Good news for green homeowners everywhere: BrightNest, a free online service that makes it easy to keep your home in great shape, has announced the release of a free iPhone app!
Last fall, I reviewed the ways that BrightNest can help you live a greener life, so I was excited to share that the same great information is now available on mobile.
Just in time for spring, the app is packed full of ways to help you clean your home naturally and safely. This is music to my ears, because when I do my spring cleaning this year, I want to avoid the toxic chemicals in store-bought cleaners at all costs. The app is filled with green tips I never would have considered otherwise, like reusing old tea bags as fertilizer for my indoor garden.
Here’s what I like most about the BrightNest app:
- There are 1,000s of step-by-step articles including: eco-friendly cleaning recipes, creative ways to upcycle and easy ways to save energy around the house.
- You can schedule to-dos around your busy life – next week, next month, whenever. Then, BrightNest sends reminders when it’s time to get things done.
- All of your favorite home projects or green-cleaning recipes can be saved on your iPhone, which makes it easy to reference the materials list while you’re out shopping for supplies.
You can download the app here.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
BrightNest is on a mission to make homeowners happy by providing an easier way for them to keep up with their homes. The free site and iPhone app offer customized tips, an easy scheduling system for home-related tasks and a convenient place to store home details and history. http://www.brightnest.com
For decades, a disposable culture has permeated every part of our society, leading to environmental degradation, waste, and inefficiency. If your family is locked in a throwaway lifestyle, there’s no better time to make a fresh start. Here are a few trends that are helping people around the country save money, live better, and protect the planet.
1. Repair Shops
Disposable culture caused the near-extinction dozens of repair trades like tailoring, cobbling, and small appliance repair; but in environmentally conscious regions, these professions are making a comeback, mending tennis shoes and t-shirts as well as high-end luxury items. For a few bucks and 20 minutes of their time, not only are people saving something that would have been thrown away, but keeping someone local employed as well. Repair swaps are also popping up all over the country, where once a week or month groups get together to help each other repair their items for free. Check your local living section of your newspaper, the classifieds, and Craigslist to find repair shops or repair swaps in your area.
2. Local Trade and Resale
Craigslist is nothing new, and buy-local campaigns have been around for years—but the recent trend is in specialty sites like Craigslist, but only for a state or region, and only for a certain type of good or service. Sites for electronics, baby goods, home furnishings, produce, crafts, and services that are tailored for a specific region are great because they know what issues are affecting local communities, and are better equipped to prevent scams and spamming. It’s a great marriage of the convenience and efficiency of the Internet, with the security and personality of a local market. Next time you think about throwing something away or purchasing something new, consider seeking out locals who might be willing to trade, sell, or buy.
3. E-waste Recycling and Repair
While it’s been almost impossible to reuse or resell broken or obsolete electronics in the past, many manufacturers are seeing the benefits of selling a more lasting, modular product. More and more companies are licensing technicians and selling “verified” parts to ensure quality repairs, so you can have a more certain, secure experience when you take your computer in for a diagnostic. The trend in PCs and tablet computers is upgrade-ability and repair-ability. Starting in 2013, you’ll be easily able to add memory or fix broken screens or parts on more electronics.
4. Cell Phones
Everyone knows somebody who has a drawer full of used cell phones, now 10 years old and useless. Cell phones that are 3-4 years old are still viable and highly sought after as many people can’t afford the newest $500 dollar phone, so take advantage of that and resell your old cell phone for a couple bucks. You can use established sites like eBay, USell.com, Gazelle, or ReCellular, and some malls in the United States and Europe now have vending-esque machines that can tell you how much your cell phone is worth and purchase it right then and there. If your cell isn’t worth anything, they give you the option to donate or recycle it on the spot.
Perhaps one of the biggest culprits to the throwaway nature of our society is the fashion industry. Unfortunately they aren’t changing much other than the niche companies and products that encourage reusability. Rather, in line with the first point, people are not only taking their old clothes to be repaired, but they’re repurposing old articles of clothing into something fashionable. Thrift stores are becoming more socially acceptable and the norm as people use them to cheaply purchase material to create something they want. So invest in a sewing machine and start mending and creating!
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Aimee Watts is a staff writer for Mobile Moo. She has spent ten years telecommuting full-time, and loves spreading tips and advice for fellow work-at-home parents. She loves gadgets, new ideas, and skiing with her two favorite people: her husband and teenage son. They live in Evergreen, Colorado.
Green entrepreneurs are a growing force in the start-up world, and they aren’t just coffee shop owners and locavore grocers. Small business owners in every sector of the economy are discovering that going green is not just better for society; it’s also better for customer satisfaction, as well as the bottom line. Here are a few of the most effective ways entrepreneurs are leading the way in environmental stewardship.
1. Retro Furnishings
Start-ups across the country are cutting their initial costs by reusing and recycling old light fixtures, desks, giant cable spools, discarded pallets and more to furnish and style their offices (or garages), instead of splurging on new offices and fancy furniture. It’s hip, cheap, and efficient, allowing entrepreneurs and their staff to function like they need to, without spending much money. It also saves the waste and cost of manufacturing new products and keeps those old furnishings out of the landfill.
2. Cutting Out Cars
By thinking carefully about where they buy their office space, and using company bikes or public transit to get around, greentrepreneurs (BPGL calls them “ecopreneurs“) save time and money, reduce pollution, and ensure they’ll never have to hunt for a parking spot again.
When central locations aren’t feasible, eco-conscious entrepreneurs can organize carpools, or accommodate telecommuters. With multiparty video chat and dozens of ways to connect, many information/service-based employers find that they don’t need the expense and environmental strain of physical office space at all.
In the 2000s, many offices went paperless, but computing power is the new inefficiency to root out of the modern office. Electronics are a significant energy drain, and they’re environmentally destructive to build — so pushing an office’s computing and storage needs to the cloud allows small businesses to get the same jobs done with less expense and less waste.
Cloud accounting, streaming, collaboration, and storage can allow a start-up to run leaner, cleaner, and more profitable than attempts to perform those functions in-house. Google offers free cloud office programs and storage, and companies like Adobe offer greatly discounted software suites to those willing to subscribe to their cloud service.
4. Energy Efficiency
Far ahead of government regulations involving the manufacturing of incandescent bulbs, entrepreneurs have of necessity been using more energy-efficient forms of lighting. From CFLs and LEDs to larger windows and skylights, energy efficient lighting is a no-brainer.
Green-power strips that intelligently turn off computers, copiers, and other electronics once the working day is over are also a solid investment, since these devices tend to use nearly as much power in their idle state as they do during the workday.
Investing in energy efficient products not only helps long-term costs go down, but tax breaks and utility company rebates help reduce the initial cost of upgrading lights and other electronics. All of this ensures that utility costs and carbon footprints are reduced.
5. Eco Businesses
Then there are the entrepreneurs who are on the forefront of green production. From solar cell production and wind farms to organic resellers to a couple of Berkeley guys using old coffee grounds to grow hydroponic mushrooms, new companies are starting daily that are rooted in being and selling green.
Companies like these benefit from tax credits, positive public relations, an increasingly eco-aware consumer base, and the knowledge they’re doing their part to help the environment.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
About the Writer
Patricia Shuler is a Mobile Moo staff writer from Oakland, California. Sheís an admitted tech-junkie who ís quick to share her honest opinion on all things consumer electronic — including up-to-date news, user reviews, and no-holds barred opinions on a variety of social media, tech, computer, and mobile accessories topics.
As humans, it’s our nature to overuse and abuse our resources. But this doesn’t have to be the case. It takes a conscious decision to change our wasteful ways and implement sustainable practices. Making your office more energy efficient, eco-friendly, and pleasant for you and your employees will increase productivity and enjoyment in the office while lessening your company’s carbon footprint.
Being energy and resource efficient and conscious of the health and well-being of those in the office will reduce the costs of running your business. Some simple changes of habit will save you a great deal of energy, resources, and most importantly, money. These tips will help you get your office on the right track toward becoming green.
The best way to transform your office into a green machine is to consider switching the type of energy your office receives. While it can be slightly more expensive, transitioning to wind or solar power is by far the best way to begin your green transformation. Numerous utility providers offer wind power as an energy option. Solar power will require a higher initial investment than switching to wind power. However, the tax rebates you will receive for switching to solar will help you recoup your investment, as most are able to make up the difference through the tax rebates and energy cost savings within five years.
With artificial lighting accounting for over 40 percent of energy use in the office, it’s important to limit use as much as possible. When you’re leaving a room, and are the last to leave, turn the lights off behind you. Even if you’re only stepping out for five minutes, there’s no need for you to illuminate an unoccupied room. Purchasing Energy Star-rated light bulbs and fixtures will also save you in the long-run. These bulbs use 20 percent less energy than regular lighting, and when coupled with timers or motion sensors that automatically shut off lights when they aren’t needed, you will significantly reduce your office’s carbon footprint.
Choose to replace the office coffee with a fair-trade, shade-grown, or organic coffee. Fair-trade coffees are produced and purchased from farmers who earn livable wages for themselves and their employers. Shade-grown coffee is that which was grown under the canopy of trees. This means the rain forests were not cut down in order to grow this coffee. Organic coffees are grown without harmful pesticides, lowering your co-workers’ and the Earth’s exposure to toxins.
Power Off at Day’s End
One of the biggest wastes of energy in the office comes from computers and other electronics being left on overnight. Make a habit to turn off your computer, along with the power strip it is plugged into, when you leave for the day. Even if you’re not using your computer, you’re still burning energy (and money) while your computer is plugged in.
During the day, you can conserve energy by setting your computer to go to sleep automatically during short breaks. This habit can cut your individual energy use by up to 70 percent. Printers, scanners, and other office electronics that are only used occasionally can be unplugged until needed, saving you even more energy and further reducing your carbon footprint. Get the whole office on board, and start saving money today.
The greenest way to print is, well, to not print at all. Many offices have transitioned to use recycled paper, but even that leaves a carbon footprint. The more you do online, the less paper you need, and thus, the smaller your office’s carbon footprint. Do you really need to print out every email, handout and document you receive? Keep files on your computer instead of in file cabinets, review documents on your screen rather than print them out, and send emails instead of paper letters. Lastly, use a PDF converter to allow your office to share documents without printing. Anything you can do to eliminate paper waste will make your office significantly greener.
Healthy Air Flow
Air pollution is a big priority when you work indoors. While you can make adjustments to reduce your energy use, there are other ways to maintain a healthy air flow in your office. Start by switching to non-toxic cleaning products. For the most part, a cloth dampened with water is sufficient to clean most dusty workspaces, and won’t put off harmful fumes for you and your co-workers to inhale. Continue your green transition by opening the windows to increase air flow. If your windows cannot be opened, make sure to take breaks outside throughout the day. Lastly, create a ban on all aerosol products in your office.
“Green” Your Office
If you bring plants into your office and gift them to your employees or co-workers, not only will they see it as a kind gesture, but they will have cleaner air to breathe, all thanks to you. Plants absorb indoor air pollution and increase the oxygen flow of your office. Get a green accessory to complement your desk, and those around you. You’ll be glad to see the color in your office, and everyone will be better off with cleaner indoor air.
This may seem a bit basic, but you would be surprised how many offices I’ve visited do not recycle. This is the 21st Century, right? You would be shocked at the number of products your office uses on a daily basis that can be recycled. If you don’t already have one, create a recycling station at work, making it easy for you and your co-workers to recycle with ease. All you need are a few bins and to post recycling guidelines above each to help your co-workers make a mindful decision while making your office greener. Here are some labels to consider:
- Plastic bags
- Cans and Bottles
- Paper products
- Ink cartridges
Spread the Word
Ultimately, creating a green office will be a team effort. The best way to stay involved in green practices at work is to get everyone involved. Share your practices with your co-workers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests creating a team that includes everyone from the CEO down to the newly hired intern. This team will have goals and benchmarks to make your office and building one of the most energy efficient in the country. It may seem like a lofty goal, but when you’re saving money and minimizing your carbon footprint, it will be well worth it.
Other ideas include:
- Setting up an office carpool calendar
- Purchasing company carbon credits.
- Encouraging your co-workers to take part in your new recycling program.
- Buying eco-friendly office supplies and products.
- Getfing everyone in the office to pack their lunch and eat together. This will allow you to not only share food with one another, but it’s a great opportunity for you to get to know your co-workers outside of the work space.
About the Writer
Lance Trebesch is the CEO of TicketPrinting.com & Ticket River, which offers a variety of event products and ticketing services. After nineteen years of Silicon Valley experience, Lance found the key to happiness is helping customers worldwide beautify and monetize their events with brilliant print products and event services. Listening to his customers and learning about how they plan their events – ranging from concerts to fundraisers has helped him gain insight and expertise on how to host a successful event that he is always eager to share.
Take a stroll down the cleaning supply aisle in your local market, and you’ll find no shortage of ways to polish and shine your home. You will, however, find a shortage of chemical-free, unscented supplies that promote healthy cleaning and no ill-effects. When it comes to making your home sparkle, most commercially available cleaners will do the trick, but when it comes to your health, homemade cleansers are the best choice for both safety and shine.
Make Your Own Cleaners
The following easy recipes will get you started on green cleaning:
Vinegar & Water
- 1 part vinegar
- 1 part water
Natural and inexpensive, a mixture of one part vinegar, one part water provides a gentle cleaning solution for the hard surfaces of bathrooms and kitchens, including stoves, countertops, tile, and floors. Simply spray the solution on, allow it to sit for a few minutes, and wipe it down with a cloth. For more difficult cleaning jobs, heat the solution until warm or use undiluted vinegar.
TIP: To make sure you’re starting out with the cleanest solution, use filtered water in your mixture to avoid spreading chlorine, sediment, and other pollutants found in water around your home.
Vinegar, Water & Alcohol
- 1 part water
- 1 part isopropyl alcohol
- splash of vinegar
The effective overall surface cleaner of vinegar and water can also be used on mirrors or windows, but will leave behind streaks. For a streak-free clean and shine, use a solution of one part water to one part isopropyl alcohol with just a splash of vinegar. Spray on, wipe clean, and the glass dries clear.
Baking Soda & Water (or Peroxide)
Some cleaning jobs require grit, and that’s what baking soda provides. Mix baking soda with a little water and apply to problem spots, like hard soap scum. Or, shake the mixture onto areas that need harder cleaning, like the inside of toilets. A baking soda-peroxide solution is ideal for cleaning the inside of the refrigerator to disinfect and eliminate smells.
