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
products
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
dolls.

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
home:)


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
wastage.

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
start.

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

Come on over to www.littlemoandfriends.etsy.com
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
www.littlemoandfriends.com/blog



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.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Just Turn It Off

You are reading this blog because you are interested in minimizing our damage to our environment. Watching all the excitement about the Oscars last night, brought to the surface something that has bothered me for a long time. I would suggest to you that perhaps one of the very top things you could do for the environment would be to turn off your television. I know this idea will not make me very many friends. The TV is an American cultural icon. Most every house in the country is host to at least one. I would guess that in most those homes there is a TV in several rooms of the house. So, again I would say that one of the most important things we can do to help our environment is to boot that tv right out the door.

There are several reasons that I would argue this besides just the amount of input and waste that constitute building and using a tv. Although, this would be a substantial enough amount to justify getting rid of all tvs on their own.

The detrimental effects of watching tv could be long. So, I'm just going to focus on a few reasons.

First, Pediatrics International published a research paper where they looked at the effects on children and their tv watching behavior and how that correlated with their eating habits. Needless to say, the more tv the children watched the worse their eating habits, causing a wide range of problems from obesity, diabetes and coronary heart disease. During 121 minutes of tv, the children were barraged with 35 minutes of commercial, almost half of those commercials were advertisements for food. Not surprisingly the foods advertised were high in fat, sugar and basically junk food.

Turn the tv off.

Secondly, tv has basically become a vehicle to get us to watch commercials. Programming is almost incidental. Often times the shows are full of product placements and are barely disguised commercials themselves. Commercials are meant to make us feel a lack or a wanting. That our lives would be better if we only had...or that we would be liked better if we only had....That is the goal of commercials to make us want whatever the product is that they are advertising. Obviously, watching hours of tv and these commercials will create desires in even the most ardent anticonsumerist. There is no way around it. The people that create the ads are good at what they do, gone are the days of the hard sell. Today's commercial is subtle and often is just meant to create a feeling in us that we are to associate with the product. Almost none of these things we see advertised are things that we need. If they were there wouldn't be much need to advertise them. You know that you need them and you buy them. Commercials are meant to make you brand loyal and to make you think you need something that you probably don't really need. Watch less tv and become more satisfied with your life. Crave less, be more satisfied with what you have.

Turn the tv off.

Watching tv is a spectator sport. We are basically powerless in front of the tv. We can not be instruments of change while watching it because it is not only not real, but we can not affect it. You can only sit back and absorb whatever it is that you are watching. There is no interacting with it. I believe it creates feelings of powerlessness and that those feelings hold over to the rest of our lives. Regain your power and your ability to create change. Turn off the tv.

Turn off the tv.

The last point I'll focus on today (because there will surely be follow up posts) is that every minute you spend watching tv, is a minute you spend not doing something else. Whether it's taking a walk with a friend, throwing a ball around with your daughter, reading a book, cooking a meal with loved ones, or changing the world. This is time you will never recover, it is time lost to the tv permanently. if you step back and evaluate your life and the limited time that you have here, would you be happy to see that you spent x amount of hours in front of the tv.

Watching the tv is addictive and a habit. Put that tv in the closet. Resist the urge to pull it out for a month. It will feel uncomfortable at first but before you know it, you will be amazed at how glad you are that you did. How much time you have to do things that you care about, how many games you have time to play with family, how many books you read and that you start to think about all the things you could do to make a difference in this world. All the real life interactions you now have in your life. You regain your power, your feelings of peace and connectedness to the rest of the world.

Turn off your tv.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Meet Req the Whimsical Canadian


I have another super multimedia artist to introduce you to. You are going to love this recycling, artistic Canadian. Almost all of her whimsical art takes place on recycled materials. I fell in love with her artwork on Etsy when I was looking for
ecofriendly artists. You can find lots of great artists on Etsy producing quality handcrafted items, and lots of the products are environmentally friendly. So, before I give away all the surprises, I'd like to start my interview with Req. Don't blame me if after the interview you go to her shop and buy everything in it - it's just one of those good things.

