Saturday, January 31, 2009

Buying Your Books A Different Way

I love books. I love to check books out at my library. Sometimes though, I want the book to be all mine. There are some books that are meant to be part of your collection and read on a regular basis. It would seem that there are so many options out there for us book lovers. Online there are mammoth bookstores, such as amazon and barnes and noble. Usually, they are cheap. Way cheaper than you could get from most brick and morter bookstores. God forbid, you are tempted when buying toilet paper at your local Wal-Mart to pick up the latest in your favorite series. This cheapness comes at a price. The price is paid by us readers, local bookstores, local economy and the authors.

These giant chains and online bookstores can leverage their buying power to negotiate lower prices from publishers and authors. There was an interesting New York Times article that highlighted this issue over the summer. At first glance, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with this. Just good old capitalism at work. However, not all is as it seems. First of all, if you buy your book through Amazon, very little money actually goes back to the author. Pennies. They spilt all that sweat, blood and words for us. Perhaps, taking years to finish their masterpiece and they get pennies back. To me this doesn't seem a fair exchange. Perhaps, next time the author may decide to keep that book to themselves instead of laboring for pennies. "Well," you argue, "they could just not offer their book through Amazon or Wal-Mart." However, since the market has shrunk there are not as many places for publishers and authors to get their work out. Personally, I think that is a shame. I do think there are positive steps we can take to reverse this trend.

When you buy from places like Barnes and Noble and Wal-Mart, they start to influence the types of books that are published. What they buy to sell, influences what is published. There starts to be a reduction in the selection that we are offered. If you are not a Janet Evanovich or James Patterson fan, there are starting to be fewer books for you to try out. I highly recommend checking out some of the smaller publishers. They are publishing books in smaller quantities and are getting authors out there that might never be seen otherwise. Here is a very exhaustive listing of smaller publishers, most of which you can buy the books from directly.

The best way to buy a book, in my opinion, is from the author themselves. This is not possible most of the time. A very close second, would be to buy the book from a local book store. Buying from a local bookstore, helps the economy much more than an online purchase. Especially the local economy. Out of every $100 spent at a local bookstore, $68 of that is put back into the local economy. It also creates local jobs, and a larger local tax base. Besides local bookstores are cool. Way cool. They go out of the way to provide good customer service and you will actually know who you are buying from. They are also able to get almost any book that you may want. Often in only a few days. A lot of local bookstores are great assets for the community. They often offer book clubs and other ways to meet like minded individuals. It is also a great way to get to meet your favorite authors, a lot of independent book sellers have book signings and author lectures. Plush chairs and a cozy environment make these a great place to spend a couple hours browsing and chatting with neighbors. Indiebound is a great place to find your local bookstore and link up with other local bookstore lovers. All you have to do is type in your zipcode and they'll give you a nice list of your local bookstores.

I know it's not as convenient as buying from Amazon. I know it's not as cheap as buying from Wal-Mart. However, it'll make you feel good about buying your book, you'll have more fun and look way more cool by checking out your local bookstore.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dumping the High Fructose Corn Syrup

You knew it was coming, you even wanted it to happen. You just felt overwhelmed by the whole idea and had no idea where to start. With some friendly guidance and a couple of tasty replacements it won't be near as hard as you thought. First, go to your refrigerator, you could grab a half a dozen different things, but we'll start with the ketchup. Look on the ingredient label, right under tomato concentrate...ahh, you found it. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). What is high fructose corn syrup? Well, the long and short of it is, it is made by highly processing corn, adding enzymes and some other chemicals. The resulting compound is cheap, sweet and highly stable. Which makes it a seemingly perfect additive to foods to make them sweeter and increase their shelf life. And it is found in almost everything. If you don't believe me, just keep digging through that refrigerator or your kitchen cabinets.

You've heard whisperings and sometimes shouts, that it probably isn't the healthiest thing for you to be eating. For a truly eye opening and highly entertaining look on HFCS, watch the movie King Corn. Just this week, plastered all over the news is the fact that there is even mercury in a large quantity of the syrup, all to the knowledge of the FDA. Isn't it time to clear those shelves of all the high fructose corn syrup.

