Monday, March 9, 2009

SoapSense Just Makes Good Sense

There is nothing more luxurious than using a handmade bar of soap. If you've never tried one, you must. It's like eating a fine piece of chocolate as opposed to the waxy chocolate that's passed out on Halloween that you swipe from your kid's sack. Ahhh, now you know what I mean. I'd like you to meet Dana, another wonderful artisan from Etsy. She creates a delicious assortment of these soapy goldmines, and they are easier to get than that rotten candy from the kid's hidden stash.

Dana, how did you get started making soap?

About 5 years ago I ran across a handcrafted soap craft book in the used book store. I was immediately fascinated with making soap from scratch, and being able to control the ingredients and scent. The first few soap batches I tried were not altogether successful. But when persistence paid off and I had those first few bars of luxurious soap that turned out right, I was hooked!

At what time did it go from something you enjoyed doing to a business?

Soap making did start out as just a way to make soap for my family and as gifts for friends. However, since this is a very addictive craft, at some point your house starts being overrun by more soap than you can use or give away -- that's when you know it is time to start figuring out your packaging, pricing, and selling venues!

Do you have a favorite soap that you make?

I have two all-time favorite bars that I keep making over and over again. The first is my Rosemary Mint bar. It has French Green Clay in it and is a lively bar that works well for shaving. The second is my Goat's Milk Gardenia bar. I love the floral fragrance in this one as well as the soothing oatmeal.

Your father-in-law makes beautiful soap dishes made out of scraps of wood that are perfect to use with your soaps, how did that partnership get started?

I wanted to expand the items offered in my Etsy shop, so I brainstormed different ways to do this in an earth-friendly way. My woodworking father-in-law has always been my go-to person for a variety of woodworking projects, so this was a natural extension of the talents that he has. I designed the dishes to fit my soaps, and he collects
the wood to build them.

Where can we go to buy your items?

My soaps, dishes, and other bath accessories are offered on my Etsy shop, Soap Sense. You can also buy locally if you are lucky enough to be invited to one of my home parties!

Any new soaps you are working on that we'll see in your shop in the near future?

I'm always trying new soap recipes since I create them myself. I'm currently attracted to making a series of Dead Sea Salt bars in different fragrances that are great for summer. I'll also be remaking my Jasmine Tea soap bar - it has been wildly popular the last few months, and sold out very quickly.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

ReChargeable Batteries

Want to save a lot of money ? (I mean a lot !) People don't realize how much money they can save and how much waste can be avoided by using rechargeable batteries. Even though most portable music players have built in rechargeable batteries that use the computer to keep them charged, there are still a lot of items using batteries. And they use them at an astonishing rate. Flashlights, remotes for t.v.'s, video players and stereos, wireless controllers for game consoles, cameras (oh boy, do cameras eat up batteries!) , and my favorite, the wireless mouse and keyboard for the computer are battery gluttons.

If you take an average 4 pack of name brand alkaline batteries, say AA size. Average price is around 4 dollars. 4 dollars for one use of 4 batteries. You are basically talking about a dollar for a single use battery that is going to be thrown away after it's dead. All batteries have a slew of toxic chemicals and heavy metals in them. Approximately 3 billion, that's billion with a B, get thrown away every year in the U. S. alone. This is enough to completely pack 600 full size school busses.

A four pack of rechargeable batteries with a charger is around 20 dollars. I know what you're thinking, oh my goodness that's 4 dollars a battery, with the charger thrown in for good behavior. Okay, 20 dollars would buy you 20 disposable batteries. That would get you 20 uses, then 20 toxic batteries that end up in the landfill. Rechargeables can be used and recharged, conservatively estimated, 2oo times. Now that same 20 dollars that got you 20 batteries, gives you 200 times the uses and 1/200th of the waste. Let's look at it another way. Those 4 batteries and a charger actually come out equaling 800 battery uses. 800 batteries that would be thrown away if they were disposables, and would equal 800 dollars spent on those same disposable batteries. 20 dollars versus 800 dollars, and 4 batteries versus 800 batteries. No matter how you look at it, it's a winner. Batteries can also be recycled, did you know that? Check with your local recycling centers. Save yourself a ton of money, save the planet from unnecessary toxic waste, and still enjoy all of your personal electronic gadgets. It's a no brainer.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Can The Cans

Ok, I know you can recycle those tin cans that we buy food in. But there are several good reasons to forgo the canned food. First of all, by the time that the food makes it into the can it doesn't have much nutritional value. Secondly, the more your food has been processed (which is what is happening to it as it's canned) the more chance there is to have some sort of contamination or adulteration. Probably the biggest reason to ditch the can is taste and texture. Fresh food tastes so much better than canned.

