October 31, 2007

happy halloween!

It has been such an exhausting day! A good day, but I'm so tired I think I'm just going to go pack up the lunches and go to sleep. Besides, the Switch Witch still has to come.
More tomorrow.

October 30, 2007

catalog choice

Are you getting loads of catalogs these days? With the holidays upon us it seems that many unsolicited catalogs arrive. And honestly, sometimes you have to laugh at what they think you might be interested in!

Now you can use Catalog Choice to reduce the catalogs you receive. This is a free service for both consumers and businesses. All you have to do is sign up on the website (they keep your info private other than for contacting the catalogs). Catalog Choice will contact the catalogs on your behalf to cancel your mailings. Of course you can do this yourself by calling each and every one, but who has the time for that?

Catalog Choice states, "Over eight million tons of trees are consumed each year in the production of paper catalogs and the production and disposal of direct mail alone consumes more energy than three million cars".

I've signed up for Green Dimes in the past and must say it works well to stop all kinds of junk mail, including catalogs, but there is an annual fee. I think it is pretty cool to have a free service handle this for you.

Catalog Choice is a sponsored project of the Ecology Center. It is endorsed by the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and funded by the Overbrook Foundation, the Merck Family Fund, and the Kendeda Fund.

October 29, 2007

green power options

I'm in the midst of researching green energy options. Our local utility has an offering that is a little confusing, so I'm looking into it before I write about it further. In the course of my research, I found a website that allows you to find green energy providers in your area.

The website is a part of the Department of Energy. The providers listed include utility green pricing programs, retail green power products offered in competitive electricity markets, and renewable energy certificate (REC) products sold separate from electricity. Don't know what any of that means? Click here.

(Don't worry, I don't either).

October 28, 2007

the art of simple food

A few weeks ago I read an article (which also had a little video with it online) about Alice Waters going to the farmer's market in NYC with one of the New York Times food editors. Alice Waters is an incredible figure in the movement for eating local, fresh food. She has been instrumental in starting healthy food programs (with gardens) in local schools.

It was cool to watch her in action at the farmer's market and then make lunch with all the purchases at the editor's home (watch the video and see for yourself). It must have caught me at a good time, because I was indeed compelled to pick up a copy of her new book, "The Art of Simple Food."

I believe this book is intended for the masses, rather than fancy cooking experts. I am hoping to find a way to spice things up a bit with my cooking repertoire (no pun intended!) Since I am bothering to shop for all these wonderful local ingredients, I'd love to know what to do with them. (Last winter I was running out of ideas after the third week of fava beans from the CSA box). The book has lots of information in addition to the recipes. I've flipped through the pages and already several recipes have caught my eye.

October 25, 2007

green halloween

Here we are at the last weekend before Halloween. You're all ready to have a Green Halloween, right? You can't read a blog or paper or website without all kinds of clever tips to go green this Halloween.

I have to say, my initial reaction was, "Geez, let 'em have a piece of candy once a year!" As Jennifer Lance says over at Green Options, ""Oh no, not another green Halloween post about making your own costume and giving out pencils!"

But there are some great ideas that I think are indeed worthy of consideration. The Nature Conservancy gives a great overview of the impact of the holiday. They cover everything, like why conventional chocolate should scare you, why organic pumpkins are worth it, and eco disposal options for that pumpkin once the festivities are done.

We don't actually get trick or treaters at our house. If we did, I'd probably give out fruit leather like The Green Guide recommends. It is one of my kids' favorite things, so I know at least they'd be thrilled.

We trick or treat in the neighborhood. My kids get an amazing amount of candy for a 3 block walk! So we handle that by having the "Switch Witch" come that night. The kids get to pick their favorite candy to keep (like 3 pieces, whatever seems right to you). The rest gets left out in a pumpkin for the Switch Witch. She takes the candy and leaves a little present in its place.

I read someone's response to this idea which said that it seemed such a waste for all that switched candy to be disposed of—which is why I eat it! (I share it with my husband). No, not quite green of me.