Olive Oil & Vinegar
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup vinegar
Dry-dusting is a poor home-cleaning habit, because it simply redistributes the dust. Dusting with a wet cloth will prevent the issue, but it doesn’t create that shine you get with manufactured furniture polishes. Just a small amount of olive oil in vinegar, though, both lifts dusts and leaves behind a shine on wood furniture.
Cleaning your home naturally won’t be beneficial to the health of you and your family if your cleaning style allows natural threats to grow. When the health threats of mold and mildew appear around bathtubs or windows, you don’t need harsh chemicals; there are a few natural remedies for mold that work quite well.
Keeping your home clean won’t benefit your health if you’re filling the space with chemicals in the process. Fortunately, there are natural solutions to almost any cleaning problem that might arise. So, skip the cleaning section at the grocery store and head straight to the inexpensive basics of vinegar, baking soda, rubbing alcohol, and peroxide.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
As a new contributor to Blue Planet Green Living, I’ve been assigned to explore environmental and social-action websites. I invite you to go on this journey with me. Since I can only critique the websites I’m aware of, when you come across a website that is particularly intriguing, useful, or informative, please send an email to email@example.com with the subject line, “Jaia.” I look forward to hearing from you! — Jaia Rosenfels, Contributing Writer
ChasingGreen is a young website with great content and a lot of promise. I was completely taken aback by the site’s ease of navigation and the solid information it provides. “Going green” is a topic that has been discussed for years and has consumed much of our time and energy. But the process is actually comprised of many small steps. And, as ChasingGreen clearly shows readers, most of those steps are relatively easy, such as choosing one brand of coffee over another or mowing your lawn with a mower that consumes less gas.
The website’s home page separates the tips into six main categories: General, Lawn & Garden, Family, Travel, At Home, and Quick (which I found pretty amusing, considering that few tips anywhere on the site seem to necessitate much time, energy, or skill). The home page also includes snippets of the featured articles, which are both helpful and interesting.
As I admitted in my last post, I’m pretty green about being “green.” So, I was downright shocked after I learned in the General category that I am already doing the “Ten Easy Green Things I Did Today.”
Since I am a vegetarian who does not drive, acing that little evaluation was simple. A close inspection made me into more of a believer in the good those tests do to influence behavior, as they clearly point to strengths and weaknesses. (If you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, how will you know that you need to change your behavior?)
Another tip in the General category concerned wedding gowns. I was recently the maid of honor in my sister’s wedding and am about to be a bridesmaid in another. So, looking into this particular article was definitely relevant to me. Lo and behold, I learned information that any earth-conscious couple would want to know before getting married.
When shopping for a wedding gown, for example, the writer suggests, “[B]e sure to ask about the gown’s fabric content before you make a purchase.” That’s important, because certain materials used to make wedding dresses — like organic cotton — might seem eco-friendly, but require heavy water use in the growing process. Silk may seem like a good choice, but may also “be treated with chemical additives in the manufacturing process.” If you’re about to be an eco-friendly bride, you want to be sure your gown — quite possibly the most expensive dress you’ll ever buy — is as good a fit to your ideals as it is to your body.
Lawn & Garden
Many Americans seem to desire crisply green, well-manicured lawns. Lawn care is (rightly, in my opinion) under inspection by people who care about the environment. The fertilizers and pesticides required to maintain that image are hardly healthy to our earth. ChasingGreen presents the pros and cons of having this traditional image of keeping up a “perfect lawn.”
Yet, the suggestions offered don’t include having a jungle lifestyle, where you allow weeds to overtake your grass. It offers a very reasonable approach to lawn care, one that isn’t likely to lower your home value or cause your neighbors to complain.
Some readers might disagree with the more traditional tips, like mowing less often — which saves work and energy, and reduces gas consumption, but requires an altered perspective on what’s an “acceptable” lawn height. But, for others, it’s a great solution that only requires compromising, not changing your entire lawn-care philosophy.
Additionally, ChasingGreen suggests a simple switch to organic weed control:
Organic corn gluten-based weed control is widely available, and does not release harmful chemicals into the air the way more tradition types do. There are corn based fertilizers that do the same thing.
Another great alternative to petroleum-based fertilizers is mulching with your grass clippings, which is healthy for your lawn (if done correctly). This practice also keeps the grass clippings from adding to “already overfilled landfills.”
Of course, there are many other eco-friendly hints and tips to “green your lawn,” but why not explore the website and have fun discovering them for yourself?
Included in the “Family Category” are articles that could help turn any family green:
[It] might seem crazy to … try and get your kids to go green at a young age. And even though teaching them about going green may be difficult in the beginning, you will soon notice them becoming the most eco-friendly members of the family (because they’re having fun!).
Holidays provide terrific opportunities for instruction on ways to conserve and to prevent pollution. The only holiday article on the site so far is about the Fourth of July, but the tips could apply to any large or small gathering. For example, the writers suggest avoiding single-use plates and tableware, opting instead for reusables.
As a child’s main thoughts often concern school, shopping for clothing and supplies is another great opportunity to create a “green student.” Here are a couple of great tips from ChasingGreen:
- Make sure you don’t buy crayons made of paraffin wax, as it is derived from petroleum. Crayons made from soybean oil are a much better, not to mention nontoxic, choice.
- Recycled stainless-steel scissors with handles made of at least 30 percent post consumer plastic are best.
All forms of motorized transportation increase your use of CO2. The creators of this website present choices and strategies that are worth reading. For example, if you are considering biking to work, but have reservations about it, read “Biking to Work for the Planet,” which debunks some common myths about the disadvantages of two-wheeling it to the office.
Many, if not most, of us spend much of our time and resources in our home. Articles describing efforts to create or sustain an eco-friendly home make up an entire category of the ChasingGreen website.
I love the romantic tips for spending time with your partner, including massaging each other with organic oils; giving organic dark chocolate (reportedly an aphrodisiac) as a present; and planting roses together, instead of giving cut flowers.
Because I own a cat (or, more correctly, she allows me to live in “her” house), I am appreciative of any information I can find on creating an eco-friendly home for my kitty, Grace. As a consumer of clumping, clay kitty litter, I was surprised, but gratified, to learn that I need to change my ways (I’m sorry, Grace! I’ll do better, I promise.):
Be wary of clumping clay kitty litter; it’s not only harmful to the planet, it’s a potential health hazard to your cats. Sodium bentonite is the clumping agent in clay litter that gets stuck in your cats’ hair and slowly poisons them as they chronically groom. This type of litter also contains a carcinogenic silica dust that coats your cats’ lungs every time they use the litter box. Try FelinePine or another eco-friendly, pet-safe brand.
Although many of us feel aware of alterations we can make in conserving, recycling, recharging, or renewing, the information contained under the Quick Tips category proves that there is much more to learn. Here’s an example: We all know that it’s just good neighboring to pick up after your dog and properly dispose of the waste. But did you know dog waste is more than just a smelly eyesore?
Eliminate one source of public health risk by cleaning up and disposing of pet waste, even if it’s not from your own pet. If it’s left on the ground, harmful bacteria wash into storm drains and eventually into local water bodies.
Other tips, like replacing leaky pipes or changing the filter on your air conditioner, seem to be generally well known. But, in my opinion, a reminder is always appreciated.
As a mindful consumer, an essential step is not only recycling and recharging, but reusing the goods that you buy. Sure, you can reuse someone else’s item when you buy it at a local garage sale. But you can also reuse items you already have at home, like gift wrap, coffee grounds, books, and wedding gowns. Here are some tips you may not have heard about (you’ll find lots more on the website):
Massage your face with coffee grounds for an exfoliating scrub that will leave you with a radiant glow.
You don’t have to buy a heating pad or a hot-water bottle to ease your cold, aching feet at the end of the day. Just fill a 2-liter plastic bottle with hot water and roll it back and forth under your feet as you sit and unwind.
When it comes to gift giving, ChasingGreen offers several ways to make giving presents a green experience.
- Use scarves, hair ribbons, yarn, or hemp twine to secure gifts.
- Give two gifts instead of one: put a gift inside a jewelry box, flower pot, basket, or vase.
Simple Suggestions for Busy Readers
Essentially, the beauty of ChasingGreen is that it is not too complex for the average, busy reader. None of the tips offered require a lot of time or effort. And you won’t need to dramatically change your life or your perspective in order to begin reducing your carbon footprint.
As this is a new site, the number of articles available is a little slim. But the quality of suggestions is excellent. I look forward to reading new articles and learning additional tips as the site becomes more robust.
A Word from the Founders
Blue Planet Green Living contacted ChasingGreen prior to publishing this review. Here’s what co-founder Jeff Randall wrote to us. Perhaps you can see why we found the site so intriguing:
ChasingGreen was created in response to the environmental concern and vigilance of our (then) 11-year-old son. “If you can’t beat him, join him” seemed the most reasonable approach, and we began working as a family to increase our green-awareness and share that knowledge with others. This became the basis for ChasingGreen’s primary assertion—that one person, even a child, can positively impact our world in their everyday lives.
ChasingGreen.org is owned and operated by Jeff and Amanda Randall, with varying levels of ownership and support also attributed to our two children, three dogs, two cats and one frog. As you can imagine, board meetings are never dull.
Every once in a while, I’ll read a book so filled with helpful information that I want to remember every single thing it says. Super Natural Home by Beth Greer is that kind of book.
From the introduction, where I learned that the author had been healed of a 5 cm benign tumor in her chest by changing her diet, to the fact-filled chapters jam-packed with tips and suggestions, to the list of resources in the back, this is a book that gives value on every single page.
I’m already a pretty “green” person. I buy organic foods when they’re available (not often enough or in sufficient variety here in the Heartland), check all personal care products on the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, and try to use as many natural and organic household products as possible. I recycle and compost. I eschew fragrances and added chemicals. And I eat a mostly raw, vegetarian diet.
Yet I still scored poorly on the “Super Natural Home Quiz” that begins the book. It’s an inventory that asks about everyday exposures to products with harmful ingredients, such as synthetic pajamas and cotton-blend sheets, Tupperware, high fructose corn syrup, and VOCs from carpeting and paint. Even as conscientious as I am, there are lots of things I can improve on. I shudder to think how toxic my house was before I made the changes I’ve already made — back when my kids were still kids.
None of us can go back in time, but we can make changes to affect the present and the future. Super Natural Home is a wonderful compendium of information about how to make small changes — and large ones, too — that can help each of us improve our health and our lives.
Following the Introduction and the quiz, the book is divided into four sections. In Section I, “What Goes in You: How to Eliminate Exposure to Toxic Chemicals in Your Food and Drinking Water, ” I squirmed a bit when I read facts like these (all bullets are quoted directly from the book):
- [T]he Popcorn Board’s 2008 Agri Chemical Handbook lists 33 insecticides, 38 herbicides, five fumigants, 15 fungicides, and four “miscellaneous” chemicals that are approved for use in nonorganic popcorn.
- A 2006 USDA test found that 81 percent of potatoes tested still contained pesticides after being washed and peeled, and the potato has one of the highest pesticide contents of 43 fruits and vegetables tested, according to the Environmental Working Group.
- Artificial colors are made from petroleum as well as coal tar (an extract of coal that the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] says is highly toxic) and are found in things such as fruit drinks, sports drinks, candy, ice cream, ices, pet food, and store-bought cakes and cookies (think blueberry bagels and green St. Patrick’s Day bagels and muffins, too!).
- There is a 41% increase in risk of being overweight for every can or bottle of diet soft drink a person consumes each day, according to Sharon P. Fowler, MPH, and colleagues at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio.
- [I]n 2008, an investigation by the Associated Press showed that America’s tap water, coast to coast, is contaminated with a vast array of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including antibiotics, pain medications, antidepressants, and sex hormones.
Oh, there’s a whole lot more scary information than that. But Greer tempers the lists of cautions with sound advice about what we consumers can do to improve our families’ diets. Here are a few:
- Wash nonorganic produce well. Try using a product called Veggie Wash. It is 100 percent natural and uses ingredients from corn, coconut, and citrus to remove wax, pesticides, soil, toxins, and fingerprints.
- Understand the vocabulary. “Conventional” means pesticides were used; “organic” means 95% of the product contains no pesticides; “100% organic” means none of the product contains pesticides.
- Choose smaller fish, such as herring, sardines, and mackerel, which are less likely to have toxins than large fish such as tuna or swordfish. They also are very rich in omega-3s.
- [C]heck the PLU (price look-up) number on the stickers of fruits and vegetables. Conventionally grown produce has four numbers; organically grown has five numbers prefaced by the number 9; GMO produce has five numbers prefaced by the number 8. (Example: a conventionally grown Fuji apple is 4131; organic is 94131; GMO is 84131.)
Section II, “What Goes on You: How to Choose Safe Cosmetics and Body Care Products,” provides a wake-up call about all types of things that we put on our faces, our hair, and our bodies. For example, Greer cautions against the nanoparticles that are becoming increasingly common in cosmetics:
Some experts wonder about the risks of these highly engineered nanostructures. There hasn’t been much research into their safety. If you apply them to your skin, do they end up in your brain—or, if you’re pregnant, your unborn fetus? Will they do damage? Will other, less welcome, substances piggyback on them? And what will happen if a number of different nanoparticles, from your face cream, sunscreen, and foundation, join together? We don’t know those answers yet. What we do know is that when you mix two or more chemicals together, sometimes you get a substance more powerful than the sum of the individual parts. In other words, 1 + 1 does not equal 2. It can create a chemical reaction packing a powerful punch.
Here’s another unsettling fact. Until I read Greer’s book, I had no idea that mercury is commonly used in some cosmetics. Mercury! That’s highly toxic. Greer writes, “The federal government currently allows a small amount of mercury as a preservative in eye liner, mascara, skin-whitening creams, and freckle creams. ‘It is known to cause neurological damage in people even in tiny quantities,’ said Senator John Marty, the Democrat from Minnesota who sponsored” a ban against intentionally adding mercury to cosmetics.
Along with solid advice about ways to limit or avoid exposure to toxins in personal care items, Greer provides lists for easy reference, such as these, in Section II:
- Companies Selling Truly Organic Products
- Companies Selling Products without Harsh, Artificial Ingredients
- “Natural” Companies That Sell Products with at Least One Ingredient Deemed Harmful by the EPA
- Super Soaps
- Chemicals to Avoid When Purchasing a Sunscreen
She divides Section III, “What Surrounds You: How to Minimize Indoor Air Pollution in Your Home Environment,” by the rooms of a typical house. Each chapter in the section gives more facts and suggestions, such as these:
“The Bedroom: How to Improve One of the Most Important Rooms in Your Home”
- Despite all we know about the dangers of lead and other toxic chemicals, the U.S. government doesn’t require full testing of chemicals before they are added to toys. So it’s not surprising that lead is found in a significant percentage of toys currently on the market.