Storage is an issue for some foods, fresh can not last as long as canned, if that's a concern, frozen is a much better option.

One way we've been able to reduce our can usage is by buying dried beans. We started this a while back for a couple of reasons, dried beans cost less, are less processed and they don't have as much waste. We thought it would be hard to make the switch because planning ahead is not our best skill. However, it hasn't proven to be hard at all. And now that we've made the switch we'll never go back. Cooked beans taste so much better than canned and they have a much nicer texture.

Cooking beans is so easy and only takes a little planning ahead. The night before, we pull out a large bowl, dump some beans into it, I love to mix different varieties together, and cover it with water. And you're done for the night.

At some point the next day a couple of hours before I want to eat the beans, I start cooking them. Sometimes, we don't end up being able to cook the beans the next day and it's no big deal. Just rinse them and they will last another night. I wouldn't let them go longer than that, though.

To cook the beans, just put them in a large pot and cover them with water. How long it will take to cook the beans depends on a couple of factors. Fresher beans will cook faster, if your beans are older they will take longer. No way to know this really if you didn't grow them. So, allow yourself some flexibility. If your beans are smaller, they will also cook faster. I would say for most small beans that have been soaked overnight, such as small black beans or adzuki beans, they will take about an hour to an hour and a half. Larger beans, such as kidney or pinto, could take between 2 hours and 15 minutes to three hours. It also kind of depends on the temperature you cook them at. My favorite and the easiest way is to allow myself about 2 1/2 hours to cook them. I bring the beans to a boil, cover them and then allow them to cook over low heat for the next couple of hours. I add a couple of bay leaves now to add some flavor, but that's it for now. I've been playing around with trying to reduce the amount of electricity it takes to cook my beans. So, I've been bringing them to a boil, covering them and turning off the heat and letting them sit. To cook them this way usually takes a little longer and I usually have to bring them to a boil a second time to get them cooked all the way. It's a little more tedious process but again I'm trying to reduce resources. Once the beans are close to a softness and texture that you like, I may add some seasoning, depending on what I'm going to use them for.

So, can the cans. You can start with just one item, like beans and you'll never go back to your old tin ways.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Great For The Environment, Great For Our Wallets

Just imagine if all those things you have around the house that are considered disposable, no longer were. Imagine how much less trash we would make. Imagine how many resources we would save. Imagine how much money we could save. Well, you don't have to imagine. All you have to do is meet my next guest on Your Green Shopper. Another great Etsy guest interview. Candice makes wonderful handcrafted products that are a must for your house. Her items will be especially interesting to women readers, since she makes products for us and for our young ones. And once again, Candice reminds us that being kind to the environment is also often being kind to our wallets. Time to learn more about Candice and her great Etsy shop and to stop buying all those extra large sized trash bags.

Candice, tell me a little about the items you make and sell?

Right now, my most popular items are “Soap Bits,” cloth baby wipes and women’s cloth pads, often known as “mama cloth.” These are only a couple of things I sell – among other items, I carry burp rags, unpaper towels, soft baby toys, and a few knitted and crocheted things.

Let me tell you a little bit more about my bestsellers, since they aren’t always self-explanatory!

Soap Bits are small cubes of soap meant to be dissolved in water. The solution is used for a lot of different things, but I mostly sell them to parents who use cloth wipes instead of disposable wipes for their babies and kids. I use them myself for my youngest son, and they work really well on dirty faces, too! Because they are made with a glycerin soap they are very gentle. I’ve also had customers buy them to refill their foaming soap bottles, to use for one-use guest soaps, and even for their kids’ use at bathtime!

My other big seller is my Bella Luna cloth pantiliners – I originally came up with my design after buying some wonderful – but way too thick for comfort - pantiliners from another etsy seller. I wanted a pantiliner that worked well every day but that I couldn’t feel. I tried making them myself with my own pattern and I was hooked! I figured I’d try them on Etsy, and my Bella Luna line has been a huge success. When I have time, I also make menstrual pads under the same line.

How did you get started making items that are durable and not disposable?

I’d like to be able to say that I was really concerned with the environment, but at the time, it wasn’t my main concern. Not when I first started using durable items.