We do have some killer green decorations on our front entry, though. All year we have been neglecting to clean the front stairs or water the plants on them (I watered them once in March). The effect now is incredibly spooky. Lots of cobwebs and spiders (all natural!) amidst the dead plants and some new pumpkins. I promise my neighbors that I will actually clean the stairs in November.

October 24, 2007

organic sugar

My friend Pauline has given me some sweet advice: fair trade, organic sugar. I know many people steer clear of sugar and use all kinds of natural substitutes. But I like baking, which seems to go well with using sugar. I've been using regular refined sugar (even while knowing this was probably not such a good thing due to all the processing, etc).

Thankfully Pauline introduced me to the Wholesome brand of sugar. The company says,

"Our organic sugar is produced from certified organic sugar cane grown on a co-operative of sustainable family farms in Paraguay. The Sugar Mill is energy self sufficient – we use the crushed cane stalks, called bagasse, as fuel for the boilers which generates the electricity for the mill, so we do not use any fossil fuels. We ‘green cut’ the cane – which means that we do not burn or spray the fields and the sugar cane is cut by hand. The leaves and tops of the cane plant are left in the field as a nutrient source for the soil and as a natural form of weed control."

I can find the sugar at my local Whole Foods, but the best part is, Pauline found it at Costco for a super-good price! 10 lbs of sugar for $7.99. Just in time for holiday baking.

October 23, 2007

prius rental

This past weekend we went to visit some friends in Seattle. For fun, I booked a "green" rental car with Hertz. I don't own a Prius and thought it would be a fun chance to try one out.

Hertz offers "green" options in the form of fuel efficient, environmentally-friendly cars. The selection includes the Toyota Prius Hybrid, although Hertz has a variety of models the Green Collection fleet. All vehicles are:
• Reservable by specific make and model
• EPA Highway Fuel Efficiency rating of 28 Miles or more per gallon
• Available at 50 major airport locations in the U.S.

In addition, Hertz is donating $1 for every rental from the Green Collection to the National Park Foundation with a minimum contribution of $1 million.

Oh, I know not driving at all would be better and that there is really nothing green about cars, but I was excited to try a Prius all the same. It was pretty funny actually, because once we got the kids and our luggage all loaded in, we couldn't figure out how to start the car! We had to get someone from Hertz to come over and give us a quick demo.

It was fun to drive and we all fit in it well (2 adults, 2 kids in large car seats and luggage). We got about 38 mpg overall. My husband thought that in hindsight maybe he could have driven in a more efficient manner. The car definitely would not be big enough for our carpool needs at home, but I'm glad we can rent one on vacations where we need a car.

October 17, 2007

lead in lipstick

You know how kid's toys have been recalled for lead recently and we all thought that was bad? Well, seems the lipstick you've been licking off your lips may have lead in it!

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics conducted tests in an independent laboratory. They say, "More than half of 33 brand-name lipsticks tested (61 percent) contained detectable levels of lead, with levels ranging from 0.03 to 0.65 parts per million (ppm). None of these lipsticks listed lead as an ingredient." By the way, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s limit for lead in candy is 0.1 ppm.

Can lipstick be made without lead? Yes. Can you still find inexpensive lipstick with no lead in it? Yes. Are some expensive lipsticks full of lead? Yes. Is this outrageous? YES!

The report says among the top brands testing positive for lead were:
-L’Oreal Colour Riche “True Red” – 0.65 ppm
-L’Oreal Colour Riche “Classic Wine” – 0.58 ppm
-Cover Girl Incredifull Lipcolor “Maximum Red” – 0.56 ppm
-Dior Addict “Positive Red” – 0.21 ppm

The press release explains, "Lead is a proven neurotoxin that can cause learning, language and behavioral problems such as lowered IQ, reduced school performance and increased aggression. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure. Lead easily crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain where it can interfere with normal development. Lead has also been linked to infertility and miscarriage."

“Lead builds up in the body over time and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels. The latest studies show there is no safe level of lead exposure,” said Mark Mitchell, M.D., MPH, president, Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice.