“The Living Room, Den, and Home Office: Choosing Safe Flooring, Wall Coverings, and Furniture”
- If your tables, chairs, desk, and cabinets are made of plywood or particle board, chances are they have been treated with pesticides and constructed with glue that contains formaldehyde.
“The Kitchen, Laundry Room, and Bathroom: Discover Safe Household Cleaners, Cookware, and Dishware”
- Since only foods and herbs can be certified organic, the word “organic” on the label of a dish or laundry soap doesn’t mean much.
“Super Natural Home away from Home: How to Maintain Your New Lifestyle on the Road, at Work, at School, and at Play”
- Another great thing to do at school is to use no-waste lunches. This involves a reusable lunch box, waxed paper instead of plastic, recycled aluminum foil, cloth napkins, and a metal water bottle. Make sure you offer organic food, including snacks, in those lunch boxes! One place to buy a reusable, waste-free lunch kit is www.kidskonserve.com.
“Action Plan: 10 Easy Ways to Have a Super Natural Home”
- Start from the inside out, beginning with your mind by keeping a positive attitude. Negative thoughts and emotions can be more harmful to our health and wellness than the toxins found in our homes. The good news is that we can produce natural healing chemicals in our bodies by focusing on love, faith, hope, joy, and gratitude. In the worlds of William James, “Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”
Each chapter in the book is loaded with tips, stories, inspiration, and enough facts to arm consumers for battle. And it is a battle, truly. If we passively accept the products that are thrust upon us in the marketplace and wherever we travel, we allow ourselves and our families to be slowly poisoned. Instead, Greer urges all of us to fight back by drastically limiting the number of toxic products we expose ourselves to.
But the book is much more than just dry facts. It’s peppered with interesting and well-written anecdotes from Greer’s own experience. She has faced the same challenges as the rest of us when it comes to greening her lifestyle, and it hasn’t always been easy. I am inspired by her dogged determination to provide her family with the healthiest possible environment while maintaining her humor and her sanity.
Other features of the book that I found helpful and of interest were “3 Ways to Make a Shift,” in which Greer distills tips from her anecdotes; “Unsung Hero” profiles about people who are making a difference to bring better products to the marketplace; recipes for healthy foods and healthy home care products; myths/truths; and a whole lot more.
Because you care about what goes on, into, and around your body and your family’s, I believe you will find this book to be a wealth of practical information that you’ll turn to again and again. I’ve already recommended Super Natural Home to my family members, and I’ll be buying copies for my adult kids. I can’t think of a better gift for young people starting out on their own. (And for not-so-young people, like myself, who might need a reality check.)
Super Natural Home is published by Rodale and available in bookstores for $15.95 US and $17.95 Canada.
The Small Print
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In the first part of our discussion with Linda and Rick Clayton, Linda talked about being “able to go where the wind goes.” Despite the tight quarters on a sailboat, there are loads of personal advantages to this lifestyle, as she and Rick point out.
This is part two of our two-part conversation with the Claytons. Get ready to relax, put on your deck shoes, and take a virtual sail on Sojourner. —Julia Wasson and Joe Hennager
BPGL: Where is your favorite place to drop anchor and just stay awhile?
LINDA: I like the beaches in the Bahamas, but every time we get to a new anchorage, we say, “Wow! This is so beautiful!” And it has so many wonderful features that maybe the other ones don’t have. It’s hard to say there’s any one place; each place is a wonderful place because of its uniqueness.
BPGL: Between weather problems, no wind, running out of fuel, pirates, and things like that — do you feel there’s risk to your lives?
LINDA: Oh, yes. There’s risk. But I think you take more risk than we do hopping on the freeway. Unless we’re leaving the boat for days at a time, we never lock it. We never lock our dinghy onto the boat. We’ve never lost anything off the boat. And a lot of that is because, when you get to an anchorage, you’re anchoring with other cruisers. Everyone watches everyone else’s boats. It’s a very safe community.
There’s safety in numbers, and for that same reason, when we make a big crossing, like sailing across the Gulf Stream from Florida to the Bahamas, we more than likely will go with a number of other boats. If there’s any kind of a problem, we all help each other.
BPGL: So you don’t feel alone.
LINDA: We’re never alone. We kind of travel together in groups. We may go to Point A, and someone else may go to Point B, and then we leave and all go to Point C. So we wind up meeting other people who have very similar goals and aspirations. We all sit in the same anchorage, and we all enjoy the same sunset. And we all enjoy the same happy hour together in the cockpit of a boat, whether it’s a $20,000 boat or a $2 million boat.
BPGL: I remember seeing a boating ad that said boaters are a much friendlier group than you would find on a highway.
LINDA: That’s true. For instance, we were up in Long Island Sound. The people are not known to be particularly friendly up there, especially to Texans, and we have Texas as our hailing port on the back of our boat. A lobsterman came by one morning and said, “Hey. Youse guys really from Texas?”
I said, “You bet your bootiestompers.”
He said, “I’m gonna bring youse guys some lobsta.” And he brought us fresh lobster and gave it to us. Boaters are very friendly to other boaters most of the time.
Another time, we were in our little, tiny dinghy going up to a dinghy dock. Usually, if you are coming in a big boat or a small boat, whoever happens to be walking by catches your line to make sure you get there safely. And a guy from a mega-boat was walking past. He took our line and hooked us up. He had probably a $5 million boat. By golly, we were coming up in our little dinghy, and he was walking past, and he was the one who tied us off.
This is the way people are. It doesn’t matter to them whether you’re a retired trash collector or a retired GM executive. Everybody looks at everyone else the exact same.
BPGL: What do you do when you have an illness or an injury?
LINDA: Actually, because we’re out in the fresh air all the time, the only time we ever get sick is when we go on land and visit people. I’m just getting over a cold from visiting our daughter. She was graduating in Cleveland, and it was minus five degrees. We’re used to somewhere between 60 and 85 degrees.
We go to the out islands in the Bahamas, but there are doctors there. On the out islands, there are mostly beaches — and grocery stores if we’re lucky.
There is a divers’ alert network that a family can join for something like $50 a year. It’s not just for divers; it’s for anyone who has a medical emergency and needs to be transported to the nearest hospital. And if anything were to happen to us while we were out in the Bahamas or halfway across, they would transport us by whatever means necessary, via helicopter or whatever, to the nearest hospital. It’s a very good thing to have.
BPGL: If you had an emergency, let’s say a mast broke, or you’re out on the seas, and it gets rough, and something happens, are you in touch with the Coast Guard? Or, what if you are too far away from the U.S. Coast Guard, what do you do?
RICK: We have been enjoying our time in the Bahamas in the winter, and then we go up the East Coast to New England in the summers. We aren’t world travelers like some people. We have what’s called an EPIRB, which is an Emergency Position Indicating Radiobeacon. An EPIRB sends an immediate satellite message to the Coast Guard, and Coast Guard immediately responds to the latitude and longitude of that distress call. Most sailboats have an EPIRB on them, and you activate it if you feel like you’re in danger or you’re sinking.
The EPIRB is a small, hand-held device no bigger than one of those old-fashioned “brick” telephones, when they first came out with cellular telephones. We keep our EPIRB in our ditch bag in case we have to ditch the boat at sea. If we have to get in the dinghy, we grab the ditch bag, throw it in, and then jump in. The ditch bag has an emergency food supply, water for a couple days, the EPRIB, cold-weather gear, sunglasses, hats, and things like that. A ditch bag is an essential for cruising. Most cruisers have that.
And, so we can see at night or in the fog, we have a radar that picks targets out for us. Then we can avoid running into things.
Sleep 2, Eat 4, Drink 6
BPGL: Tell us about your boat.
RICK: It’s a Catalina, model 387. On deck, it’s 38.7 feet. The length overall, including the stem and everything, is about 39 feet 10 inches, so we’re real close to 40 feet.
BPGL: How many people does Sojourner sleep?
RICK: We like to say, “We sleep 2, eat 4, and drink 6.” But if we want to cram people on, it can sleep seven. We have a stateroom in back, which is like the master bedroom. We have a V berth in front, which sleeps two more; it’s like a forward cabin up in the bow. In the salon area, the table drops down and makes a double bed. And on the other side of the salon area, the cabin is like a sofa that you can sleep one person on.
We’ve had six overnight on the boat. Four is okay. If one of the kids comes with their husband or fiancé or whatever, we can very comfortably enjoy four on the boat. But we’ve had as many at dinner as 8 or 10 people in the cockpit.
And just for drinks, cocktails, or sundowners, we’ve had as many as 14 people up in the cockpit. We have one of the roomier cockpits, and that’s why, for purposes of gathering in the evening, our boat tends to be the party boat. It’s not because we are party animals, but because our boat has a very large cockpit. We got it that way because we knew we would be traveling in temperate climates, living mostly outdoors.
BPGL: Do you pretty much have email access all the time?
LINDA: We don’t really. There are some WiFi spots in the Bahamas, but sometimes they’re far and few between. We’re not in Nassau or some of the most populous areas. A lot of the islands we go to, there are only like 100 people or fewer that live on the island. There aren’t many WiFi spots available, but there are beautiful beaches! And the people are delightful.
BPGL: How do you locate reefs? Are you concerned about grounding?
RICK: That’s what we call the draft. We have about a 5 1/2 foot draft on this boat. That’s the depth of the keel. In the Bahamian waters, you’re sailing in anywhere between 8 and 20 feet of water when you’re up on the Bahama banks. We have nautical charts downloaded to our laptop, and we have all of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) charts that any seaman would have on his boat, all on computer.
Up at the helm station on the sailboat, where the wheel is, we also have a chart plotter that gives us graphic detail of where the boat is in relationship to other islands. It shows the nautical marks, your aids to navigation, the red buoy or the green buoy that allows you to safely enter a harbor. All of these things are charted and plotted very well on a chart plotter, and it shows the GPS satellite where our boat is. The underlying clutter on a chart always has depth.
BPGL: Do you let someone know if you go off on your own — like a flight plan for a pilot?
RICK: Yes. That’s called a float plan for a boat. We have something called a SPOT. It’s not an EPIRB, but it does work with satellites. It sets up an account with us. We pay an annual fee, something like $100, and it allows us to establish an account that we can load up to 10 emails into. So, when we either up anchor or go anywhere, or when we get to a place and we drop the anchor, we send a SPOT signal out and it lets everybody know where we are, and lets people know our progress on a trip.
Let’s say, for instance, we can hit the SPOT satellite messenger system every 12 hours when we’re on a three-day passing from the Bahamas to South Carolina. We’ve left the Bahamas and landed in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s about a three-day offshore trip. Every 12 hours or so, we’ll hit the SPOT messenger service, and it will send a satellite signal to the company, and they send a message to all 10 of the emails that we’ve preselected. Those are family.
They get an email which also has a Google link that shows exactly on Google Earth where we are in relationship to the islands or out in the ocean or whatever. That’s one of the ways we keep in touch. Of course, before we leave anywhere more than a 6 or 8 hour day journey, we always email our friends and family and let them know, “We’re in route here. This is where we are going.” Everybody kind of keeps up with everybody else. Especially our family does. They know what to expect and when to expect to hear from us again.
BPGL: What kind of cell phones do you use?
RICK: We just have the normal cell phones. We have good coverage along the coastline. And we buy and use an air card in our laptop computer. So it gives us Internet basically anywhere on the boat wherever we have cell phone coverage. Our company lets us suspend service up to three months a year. So we don’t pay a communication bill while we’re in the Bahamas. However, we will hit a WiFi spot every day or two at least, so we can keep in touch with our family and get online. We’ve been as long as a week between WiFi spots in the Bahamas.
BPGL: What do you do when the weather turns bad, like a hurricane? Where do you go?
LINDA: Our insurance prevents us from doing stupid things. We have to be north during the hurricane season. However, we are still exposed. For instance, in Cape May, New Jersey, this last September, there was an unexpected storm that came up. We were at anchor, fortunately right off the Coast Guard station.
They had six inches of blowing rain and 80 mile per hour wind. The expected winds were supposed to be 20 to 35 miles per hour. We clocked 80. Once the wind reached a certain speed, we turned on the brake on the wind generator.
And we had a lightning strike that knocked out all of our electronics. We had those replaced, which the insurance paid for. There are times that we’re exposed. The good news is, we’re exposed, and the bad news is, we’re exposed. We say, “Hey, we made it through that. What’s next?”
Trash and Recycling
BPGL: How do you get rid of your trash on the boat?
RICK: You go to the store and they ask you, “Paper or plastic?” and you get one of these plastic bags. We fill a little less than one a day. When we’re in the ocean or doing a crossing, Coast Guard regulations prohibit dumping trash and certain kinds of trash unless you are a certain distance offshore.
When we go across the Bahamas and are 20 to 25 miles offshore, we can pretty much dump anything we want in the ocean, but we don’t do it. A lot of things are just flat prohibited. Anything metal or glass, you can throw over at 25 miles out because it sinks to the bottom. We break our glass up and dump it over. When you get rid of your cans and bottles, that’s a big space that we save on the boat. And that’s what cruisers do. Everything else, we carry back to land and put in trash receptacles. We have a minimum amount of trash.
BPGL: Why can you dump metal and glass? Is that because they will decay?
RICK: You might say there’s all kinds of trash on the bottom of the ocean. Probably more metal on the bottom of the ocean from sunken ships than anything else. The Titanic has taken 100 years to deteriorate. Metal rusts at a given rate, depending on what kind it is. The bottom of the ocean is five, six, seven miles deep.
LINDA: Glass that goes overboard eventually washes up on the beach, and the sea glass is real pretty. When we hit the beaches over in the Bahamas, cruisers — especially the women — are always looking for sea glass. We find quite a bit. When people are breaking glass, sometimes they are creating [art] for 100 years from now. We have a light for our cockpit that looks like a mosaic. It’s made of sea glass. There are a lot of people who have pretty jewelry made from sea glass.
BPGL: Are there recycling places where you dock?
RICK: Some marinas have recycling bins. They’ll be real adamant. They’ll say, ‘We don’t mind you dumping your trash, but we want you to use our recycling bins.
LINDA: Here’s one thing that I didn’t mention. Most of the cruisers are retired. They find volunteer opportunities in the Bahamas. Quite a few of them got together last year and built a school for the Bahamian children.
All along the way in the Bahamas as well as in the Chesapeake Bay, we have cruisers getting together and organizing cleanups along the waterways and the beaches. These are just a couple of examples. There are many ways that they volunteer.