Tell us a little about the art you make?


i'm a bit of a scattered artist in that i like to dabble in a variety of different mediums [paper, vintage book pages, pen and ink, felt, cardboard, paintings], but thematically i'm pretty solid- crows, squid, jellyfish, pills... once in a while i stray from those, but i always come back home. i try to infuse a bit of humour in everything i make, be it a silly title or an obviously funny doorknob hanger.

when i started making art, i spent way too much money on canvases and paint and other supplies... there came a point where i decided i wanted to make things, but not at the expense of being able to live my life. i forced myself to start making things from whatever i found in recycling bins or cheap things at the second hand store. it's a more exciting thing to do, to scour a store for something just right or to try and see the possibility in something, instead of going to the back of the store where the 8"X8" canvases always are. i feel that it forces me to grow, it creates new rules for me every time i go to the charity shop- everything becomes an exciting experiment.


Where do you get inspiration for your art?


inspiration can and does come from anywhere, usually at a time when i don't have a pencil or a piece of paper and am forced to repeat the idea to myself like a mantra [which i inevitably forget until i'm half asleep that night]- the latest thing i made was a mixed media piece on cardboard of clouds and raindrops- i was inspired by a fellow artist [heather utah] who said clouds were relaxing to draw. i wanted to see if she was right, and she is! sometimes it's a song lyric [the piece "sleep when i'm dead" was made thanks to a song by the cure] sometimes it's

even as basic as "can i actually draw a jellyfish?" and then things take on a life of their own. mostly though, my work is inspired by humour. life can be too serious and heavy; i like a piece of levity [even black humour] at least daily. i don't go looking for inspiration, it usually hunts me down, like a cat .


Do you have a favorite medium to work with?


paper, in any form- book pages, loose leaf, cardboard, any of it- i love love love paper and the textures it comes in. i like the way it always does something different even if i'm doing the exact same steps- it'll buckle or tear or wrinkle or stay flat or peel off... i love the unpredictability of it. this may sound strange, but i love how frustrating it can be.


Most everything you do is on recycled materials, like books or fabric - is that an important part of your artwork?


it really is. i've been an environmental gal since the early 80s' it's just my way of life. i ADORE being able to take a ripped up book and instead of leaving it in the recycling bin, i'm able to make 100+ artworks from it. i'm an odd duck in that when i can save something from the garbage, i feel like i've won a prize, it's a bizarre victory for me to say "look at this!!! they were just going to throw this out, can you believe it?!" just this evening i bought some valentine's day candy and thought to myself "well the chocolate is all well and good, but what can i do with the red foil though? maybe i should buy the ones with the pink foil instead..." i'm always thinking like that now. using every piece of something thrills me. i have stacks of broken books that i've taken from libraries' recycling bins- i don't know what to do with them all, but i figure they're better of with me, than at a recycling plant. and if i hit a point where i have too many, well, putting them back where i found them is still a great solution for the environment.

another aspect to using these types of items is that while i need to be able to make my art, i also need to be able to afford to make my art! and of greatest importance to me is that if someone else really wants to own it, that they themselves be able to afford it. if i used other mediums, i'd be forced to charge more to recoup material cost


Where can we go to buy your artwork?


you can find me online: http://reqbat.etsy.com

my twitter and flickr accounts are also "reqbat"

and my blog is http://reqbat.livejournal.com/ for previews of my work, as well as monthly freebies!