It will take a little diligence and a little label reading, but it won't be as hard as you think. First of all, most all sugared drinks contain HFCS and usually in large amounts, this includes sodas, sports drinks and "fruit" drinks. I could suggest diet drinks but then you have the nefarious aspartame to deal with. So, lets find some alternatives. The most obvious is good old water. Tea and 100% fruit juices are also good substitutes.

A lot of your condiments contain it also. As mentioned before, ketchup has it as it's second ingredient. A couple of different options are the Heinz Organic Ketchup, Muir Glen ketchup and Annie's. Barbecue sauce, most salad dressings and Miracle Whip, also all contain HFCS. We really like the T. Marzetti's, Ott's, and Newman's Own brands for salad dressings.

Now, to your cupboards. You don't have to look hard here. Almost all jellies have it in there. At the store look for jellies that are 100% fruit, the Polaner's brand is a good example. If you buy things like Spaghetti O's or canned soups, it's in a lot of the highly processed canned foods. Trying to get more fruit in your diet, if you're buying the canned variety that is packed in syrup, you guessed it - it's in there too. Even hot chocolate mix has it in it.

Bread is also another big culprit. Almost all breads have HFCS in it because it makes for a soft loaf of bread with a long shelf life. We buy the Orowheat brand, Rudi's and Archer Farm's brands of bread.

Almost all desserts you buy will have it in it, brownies, cookies, twinkies, ice cream, etc. My best suggestion to you on these items is to avoid them all together. Make your own, find a couple of good cake or cookie recipes and leave the boxed desserts at the store where they belong.

This is a good list to get you started. However, it is not all inclusive. A more exhaustive list can be found here. By taking High Fructose Corn Syrup out of your diet, I can almost guarantee that you will feel better because you will be eating in a healthier way. You will also feel better because you have also taken a potentially harmful substance out of your diet. It will take a lot of label reading to start with. Until you get used to it and find the varieties of foods that you enjoy. It will also probably put you in the kitchen cooking more often. Make this a fun family time. Dumping the High Fructose Corn Syrup is nothing but a win/win situation.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Delicious Tea

While staying at a local hotel for my daughter's 16th birthday, we made a pleasant surprise. This hotel is part of an upscale shopping center. Inside this shopping center, we discovered a most wonderful tea store. The owners were very kind and brewed us fresh cups of hot tea to let us sample their wares. While drinking the tea, the owner told us about how they grow and prepare their tea.

The name of the store is Shang Tea Company. They grow all their own tea in the hills of their homeland, China, on land they own and farm. The tea is all grown without chemicals and is hand picked when it is ready. They air dry the tea and then gently toast it to preserve a perfect flavor. This also allows you to brew from the same tea leaves numerous times, all you have to do is let the leaves air dry out and you can reuse them. My families favorite tea was jasmine snow dragon, this is a white tea infused with jasmine. Their white teas are grown in the mountain tops of the pristine Tai Mu mountain. They also informed us that it is a misconception to think white tea comes from the same plant as green tea. These teas come from different plants, like different apples come from different apple trees.

Another tea that my husband enjoyed was high mountain green tea. It was grown on the top of a 2700ft mountain. There is only a few places this type of tea can be grown, it must grow in very high elevations.

They offer numerous different varieties of teas. For those of you not lucky enough to be able to stop by their store and have them brew you a cup, they offer a sampler on their website.

Here are their recommended steps to brewing a perfect cup of tea.

