, including the following:

  • lead
  • mercury
  • cadmium
  • PVC
  • brominated flame retardants
Not to mention that laptops contain valuable metals such as copper and gold.

Disposal

With all the hazardous substances that laptops may be harboring, tossing dead laptops into a landfill seems like an obvious no-no. But recycling a laptop may not be much better.

Much of the e-waste in this country is sent to developing nations with lower environmental standards, such as China and India. There, poor workers dismantle computers, laptops, cell phones, and other types of electronic waste without proper equipment or protection, exposing themselves, the land, and the water to highly toxic substances.


My Perfect Laptop


In my dreams, laptops would be designed without all those harmful materials. They would be easily disassembled so the valuable materials they are made of can be recycled. They would be easy to repair and would boast a long lifespan. They would be energy efficient. And it would be awesome if they could come in minimal (but recyclable) packaging.

Turns out, I'm not the only person who has dreamed up that type of laptop. The Green Electronics Council has developed a program called EPEAT that assesses laptops and computers according to their environmental impact and assigns them either a Gold, Silver, or Bronze rating. Consumers can use these ratings to find eco-friendly computers that fit their needs.

However, after browsing through their database, it seems like the laptops that have earned a Gold rating are also the ones that are most expensive. My Asus Eee, for instance, only received a Silver rating, but it also only costs $400. It makes me cringe to think of spending $1500-$2000 on a laptop that will die after two years, Gold rating or not.


Repair or Buy New?

The other option is repairing. I now have two laptops that could be repaired instead of buying a new one, but with each one, the cost to repair feels prohibitive compared to the cost of a new, better product. Most of the time, repairing seems like the perfect environmental choice, but if it means I'll be stuck with an inferior product when I could have upgraded to something better for almost the same price, I have trouble feeling happy about choosing repair over new.

This is a case where my inner tightwad and my inner environmentalist are at war. Luckily, I still have my old desktop to keep me satisfied for a few months while I decide what to do.


What do you think is the best option?

Photo by manbeastextraordinaire


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Putting on My Cape and Heading Over to the Green Phone Booth

>> Thursday, July 2, 2009

I'm super excited to announce that I've been invited to blog with the superheroes over at The Green Phone Booth. This is one of my favorite blogs written by some of the first bloggers I started reading when I discovered blogging, so I am soooo excited to join them.

The Green Phone Booth is a collaborative blog written by some fabulous women who are working toward making the planet a little cooler, cleaner, and healthier. It's also a community where we can all support each other in our efforts to become green superheroes.

I'll be posting over there every Wednesday, and sometimes on Sunday. I'll still be blogging around here, but it might be a little bit less frequently. But don't worry - there are tons of great reads over at the Green Phone Booth, and if you're not already reading it, you should head over there right now!

Hope to see you all in the Green Phone Booth!

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Noteworthy Green: Illegal Rain-catching, LEED-washing, Natural Bug Spray, and More...

>> Wednesday, July 1, 2009

::Check out this headline from the New York Times: It's Now Legal to Catch a Raindrop in Colorado. This is crazy!

::Heather at the Simple-Green-Frugal Co-op shows off her beautiful handmade pouches for the "envelope system" of paying in cash. Make some for me, Heather?

::Compostwoman at the Simple-Green-Frugal Co-op provides a list of ways to get crafty with nature and kids.

::Grist outs some buildings that claim to be LEED certified as "LEED-washing."

::Grist provides some examples of how screwing up the environment has been bad for the economy.

::Living Green Below Your Means and Fake Plastic Fish both take a look at umbrellas.

::Living Green Below Your Means suggests some less-toxic bug repellants.

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You're welcome to link to any posts at The Conscious Shopper, but please do not use images or content from this site without my permission. Contact me at consciousshopperblog@gmail.com.

Disclosure

I do not accept money for writing reviews, but I do accept products for review and to giveaway. When posting a review, I fully disclose any free samples received from the company. I include information provided by the company in my reviews, but all opinions about the product are my own and I will not provide a good review for any product or company just because they sent me some free samples.

Disclaimer

The ideas on this blog are my opinion and are provided for informational purposes and entertainment only. I am not a financial advisor or medical professional. Please do not misconstrue the information on this blog as advice.

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