What kinds of different projects are you working on for the future?


i bought myself a sewing machine to learn how to sew free-form on things, i'm very excited about trying to sew on vintage book pages, even though i don't know how that'll work with some of the paper being as tender as it is.... and i've recently started delving into making more "story telling art" and other stuff that's kid-friendly... my sketchbook is filled with different raindrop sketches, so maybe something like that in felt?

and i have this pile of pink foil here...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Skinny Bitch Night

We're vegetarian, have been for over 11 years. My daughter just turned vegan as part of a New Year's resolution. In case you weren't aware, a vegan diet eschews eating any food that came from an animal, no eggs, no cheese and for most vegans not even honey. Now, eating a mostly plant based diet is not only better for you but better for the environment. There are lots of websites out there that will give you more information about that, here's one of my new favorites, this one is also good. With my daughter going vegan that has meant starting over reading labels and trying new recipes.

My mom saw an interview with the two authors of the Skinny Bitches books, Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, on TV and decided to buy the books. Unbeknownst to her, the recipe book is filled with all vegan recipes. The book focuses on eating healthy and flavorable foods. Perfect, said my sister. An opportunity for us to try some new recipes and all try to eat healthier. So, she arranged for us to start having Skinny Bitch nights at her house. We all drove out to our favorite health food store, stocked up on necessities and a couple of non necessities and came home, excited to try some new foods. Being an orderly sort of person, my sister set us up to start with the first recipe, which is French Scramble. This recipe comes out of the Skinny Bitch in the Kitch cookbook. This resembles a scrambled egg dish but with tofu, know in veg circles as a tofu scramble.

French Scramble


14 or 16 ounces firm or extra firm tofu, crumbled (use your hands or a fork)

4 oz. vegan jack, cheddar, or American cheese, shredded

3 scallions, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 T nutritional yeast flakes

1 T tamari or soy sauce

1/2 t turmeric

1/2 t fine sea salt

1/2 t pepper

1/2 T refined coconut oil

1 cup sliced mushrooms (any kind)

2 cups fresh spinach leaves


In a large bowl, combine the tofu, cheese, scallions, garlic, yeast flakes, tamari or soy sauce, turmeric, salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt the coconut oil. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in the spinach, a handful at a time if necessary, and cook until wilted about 1 minute. Stir in the tofu mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 or 4 minutes, or until any liquid has evaporated and the mixture is hot. Serve immediately.


We followed the directions exactly except sauteed regular onions because we didn't have any scallions.


The recipe was easy and quick which was two huge pluses. We also had a green salad and corn on the cob to round out the meal.

Most all of us were pleasantly surprised. My sister was excitedly surprised with the outcome and my daughter and husband thought it was great. All in all the taste survey came down to this - 3 of us rated the French Scramble 8 or higher, 2 rated 6-7, and 1 rated it below a 5. Not bad for such a wide varieties of palettes. The vote was to definitely have it again.


This was a fun evening that my sister planned. Not only did we get to try a new recipe, but spent some fun quality time together as a family. We all helped cook and had a lively discussion during dinner (about whether to follow the recipes in order or to pick the ones we wanted to try first. I pointed out that it might take us around 2 years to reach the dessert recipes. Logic prevailed and will be skipping around the book.) I would suggest it as a fun idea to try with your family or friends. If you like the above recipe book, try checking out the Skinny Bitch In the Kitchen at your local library. Or grab any of your favorite cookbooks and give it a go.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Get Real

We live in an artificial world. We spend most of our time doing things that are not real. We watch Discovery Channel instead of hiking in the woods, we vote instead of participating in a democracy, we take vitamins instead of eating real food, we go to the gym put on headphones and stare at a TV screen instead of walking with a neighbor or playing basketball with our families, we chat on Twitter or MySpace instead of calling an old friend, we text our family instead of inviting them over to dinner. No wonder we feel confused, lonely and disconnected. We are disconnected from nature, our communities, our friends and family. It doesn't have to be this way. We can learn to be reengaged with our surroundings and we can feel good about it.

How this would look to each of us will be different. We each have different needs and different values. However, I think there will be elements of it that are similar to all of us. There are some things I would like to change in my own life to reengage with my world. The first would be to unplug myself. Whether it's tv or computer, it is difficult to engage with others while staring at a screen. I don't mean never turn them on but use them for a specific purpose instead of an all purpose time consumer. Once that tv or computer is off, you open up the world around you.

