Pre-Cycling: Reducing and Reusing

Most of us know the tri-arrow symbol we associate with “recycling,” but the three arrows are actually meant to represent the concepts of “reduce, reuse, AND recycle.”  So, the notion of pre-cycling captures the reduce and reuse steps of the cycle.recycling-7 Reducing the waste we create is something that takes some forethought.  A lot of us assume that we can “just” recycle some goods, and our job is done.  But recycling really does use a lot of energy in and of itself.  In some cases, objects that are represented as recyclable are actually limited in their ability to be recycled.  Many communities have limitations on what they can accept for recycling, especially in the way of plastics. Glass, aluminum, tin, and steel are considered to be the most readily recyclable.  Glass bottles are the easiest to recycle because they can just be washed, refilled, and recapped.  If you live in a place that continues a bottle deposit program, you know that you can get money back on glass bottles.  Also, aluminum is another recyclable that pays per pound in most communities. website.18982634_stdSo, I’m just going to come right out and say it.  I hate Tetra-Paks, juice boxes, drink pouches, chip bags, and plastic bottles of WATER.  The plastic water bottles are an easy fix–don’t buy them, find a water fountain, buy a portable water bottle of your choosing, or if you are desperate, go ahead and buy the water and refill it for free!  It’s water, people.  If you don’t like the way it tastes from your tap, buy a filter.  Yes, filters are meant to be disposable, but they last for about 2-3 months and is tiny by comparison to the hundreds of bottles you’d buy for “good-tasting” water.  And we all know that much of the bottled waters we have spent extra money to buy is another city’s tap water, right?  It’s time to get over this mindset that bottled water is a good idea.  It’s not. Tetra-Paks and juice boxes (often one in the same) are convenient storage containers for liquids and come in variations on the theme of cardboard on the outside, aluminum and plastic on the inside.  The plastic is supposed to bpa-free, which is better for the foods contained inside (at least it makes them healthier to eat).  They are also exceptional at storing milk and other “spoilable” liquids for a very long time.  Better storage does mean less waste of the product itself, but these packages are very difficult to recycle.  Some Tetra-Paks exclude aluminum, which makes them somewhat easier to recycle, but not many municipalities even accept Tetra-Paks (at least in the U.S.).  It is the complexity of the multilayer packaging that makes it difficult to separate and repurpose.  Your best bet, if possible, is to avoid buying products in these packages. What’s worse, perhaps than the the Tetra-Paks, is the “drink pouch.”  Those infamous Capri Sun silver packets of usually 10% juice + water + sugar came into existence about 25 years ago.  That makes 25 years of kid-licious drinks packaged in this (from Kraft’s FAQ page):  “CAPRI SUN pouches are polyester-reverse side printed to aluminum then laminated to polyethylene (a plastic polymer). Unfortunately, this packaging is not recyclable.”  If you have been to a kid’s birthday party or soccer game or during lunchtime at a school cafeteria, you know the popularity of these never-gonna-be-recycled packages of drinks.  The best thing for this?  Do not purchase them, unless you absolutely must.  I don’t want to say an aluminum can of anything is better, but at least you can recycle cans. So, now that you are thinking about it, you are probably thinking about the packaging for granola bars, candy, chips, heck, even the plastic netting that a 3-pound bag of onions comes in…what do we do with it?  Obviously, you can stop buying pre-packaged foods and non-essential packaging.  It takes some training, but start a hoard of paper bags and use them for whatever…paper is much more easily recycled, but a good paper bag will last at least 10 uses.  Those plastic netting bags can be wadded up and used as a kitchen sink scrub, or taken back to the grocery store to be used for your next batch of fresh fruits and vegetables.  I’ve been using one to collect the fallen pecans around the neighborhood. It’s healthier to avoid complex packaging, especially when it comes to food.  I know you want to still live a “regular” life, though, and the idea that you are going to make all of your own stuff from “scratch” to save on packaging is probably not realistic.  With a little planning on the weekends, though, you can create some healthier snacks that can be taken to school or work in reusable containers (optionally wrapped in paper or aluminum foil), or stored at home in a cookie jar or other reusable container.  I know it sounds daunting for some parents, but when you think about what all goes into the landfill from just your house, and multiply that by all of the people in your town, and multiply that by all of the towns in your state, country, continent…we are a wasteful bunch of slugs that need to reconsider what we are doing to the planet just for the sake of sugar, water, and snacks. I ran across this quote recently and I think it is something to consider:  “The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.” ~ Native American Proverb, Sioux Sorry for being on the preachy side, but it’s time to consider the consequences of our actions.  This is just one tiny aspect of the impact we have with our carelessness…think of what impact we can have if we try to change it for the better with intent!

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Southern Girl Goes…Gluten Free?