October 16, 2007

yoga mat

This morning I woke up very early to try a bootcamp workout class with my friend. It was really fun! If I want to keep going to the class, I'll need to bring my own yoga mat.

So, on the way to carpool this afternoon I stopped by Sports Basement and found an eco yoga mat by Gaiam. It is made from latex rubber (which is natural and sustainable) and is phalate-free. Gaiam also makes eco yoga blocks from cork and bamboo and a bag to carry your mat made from 100% recycled plastic bottles.

Isn't it nice to see eco-friendlier options even when you aren't expecting them?

October 15, 2007

thanks, al

Congratulations to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for winning the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. They were awarded this honor "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Gore is giving his $750,000 winnings to a non-profit called the Alliance for Climate Protection. Gore is the founder and Chairman of the organization, whose mission is to persuade the American people — and people elsewhere in the world – of the importance and urgency of adopting and implementing effective and comprehensive solutions for the climate crisis.

Here is an example of some work by the Alliance for Climate Protection:

October 14, 2007

the omnivore's dilemma

The Omnivore's Dilemma has been on my list to read for awhile now. After reading an interview with Michael Pollan on Grist the other day, I decided I need to move the book up to the top of my "to-read" list. Pollan has a new book coming out this winter which is a follow-up to this one, so I'd love to read it before then. Anyone with me? I was thinking we could do a virtual book-club type thing.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
is about the ethics and ecology of eating. The book was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times and the Washington Post. It also won the California Book Award, the Northern California Book Award, the James Beard Award for best food writing, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

A summary of the book reads as follows: "In this groundbreaking book, one of America’s most fascinating, original, and elegant writers turns his own omnivorous mind to the seemingly straightforward question of what we should have for dinner. To find out, Pollan follows each of the food chains that sustain us—industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we forage ourselves—from the source to a final meal, and in the process develops a definitive account of the American way of eating."

I'm looking forward to learning more about how food in the US is farmed and what kinds of considerations we should be making. So, if you're interested in participating, the first step will be to obtain a copy of the book. I'll post further details soon. I'd love to know if you are going to read it with me - just leave a comment below.

October 11, 2007

kiwi magazine

My sister-in-law recently told me about Kiwi magazine. It is a publication for "growing families the natural and organic way." I just picked up an issue which has lots of information about healthy lunches, green school gear, etc. I'm looking forward to checking it out and reading it.

But I have to say, based on a quick first impression, I'm excited to read the articles but also a little put-off by the abundance of ads and the little picture of Barney (yes, that purple thing) on the cover, wishing Barney a Happy Birthday. I'll ignore that for now.

Kiwi also has a website which looks like it has lots of information (plus a blog and podcast). I'm going to check out the recipe section, for sure!

October 10, 2007

ecomom alliance

I knew I was onto something as a "mom going green". It seemed like a powerful part of this whole green movement. I've referenced it before when I found Diane's Big Green Purse, when she write about the collective purchasing power of women to invoke change from industry. I've noted the collective political power with groups like MomsRising. I've just found another interesting group, called the EcoMom Alliance.

The mission of the EcoMom Alliance is, "To leverage the power of mothers to help reduce global warming and to inspire and empower mothers to sustain them selves, sustain their homes and sustain our planet by taking First Steps For A Sustainable Future." They go on to say that "There are over 82 million mothers in the United States alone, so together we represent a powerful force for positive change and by making small changes in the way we shop, eat, drive and even clean, we can help stop global warming."

The idea is that you join the Alliance by providing your name, zip code and email. This way they can count how many women are trying to collectively reduce global warming. They promise not to sell your information or inundate your inbox. They will send a weekly email with updates to keep you informed and inspired. They also offer monthly drawings for "eco-chic gifts."

I signed up. While I'm already doing many of the things on their 10-step list, I figure I'll learn something new and help propel the mom-power!

October 9, 2007

medicine down the toilet

I'm always keen to get rid of things we don't need. I like reducing clutter. I was just thinking it was about time to clean out our outdated medicine supply. Fortuitously, I saw an article on The Green Guide today about proper disposal of medicines. If you (like me) remember being told to flush them down the toilet for safety, think again.