Say hi to a neighbor, take a minute and actually listen to what they have to say. Get involved in your neighborhood. Take an elderly neighbor to their doctor's appointment. Help a neighbor kid find their lost dog. We have lost a precious commodity in our neighborhoods. How many of us don't even know our next door neighbor's name. We chat online with strangers from countries all over the world, which is nice, but overlook the possibilities right in our own backyard.

Play a game with a family member, whether it be a child, a parent, an aunt or nephew. Take a minute from your day and play a game, monopoly or crazy eights or playing catch outside. The game is unimportant the time spent talking and laughing with a loved one is invaluable. It is estimated that parents only spend 35 minutes a week talking with their teenage child. Obviously our values and priorities have been misplaced.

Find somewhere to volunteer. I believe each of us wants to feel like they make a difference in this world, to feel they are valued. What better way could there be of doing this than to volunteer for a cause you feel passionate about. Lots of us feel undervalued and stressed at our work place, it can easily be the focus of our time and energy. Refocusing that energy back to something we believe in can reenergize us and bring meaning back to our lives.

Go outside. In whatever capacity your able, reconnect with nature. Whether it's going for a hike in the woods or sitting on your back stoop watching the birds at the feeder you put up. I read an article that said we will only be able to reverse our damage to the environment when we stop thinking of it as THE environment and start thinking about it as OUR environment. It doesn't matter if you live in a city or on 50 acres, what happens to this planet is affecting you. Perhaps it is not obvious yet, but the damage we are doing will catch up to us. We can only start affecting change when we realize this and start to make personal choices to say no more - that we will participate in this damage no more.

Today is the only today we have. There could be no better time than now to start a new path, to make a choice to do at least one thing differently. If we don't like the change it is easy enough to revert back to our old habits. But my guess is that is not what will happen.

Meet Benny the Vinyl Queen



Often on this blog, I'm encouraging you to make conscious choices when you decide to purchase things and to buy from individual artists and crafts people when you can. Well, when you see what this next artist has to offer, you will quickly add her to your favorite artists list to buy from. I met Benny on Etsy, a place that sells handcrafted items. Her products caught my attention right away because they are so unique, fun and use a surprising, unusual material. She graciously allowed me to interview her so that you could meet her and see some of her wonderful art. So,....

Benny tell us a little about what you make?

I work with unloved (scratched, old, forgotten) vinyl records and turn them in to somethin
g lovable again! I paint vinyl records with a colourful mandala design, and I'm now just getting in to making jewelry from vintage vinyls as well.. I even got my hands on a few coloured records. So happy.


How did you get started using records as a material for art?

I was hanging out quite a bit at my boyfriend's (now husband) communal house.. and they had records pinned up all over their walls.. one day we al
l decided to paint them! Mine was the fan favourite and all others that I did at the house were stolen at random parties.. so.. hahah.. I knew that I had something there..
But really, vinyls are pretty much free or cheap nowadays.. a great and plentiful medium to specialize in!

I love
, love, LOVE using vinyls for the recycling factor.. AND because they're round.. there's no easier way to paint even circles than to have the ridges on records to go by..

Are there special challenges when working with vinyls?

Definitely..
If you ar
e melting them, you have to do it at such a low oven temperature.. they can emit very noxious gasses at even 200 degrees..

Also, painting them has it's own challenges.. I don't use a primer underneath the paint & so it takes se
veral layers of paint to make them solid. A bit time consuming..


Where can we go to buy your jewelry and artwork?

On Etsy (yay!).. the greatest 'buy handmade' site EVER.. so full of talent.. My shop name is BbbennyandtheJet you can also find me at several Halifax, Nova Scotia craft shows, rockin'
my socks off.
Oh, and from me personally of course.. I have a couple of local greatest fans that will stop me on the street to ask about my newest stuff!

What kinds of things are you working on in the future?