We have some people who are traveling with us right now are gathering supplies. They’ve gone to Costco and Sam’s and Wal-Mart. They’re going to islands where they know that the school children and the teachers need supplies. And they’re taking supplies to drop off. That’s what cruisers do when they go further south in the Bahamas. The cruisers are doing a lot of volunteer work not only along the East Coast but down in the Bahamas as well as some of the other Caribbean Islands.
The Vegan and the Carnivore
BPGL: Do you fish?
RICK: I’m going to let Linda answer that one, because we have a difference of opinion on this.
LINDA: Many cruisers do fish. We don’t. Number one, we have an oversized bimini, or sun shade. You can probably see that in the photos. It’s hard to fish from this boat. But I’m not crazy about fish, and Rick doesn’t really care about it. So we don’t fish. But a lot of cruisers do. During the lobster and conch seasons, they will supply themselves with fresh conch and lobster and fish. They don’t eat meat, they eat that.
I have a good friend who is a cruiser. I hadn’t seen her in many months, and when I saw her, she looked very healthy. I said, “Wow! You look great! What are you doing?” She said, “Well, we quit drinking, and we became vegans.”
She passed a book along to me called Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. It is a compilation of a lot of different studies that support the reason for becoming a vegan. I had been attempting to lower my cholesterol and began to eat that way just for that purpose. And I feel a whole lot better. It did accomplish that purpose for me. But Rick, is a big-time carnivore.
BPGL: Is it hard to keep enough fresh produce on board in a small refrigerator?
LINDA: Not really. A lot of cruisers do go into parts of the Bahamas and the Caribbean where there are no grocery stores at all. They, of course, cannot eat fresh produce. They eat a lot of canned food. We hang out in places where there are grocery stores, so I can get fresh produce just about every two or three days.
BPGL: In one of your photos, I saw Rick on a bicycle. Do you have bikes for your time on land?
RICK: We don’t have bikes on this boat. But when we go on land, there are always people who offer us bikes. Our boat isn’t large, and we don’t have the space for it. But if you want to Google something called the folding bicycle, you’re going to pop up with all kinds of products that sailors use. A bicycle can fold down no bigger than a suitcase and people will store it in their boat and pull it out.
A folding bicycle would be a better option for us if we went into marinas where we could actually take the bicycle and set it right on the dock. But since we anchor so much, we would wind up being in a position of having to unload the bicycle into the dinghy, dinghy ashore with two bicycles, and then unload the bicycles on a beach. The juice ain’t worth the squeeze.
BPGL: Have you considered sailing anywhere else?
LINDA: We’ve considered that. But we’re so happy with what we’re doing. And it’s the people that we know that we see on the way — it’s like we have our neighbors with us at all times. We may not see them for a week or even a half a year, or maybe even a year, but they’re on this same path that we are between the Bahamas and the Long Island Sound.
It’s not so much the seeing new things. We’re seeing the same things over and over and over, but we’re very familiar with lots of places and lots of people. And we enjoy the people that we see. It’s like we’re home. The whole East Coast and the Bahamas is our home.
End of part two.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Part 2: Small Footprints – At Home on the Sea (Top of Page)
March 10, 2010 by Julia Wasson
Filed under 2010, Blog, Climate Change, England, Environment, Europe, Event Venues, Events, Fair Trade, Front Page, Green Living, Organic Food, Slideshow, Sustainability, UK
Community members and visitors in South Manchester, England are gearing up for the second-annual Chorlton Big Green Festival, to be held March 27. In 2009, an estimated 4,000 visitors gathered at the first festival where they learned about living lighter on the planet and celebrated the green lifestyle.
The 2010 event, which begins at 11:00 AM on Saturday, the 27th, will include a mix of entertainments and exhibits, a bicycle race, and a wide variety of organic foods. “The idea behind Chorlton’s Big Green Festival,” say the organizers, “is to offer local people the chance to sample sustainability in fun and friendly surroundings.”
Several types of events are promised for the day, but don’t miss the lead-off Thursday evening at the What Next? Forum.
What Next? Forum
The Big Green Festival has a new offering this year: On Thursday, March 25, the public is invited to attend the inaugural What Next? Forum. The evening will begin with talks by three green-living experts.
- Marc Hudson, editor of Manchester Climate Fortnightly and the recent report Call to Real Action, will discuss the latest word in climate change science.
- A resident of Ashton Hayes (TBA) in Cheshire will talk about how those who live in the village are working to become England’s first carbon-neutral community.
- Andrew Leask from the Trafford Eco-House will describe what he and his family are doing to create sustainability in their three-bedroom home in Sale.
The Green Festival Discussion Group will finish off the evening with short presentations, followed by an open forum about how to make Chorlton greener. If you’re interested in the topics — or just curious — join in at 7:15 PM at St Clement’s Church, Edge Lane/St Clement’s Road, Chorlton.
The theme of the festival this year is “Growing Locally,” which includes both gardening and growing your own food. Find out about garden allotments, plant swapping, and home delivery box schemes, among other topics. Tours of the Ivygreen Alotments will leave the Festival site at 2 PM and 3 PM.
The bike parade was a highlight of last year’s Festival, and this year promises to be no exception. Decorate your bike and don a costume if you wish — the theme, of course, is Green! Riders are invited to gather at St. Clement’s Church. The parade will begin at noon.
Several bike-related activities will take place during the day, including a free bike clinic. You’ll also find information on cycle paths and cycle safety, as well as low-cost bike repairs and bikes for sale.
Participating groups confirmed so far include the following:
Dead Rats – free bicycle clinic
Jack Cooper of Freewheelin’ – low-cost bike repairs and refurbished bikes for sale
Bike Right – information on cycling safely
Practical Cycles – bikes for sale and demos of cargo bikes
Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign – info on bike training
Friends of Fallowfield loop – info on cycle paths
Sustrans – info on cycle paths
Have you ever wondered about alternative therapies such as Reiki, Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Shiatsu, Sound Therapy, Homeopathy, or the Alexander Technique? You’ll have an opportunity to try each of these and more at the Festival. For free “taster” sessions of the various techniques, go to the second floor of St. Clement’s Church.
In the spirit of learning about “all things eco and ethical,” the Festival offers unique workshops for adults and kids. Confirmed offerings include the following, with more in the works:
- Learn to identify wild foods and herbs for medicinal remedies with by foraging with Medical Herbalist Jesper Launder.
- Watch an exciting demonstration by Dreads ‘n’ Hoops, a talented troupe of hoop dancers, circus performers, and movement teachers. Then grab a hoop and try it yourself!
- Get your creative juices flowing with the folks from the Grumpy Play Resource Centres as you make your own scarecrow.
Food and Drink
It wouldn’t be much of a festival without delicious goodies to eat and drink. Big Green Festival-goers will be able to purchase delicacies from a variety of Manchester’s best eating venues. Diners will also enjoy Fair Trade and environmentally friendly foods, including excellent organic and vegan selections. Come hungry!
If thirst strikes you during the day, take advantage of the opportunity to taste delicious ales and ciders from local breweries. Or, choose from organic wines and treat the kids to hot or cold soft drinks. Of course, no eco festival would be complete without a pedal-powered smoothie maker; your smoothie never tastes so good as when you truly “make it” yourself.
Music for Every Taste
Attendees will be treated to entertainment from such notables as SRGents (other/blues/melodramatic popular song – in French), Thingumabob and the Thingumajigs (showtunes/music/comedy), Dr. Butler’s Hatstand Medicine Band (acoustic/blues/jazz), Vanessa Lewis (acoustic/jazz/folk), I am Blackbird, Robin Mukherjee (acoustic), Samson and Delilah (other/acoustic/folk), Extra Love (reggae), Maliika (soul/ambient/acoustic), Blind Atlas (rock/blues/country), and the Rothwell Incident (psychedelic/ska/Southern rock).
Artists performing on the green stage include Irish folksinger Albert Thompson, classical guitarist Arlen Connolly, and Indie/acoustic/pop artist Taylor Giacoma. Additional acts include Lowrisers (folk rock/reggae/funk) and Midge Bite Band (ceilidh). A solar- and wind-powered sound system will broadcast green tunes throughout the day.
What more could you want? A dancefloor? They’ll have that, too.
Three exciting films will be showing during the day. The Vanishing of the Bees explains the disappearance of the bee population around the world. Following the film, beekeeper John Charlton of Manchester Beekeepers will speak about beekeeping.
Glocal tells the story of an American family who moved to Chorlton, leaving their “consumption-obsessed lifestyle” behind. “Glocal challenges the viewer to be more aware of the impact of their daily routine on their health, the environment and even international relations.”
Sisters on the Planet, a film by Oxfam, chronicles the stories of four women from around the world. The film “the destructive impact climate change is having in different communities around the globe” and shows how the women are fighting climate change in their own ways, in the developed and the developing world.
Scarecrows, Vintage Fashion, and Arts & Swaps
Festival-goers are encouraged to start now to create a handmade scarecrow for the Scarecrow Competition. Several scarecrows will be displayed at local businesses in the week leading up to the Festival. Scarecrows will need to assemble (well, you’ll have to bring them, unless yours comes from Oz) by 10 AM at the church.
Once again, the Festival will host a vintage/retro fashion show featuring clothing from local charity shops. The emphasis this year will be on a discussion of the history of waste and recycling since the 1960s.
Check out the craft stalls with recycled and reclaimed goods. Meet local artists and environmentalists. Network. And in true environmentalist spirit, swap your used books, crafts, or clothes you no longer need that someone else might love.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Google “green living,” and you’ll get something like 64,000,000 hits (as of this post). There’s more advice on the Internet about environmentalism than any single person could possibly read in a lifetime. And it’s growing exponentially. At Blue Planet Green Living, we do our best to add value to the proposition of living a green lifestyle. Sometimes that means we point the way to another website that that has a unique perspective on the topic.
As I was reviewing comments for approval the other day, I came across a lengthy one from Patty Zevallos, who challenges readers to rethink the rat race and engage in true “Green Living” — which is, not surprisingly, the name of her blog. I was intrigued by what I read in her comment, and followed the link to Zevallos’s website.
Zevallos’s Green Living home page opens with the following:
Maybe you already want to live more simply and responsibly but get confused by all the advice and “green” claims for products.
That’s because someone is pulling your leg. You can’t suddenly be kinder to the planet by buying lightbulbs and throwing a few bottles in the recycle bin.
You need to change how you live and how you think. Fortunately, this is fun.
Find out exactly how a family of four can live on 40 hours of work or less. Enjoy more, work less, and be much kinder to the environment. Learn step-by-step how to do it, including something really important—how to manage your money. This site also looks at what no one talks about—how such a lifestyle changes our society, and what a green economy looks like.
Tools You Can Use
The tone is engaging and easily draws readers in to learn more about the author’s vision of the green life. What I especially like is that Zevallos not only espouses simple living, she also provides tools that can make it achievable for the average person.
If you’re an old hand at doing your family’s accounting, then you won’t really need Zevallos’s advice. But if you find that there’s more month left than money, this site has a wealth of information you won’t want to miss. In fact, it seems perfect for a young person in high school, college, or starting out on their own — or for the family that suddenly finds their income cut due to a layoff, illness, or some other crisis.
Take budgeting, for example. In Making a budget, Zevallos provides a simple (customizable) budget form for readers to enter their monthly and quarterly (on another form) expenses.
In Tracking transactions, Zevallos explains how to set up a binder with all the information needed to track checking, savings, credit cards, special expenses, and upcoming expenses.
Her suggestions are much more radical — and interesting — than the traditional “cut the daily latte” advice you can find just about anywhere. Here’s a perspective that caused me — hardly someone who’s “starting out on their own” — to pay close attention. She starts by talking about the hidden costs in all the taxes we pay, suggesting that there are quite legal ways to get by paying far less.
Look at the tomato. When you buy one at the store for a dollar, you have also paid 48 cents in income and payroll taxes to get the dollar you paid for the tomato. This is based on 15% federal income tax rate, 9.7% average state/local income tax rate, 6.2% social security tax rate, and 1.45% medicare tax rate. This totals 32.35%, which I then subtracted from 100%.
$1.48 (earned) x 67.65% (amount after taxes) = $1.00
On top of that, you pay a sales tax on the tomato, and a bit of gasoline tax for the transportation to go get the tomato. Even more invisible, and hard to measure, is that the base price the store is charging for the tomato includes the income taxes, payroll taxes, property taxes, fuel taxes, and utility taxes that the store is paying, and needs to make up for by charging you for them.
One expensive tomato.
So, what’s the solution? We all have to pay taxes, don’t we? Not necessarily, she says — at least not for everything. She goes on:
But if you grow the tomato, presuming you do it organically, start from seed indoors, etc. for little or no cost, there is no transaction. No income taxes, no payroll taxes, no property taxes, no fuel taxes, no utility taxes.
Now look around. How much of your life can you run like this?
Good question. And one that bears thinking about from many different angles.
Creating A Better Life
There’s much more to Zevallos’s Green Living website than advice on simplifying your financial life. Other sections include Growing food, Using alternative energy, and Keeping healthy. Each section is filled with practical tips and thoughtful commentary about making this life the best life possible.
As Zevallos says,
Although many forces are at work to make you into a giant ameba instead of a human being, you don’t have to let them run your life. Only you decide what you eat. Only you decide what physical activity you do.
There is nothing you are in charge of more than this.
And what about retirement? In Rethinking retirement, the writer suggests that working for a living the old fashioned way — spending 40+ hours a week in an unsatisfying job only to retire and then die — isn’t really living. She proposes alternatives, helping readers think through ways to redesign their lives in much more rewarding ways.
As someone who left the rat race behind, I couldn’t agree with her more.
Living a creative and healthy green life would be so much easier if the world (or at least the country I live in) were more friendly to alternative choices, organic foods, green energy, and more. In What to fight for, she writes about urbanism, alternative energy, stopping exploitation in the manufacturing process, and other issues.
“Most of Green Living we do as individuals,” Zevallos says. “But on some issues, we cannot act alone.” Zevallos urges readers to take action on issues that matter to them — issues that make the difference in the quality of life for all of us.
I invite you to check out Zevallos’s Green Living website. But be prepared: You’ll be exposed to ideas that may cause you to rethink your life.
By the end of March, spring will be poking her head out from behind winter’s white dress. Leaves will begin to sprout, wearing a fleeting light-green that will deepen in hue by the time the summer arrives in all her glory. Ah, spring. What better time of year to be thinking about gardening, fresh produce, and delicious natural foods?
And what better event than the Natural Living Expo to entice sun-starved Midwesterners out of hibernation?