Tips to brewing the perfect cup of tea:

  • Heat the water in a kettle on the stovetop rather than the microwave. Although either method works, it is easier keep an eye (or ear) on the stovetop kettle and remove it before the water gets too hot.
  • Measure the temperature of the water. If it is too hot, the tea will be bitter. If it is too cold, the tea will not have much flavor. After boiling a few pots and testing the temperatures, it’s easy to measure the proper time to take the kettle off the stovetop (hint: it’s somewhere between the tiny bubbles and a rolling boil).
  • Rinse your tea leaves. The proper way to rinse tea leaves is to pour the appropriate temperature of water over the tea leaves and let them steep for a number of seconds (see chart below for details), then discard the water. This allows the tea leaves to open slightly so they release more flavor.
So, put some water on, grab a good book and have a perfect afternoon. Knowing that you have bought your tea from a family that grows, processes and sells their own tea.

Monday, January 26, 2009

No More Plastic Bottles

Ok, we hear the mantra "drink more water" all the time from media, from our doctors, and health specialists. The best part is that they are actually right on this account. However, in our very busy, hectic society the quick answer has been to grab a bottle of water, lots and lots of plastic bottles filled with water. In 2004, Americans drank 26 billion liters of water out of bottles. In this quest for our 64 ounces, we've produced A LOT of trash. It is estimated that 8 out of 10 of these bottles end up in landfills. If the bottles are burned, they release toxic byproducts such as chlorine gas and ash containing heavy metals. Buried water bottles can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade. Even of those recycled, many are sent to countries such as China to be reprossessed. In this article, we will not discuss that this bottled water is more expensive than gasoline, WAY more expensive. We will also not discuss the fact that this water is not regulated and often of poorer quality than your tap. What i want to focus on is some alternatives to buying and throwing away plastic bottles of water.

The most obvious answer is to drink tap water out of a glass at your home. If your water doesn't taste the best or you have concerns, you may buy a filter to run your water through. This doesn't relieve the problem of how to take a drink with us to work or for our time in the car, though. For this you have a couple of options.

One of which is to buy a Nalgene bottle. These bottles are durable and will last you a long time. They come in all kinds of fun colors with nifty features. When choosing one you want though, please, make sure it is BPA free, which has been linked to a lot of nasty stuff.

Another options is the Siggs company, they produce the bottles that are a metal on the outside and a special liner on the inside. The liner is impervious to the liquids you put in there, so they will not retain the flavor of your favorite drink. They are also extemely durable, with backpacker magazine dubbing them the world's toughest bottle. They are more expensive than the Nalgene bottles, though.

Kleen Kanteen is another stainless steel option. They come in a wide variety of colors, are durable, and are a member of 1% for the planet.

If you must buy plastic bottled water, please, save the bottle, rinse it out and reuse it. But with so many other great options out there, I can't imagine why you would.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

New Blog

Welcome to my new blog. Over the last couple of years, I've come to put a lot of thought into the products that i buy and chose not to buy. I feel the need to make sure my choices are more friendly to people, animals and the planet. This is not always an easy quest. Knowing this is a trend, large companies have jumped on the bandwagon of "going green." To do this, they have changed their rhetoric but not really their policies. More and more often, I'm trying to know who I buy from. I'm trying to make sure the people who make the products are getting paid a fair wage. I"m trying to know that the business is making an honest effort to reduce their footprint on this earth. Often, I'm deciding that I really don't need so many things. That this rush to fill up our closets empties us in so many ways. It wastes our time, it wastes our money and will never really leave us fulfilled. This blog is meant to be my public exploration of these themes. I will try to talk about products that are made in socially responsible ways. Focusing on products that reuse items, use high craftsmanship, and are from small independent artists and business people, as often as possible. In addition, we will talk about ways that we can make some of the things we need ourselves. This is not as daunting a project as it may sound. It is rewarding, economical and environmentally friendly to do this as often as possible. This exploration is intended to be a dialogue. I have no desire to toss these ramblings into an empty cyperspace. I hope to learn from my readers, to share their triumphs and frustrations. Please, teach me what you know about being responsible for the things i own. Help me find great artists and craftsmen and women. Help me find business that are putting their money where their mouth is, not because it is now prudent to do so but because it is the right thing to do.

This blog will focus on most the items I buy for my house and person. Personal hygiene items, clothing, cleaning supplies, food, and larger household items. Please, join me in my journey to lesson my impact on this earth.