OoOo.. if I told you these type of secrets, I'd have to kill you. or at least kidnap you and force you to work in my tiny studio with me..




So, take a minute out of your busy day and introduce yourself to a new artist that uses recycled materials in their art.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Some Food Buying Alternatives to the Grocery Store

Groceries are expensive. They also are a huge environmental nightmare. I could dedicate about 2 whole books to this subject (and believe some have, check out Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food). I'll briefly describe why food production in America is such a nightmare; our food usually comes from great distances (using lots of oil products along the way), our food is grown using huge amounts of pesticides and fertilizers (using lots of oil products along the way), eggs, meat, and milk animals are kept in horrendous conditions and given preventive doses of antibiotics (ewww!), and by the time we buy our food at the store it is usually highly processed (not appetizing and not healthy.) That's the bad news, the good news is there is a growing awareness to these problems and some good alternatives to the grocery store food dilemma.

You could supplement your grocery purchases with a small garden. Growing vegetables does not have to be super labor intensive and is a lot of fun. There is nothing more delicious than pulling a ripe tomato off of the vine and having it as part of your supper. Super empowering and super delicious. Even a couple of planters or a small raised bed is a good start. My other blog has lots of tips to help you with this endeavor.

You can also join a CSA (community supported agriculture). These are becoming incredibly popular because they are so great for both the farmer and the eater. By joining a CSA, you enter in an agreement with a farmer to buy their produce. It is usually expected that you pay your fees up front, this allows the farmer to buy seeds and things they need to grow the food. In return, you receive weekly (sometimes biweekly) amounts of in-season, locally grown, fresh (sometimes picked that morning) produce. CSAs are also great because you can ask your farmer how the food is grown (if you want someone who doesn't use chemicals), you can almost always tour the farm, and often get a hands on chance to volunteer there if you desire. What you receive in your weekly subscription depends on the farmer you work with, some only have vegetables, some add fruits, eggs, or meat. This relationship is win/win. The farmer doesn't have to go into debt to grow the food and has a guaranteed buyer. And you get to have a relationship with the person who grows your food, you know it's fresh, and how it is grown. To find a CSA near you, try the Local Harvest website or you can check out this USDA document with lots of information and websites to find local CSAs.

You also have the option of shopping at your local farmer's market. This option still gives you the opportunity to get to know your farmer and gives you a wide assortment of fruits, vegetables and herbs to choose from. Often the produce is organically grown (even if they aren't certified - ask!) You will likely be able to find humanely raised dairy and meat products also. Most communities have at least one local farmer's market, larger communities will have several to choose from. When shopping at the local market, don't be afraid to ask the farmer questions about how they grow their food or where they are located. I'd also recommend that you make sure you are buying from the grower of the food and not a retailer. One of our large local farmer's markets lets almost anyone sell produce there and often it's been trucked up from Texas (I live in Missouri). A hint; if they are selling pineapples, they are not the grower or if they have watermelons in April, they are probably not the grower. The Local Harvest website also lists local farmer's markets.

Try to lesson the environmental load of what you eat by trying some of these alternatives. If you have a favorite that I forgot to mention, let me know.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sprouter Review

We used to have a sprouter that we loved. It broke and we were left needing to replace it. We had used jars before to sprout seed but it just didn't work as well as our fancy schmancy sprouter. Most all sprouters seem to follow the same basic design, some kind of plastic tray with holes in the bottom. However, it didn't end up being so easy to find a replacement. We bought two sprouters that we didn't like. The seeds seem to either mold in them or just didn't sprout very well.

Last month while at our local health food store, we decided to give it another try. The name of the sprouter we bought is the Sprout Garden. It cost about $25 retail and came with a small bag of alfalfa seeds to sprout. The sprout garden consists of 3 pretty large size round trays (7" in diameter), with four covers/drainers. The trays are stackable, which is nice. All in all, you can use this sprouter to grow a good amount of sprouts without taking up a lot of counter space. The box claims that you can grow four pounds of sprouts in it but we haven't tried that large of an amount so far.