Medications flushed down the toilet may or may not be "cleaned" out of the water at the water treatment plant. They can end up in the environment, in animals and in soils used for agriculture. The Green Guide article states, "pharmaceuticals have found their way into drinking-water supplies, including Montana well water and New Jersey tap water."

So, I wonder, what is the better way to dispose of the medicine? The American Pharmacists Association recommends:
• Crush solid medications or dissolve them in water (this applies for liquid medications as well) and mix with kitty litter or sawdust (or any material that absorbs the dissolved medication and makes it less appealing for pets or children to eat), then place in a sealed plastic bag BEFORE tossing in the trash.
• Remove and destroy ALL identifying personal information (prescription label) from the medication container.
• Check for approved state and local collection programs or with area hazardous waste facilities. In certain states, you may be able to take your unused medications to your community pharmacy
Gosh. I don't have kitty litter or sawdust around. After reading this I decided to check Earth 911 to see if there was a local place the medicines could be dropped off. Turns out there are not any in my county, though other counties do have places for their residents.

So, until I figure out a better solution, I'm going to leave them right where they are. In the medicine box.

October 8, 2007

recall agency isn't perfect

I read a disturbing story in the New York Times today about a recalled tile sealant product. Recalls these days seem commonplace, so that in itself wasn't a surprise. It caught my attention because I happened to be having a (separate, unrelated) floor sealant issue in my home. I'm glad my issue was nothing compared to what these people were experiencing!

But as the article points out, the thing that is most alarming is not just that a faulty product got to market or that it was recalled. The most disturbing part is that after the recall was issued, the product remained on the shelves. The company reformulated with another ingredient which contained the same problematic, injury inducing chemical as the first version.

The NYT reports, "Critics say the Stand ’n Seal case demonstrates how the Consumer Product Safety Commission is too overwhelmed with reports of injuries and with new hazards to comprehensively investigate or follow up on many complaints. The agency’s laboratory is also so antiquated it did not have the equipment necessary to evaluate fully the remedy (the company) offered — leaving the agency to rely largely on the company’s promise that it would fix the problem.
And then, after receiving repeated complaints that the hazard persisted long after the recall, the agency failed to follow up adequately, documents show."

I don't have any answers on how to improve the effectiveness of the CPSC. Just feeling a little more skeptical of the effectiveness of agencies which are meant to protect us.

October 7, 2007

cool it moms

I just found a powerful new voice for mothers wanting to do something about global warming. Seriously, even the most powerful of supermoms finds that a daunting task!

I believe in the power of numbers and also that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Cool It Moms seems to recognize these strategies in an effort to organize mothers to "take immediate and collective action on global warming." The first order of business is to send a letter to the Leaders of the World.

All you have to do to participate is visit the Cool It Moms website and read the letter. if you'd like to sign your name, you simply leave a comment on the blog.

Hmm, todays checklist: do something about global warming, check!

October 4, 2007

zinio magazines

The other day Gift of Green sent me an email about a green issue of Kiplinger's. I was curious to see it, but don't subscribe to it (I try to keep my magazines to a bare minimum). I searched online and came across Zinio, a way to subscribe to complete magazines online.

Seems like it might be a greener solution, although some of the guilty pleasure of magazines may be laying down on the couch with them or reading them at the doctor's office. Sitting at my desk to read isn't really my first choice.

I signed up for Kiplinger's online nonetheless and have found Zinio to be easy to use. I can see the magazine exactly as the layouts were designed and can search and read offline. Zinio Reader is a downloadable application that runs on Windows and Mac. Some of the perks of reading this way are the use of features like clicking on a headline in the table of contents and zooming straight to that article. You can also highlight text and print the pages as well.

So, while it might a different way to read a magazine, it seems like an interesting twist on not producing and shipping all those paper magazines.

October 3, 2007


Okay - get these dates on your calendar:
October 20th is Lights Out SF and October 25th starts the SF Climate Challenge.

Don't live in San Francisco? You can still participate!