So, I started this blog oh so long ago to write about harmful chemicals in our world that can affect our health in such a way to cause cancer, feminization in boys, weight issues, brain issues, etc…all kinds of things that are detrimental to the pursuit of happiness by way of endocrine disruptors. A lot of these chemicals are in our hygiene products like shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, deodorant, perfume, makeup, lotion, etc. Actually anything artificially fragranced should be suspected of containing phthalates. This includes cleaning products, candles, air fresheners, and the like.  Also, anything you consume that has been in a plastic or plastic-lined container is likely to contain some of these endocrine disruptors.  If you drink out of a plastic bottle, eat food out of cans, cook in plastic (a la microwaved meals at work), you are probably consuming these chemicals.

I’ve eliminated about as much as I can from my home in the pursuit of making my body healthier by omission of these endocrine disrupting chemicals.  I’d say, I’m about 95% successful at avoiding the main sources of ingestion of these chemicals.  I had really hoped that this would make a difference in my body’s ability to  shed weight.  But alas.  It did not.

So, being the scientifically-minded person that I am, I decided to start trying different ways to kick-start my weight loss.  Let me say that I am already an ovo-lacto vegetarian who occasionally eats fish or seafood–maybe once a month (which technically makes me a pescatarian, but everyone thinks that label is a religious one, so I avoid it).  I was inspired to become a vegetarian because of my life-long inability to digest certain foods.  No need to go into details here, but eating beef, chicken, or pork, in more than quantities of a bite or two, would just be rejected by my body.  What a waste, I thought.  It was not a happy experience, either.  So…long about turning 30, I started eliminating things from my diet that made me feel bad.  Cutting out meat, for the most part did the trick.  But sometimes my body would still reject food.  And I blamed myself for over-eating, for drinking too many liquids with my meal, for being too active after eating, or whatever seemed to apply.  I also blamed my thyroid for making me fat, although my clinical blood evaluations are in the normal range.

So…let’s fast forward 10 years to turning 40.  Three years after this “going green” experiment started.  I am still overweight.  I decided to look more closely at my diet, my food sources, my eating habits, and my exercise regimen.  I put myself on a 40-day challenge of eating vegan while also walking/running a 5k a day.  Even as I followed through on this challenge (give or take a few breaks from doing the 5k EVERY day), I did not cheat on being vegan, and I still got sick from time to time.  How could my body be rejecting a spinach salad and a flour tortilla smeared with hummus?  What was wrong with me?  I did not lose a single pound during this 40-day challenge, although I did lose a significant amount of inches around my middle.  Being vegan was not sustainable, for me, though…I celebrated on my birthday by having breakfast tacos with potatoes, eggs, and cheese.  So delicious.  And if I hadn’t just sat still for a while after eating them, they would have come right back up.

You are probably wondering at this point why I didn’t go to the doctor.  Well, I get tested annually for the thyroid stuff, but whenever I mention to a doctor that I have digestion issues, they just say “oh it’s probably GERD, let me write you a prescription” for some chemical I am supposed to take every day for the rest of my life.  To eat.  And they also say, “you really should eat meat–chicken at least.”  Now that I am 10 years down this road, I have realized that I don’t really WANT to eat animals–it seems so arbitrary that we eat some animals but laugh and play with others, that I just can’t abide the idea anymore, personally, of eating something I’d most likely treat like a pet if it was in my backyard.

So, I sort of gave up on losing weight, on eating “normally,” for about two or three months after my birthday.  Then, one day, I just happened to see a show on TV–one of those fluffy morning doctor shows–a segment about foods we think are healthy that can actually create problems with the thyroid.  These foods are unfermented soy products (like tofu and soymilk), cruciferous vegetables (especially raw ones), and gluten containing foods like wheat, barley, and rye.  I nearly fell over, standing there gape-mouthed, staring at the TV.  You can imagine that a person who doesn’t eat meat eats a significant portion of soy- and wheat-protein based products meant to replace meat.  The main problem with gluten is that, if your body is sensitive to it, it registers gluten as an invasive substance that needs to be destroyed.  However, the chemical structure of gluten is so similar to the structure of thyroid hormone, your body destroys this, too.  Damn. It.  I have been poisoning myself for my entire life.

I stopped eating gluten and tofu the next day.  This is a learning process, though, and I might have screwed up in the first few days thinking something was gluten free when it wasn’t, but I am happily shocked to report that I have not rejected any meal since going gluten free.  This is crazy.  I mean, I must have been “rejecting food” since I was something like 5.  Now I know why.

I’m still trying to figure out how to lose weight, but I know that I need to be patient with myself.  It takes a significant amount of time for the body to heal from the inflammatory reaction caused by eating gluten (when your body can’t handle it).  This is not a “challenge” for me like being vegan was, but a new lifestyle…a new life.  And I’m not saying that being gluten free is the solution for everyone, or even that this is the only thing I should do to try to balance my body’s system, but it’s a start.