So far, we've been extremely happy with this sprouter. The trays drain well and the pieces seem pretty durable. We've started numerous sprouts in it in an assortment of sizes, from small alfalfa seeds to large bean seeds and have not had any problems.

A quick refresher for those that it's been a while since you've sprouted your own seeds. We soak ours overnight first. Then basically it's a cycle of rinse and drain. Sprouts take from 3-5 days depending on the seed. A good rule of thumb is the bean seeds are ready in about 3 days, you don't want the root to get too long on them and the smaller leafy sprouts like alfalfa and broccoli take about 5 days. Keep the sprouts covered for the first couple of days and then take the covers off and allow sprouts to green up in a sunny location the last day or so. This sprouter came with a basic instruction sheet and a chart to give the amount of days until ready.

You can buy this sprouter online, if it's not carried in your local health food store. Wheatgrasskits.com carries them along with the website The Canning Pantry. I've never bought from either of these places, so, I'm not endorsing them. I'm just letting you know they carry this product.

Our current favorite place to buy seed online is the Sprout People. They have some great mixes.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Shaving, part II

So guess what ? Someone asked where do we get these "old fashioned" razors ? Well, I went out on a shopping adventure to be able to give all of you good info. Imagine my surprise, when all I could find at the local brand name drugstores was one type of mug brush and one type of ready made mug soap. Both distributed by the brand name of Williams. No safety razors and no mugs. After some thought and calculation, I realized that I bought my razor (made by Gillette, no less) almost 20 years ago at an Osco drugstore. Osco does not exist anymore, being bought out by drugstore giant CVS. So I started to search online. One of the sites I found with a wide variety of items in all price ranges is Classic Shaving . As you peruse the site, the less expensive items are toward the bottom of the pages, so do some scrolling and you will probably find something in just about any price range. The razor they offer that is equivalent to mine is toward the bottom and is called The Feather. It has a split top that opens up to replace the blades and a plastic handle. It is almost identical to the razor I've been using all these years. Now, as long as you don't have a dog in the house who likes to chew anything and everything plastic, and no one knocks your razor on the floor giving him access, these razors, by my own experience will last a very long time. If you decide to spend a little more and get one with a steel handle, you probably will never have to replace it. Now that you've bought the razor, you can get replacement blades easily from any of your local drugstores.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Now Cut That Out Part One

There are certain chemicals or cleaning supplies that you just shouldn't have around your house. They are hazardous, not good for the environment and easily replaced. Bleach is one of those chemicals. The darling of the cleaning industry isn't all just shiny whiteness.

Breathing in the fumes of cleaners containing a high concentration of chlorine can irritate the lungs. This is particularly dangerous for people suffering from heart conditions or chronic respiratory problems such as asthma or emphysema. And the risks are compounded when the cleaners are used in small, poorly ventilated rooms, such as the bathroom. Chlorine is also a highly corrosive substance, capable of damaging skin, eyes, and other membranes. Chlorine was listed as a hazardous air pollutant in the 1990 Clean Air Act, and exposure to chlorine in the workplace is regulated by federal standards.

Chlorine bleach is also bad for the environment. Toxins produced as a result of bleach use build up in the environment, cause dangers to the water supply, kill fish, harm animals, and get back to people through the food chain.

It's not that hard eliminate chlorine bleach from your household. You don't need it to clean and you don't need it to whiten your clothes.

To help whiten clothes you can add one-half cup of baking soda or washing soda in with your laundry detergent. Also, if you want to take out the yellowing or graying of your white clothes you can add 1/4 cup white vinegar to your water in your laundry.

For a good all around cleaner, use a paste of baking soda and water for counters, showers, tubs and toilets. Good old distilled white vinegar will eliminate 99% of bacteria.