The Fifth Annual Natural Living Expo, to be held March 27 and 28 in Des Moines, promises to be bigger and even more exciting than in previous years. The Expo features natural, organic, and sustainable companies and products, live entertainment for kids and adults, and a speaker series on topics related to sustainability and health/wellness. Admission is FREE.
The Natural Living Expo’s newest Market Leader sponsor is Iowa’s own Natural Living celebrity, Michele Beschen, of the nationally televised program, borganic.net.
Natural Kids Zone
Angela Clark, founder of enrgPATH and chief promoter of the Expo, reports there will be a wide variety of activities and entertainments at the event, many of them targeted to kids.
“We have what’s looking to be a fun line up for the Natural Kids Zone,” Clark says. “We have a hula-hooper, Mary Boyvey of Sparkle Hoop Dance. Mary had a blast last year, so she’s going to come back with kid-sized and adult-sized hula hoops. She does birthday parties for adults and kids. She’s bringing a juggler with her. There’s also a local gentleman who teaches kids how to play harmonicas. And we’ll have a yo-yo champion, whose full-time job is to promote yo-yos.”
Other activities in the Zone include kid-yoga, musicians, storytellers, clowns, and more. Metro Arts Alliance will be sponsoring the kids’ art area. With all the activities offered in the Natural Kids Zone.
Natural Living Speaker Series
The Expo also promises plenty of fodder for the mind — for adults and students of all ages. Want to learn how to build a straw bale home? Start a small-scale organic farm? Find a Reiki practitioner? Advocate for renewable energy? Eat healthy foods that please your palate?
Attend some of the many sessions offered at the Expo. The information below — from the Natural Living Expo website — describes sessions of interest on Sustainability as well as Health and Wellness — with more to be announced. Times and speakers’ names will be released on the Expo website in coming weeks.
Return of the Small-Scale Farmer
Markets are growing rapidly for independent farms and vineyards. While corn and beans aren’t going anywhere, specialty niches are shaping up to give us the rebirth of the family farm.
Transportation That Works for All
Can Des Moines come out of the current recession with its public transportation intact? Come find out what is possible in the city… and what might be at stake.
A Sustaining Built Environment
With so much talk about green building, where have all the green buildings gone? You may be surprised. Find out what people are doing under the radar and where you need to look to learn more.
Energy Independence Within Reach
If renewable energy is so great, why aren’t we using it? You might be surprised. Come find out, not what you can do now but, more importantly, when you should do it.
Zero Waste Horizons
Waste is a commodity, from the east coast to the west coast. So, why not in Des Moines? Find out what’s missing and what is being done to help residents and businesses.
Sunday, March 28 – SUSTAINABILITY
A New DNA for Business
Tired of hearing: “It’s nothing personal, just business?” Business is not only very personal, but it can be good for the environment. Find out how the real pioneers are turning things around in the 21st Century.
Food in the City
Growing urban environments require larger and more industrial forms of agriculture, right? Maybe not. Learn how our city and others are seeking food security and new roles as producers.
Non-Profits as Change Agents
Saturday, March 27 – HEALTH / WELLNESS
The Future of Holistic Health
Is Des Moines taking a larger, more inclusive, view of what it means to be healthy? Come learn what’s moving us forward and what’s holding us back.
Your Body is the Foundation
You are not your body. You do, however, want a healthy and vibrant body so you can access greater levels of health and wellness in your personal, social, professional and spiritual life.
Intuitive Health & Healing
What does Des Moines have to offer in the form of more intuitive therapies such as Reiki, Healing Touch, psychic readings, and more? Find out what works and where to get it.
Your Beautiful Spine
You are not your body. You do, however, want a healthy and vibrant body so you can access greater levels of health and wellness in your personal, social, professional and spiritual life.
The Science of Backrubs
Find out how massage therapy literally “breaks up” stress in your body, allowing you to release tension, change unhealthy patterns of thinking, and prevent stagnation in your own personal practices.
Sunday, March 28 – SUSTAINABILITY
Growing a Culture of Creativity
The arts inspire us. They drive innovation in every sector – from business to education. Over the last decade, Des Moines has made strides in building its art culture. Will it last?
Vote with Your Dollars
In a market economy, what you spend your money on is as good as a day at the polls. How can you not overspend, but spend consciously to improve the health of your community and the environment.
We all know the Food Pyramid. Why isn’t that enough? What are the simple, easy-to-remember rules on how to make appropriate food choices for ourselves and our families.
Strawbale Home Building in Iowa
An Earthship Home in Southern Iowa
More Green Building Classes by Center on Sustainable Communities will be posted soon.
The exhibitor list is still growing, but check out the varied list of participants registered so far. Many of them will have products, samples, and services for purchase at the Expo, so come prepared to try out samples for an unforgettable experience.
The Natural Living Expo provides a unique opportunity to learn about and try out offerings from a huge selection of the premier green businesses in the area.
Exhibitor slots are still available. See below for more information.
|Attachment Parenting International||1000 Friends of Iowa|
|Arbonne International||Foundation for Wellness Professionals|
|College of Massage and the Healing Arts Center||Metro Waste Authority|
|Green Goods for the Home||EP True Chiropractic|
|Diaper DuDee Diaper Service||NICHE – Network of Iowa Christian
|Wallace Farms||Simply for Giggles|
|Yost Family Chiropractic||Whole Woman Health|
|Willowsong Midwifery||Homeschool Alliance for Iowa Learners|
|Homestead (The)||Novae Vitae Farms/Exodus Marketing|
|Chiropractic In Motion||Beaverdale Books|
|Iowa Air Coalition||Bowman Chiropractic|
|Silent Rivers Design + Build||enrgPATH Resource Directory|
|ReStore Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity||Be The Butterfly|
|Wander This World||Fair World Gallery|
|Little Padded Seats||Nucca Chiropractic|
|ADIO Chiropractic||Jeanne’s Soaps Bed & Bath|
|One Step At a Time Gardens||Midwest Acupuncture|
|Griffieon Family Farm||Service Legends|
|Iowa Pet Foods||In the Aisles Nutrition Counseling|
|Norwex Clean Enviro||Earth Day in the Junction|
|The Solar Consultants||Max International|
|World’s Best Cat Litter||Lauracle|
|The Family Tree||Designarchy|
|Profound Mystical Meditation for the
|Body Detox Center|
|X Fuze||Various & Sundry|
|Sustainable Living Coalition||Dr. Cheri Holloway|
|Complete Wellness||BigOvations Media|
|Center On Sustainable Communities||Gayle Onnen Photography|
After the Expo concludes on Saturday, be sure to stick around for the EcoParty, an evening festival that “celebrates quality food and drink while enjoying an eco-fashion show,” according to the website. “It is a time for the Natural Living community to kick back and have some fun.”
The details haven’t yet been released, but from what Clark told Blue Planet Green Living, guests are in for an unusual, yummy, and entertaining experience. Watch for more information here on Blue Planet Green Living or on the Expo’s website in the next few weeks.
When and Where
Sat. March 27, 10:00 to 6:00 pm
Sun. March 28, 11:00 a.m to 4:00 pm
Polk County Convention Complex
Parking at the Civic Complex is free on weekends, and admission to the event is also free.
Calling Vendors, Sponsors, and Perfomers
If you’ve got an organic, green, natural, or healthy business or nonprofit organization, and are interested in participating in the event, it’s not too late. Contact Angela at 515-205-5494. Sponsors are also welcome! Register before March 1, and your information will be included in the program.
Blue Planet Green Living is a proud media partner for the event. We hope to see you there!
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
More than three decades ago, when I taught first grade, Woodsy Owl, with his admonition to “Give a hoot, don’t pollute,” was one of my few tools for encouraging environmentalism. Some ten years later, when I taught fifth grade, I had a few more tools at my command, including the famous video of a buttercup traveling down a clear mountain stream to sink in a polluted river.
But I didn’t have near the kind of resources available today. One resource I learned about recently is the book, What’s It Like Being Green? Kids Teaching Kids, by the Way they Live. Author Jill Ammon Vanderwood has compiled an award-winning collection of real-life accounts from children, parents, researchers, and activists, who are making the world greener every day. (NOTE: Vanderwood sent me a complimentary copy of her book upon my request.)
I am impressed with the content and the quality of the information. Equally important, it’s filled with motivational examples of real people (many of them kids) taking action to help each other and the planet. When kids read about others their own age making a difference, they often get inspired to do the same. (It works with adults, too.)
Several articles included in this book give step-by-step instructions, such as “Just Put Your Cans in the Bag by the Door” by 9-year-old Autumn DeBello (the author’s granddaughter). Autumn explains how she and her grandma convinced her dad to let her start collecting and redeeming aluminum drink cans.
“Freecycle” by Linda Stein describes the process for participating on the freecycle.org listserv in her community. She and her family use the site to give away useable items they no longer need. She also got free furniture and office supplies for her own green web business, all by requesting good, used items from other Freecyclers.
In “How to Reuse Household Items,” Emily Sikes, 15, provides 20 helpful ideas about repurposing common items in your home. Two of my favorites are using old t-shirts for pillows (it’s easy, with her instructions) and using paper egg cartons filled with drier lint as kindling for a fireplace or campfire.
“Creating a Backyard Wildlife Preserve” by Claudia McCracken Norton gives detailed instruction for families to follow, whether they live in a small suburban neighborhood or out in the country.
For those who want to do more than just “reduce, reuse, recycle” household products, Vanderwood has included personal accounts of more radical lifestyles and lifestyle changes.
Jeannette Ammon (presumably another relative of the author) learned about biodiesel at a dinner conversation that changed the way she and her kids use their car. She says she first “made certain that I could get the fuel as I needed it.” Then she purchased an older model Mercedes (a diesel), in which a mechanic made minor adjustments to allow the car to burn biodiesel. “My food burns cleaner and smells like French fries, Chinese food, or other random foods, depending on what was cooked in the grease,” she says. And she saves about 25 cents per gallon over regular diesel fuel.
Sixteen-year-old Geoff Mullen writes, in “The Family with the Weird Bread,” about being “the teenage son of a mother obsessed with saving the earth, starting in our backyard.” He explains how different his life is from his friends’. He splits and loads firewood to keep the family warm. His mother raises chickens (and a feisty rooster) in their backyard. And she bakes bread that other kids think of as “weird.” But Geoff likes his unusual lifestyle, proclaiming, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Kids Taking Action
Vanderwood’s book provides examples of young people who have done deeds of heroic proportions to help people and the environment. These stories provide inspiration. They show real children and youth accomplishing more than most of us do in a lifetime.
For example, Ryan Hreljac of Ontario is well known among social activists as the little boy who dug a well. He didn’t do the labor, of course, but at the age of six he earned $70 by doing household chores and paid for a well in Uganda. By the time the book was published, Ryan’s Well Foundation “had contributed 461 wells in 16 countries, bringing clean water and sanitation service to 599,081 people.”
Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR) is a robust organization that has an impressive list of accomplishments. They’ve established a four-acre animal rehabilitation center in Costa Rica, built and maintain “more than 130 monkey bridges that are used by monkeys and other animals” to safely cross roads; planted more than 6,000 tree, and created a Saturday camp for kids to lean about the rainforest. And this all started several years ago with 9-year-old Janine Licare along with her friend Aislin Livingstone, who sold painted rocks in Costa Rica with the intent of saving the rainforest.
In addition to first-person stories and third-person accounts of children, families, and adults taking action, the author also provides important information about the environment.
In “What about Paper?” graduate student Sara Diamond explains what paper is and gives readers a quick summary of its history. She describes some of the steps in how paper is made, including the addition of toxic chemicals to take out the lignin (a naturally occurring substance in trees) and to make it white. She also tells readers these shocking facts: “For every ton (2000 pounds) of paper recycled, you save at least 30,000 gallons of water (as much as 157 African elephants would drink in a year, and the amount used by an average American family for 4 to 6 weeks) and as much electricity as an average three-bedroom house would use in a year (3000 to 4000 kWh).”
In “World Water Crisis Will Soon Reach America,” Vanderwood gives some startling statistics about water use today and in the future, including the following:
- “The population of the world tripled in the 20th century, and is expected to continue growing by another 40–50 percent in the next fifty years.
- “The use of water resources has increased six-fold.
- “There’s no more fresh water in the world today than there was 1 million years ago.
- “…there is no replacement for water.”
She also writes about alternatives that may help reduce the demand for fresh water, the threat of future water wars, plans for addressing the coming water crisis, and more.
In “Chocolate — a Yummy Treat?” Vanderwood explores the unsavory business of raising cocoa for chocolate. “[D]id you ever stop tho think that 43 percent ofthe world’s cocoa beans are grown in West Africa, where 284,000 children work on cocoa farms under abusive conditions?” she asks. And, as if child labor weren’t enough of a reason to give up chocolate, she asks, “Did you know that many countries are cutting down rainforests to grow more cocoa?”
Vanderwood published What’s It Like, Living Green? in 2009, using Amazon.com’s print-on-demand service, Booksurge, L.L.C. While a few elements of the layout give evidence that the publication was not done by one of the established publishing houses (e.g., a subhead starts at the bottom of one page, leaving a single, orphaned word in the subhead beginning on the top of the next page; a subhead appears at the very bottom of the right-hand page, and you have to turn the page to see the text that follows the subhead), the book is generally readable (i.e., not in all caps or bold-faced, as in some self-published books). The book design includes black-and-white photos of the people whose stories are featured, which is important so that the kids can see that many of the authors are young people just like themselves.
Three gold seals are affixed to the cover of the book that I received. Vanderwood’s first nonfiction book (she has published four works of fiction) is a Best Books Award Winner (USA Book News), Indie Excellence Winner (Book Awards), and Winner (Development Awards). Vanderwood herself was named the Writer of the Year 2008 by the League of Utah Writers.
Whether you plan to read portions of this book to a young child; give it to an older child (it’s geared for “ages 9 and up”); use it yourself; or offer it to a teacher, there’s plenty of information for all ages to learn from and enjoy. This book is content-rich, which is its great strength. It’s weakness, though a relatively minor one, is the typography and formatting. On a positive note, the entire book is printed on 30 percent post-consumer paper.
Even better, according to the book’s Amazon review page, “A portion of the books [sic] proceeds will be donated to Edwin Watts Southwind Park (sustainable and accessible) and Erin’s Pavilion in Springfield, IL and Hibiscus Children’s Center, to help build a playground for abused and neglected children, in Jensen Beach, Florida.” Now that’s cool.
The Small Print
DISCLOSURE: Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the What’s It Like, Living Green? from the author.
Blue Planet Green Living’s policy is to only review those books we feel merit an overall positive review. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by any free copies and provide our honest opinions, both positive and negative.
Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with Amazon.com. If you purchase any products through Amazon — including What’s It Like, Living Green? — by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive financial compensation from Amazon.
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Blue Planet Green Living asked reThread‘s Rob Irwin, Brett Maurer, and Paul Quick two questions we like to ask everyone we interview. Here are their collective answers, given by Rob Irwin. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
5 Ways to Save the Planet
BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet?
Education. Educate yourself and carpé diem, sieze the day. But be careful how you educate yourself. Make sure it is from reputable sources. There’s a lot of greenwashing going on, especially at the beginning of this trailhead – and I think we still are at the beginning. We are under global commerce now, and every choice you make in your lifestyle affects everyone in the world.
Analysis. Analyze your own life. How do you define your happiness? How necessary are the things in your life? Can you, by getting rid of things that aren’t necessary in your life, reduce your impacts? Getting rid of stuff actually clears your physical quarters — and your mental quarters.
Relationships. Removing the clutter allows you to spend more time with the ones you love, build friendships, and make memories. It also enables you to have relationships with the earth and seasons, and adjust your lifestyle seasonally and geographically. For instance, a couple of months ago, I was kind of haphazardly grabbing some things at Vitamin Cottage. When I got up to the register, I looked at this pear, and it said, “Peru.” And I thought, “Whoa. Here I am buying an organic pear, but it’s from Peru — so it’s shipped from 10,000 miles away.” I’d like to buy locally. Maybe I can’t buy these avocados, because they’re from Guatemala. Or maybe I only do it so often.
Communication. There are a lot of communication barriers now. We really rely on technology instead of face-to-face interactions. This interview is a prime example of that; but [technology] allows you to convey a lot of information. Sharing of ideas, knowledge, wisdom, and education has a very important and integral role to the furthering of the ideas in society.
Empowerment. A lot of people feel they are not empowered, and they feel like they can’t change much. Complacency is detrimental to a culture that needs to change. Believing in the power of one — and your ability to make a difference and act — is the fifth most important thing. And I’ll leave on the note of quoting Margaret Mead in saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
2 Minutes with the President
BPGL: If you had two minutes with President Obama, what would you say?
I’d first congratulate him on the maverick role he’s taken in the White House. It seems like he’s really balanced in a lot of issues. So I think that I would first congratulate him, then also remind him that the popular choice is oftentimes not the right choice to move a country in the correct direction. I would tell him to stay steadfast and continue on course as far as making global changes and putting U.S. on the map once again as a true global leader in shifting the world.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
When my kids were small, I wanted to give them a clean, healthy home to live in. Our home was clean, no doubt about it, but was it healthy?
Naturally Clean by Jeffrey Hollender and Geoff Davis (with Meika Hollender and Reed Doyle) debunks the myth that a clean home is automatically a healthy home. Cleanliness in itself isn’t bad (though it can be taken to extremes, according to Chapter 20), but the chemicals used in those cleaners can be deadly. “The decision to stop using synthetic chemical cleaners is one of the most important ones you’ll ever make for the health of your family and the safety of your home,” say the authors.
“We think of our book as a kind of ‘Introduction to Household Chemicals and Home Cleaning 101,’ ” they write. Everyone needs to know these basic facts. And this book, copyrighted in 2006, is filled with them.
For example, in Chapter 2, I read, “Today, there are an estimated 80,000 different chemical compounds being made and used around the world. Each year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) receives approval applications for another 2,000 more. That’s more than five new chemicals being created every day. In the United States alone, some 500,000 chemical products are available to consumers, and according to various estimates the average home contains anywhere from three to ten gallons of these toxic substances.”
Americans — and presumably others around the world — have long been subjected to advertising that tells us we not only want, but must have these chemical products in our homes. We rush to the supermarkets in droves, filling our carts with lemon-scented furniture polish, spring-fresh soaps, country-breeze detergents, antiseptic hand cleaners, quick-shine floor cleaners, squeaky-clean window washes, and on and on and on. We move en masse to buy it all, following the advertisers’ lead like lemmings playing Follow the Leader to the sea.
The cliff we consumers are falling from may not kill us as swiftly as a plunge to a rocky shore. But if we don’t change our habits, we will slowly poison ourselves and our children. “Interestingly, if you put a chart detailing the rising cancer incidences from 1940 onward over a chart illustrating our increasing use of chemicals over the same time period, you’d see a startling parallel,” the authors write.
But surely the EPA protects us from dangerous chemicals. Doesn’t it?
Chapter 2 of Naturally Clean goes on to say,
In fact, under the clearly misnamed Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA is not allowed to require manufacturers to conduct health studies on the new chemicals they introduce unless the agency can demonstrate that a particular substance poses a significant risk. Because such proof can only come from scientific studies that take appreciable amounts of time and money, researchers simply can’t keep up with the continual flood of new compounds being introduced, and regulators are forced by a combination of law and circumstance to allow the vast majority into the marketplace with no study and no assurance of safety. The situation has become so extreme that according to the Environmental Working Group, in 2003 less than half of all chemicals submitted for approval to the EPA were backed up by even basic toxicity data, and 80 percent were approved in less than three weeks.
That’s a dismal record of consumer safety (which is why the Environmental Working Group and others are pushing for adoption of the Kid Safe Chemicals Act, but that’s for another discussion). But more often than not, we consumers subject ourselves and our families to toxic chemicals by voluntarily purchasing and using products that contain them.
The Dirt on Cleaning Products
In the introduction to Section Three, “The Dirty Secrets of Household Cleaners,” the authors write,
[T]hese products work so well, it’s all but impossible to imagine cleaning without them. Yet, perhaps we should, because behind their cheerfully sparkling labels of crystal mountain streams, and fields of wild flowers waving in the freshest breezes, all too many household cleaning products hide a dirty little secret: they’re made from synthetic chemicals that are toxic to people and dangerous to use.
Talking recently with a chemist friend (whose company affiliation shall remain nameless), I asked him what single chemical, of the many available, should I most try to avoid. Without hesitating, he said, “Chlorine bleach — not just for what it can do to you, but also for what it does to the environment.” A minute later, he added, “And anything that ends in ene: Benzene, xylene, methylene, propylene, and ethylene. Just stay the hell away from them.”
So I’m becoming more conscious of product labels, doing my best to screen out the hazards to my family’s health.
Naturally Clean contains the basic terminology you will need to be able to read the labels on cleaning products. In Chapter 19, “Unpronounceably Unhealthy: A Look at Some of the Specific Chemicals in Your Cupboard,” you’ll learn a few of the dangerous chemicals contained in the most common of household products — laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners, furniture polishes, toilet bowl cleaners, degreasers, window cleaners, and more. (You’ll find chlorine and some of the “enes” among them.)
Most important, the book also presents the health effects these chemicals cause — hormone disruption, neurotoxicity, cancer, reproductive toxicity, and more.
In Naturally Clean, you’ll also find tips for nontoxic cleaners that are safe for your kids, your pets, and you. In Chapter 32, “What to Pour on Your Floor,” the authors give the straightforward and cost-saving advice: “For the most part, soap and water are all you need to make floors shine.” If you want a deeper clean, combine “one quarter cup of natural liquid soap with half a cup of distilled vinegar and two gallons of hot water.” Need a cleaner strong enough to remove wax? “[R]eplace the vinegar … with one quarter cup of washing soda.”
Section Five, “Kidstuff,” warns, “we need to be hyperprotective when it comes to safeguarding our kids” and explains why kids are at greater risk than adults. Chapter 36 provides “A Baker’s Dozen Ways to Help Kids Breathe Easier.” Chapter 37 explains the dangers of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and provides a list of ingredients and materials that you’ll want to stay away from. Some of the products that the authors recommend avoiding may surprise you. They did me.
For example, I remember when vinyl flooring first became available. What an improvement over linoleum! How comfy to the foot! How beautiful the shine! Little did we know back then that vinyl flooring contains phthalates — and phthalates release VOCs. Naturally Clean recommends, “If you have vinyl flooring, consider replacing it with something else as soon as possible in order to protect children from the phthalates vinyl contains.” Really? I had no idea.
Don’t Freshen My Air
One of my personal favorites is Chapter 45, “Air Fresheners Stink.” It confirms what I’ve often thought — but have been hesitant to say — about homes and businesses that are infused with perfumed air fresheners.
In general, air fresheners don’t remove odors. They simply use chemicals to cover them up. In some cases, they even work by employing chemicals that reduce the ability of the nose to smell. Since air fresheners do nothing to stop the source of offensive odors, those odors remain in the air and the product must be reapplied frequently, which increases your exposure to the chemicals they contain.
Many of these chemicals either have a dubious safety record or remain untested for human health effects. Toxins found in air fresheners and room deodorizers include naphthalene, phenol, cresol, dichlorobenzene, and xylene among many others. Air freshener chemicals have been implicated in cancer, neurological damage, reproductive and developmental disorders, and other conditions. The compounds in air fresheners, particularly the synthetic fragrances they contain, can also aggravate asthma or trigger attacks.
Earlier, in Chapter 32, I also learned, “Scientists at the University of Bristol in England, for example, have found that the VOCs contained in air fresheners and aerosol products harm the health of mothers and their babies during both pregnancy and early childhood when those products are used around the house.”
Suddenly, I don’t feel the need to keep my mouth shut about the obnoxious scent of air fresheners.
Naturally Clean is not a horror story. It’s a calmly presented narrative based on current scientific data at the time it was written. It contains no-nonsense advice that will help you protect your family from exposure to toxic chemicals that you might not otherwise have known about. It also provides a list of “Recommended Products” (Section Seven) consumers can try as alternatives to those containing dangerous chemicals.
You might recognize author Jeffrey Hollender’s name as co-founder, executive chairperson, and “Chief Inspired Protagonist” (gotta love that title) of Seventh Generation, Inc., maker of nontoxic cleaning products. You might also say he has a vested interest in writing negative things about toxic chemicals. And you’d be right — both as a human being and as a corporate executive of the competition. But Naturally Clean doesn’t just recommend Seventh Generation products. It recommends and rates a variety of products from companies such as Life Tree, Sun & Earth, Bi-O-Kleen, Ecover, Dr. Bronner’s and more. By the way, though it consistently does well, Seventh Generation doesn’t always come out on top of the ratings.
If you’re concerned about your family’s health and want to make changes that will reduce the chemical load your bodies have to bear, this is an important book for you to read. But be forewarned: It’s not exactly bedtime reading. The mere thought of so many toxins in your immediate environment might just keep you awake at night.
Note: Although we didn’t pay for this book (it was a gift from a friend), we did not receive it as a complimentary copy from the publisher. Thought you might like to know.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
A few years ago Brooke Costello couldn’t use the word “recycled” in describing the unique line of fashion accessories she produces at the helm of her independent Chicago-based design company, Tongue Tied.
“That didn’t help the sale,” she explains. “So I coined the term ‘respirited.’ I’ve seen it used by other people since, but I believe that term originated with me.”
Couture on a Budget
Now the association of her wares with the recycling movement contributes substantially to the bottom line. “People across every socioeconomic level are responding to the concept,” she says. “Shopping in resale boutiques is born of the philosophy that you don’t have to spend a king’s ransom to wear couture.”
Since founding Tongue Tied in 2006, Costello has proven that her creativity goes far beyond an apt turn of phrase. From the original concept of the waist sash she created by combining a couple of men’s ties into an eye-catching accessory inspired by the Japanese Obi, she has branched out into an entire line of items ranging from totes and purses to laptop sleeves and cell phone cases, accent pillows, headbands, shawls, stoles, and ascots. Her latest creation, the Truffle, can be worn as an ascot or belt.
All of these one-of-a-kind pieces are handmade using repurposed ties. “I’ve always been struck by how beautiful ties are,” she explains. “Each and every one of them, even the kooky ones.”
But ties go in and out of style at quite a clip. Considering the frequency with which ties are purchased or given as gifts, there’s an ample surplus of them hanging unused in closets around the country. Most ultimately land in landfills or in resale shops and thrift stores where they may be of little use to the shoppers who patronize such outlets.
These are the places Costello trolls for finds. It was just such an establishment she wandered into in the spring of 2006, the day after accepting a buyout package from the Chicago publishing firm where she’d been employed at as advertising sales executive.
A New Look with Old Ties
“I walked into this resale shop on a Saturday morning and walked out with 20 vintage ties,” Costello says. She had no idea what she was going to do with them. She selected two of the ties that, she observed, looked as though they had been “separated at birth” – with complementary color palette and fabric – and pinned them together to create her first Obi.
Costello describes wearing the pinned-up obi to a bridal shower the next day. “All the women crowded around me saying, ‘What is that?’ I asked them if they thought I could do something with that design. They said, ‘Absolutely!’ The hostess gave me the name and number of her seamstress. She stitched up the obi and I had my first piece.”
Innovation just seems to come naturally to Costello. “Something I’ve said my entire life is, ‘Well I can make that!’ ” she says. From that initial showing and first design, Costello stepped up production and marketing, employing a team of local seamstresses to fabricate the unique accessories for sale at Chicago popular outdoor event, the Randolph Street Market Festival.
Since then, she has expanded into other outdoor shows, gift shows, and select retail outlets. She continually comes up with new ideas for fashion and home décor accessories, using men’s ties, women’s scarves, upholstery samples, and other recyclables.
“A couple of designs came about because I was looking for ways to use parts of the ties that were landing in my scrap bin. I was taking the narrow part of the tie to make headbands and setting aside the whole wider portion – there had to be some use for all that material!” The solution was the “sling kaching,” a holster style sling for mobile phone, camera, or I-pod, which can also be used as a minimalist purse for an evening out, carrying essentials like keys, ID, and cash.
Tongue Tied customers also are continually inventing new looks and different ways to wear the items, Costello says. “Anyone who loves accessories will always figure out another use for something.” As does she. While arranging various Tongue Tied accessories during a recent fashion shoot, she gave birth to three new applications for the items on the spot.
Maintaining a fast-paced schedule of events and showings out of her Chicago base as well as in Kohler Wisconsin, Miami, West Palm Beach and hometown St. Louis, Costello remains loyal to her Missouri roots: her Cardinals themed sling-kaching is a big seller in the Gateway city.
Holiday shoppers will have an opportunity to purchase Tongue Tied accessories at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart One of A Kind Show and Sale.
Open to the public from December 3-6, the show attracts 50,000 attendees from throughout the Midwest and features unique gift items from more than 500 artists, artisans, and designers.
A complete listing of future shows featuring Tongue Tied merchandise will be available at www.BrookeCostello.com, when the designer’s site goes live in December of this year.