We were in a tight spot financially, and I was trying to find ways to save. I was already cloth diapering my oldest son, and I discovered a cloth pad forum. I was a little grossed out! But I needed to save money, so I bought some pads and tried them. It’s notreally any worse than the disposables! But the pads weren’t exactly what I wanted, and I realized that I could make them myself to fit my needs. When I started listing them on Etsy, I found that I was not the onlyone looking for a thinner pad!

As I’ve transitioned to more durable goods in my own household (and as I became more interested in the environmental aspects of durable items) I’ve incorporated those items into my Etsy shop.

Do you do other things in your life that take the environment into consideration?

First I want to point out that a lot of what we do for the environment, we also do for our pocketbooks! Frugality in consumerism is one of the best things we can do for the environment.

One of the biggest principles my family lives by is to always ask ourselves if we really need something, or if we can make do. Consuming less is always at the forefront of my thoughts. It’s everything from buying in bulk (and reusing the plastic bags the flour came in) to using the same perfectly good car for as long as it will last. I make my own soap, bread, and other items that I can, and that cuts back on packaging. We buy organic and local as much as possible, and garden – both vegetables and native flowers – to create our own food and encourage natural eco-systems to flourish!

We also have learned – the hard way! – to look at the value of an item. Sometimes, it is better to buy a more expensive, quality item that will last 10 years than to buy something half as expensive that will last one.

With my cloth pads, for example – if one pad saves me from using a disposable each week, that’s four disposables a month! Forty-eight pads a year that would simply be thrown in the trash! And that’s if I used a cloth pad once a week!

Imagine how many plastic-lined pads are being thrown in the trash every year, and how much money you’d spend buying those pads. You’ll spend more money up front buying cloth pads, but you’d easily make it back before the pad ever wore out.

That’s just one example – looking at the value of an item is so important!

Do you have a favorite item to make?

No, not really. I like variety! I like to try new things. I love to create things that will add a level of comfort to life – quilts, comfy cloth pads, soft toys, wonderfully scented soaps.

Where can we go to buy your items?

Right now, I’m only on Etsy. You can find me there as WeeEssentials. I am making plans to set up my own independent site early this year, but I absolutely love Etsy and I will be staying there, too!

What do we have to look forward to from you in the near future?

I have so many ideas, but I’ve narrowed them down for right now! (You’ll laugh at my “narrowing” when you see my list.)

Very soon I’ll be adding nursing pads to my Bella Luna line. I’ve also planned to add some yarn I’ve dyed, wool felt baby booties with adorable felted designs, baby grab balls, more wet bags, and some beauty products including the repair and moisturizing serum I make and use, facial cloths, and more soaps.

I have a lot of ideas – many of these items are made and ready to be sold, but I have to find the time to put them on Etsy! I don’t like getting stuck making just one thing – it takes the joy out of creating!

Any final comments?

I want to thank you for the opportunity to talk to your readers - like-minded people who are always searching for ways to be more considerate of their impact on the environment and community around them!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Reuse and Recycle Computers instead of Landfilling Them

With the march of technology speeding faster every day, there is a simple thing you can choose to do to avoid adding to all of the toxic landfill waste, that computers are starting to make a large percentage of. Electronics now make up 70 percent of the toxic materials going to landfills. Something like 4.6 million tons of electronic waste went into landfills in 2000. How about upgrading your current machine, costs a lot less than a new computer and generates very little waste. Or, instead of buying a new machine, why not buy a factory refurbished machine or an overstock machine that is essentially brand new in the box.

There are great sources for computers and affordable parts for upgrading. 3BTech, is one source I've found for finding parts at good prices, and all of their prices include shipping so you know what you are paying up front, and don't get the shipping cost "surprise" at the end of your checkout process. PC Parts Unlimited is another great place to get desktops, laptops, and parts and accessories. They are a Gateway surplus outlet. Did you know that many companies buy hundreds or even thousands of computers for their businesses on a lease program ? When the lease is up and they want to upgrade, they send all of their computers back and get new ones to replace them. PC Parts buys these machines from Gateway and refurbishes them and gives them new life. They might be a couple of years old, but they run great and can be upgraded in many ways. As an added bonus, you can get machines with Operating Systems already installed, or if you're a Linux/Open Source Software kind of geek like me, you can even get machines with no Operating System, so you can install whatever OS you want. Did I mention that you can save a ton of money buying a computer this way ? I've bought several machines from them, for us and family members. Instead of adding to the pile of trash in the landfills, we've been able to benefit in more ways than one ($$$$) by using these invaluable resources.