Here's an all-purpose cleanser recipe from the book Green Up Your Clean Up by Jill Potvin Schoff.
2 Tablespoons baking soda
liquid dish soap or castile soap (such as Dr. Bronner's)

Put baking soda in a widemouthed container and mix in the liquid soap a little bit at a time until you have a nice foamy paste. Use this paste to clean. If you have a heavy-duty job let the paste sit 10-15 minutes and then spray on vinegar to rinse. If you are working with a surface that is sensitive to acids (such as tile), rinse off the vinegar immediately.

It is important for our health and the environment's health to change the way we clean. Luckily it isn't that hard to do once you learn how. As a first step, eliminate cleaning products that contain bleach and using chlorine bleach as a clothes whitener. Try a homemade cleaner or at least buy a cleaner from your health food store that is made in an environmentally friendly way. We'll continue this series in upcoming blogs in our quest to have a healthier, happier home.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Shaving, Sometimes Newer Isn't Better

Hey folks, here's an idea. For all of you using disposable razors, cartridge replaceable razors, and canned shaving cream, there is an obvious alternative that's been around for a long time. No, I'm not saying you have to quit shaving, if that's something that's important to you. I'm just saying there are some ways to do it that are less wasteful and a lot less expensive. Personally, I use an "old fashioned" safety razor. The kind that use regular flat razor blades, so that is the only part that you are using and discarding. The top of the razor opens up when you twist the handle, the old blade is easily taken out, and a fresh blade dropped back inside to take it's place. These type of razors are still available, but you will mostly find them at pharmacies. They are just as easy to use as a cartridge razor and I've always gotten a very fine shave with mine. Today's mega bladed popular razors are fairly cheap to buy initially, but where they really trick you, cost wise, is replacing the cartridges. They are many times the cost of the razor itself. Then, take into consideration all of the plastic and packaging involved, it's not a very green choice. For the extremely daring, there is always the straight razor, which only has to be honed (sharpened). I haven't used a straight razor, yet, but it is something I want to try in the future.

Secondly, look at all of the waste generated by "shaving cream". Which is basically, soap in a can. Personally, I use a mug and a brush. These are readily available at most pharmacies and department stores. The mugs tend to be short and wide, so you have easy access to the soap with your brush. The brushes tend to be boar hair bristles and can have a wide variety of handle types, from plastic, wood, or even porcelain. There are ready made mug soaps available, usually very close to mugs and brushes on the shelves. I use a handcrafted soap which has almond and goat's milk in it. You can also just take a bar of whatever your favorite soap is, cut the corners off of the bar so it will fit nicely in the bottom of the mug, and you are all set. I get just as good a shave with my single blade razor, using my mug and brush to make a nice lather, and it really doesn't take any longer.

So, consider looking into some "older" technology, when it comes to shaving. You might be pleasantly surprised at your "new" shaving experience and save some money and cut down on waste at the same time. Cheers !

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Meet Jane the Recycling Artist

Who wants everything in their house to look like everything in your neighbor's house. One of the things I want to focus on with this blog is finding alternative ways to buy things. One of the best ways I think to do this is to buy handmade items from the artist that made them. This is nothing but a win/win situation, for both you and the craftsperson. Occasionally, on this blog I will be highlighting such craftspeople and showcasing some of their work. I will also give you information to be able to buy from that artist personally. The craftspeople that I will highlight on this blog will all be creating their products in an ecofriendly way. But I'll let them tell you about that.


The first artist I'd like to highlight is Jane. She's a wonderful artist that I met on Etsy and is part of my Trashion team. She makes lots of wonderful jewelry and stuffed animals made from recycled material. I did an interview with her for this blog.

Tell us a little about how you got started making art?

In Lost & Found Objects 2 I create recycled, upcycled and assemblage jewelry. I couple discarded bits from daily life and create new, funky, sometimes funny, jewelry. I also sew dolls from found stuff and make collage from my own handmade paper and found objects. I get a charge out of using things overlooked and under appreciated by others. I have been working with recycled materials for over 20 years, at first because I had no money and then later (even though I still have no money) because that is all that interests me. I think I like the extra challenge of working with what is available and I congratulate myself on finding uses for things normally thrown away.