Tie One On for Charity
Tongue Tied wares are also available through private events; information will soon be available online. “Hostesses can sponsor in-home fundraisers through the Tie One On program,” Costello said. “Select a charity partner, and Tongue Tied will donate 20% of event sales to your cause.”
Supporting great causes by selling accessories fabricated locally from re-purposed materials strikes Costello as a winning proposition from every angle. As she says, it enables her to complete her chosen mission: “Lessen the landfills — produce locally — save the ties!”
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
There’s a “green” way to do just about everything these days. With simple steps, you can save energy, time, money — and reduce your carbon footprint. There’s so much information available these days that sometimes it’s just overwhelming, especially for those just starting off on their eco-journey.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have bite-sized, practical tips that you could make use of right away, every day of the year?
The Green Year by Jodi Helmer is a great place to start. Helmer has sifted through mountains of data to create a reader-friendly guide with 365 tips that make green living (or greener living) easy to accomplish and fun to do.
This isn’t a book for the advanced greenie; many of the tips include things most died-in-the-wool environmentalists are doing already. But it’s a gift that’s sure to please a young graduate or newlyweds starting out on their own.
And, if your children’s school allows holiday gifts to teachers, this little book will be a surefire hit — way better than perfume she doesn’t like or candies that are not on his diet. Or how about your child’s Brownie leader or Cub Scout den mother?
Priced on Amazon at just over $10, it’s a useful and inexpensive book for any number of people on your gifting list. You might even want to buy it for yourself — then, in the true spirit of green living, pass it along to someone else when you’ve finished.
January through December
Though I’m a dedicated greenie, who spends lots of time looking for ways to make our household more ecologically respectful, I still found tips that surprised me. The following brief excerpts give just a taste from each month’s offerings:
January 19: “Toss your synthetic sponge and buy a sponge made of cellulose fibers instead. Synthetic sponges are made from nonrenewable resources and are often soaked in chemicals like triclosan that have antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Triclosan is also a pesticide that could destroy aquatic life. Triclosan is one of the most common manmade chemicals found in our rivers and streams.…”
February 6: “Replace your toothbrush with an eco-friendly model…. Recycline (www.recycline.com) makes its toothbrush handles from recycled yogurt cups. When it’s time to replace your toothbrush, mail it back to the company in a postage-paid mailer and your old toothbrush will be turned into products like outdoor furniture….”
March 1: “Use hydrogen peroxide instead of bleach when you wash a load of whites…. Hydrogen peroxide is just as effective for whitening your clothes but has none of the harmful environmental effects of bleach….”
April 9: “Switch to eco-friendly diapers…. that are gentler on your baby’s skin and kinder to the environment.”
May: 10: “Toss lemon peels in the garden to keep cats from using your soil as a litter box. Citrus scents make cats cower and sneeze… Aphids are also repelled by citrus. Mix the grated rind from a lemon with water and spray it on any plants that are being attacked by the little bugs.”
June 30: “Switch to eco-friendly cat litter…. Strip-mining [for clay] … has destroyed thousands of acres of land and removed millions of tons of soil. Choose cat litter made from wheat, recycled newspaper, corn cobs, or other renewable materials that are biodegradable or easily composted.”
July 27: “Explore alternatives to fabric softener. Most liquid fabric softeners contain ammonium chloride, which can harm marine life…. Try pouring a quarter cup of white vinegar or a quarter cup of baking soda (but not both) into the rinse cycle….”
August 3: “Switch to an all-natural dishwasher detergent. Your dishwasher detergent probably contains petroleum-based products…. Opt for vegetable-based dishwasher detergent; the soap is milder and made from all-natural ingredients.”
September 25: “Buy some new crayons. Crayons are often made of paraffin wax, a product made from nonrenewable petroleum. [Others] might contain asbestos… Instead, choose crayons made from soybean oil….”
October 9: “Switch to a powdered laundry detergent. Liquid laundry detergent is almost 80 percent water — a valuable, nonrenewable resource. If 20,000 Americans switched to powdered laundry detergent, it would save 55,000 gallons of water per year….”
November 1: “Think twice before tossing your jack-o-lantern in the trash. Your Halloween pumpkin can provide a feast for wildlife. Smash the pumpkin into chunks and scatter the pieces in the backyard….”
December 29: “Buy artificial fire logs…. Artificial fire logs emit 75 percent less carbon monoxide and create 80 percent less particulate matter than real wood….”
Don’t Wait for the New Year
Not every tip will be new to you, but even the familiar ones may be good reminders to do those things you were going to “get around to one of these days.” There’s no better time than now to make changes. And with The Green Year, any day is a good day to start.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
The state of the economy isn’t the only reason people today are wearing used clothing. Many people find the retro fashion appealing — and environmentally responsible. Blue Planet Green Living interviewed ecopreneur Susan Gregg Koger to learn about her uber-popular, online clothing store, which started with her passion for vintage clothes. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
Seven years ago, Susan Gregg Koger began ModCloth.com by selling vintage clothing online from her Carnegie Mellon University dorm room. Later that day, she had her very first sale.
Now, ModCloth.com is an internationally recognized brand and the number one Google search result for indie clothing, retro clothing, and vintage outfits. It has expanded to include a mix of vintage-inspired wear.
The site has its roots in Koger’s teenage fascination with vintage shopping. She now mixes business with pleasure and still considers thrifting a hobby.
“I’m so lucky I get to shop for a living,” Koger says. “To de-stress on the weekends, I go to buy vintage clothing. It’s time consuming, but it’s fun and rewarding work.”
The site sells a wide variety of retro items, from dresses to shoes to bathing suits. But the highlight, for many shoppers, is that Koger features a single vintage item on the site each day. These items sell quickly — typically between 10 to 15 minutes after they are posted. The ModCloth staff, based out of Pennsylvania, use their knowledge of fashion history to identify the era of the vintage clothing.
“There are some tells like the designer, type of zipper, button, etc., that make it apparent which era the item is from,” explains Koger.
Always an advocate of wearing pre-owned clothing to be eco-friendly, Koger says, “Whenever you can re-use something, you should.”
They don’t make clothing like they used to, anyway,” Koger points out. “If clothing that is 40 years old still holds up, why not wear it?”
According to the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association, the average American throws away about 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per year, which makes shopping for pre-worn clothes all the more beneficial for sustainable living.
Spending time as a teenage “thrifter” has made Koger vintage-shopping savvy. She agrees, however, that it can be difficult to find cute, stylish, pre-worn clothes. She offers several tips for beginning thrifters.
- Search through Craigslist for estate and garage sales
- Pull any items that look interesting
- Don’t be afraid to alter: taking a re-used item to a tailor will still cost less than buying it new
- Learn how to sew to alter items at home
- Rework vintage: turn a maxi skirt into a dress or use beautiful fabric for curtains
Koger tries hard to be environmentally conscious with the new items she sells on the site, as well. She buys non-vintage clothing in organic materials whenever it fits her style’s aesthetic — currently around 10 percent of the new clothing. Koger also attempts to find items manufactured in the United States whenever possible, both to cut down on transportation costs and to keep a small carbon footprint.
ModCloth.com also sells other eco-friendly products, such as re-usable shopping bags and coffee mugs. The ModLife section of the site features a “Green Scene” blog.
Koger proves herself to be a savvy environmentalist and ecopreneur, as well as a top-rated vintage shopper. Besides selling re-worn, organic, and re-usable items, the staff also donates money and time to local charities. This past Earth Day, Koger donated 10 percent of the site’s daily profit — totaling over $4,000 — to the Pennsylvania Resources Council. Users of the site participated in selecting the charity: They suggested their favorites, then ModCloth chose the top four. The contest was then turned back to the users, who voted to select one charity. More traffic and higher sales than average contributed to this donation. ModCloth also contributed their time to help plant trees in the Pittsburgh area.
After all her years of browsing through racks of old clothes, what does Koger find to be the one drawback to the hobby? “Finding a beautiful pair of vintage shoes that are not in my size,” laments Koger. “It’s tragic to part with them, because they are the one thing that cannot be altered.”
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Green living isn’t just about being eco-friendly in ways that prevent pollution. It’s also about a way of life that values the world around us and honors it with our attention. Or, so it seems to us at Blue Planet Green Living. The treadmill life keeps us from enjoying the world around us, and if we can’t pay attention to it, we tend to forget to care for it. Contributing writer Abby Seixas provides us with reflections on the value of getting off the treadmill. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
One of my favorite cartoons from The New Yorker shows two mice with two exercise wheels side by side. One mouse is running frantically around his, while the other, sitting still on the edge of the wheel, says, “I had an epiphany.”
The cartoon speaks to the territory I deal with all the time in my work as a psychotherapist specializing in issues of life balance: the elusive change of mind and heart that enables a person to shift from running endlessly on the treadmill of our culturally sanctioned 24/7 way of life, to being able to slow down, or, dare I say it, even to stop every now and then.
I’ve spent the last 15 years helping women intentionally slow their pace in order to experience less stress and more depth and meaning in their everyday lives. In a culture that so highly values speed and efficiency, that’s a humbling proposition, in my own life as well as that of my clients and the women in my groups.
However, the task becomes much easier when certain life circumstances come into play. Circumstances such as:
- death of a loved one
- serious illness
- job loss
- some other major life crisis
Difficult life events tend to throw people off the treadmill, forcing them to slow down. Often, this downshifting results in asking themselves tough questions, reevaluating their priorities and ultimately (though certainly not without pain), making significant positive changes in how they live their lives.
The experience of a client of mine whom I’ll call “Louise” is a good example of a difficult event leading to a major, positive life reorientation. A mother of two who worked full-time, the event that shifted Louise’s own life dramatically happened to someone she was close to. Louise had worked hard for fifteen years at a job in sales which, she said, “sucked the life right out of me.” Looking back at her life then, she described it as “totally externally focused, driven, and very out of control.”
During that time, one of Louise’s friends was in a very severe car accident. It was unclear whether she would survive. During one of the first nights that her friend was in the hospital, Louise slept only intermittently, thinking and dreaming about her and her family for what seemed like most of the night. She said, “Toward morning, just as I was awakening, I had this thought about my friend: ’Even if her life is over now, she can know that she has done a great job as a mother.’ Then all of a sudden, I applied that thought to myself, and I remember the clutching feeling in my chest. It was a visceral reaction as I thought: ’If I were to die tomorrow, that couldn’t be said about me.’”
She saw that she had been run so ragged by her job that she wasn’t “living her values,” which to her meant putting her children first. The incongruity between what she believed in and how she was living was so stark and jolting to her in that moment that she had to act. “I gave my notice to a job that I’d had for fifteen years. I didn’t go for options. I didn’t think about how else I might resolve this. It was completely: I’ve got to stop this freight train, and get off.”
The next several months were hard in a different way for Louise. She was at home and spending much more time with her children, but she still felt driven and could not settle down. “I was sewing pillow-covers with a vengeance! I felt enormous stress, but now most of it was self-generated.”
Eventually, in an effort to address the stress she was feeling both physically and emotionally, Louise attended a weekend retreat that included some guided visualization. At first, she had trouble focusing her attention inwardly, but on one of the “inner journeys,” she found herself able to truly go inside, and her inner world opened up. She went in her mind’s eye back to her childhood home, and re-contacted a deep sense of loneliness that had been with her often as a child. She realized that in her adult life, the “freight train” energy that caused her so much stress was fueled in part by trying to avoid the old feeling of discomfort with loneliness from her childhood. This awareness helped her with the changes she wanted to make.
Later she said, “I had lived my life for so long in an outer fashion, and I was so out of synch and so screwed up. I had some sense that I needed to look inside, but it was so hard. I didn’t know how to do it.”
Her weekend retreat was the beginning of an inner exploration that led Louise to one of my groups, and eventually, as her children got older, to an entirely new career that connects back to that early-morning moment that affected her so profoundly: She teaches, trains and writes about parenting skills. She says, “What I’m doing now uses all of who I am: my professional experience, my skill, my education. And it’s married to my passion. So it’s very powerful for me. And now, because what I’m doing is inner-driven, there’s an energy and an authenticity about it that keeps me going.”
* * * * *
I see a striking parallel between this process of personal transformation and the societal shift we are experiencing with the economic downturn.
We are in crisis.
We have been thrown off the treadmill.
We have an enormous opportunity to ask tough questions and reevaluate our priorities. What is sustainable growth? How much is enough? What is real wealth? How do we go forward from here?
Australian environmental business expert Paul Gilding has called this time, when we have hit the wall both economically and ecologically, “The Great Disruption.” Thomas Friedman of The New York Times quotes Gilding: “We are taking a system operating past its capacity and driving it faster and harder. No matter how wonderful the system is, the laws of physics and biology still apply.”
This is precisely what so many of us are doing in our daily lives: pushing our wonderful systems — our bodies and minds — to the breaking point with over-crammed schedules, incessant distraction and interruption, and non-stop busyness. Because the laws of physics and biology still apply, some of us do reach the breaking point. And it is there that transformation often begins.
As a psychotherapist, when I see continuing headlines about layoffs, rising homelessness and other forms of bad economic news, I take heart from having witnessed so many individuals who have reached the breaking point and from there, fashioned new lives that are slower and more balanced, healthier, richer with meaning and purpose, and more conducive to happiness. My hope is that the economic crisis can lead us, collectively, along a similar path.
Until recently, I never really considered buying used clothing, much less used kids’ clothing, but somewhere along the path of saving money and doing good for the planet I wound up in a used-clothing store. I was amazed by the buried treasures and great prices, and ever since, I’ve been hooked. I’m just one person who has reconsidered my view of used clothing shops — but I’m one of many.
Between watching the news and chatting with my girlfriends, it’s become obvious to me that many people have caught on to the idea of buying gently used clothing and other items. They not only save money, they also reduce their use of virgin natural resources. A practice that was once considered a faux pas is now common — and even a bragging right, when the discussion turns to the importance of going green.
I’m relatively new to the habit of thinking about my impact on the earth and trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Yet, I’m always excited about trying new things, and finding new ways to live a greener life has become an enjoyable challenge.
One Saturday afternoon not long ago, I was wandering through a shopping center when I came across Once Upon a Child, a resale store for children. Before I knew it, I was digging through the racks of the store on a treasure hunt for great prices and cute outfits for my two-year-old daughter, River. There are so many reasons “previously loved” clothing makes sense, especially for kids. It seems as though every two seconds they grow out of something; and every second they spill something on themselves; and they don’t even care whether you spend $20 on a shirt or $2.
Buying second-hand clothing for River was an easy step for me to take, but now I think I’m ready for a bigger one. It’s time to start buying used clothing for myself. This may turn out to be more challenging, particularly because I wear a unique size. Fortunately, I recently saw a commercial for Plato’s Closet, a store that specializes in used clothing for a niche market that includes my size. I’m very hopeful.