This post was made by John, Lisa's computer geek husband. She cannot be held responsible for any techno babble in the preceding post. Cheers, John

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Open Source, It's Not Just For Software Anymore

The open source movement has expanded greatly to cover more than just software, which is it's most common association. There are free/open source Linux operating systems to completely replace the crappy software that most likely came standard on your computer. Mandriva and Ubuntu are two popular Linux distributions that you can download for free and install on as many computers as you like, all legally. Open source was devised as a way to license something without restricting it's use by others. It allows you the freedom to use or modify it any way you like, provided that you give credit to those who came before you and you include a copy of the GPL. That's General Public License.

Some very smart people also came up with a way to license other types of works such as print, music, and other art forms. Creative Commons (CC) is a copyright that allows for some uses of your work that you authorize by which CC license you choose. You get to choose if someone else can use your work for a project, provided they give you credit for the work. There are many variations of the CC license to choose from. Some allow for commercial uses, some allow for commercial uses for a fee, some restrict commercial uses but allow other types of use.

For something even more different and super cool, the folks at The Factor E Farm are designing farm equipment you can build yourself, they are powering their equipment with vegetable oil, and coming up with earth friendly building techniques and sustainable agriculture practices. They are sharing all of their ideas, through the Open Source model by making the plans, videos, and how to's freely available. Check this out for some examples of what they are up to. Here are some videos showing what they do as well.

One more to mention. The Open Science Project is a collaborative effort to make scientific knowledge and discoveries freely available as well.

I'll go into more detail on each of these in upcoming posts. Cheers for now, John, Lisa's geeky husband.

You'll Want Mo Little Mo and Friends

There are a lot of us that love sending hand written letters, and love paper products in general but have a concern about trees being cut down so it can happen. Luckily there is Helena, an illustrator, from Australia. Whose stationary is as adorable as it is environmentally friendly. Helena graciously allowed me to interview her so, we could learn more about her and her artwork.

Helena, tell us what kinds of items you make?

I make paper products! I love books and papers and old-fashion snail
mail. So it was only natural for me to make a range of stationery
that were cute and fun for everyday use.

I really l
ove the paper dolls, what is the inspiration behind them?

When I was young, I had a huge stash of paper doll cut outs and I
would spend hours playing with them. I was really fascinated by the
colourful outfits and accessories that I could mix and match with the

I thought it would be a sweet idea to illustrate a Little Mo and
Friends paper doll set so that people could adopt her and bring her

I noticed that you print all your paper products on 100% post consumer waste paper, why is it important to you to use recycled paper?

I am a huge nature lover. As you can see from my products they are
mostly nature inspired, with illustrated trees, garden and animals.
It’s hard not to be environmentally conscious these days when we read
a lot of media reports on the effects of global warming, pollution and

Primarily I am an artist and my medium is mostly paper. So taking that on board, I wanted to be able to share my love of art with others and make it as environmentally friendly as possible. Printing on 100% post-consumer waste paper helps me to eliminate and reuse wastage.Most importantly, no trees are cut down on making the paper.

I also recycle all my paper scraps from my shop as I intend to make my own range of handmade paper. I believe that as artists, we can find
ways to design and produce art and still be kind to the environment.

Do you do other things in your life with the environment involved? You live in Australia, is there a lot of concern about the environment in your country?

I do think that Australians have started thinking green these days.
Just little things like recycling, using grocery bags, saving on water
and energy, making use of public transport, walk and not drive….little
things like can help. Obviously there is a long way to go to teach the
rest of the community or society to follow suit. But if a person or a
family alone practices healthy green living, then that is a great

Where can people go to buy your stationary and paper dolls?

Come on over to
My stationery would make really sweet and happy gifts for nature and
book lovers!

Tell us a little about your blog and where to find it.

I blog about random things; sometimes about my art, my work in
progress, nature and recipes or just things that make me happy in
general. If you find all this exciting to read, then do come over for
a visit, I love meeting new friends

What exciting new products are you working on?

I have a long list of products waiting for me to finish on my
illustration board! As we speak, I have a few products that I have
already finished in terms of design and illustrations, like new
postcard sets and memo pads. Unfortunately, I don’t have the money to produce them because all of my paper goods are professionally printed and there are costs involved.

So usually what I do, is carry on with my designs, and let them sit
and wait until money and support comes in through my etsy shop. Only
then can I use the funds to fund my new products. This is what
independent art and making is like:)

Next on my list of things to do are calendars and colouring books.