What kind of art do you get excited making?

I love assemblage. I love that the items I find to incorporate have a history to them. This creates more depth and layers of meaning. I get a charge out of that. I love Joseph Cornell's work and Robert Rauschenberg.


How did you become interested in using recycled and reclaimed materials in your artwork and jewelry?

I studied Art at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, IL where I received a MFA in Fibers and Art History, but more than anything I have been a scavenger, squirreling away things I find that appeal to me.

For over a decade I have directed an arts program at Patchwork Central in inner city Evansville, IN. I enjoy making art with the children from the neighborhood, who often bring me cool items they find themselves in walking through our city’s streets. I like to feel I am helping to create a new generation of redeemers who will look at life in new creative ways. 10% of the proceeds form my shop goes to support free art programs for inner city kids at Patchwork Central. See www.patchwork.org for more information.

Anyway, we live and work in a low income area in Indiana, and that makes for some great opportunities to find cool broken stuff- especially when you walk form place to place rather than drive.

It is from this cool stuff either the kids find for me or I find myself that my ideas, art and jewelry come from.

Do you have a favorite thing to recycle into something new?

I get really excited about finding a resource that is abundant! and figuring out a good way to reuse it. I have been collecting bits of this and that, old junk drawer kind of stuff, broken things, shiny things, stuff I find on the street while walking. There is nothing like the patina of a partially rusted,

partially shiny smashed bottle cap or piece of metal - run over by cars with the pavement texture ground into it. Yeah!! <:0)

The metal from soda pop cans are my current passion. All my items are well washed and sealed if need be:) In my neckpieces I combine lost keys, worn buttons, seashells, small toys, vintage costume jewelry and hardware with interesting semiprecious stone and glass beads - redeeming these objects for a new life.

My current passion is for old silverware and bicycle tire innertubes. I just found a treasure trove of beautiful Silver plate forks and spoons. I am excited to see what will become of them. My last batch became a bunch of brooches with animal heads attach and the tines from the forks turned into antlers.

Where would we look to see your art for sale?

I have both handmade plush monsters from recycled materials at LilMonsters.etsy.com and assemblage jewelry LostAndFoundObjects2.etsy.com. I also have a shop at Dawanda.com/shop/lostandfoundobjects . Or if you are in the area I have items at Artifacts in Indianapolis, The City Museum in St. Louis, Swanson Reed Gallery In Louisville, New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art in New Harmony, IN and at ArtWorks Gallery in Evansville, IN (http://artworksgallery.blogspot.com/).


I noticed that you work with the arts program at Patchwork Central in Evansville, IN and even give part of your proceeds to this organization. Could you tell us a little about the program?

It began when a couple of couples decided they wanted to try to make a difference with their lives and start a new work in a neighborhood where they believed they might be able

to help bring reconciliation. These three young couples had a vision to live, work and worship together in the area near downtown Evansville, Indiana. Half of the group were visual artists and they used their talents to reach out to others, problem solve and build community. I like that. It is still what we try to do over 30 years later.

Today, Patchwork Central continues its outreach to Evansville area neighborhoods with a food pantry and many unique children’s programs. As part of the community fabric, Patchwork Central changes the lives of those it serves by giving them a sense of hope, a place of acceptance, and a bright outlook for the future.

From the beginning, worship was combined with service. Patchwork’s programs and ministries have included neighborhood gardening, health and dental services for the poor, after-sc

hool programs for at-risk children, a Neighborhood Economic Development Center, a bakery, hospitality housing for women, men’s residency program, a food pantry, community Bible studies, and the Center for Community Renewal. We invite and welcome all who wish to join us as we walk forward, working, playing, worshipping and serving together.

You can learn more about Patchwork Central at www.patchwork.org


Any final thoughts?

Life is short. Find our what matters most and pursue it with all you've got in you. That is good advice. I am trying to take it myself. :o)