Lights Out San Francisco
is a citywide energy conservation event on October 20, 2007 from 8-9 p.m. On this night, citizens of San Francisco are invited to install one compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) and turn off all non-essential lighting for one hour. Organizers estimate that turning lights out in San Francisco for even one hour could save as much as 15 percent of the energy consumed on an average Saturday night. The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, The Bay Bridge and the TransAmerica (pyramid) Building have all signed on to turn out their lights.

It is a pretty exciting effort since it is receiving national news coverage and other cities are joining in. It isn't too late to get your city to participate! If you think you might need more time to organize, definitely check out the Lights out America campaign, set to do the same event on a national level March 29, 2008 from 8-9 p.m.

SF Climate Challenge is a contest to "save energy at home for one month and compete with others to win great prizes. The contest is among teams of five or more households. There are several ways to get involved. You can start your own team with your friends, families or coworkers. You can join an existing team. Or you can just sign up solo as part of your local neighborhood team." If you don't live in San Francisco you cannot officially compete for prizes, but you can still organize a challenge with your friends or neighbors (or on your own).

SF Climate Challenge is a joint project of One Atmosphere, SF Environment, and the Sierra Club. Register for the Challenge by October 24th, 2007. The Challenge begins on October 25th.

October 2, 2007

coffee fix

I am in love. I am in love with Blue Bottle Coffee. They've been building quite a following here in the Bay Area as microroasters of organic and shade grown coffee. They are not super-easy to find, so when I do see them I often treat myself to a cup. I like their individually prepared drip coffee (they drip it fresh, when ordered, one cup at a time).

I like that they are a small, local company. They have a pretty cool environmental policy, but what I was really impressed with is the bags they use to sell their beans in. They are lined with a 100% compostable corn-based product. Most bags of beans are not recyclable or compostable. Blue Bottle does explain on their website that the reason being that their bags will not provide as long shelf life for coffee, but Blue Bottle customers don't typically keep the beans around long enough for spoilage.

Oh, and I also found their brewing instructions funny (though it isn't really a "green" feature). For example, when grinding for a french press, "the grind should be gritty, resembling beach sand: pleasant to walk on, but not too powdery. More Santa Cruz than Carmel."

Now that I've admitted to my occasional, spontaneous purchase of coffee-to-go, I'll tell you one more thing that I started doing recently. If I find myself with a paper coffee cup and plastic top, I recycle the top and compost the paper. Wouldn't it be awesome if Starbucks could provide recycling and composting bins for all their stores? They have so many stores around the world—just imagine how much waste could be diverted from the landfill! And if I am buying beans at my other favorite coffee shop, I try to reuse the bean bag as many times as I can before retiring it.

And let's not make comments about how drinking coffee at all is probably not the greenest habit. When there is coffee to be had that is this good, my love for it will win.

October 1, 2007

green, clean schools

As I've been researching the use of green cleaners I learned how strong chemical cleaners (not the "green" or "eco" kind) can be really dangerous to your health as well as to the planet. Most people make the switch to green cleaners at home. If it is a priority to keep your kids safe by using green cleaning products at home, why shouldn't the same products be used at your kid's school?

The Green Guide says, "One third of cleaning chemicals used to clean U.S. schools are known to cause human health and/or environmental problems. States like New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey have passed state-wide legislation requiring all schools to use green cleaning products, but their efforts haven’t taken hold nationwide. Encourage your state to pass legislation similar to these states if they have not already."

Green Clean Schools from The Healthy Schools Campaign has great info on the how's and why's of greening the cleaning of your child's school.

Schools cleaned safely not only benefit the children, but the staff who cleans them. MassCOSH says, " In 2005, custodians in four Boston Public Schools successfully led pilot projects substituting hazardous cleaning products with “green” cleaning products, targeting schools with high rates of asthma. In 2006, Boston Public Schools announced that it would change its contracts to purchase only green products in the future."

But there is no need to wait for a law to require safer cleaning products in your schools. New American Dream offers a guide to help your school develop and implement a green cleaning program.

Not only will taking the initiative keep your kids and community safe, it will serve as a great example to the children about caring for the environment.