As I’ve learned, Plato’s Closet is part of the Winmark Corporation. Their brands include Plato’s Closet, Play It Again Sports (a resale shop for sports equipment), Music Go Round (a resale shop for musical instruments), and Once Upon a Child — the kids’ used-clothing store, where I now shop for River’s clothes.
According to Susan Baustian, the brand director of Once Upon a Child, a husband and wife team started the company in 1985. As the parents of three young boys, they were searching to find a use for their children’s old clothes and to buy inexpensive “new-to-us” clothes for their kids. With this goal in mind, they started Once Upon a Child.
Now, more than 20 years later, Once Upon a Child has 232 stores in the U.S. and Canada, with approximately 15 stores added every year. In addition to being the largest resale-clothing chain nationwide, Once Upon a Child has maintained its original focus: reselling used clothing while providing families with a great economic value. Baustian added that employees get to “go to work each day, proud of what [they] do on a daily basis.” I think that says a lot about the type of company and industry this is.
Intrigued by my shopping trips to Once Upon a Child, I visited their website. The home page contains a link to a Brag Book, filled with stories posted by Once Upon a Time shoppers. While reading some of the entries, I realized the enormous impact this store (and stores like it) have on people. There were a lot of “found-a-great-outfit entries” and “found-great-baby-gear-for-half-off entries,” but what really caught my attention were the single-mom and young-couple entries.
For example, a young mother named Paige wrote, “When I first found out I was pregnant I didn’t know what to do. Me only being 17 was scary. I had no job, no money, and definitely no baby clothes or anything for my baby. When I heard about Once Upon A Child I was very happy. I went into the store and found numerous things I wanted for my baby for a very cheap price. I couldn’t be any happier than I am now with my son…”
Somehow, I (perhaps like many of you) overlooked how many families and individuals are struggling to make ends meet. Reading the stories of young mothers struggling to clothe their babies and couples with “earlier-than-expected” pregnancies gave me a much greater appreciation for the impact of these stores. At the same time that these stores are helping people “recycle” their used clothes to other families and keep them out of the landfill, they’re making it possible for individuals to afford clothing that they otherwise couldn’t.
And now that River has plenty of “new” clothes from Once Upon a Child, I’m excited about my own pending trip to Plato’s Closet. Going green just got easier.
Parenting is tough for everyone. And living holistically has challenges of its own. But being holistic and a parent, too? You may need support for that.
That’s why Executive Director Nancy Massotto created the Holistic Moms Network, a nonprofit organization that brings together holistically minded parents to share ideas and support each other. Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke by phone with Massotto to learn more about this rapidly growing, grassroots movement. — Publisher
MASSOTTO: The original chapter, which is the ongoing Essex County, NJ, chapter, was started by three holistically minded mothers. In 2002, by a stroke of luck, I met two mothers in a breastfeeding support group. We were all parenting differently in terms of choosing holistic health care options for our children; and being advocates for things like natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and eco-conscious living. We were finding it very difficult to navigate our way in parenthood without having other parents around us who felt the same way. So we teamed up to launch the original chapter in northern New Jersey and ran it for about a year.
At our first meeting, about a dozen moms came, which was really exciting. We realized it was an incredibly empowering experience for like-minded people to be in the same place and to support each other. Over the course of a year, the local chapter grew to about 80 or 90 members. Moms came from all over the place to connect with our core group, and it escalated quite a bit.
It was at that point I said to the other two founders that we should be an organization, not just a local chapter. There were clearly parents across the country who could benefit from the support, education, and information we were experiencing collectively. I suggested we launch Holistic Moms as a nonprofit national organization with chapters all over the country, and the two other moms looked at me like I was completely crazy. It was way more work than they were interested in doing. So, I took on the task of building the national organization. I’ve always been a type A personality, and there was certainly no reason to stop now. So in October 2003, I put the organization in motion.
BPGL: How many chapters do you have now?
MASSOTTO: We have about 120 active chapters in the U.S. and a couple of chapters forming in Canada. We’re not interested in expanding outside of North America right now; it’s just a little more than we could we handle at this point.
BPGL: What kind of members do you attract?
MASSOTTO: We have parents of all ages: parents of adult children, grandparents, dads, and expecting parents. It’s a really diverse population, even though we started with a focus on moms.
We encourage dads to join as well. Our online community has special boards for fathers, and we do have a few chapters that have meetings specifically for dads. Our Leadership Team is very committed to our name, Holistic Moms, but we are trying to bring more fathers in. There are quite a few who are very active. They attend a lot of meetings and events and organization, and it works out really well.
BPGL: What happens during a typical meeting? Specifically, what could I expect as a parent new to the group?
MASSOTTO: All of our meetings are based on a specific theme or topic and may or may not involve a guest speaker. A guest speaker would be a professional in health or parenting, such as an herbalist, to teach you about a certain subject, such as herbs for medicinal purposes or organic gardening. It’s usually someone from the community who has a level of expertise of knowledge to share.
If it’s your first meeting, you will be introduced to the group and the leader will explain what Holistic Moms is, what we do, and how we run. We always do introductions, because, as I said, a large part of what we do is about community, and you need to get to know each other. So we often take time to introduce ourselves to each other and talk about our holistic passions. And then you may have the guest speaker present for usually about 30 or 45 minutes. Then you have an opportunity to connect and talk more with moms who are there and learn what the community is doing.
BPGL: Let’s say I’m a mom who wants to start a chapter, what kind of support services will you give me?
MASSOTTO: We have a whole process. When you want to start a local chapter, you first apply. There is a small leader’s fee, a one-time fee that you pay to cover materials and training. First we set up a phone interview. We will sit down and talk about what Holistic Moms is, what it does, what their desire is for starting a chapter, and discuss their local community and resources that are available to them. After that they’ll receive a complete manual, which is basically a step-by-step guide on how to start a chapter. It has everything in it from how to find an appropriate meeting location, to how to write a press release, to possible meeting topics they might want to cover or activities they might want to include in their chapter.
We also send them materials: brochures, fliers, and business cards representing the Network. Then the potential leader has a conference call training, where we go over the keys to building a successful chapter. We also connect them to an online community, just for chapter leaders, where they can exchange ideas and information about running a chapter.
Once the leader has started their chapter, we offer regular support calls throughout the year on a variety of topics, such as outreach and publicity for their chapters, time management, and organizational skills, or we simply share information with the leader to help them continue to build a successful group.
They learn a lot about how to build a successful local community, but many women use the professional skills they already have. It can be very empowering for them as a leader.
BPGL: So, in addition to building chapters, you’re actually building women as leaders?
MASSOTTO: We are, and it’s interesting, because it wasn’t something I anticipated. One of the beautiful, unexpected benefits of Holistic Moms is that a lot of the parents who come to us are enormously well-accomplished women who have stepped back from their professional jobs to be parents. By becoming Holistic Moms leaders, they find the whole experience to be empowering on a personal level, because they’re using their skills and gaining a sense of purpose, passion, and motivation for what they do.
I find some really emotional responses from leaders that I did not expect. A lot of women feel disoriented when they transition from their professional careers to being an at-home mom. This has really answered that call for them, which I think is amazing. In addition to creating communities and offering moms support for holistic options, we are also helping empower them as women.
BPGL: What are your mission and purpose?
MASSOTTO: In a nutshell, our mission is to support and educate parents who are interested in holistic health and green living. We do that through grassroots community-building by creating chapters where parents can connect and learn. Holistic Moms also integrates those chapters into local areas so that business owners, practitioners, and educators who are passionate about holistic living can bring their knowledge into the group as well.
BPGL: Do you take a position on issues, or do you just provide information and let the parents form an opinion?
MASSOTTO: Our intention is to educate people about certain issues and give them the ability to make an informed decision. We’re not here to argue with people’s philosophical or religious beliefs, but certainly to provide an alternative look on lifestyle choices. We don’t want parents to blindly fall into a trap of what most people do. We find that a lot in our organization. Parents will come in saying they didn’t know XYZ is an option. They just listened to what their girlfriends, doctors, or parents said, and never even questioned it. We want people to make conscious choices.
BPGL: What are some of the first things a new mother should do? If breastfeeding is number one, what would you say is number two?
MASSOTTO: It’s not necessarily a specific set of things, because it varies so much among children. The most important aspect is that parents are educated and informed. Moms with a newborn really need to think organic in every aspect of their life. They also need to consider the products in their baby’s environment. What kind of bed are they sleeping on? What toys are they putting into their mouth? What other food is being put into their mouth, if they aren’t breastfeeding? We hope most women are breastfeeding, but certainly when they’re introducing other foods, they need to be aware of what is in them.
A lot of that is a step-by-step process, and there many different elements they need to look at in their own homes. There are so many different avenues where we can improve the health and well-being of our children. It’s a very personal, individual program for making really radical change.
BPGL: What do you think is the most important issue right now for the health of children?
MASSOTTO: Broadly, environmental toxins. Our children are being bombarded on many different levels by toxins in our food, air, and water — also, potentially, from the vaccinations they are receiving. Their bodies are being overwhelmed. The rising rates we see in children’s diseases are a factor of that burden. It’s getting to, if not already at, extremely critical levels that are not being addressed.
MASSOTTO: It is. There are many concerns about what we are putting into our bodies, for children and adults. There is a very strong disconnect between the chemicals we put into the environment and that go into our bodies, and what’s going on with our health. I think we really need to start making those connections.
BPGL: It sounds like you almost need to have a chemistry degree to be a holistic parent.
MASSOTTO: We certainly aren’t experts in all areas, and I certainly don’t profess to be. That’s one of the challenges of being a holistic-minded parent. Many people become very overwhelmed with all of the news and information about everyday elements being dangerous and toxic, they just don’t know what to do or where to start.
One of things we hope to do is really help people make small changes that work for them. Not everyone makes the same choices as a holistic mom. We are all working toward a similar goal and mission for our lives, families, and the planet, but we don’t all do it in the same manner. We believe people have to be educated and know what those options are, know the risks and benefits of all those choices, and make the best choices for their family. We definitely are not about telling people what to do.
BPGL: I’ve heard of some parents overprotecting their children from germs. Do you ever run into that problem? If so, what do you advise them to do?
MASSOTTO: I do think there is a little bit of germ-phobia, but it’s not so much the germs we should be focusing on. We should be concentrating on preventive health. It’s all about the immune system — what we can do to make our bodies as strong as possible. There are always going to be germs in the world, no matter what we do. The question is, can we withstand those germs, or can’t we? If we are living an unhealthy lifestyle — a lot of which has to do with nutrition, stress, or the air we breathe and chemicals in our environment – we are weakening our immune system. Looking at it from a holistic approach is looking at the whole equation, not just focusing on germs.
BPGL: Do you collaborate with any other organizations?
MASSOTTO: We do, some. We are philosophically aligned with a number of groups, because we share a lot of different philosophies. A holistic philosophy is so overarching, it encompasses so many different aspects. We have collaborated with a lot of different organizations on special projects or education campaigns to move things forward. We support many different groups, like La Leche League, for breastfeeding promotion. There is an enormous amount of potential for Holistic Moms working with other organizations on many different levels.
BPGL: Do you do any lobbying?
MASSOTTO: No. We are a 501(c)3, so we aren’t in a position to lobby. We do know our members have been locally active, getting involved in their communities, but it’s not a position that we can get involved in because of our status.
BPGL: Why did you choose to be a 501(c)3, rather than a for-profit entity?
MASSOTTO: For a lot of different reasons. We want to further our mission and purpose in a way that furthers our credibility. We believe we are here to serve the public good in a very large way, in terms of education and support. Nonprofit status is what represents our mission and purpose.
BPGL: How do you survive financially?
MASSOTTO: We struggle. We’re a membership-based organization. Membership is our predominate financial resource at this point. We have started a sponsorship program, which is hopefully going to help bring more financial resources to us. And we have some other options in terms of fundraising. We do hope to get into grants from foundations, but we are still a very small and new operation. Holistic Moms is lucky enough to have a lot of wonderful people volunteer their time and effort to make the organization work. But expanding our financial base is certainly one of our objectives for the future.
BPGL: What other challenges are you faced with? What were some of the things you’ve overcome?
MASSOTTO: Clearly, the biggest challenge is building the organization from the ground up. I’ve worked in nonprofit organizations in the past, but never started one from the bottom. It’s been a real learning experience. One of the greatest challenges we’ve faced is that our growth has outpaced us a little bit. I established a website around October 2003, when we started, and within three days of putting up the website, someone contacted me saying they wanted to start a chapter. I just sat there and said, “Wow, I don’t even have a process for this yet.” It wasn’t even ready; we were just kind of playing with it. We’ve been playing catchup ever since.
We ended our first year with 20-some chapters in 14 states. It was just mind-boggling. But we’ve been fortunate to attract a really dynamic group of people, who are inspired by the mission and purpose of our organization. They’ve been willing to volunteer a lot of time to make Holistic Moms grow and fill all of these ideas we have. There is certainly no lack of ideas for us; it’s a matter of having the finances to make that all happen. It’s been a good challenge in a sense, that we have so much to do and so much interest, it’s hard to keep up. It’s certainly a challenge we want to have.
BPGL: How do people hear about your organization?
MASSOTTO: People predominately hear about us through word of mouth and the internet. We’ve made very valuable connections with holistic practitioners, business owners, and people who are trying to live green and sustainable. Social marketing has been great for our network, because it is a very social, personal approach. We grow so fast from moms reaching out to other moms.
BPGL: Do you have an annual meeting or conference?
MASSOTTO: We do. It’s called the Natural Living Conference. It’s held every year in October, and will be in October again this year. We try to bring in speakers of interest to our members. We also have vendors, exhibitors, and sponsors. It’s a pretty custom event and has been very successful and popular with our members. Information for our conference is on our website and annualconference.holisticmoms.org.
BPGL: What else would you like parents to know about the Holistic Moms Network?
MASSOTTO: One thing I like to make people understand is that it doesn’t matter how holistic or how green someone is when they’re deciding if they want to be a part of the Holistic Moms community. Parents will say “I didn’t have my children naturally,” or “I didn’t breastfeed,” but it doesn’t really apply. It doesn’t matter what choices you’ve made along the way, or whether or not you’re achieving or struggling with your goals. We welcome a really diverse membership into our group. It’s all about the goals and objectives you have. Wanting to live more consciously for yourself and planet is a journey. Some of us have been on the journey for a long time, some have just started, and others are in the middle. We want people to come with an open mind and take what works for them.
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