If you’ve had GERD-like symptoms, are sick of taking pills to eat, or experience “food rejection” (a nice little euphemism for throwing up without trying to or wanting to), try going gluten free for a week or two and see if makes a difference.  I am utterly shocked.  And thankful I caught a fluff piece on daytime television, because it has sincerely changed my life.

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Make It Yourself – Simple & Sweet – ONLY 6 Days ’til Christmas!

ornaments

I know! It’s crunch time! Only six days left until December 25th! You have gifts to give and not a lot of time to go hunting down special items to give to friends and family that are in keeping with the whole “green & healthy” thing you are trying. AND you are probably thinking you don’t have time to make stuff, either, because “OMG the mess!” or you think of yourself as “craft-challenged.” Or maybe you think your unconvinced giftees won’t want your homemade crafty crap. And maybe they won’t (because, hey, some people are just like that—whatevs).

But maybe, JUST MAYBE, a Christmas miracle will happen and that anti-green Scrooge in your life will realize that the simplicity of your gift is a perfect representation of the spirit of the season. Or that the freshness of essential oil fragrances are not only sweet to smell, but also elegant in their homes, and uplifting to the spirits. Or—and this would be the best realization—that these homemade things are really superior to the chemical laden versions they are used to buying in the stores. AND, you can even let them in on your crafting secret, if you so choose, and share the cost savings with them, because srsly, people…a little goes a long way.

And it’s not hard, I promise. If you can melt stuff, you can make some amazing gifts for people. Here’s a guide to making candles and a balm that is commonly referred to as “un-petroleum jelly” but works well for lips and soothing chapped hands. I *could* go into making soap, but that’s pretty involved and you don’t have time for that, but tune in during January and I’ll share my soap-making secrets with you, too.

Making Candles
First, you DO have to go to a decent craft store or some location where you can buy wicks, soy wax, and/or beeswax. Also, you need some containers. I used recycled jars with the labels soaked off (a little orange oil will take off any sticky remainders, and alcohol will take off any inky date-stamps). Beware that the size wicks you need to buy are dependent upon the diameter of your jars. For example, your average spaghetti jar is somewhere between 3-4 inches in diameter. Just look at the wick package–it should tell you what size container they are for.  Be sure your wicks are lead and zinc free, and for the sake of ease, look for the kind with the “pre-glued” metal disk (also called a “tab” in the candle-making world) that you can stick to the bottom of the jar. If they don’t have the pre-glued kind, pick up a pack of the candle wick stickers or Stickum that should be in the same candle section of the craft store as the wax.

Now you have a choice at this point to splurge on a wax melter like this (also called a pouring pot):pouring pot

Or just use your own pots/pans to do this. Most of your ingredients are food grade, and should clean up readily with the help of paper-towels and heat, so you can opt to use what you have, or head over to Goodwill and pick up some cast-offs. Your choice. I bought a wax melter because I am serious about making these things for a good long time and wanted the handle and pour spout to make my life a little easier. You need to set up a double-boiler situation, for this project (a larger pan with water in it, and a smaller pan or bowl goes over this to melt the wax with the boiling water’s heat, not direct stove heat).

If you have a vegan giftee, please note that you should avoid using beeswax in your candles.

Now, for calculating how much wax you will need, there’s a formula. Each pound of wax (16 ounces by weight) will fill about 20 ounces of volume. You could, in this instance, make it super easy on yourself and find some 20 ounce jars for your gifts—that way you just have to melt a pound for each one. But, if you’d like a formula with more explanation, check out this blog post.

For the sake of making this quick and easy for you, I’m going to assume you will be using a 16 ounce jar (this is a pint-size canning jar (aka mason jar), which can be found at your local grocery or craft store). I’m also going to assume that you just want to make one candle, but you can just increase the recipe by however many times for more candles.

You will need:
Double Boiler
1 16-ounce glass jar, preferably intended for canning or previously used as such
1 tabbed wick, at least 2 inches taller than the height of your jar
1 wick sticker (to attach the wick to the bottom of the jar, if needed)
2 drinking straws, chopsticks, pencils, etc. (to help you stick the wick to the bottom of the jar, and to hold the wick upright during the cooling period)
4 ounces beeswax (if vegan, just replace this four ounces with additional soy wax)
9 ounces soy wax
Essential oils in the following combination:
25 drops of clove
22 drops of lemon
15 drops of cinnamon
10 drops of eucalyptus
8 drops of rosemary
(this is a historical blend of essential oils that has the reputation of not only smelling amazing, but also working as an effective anti-bacterial)

NOTE: If you don’t have these essential oils on hand, you can work out your own blend, but it should be about 80 drops per 1-jar recipe. Be advised that most essential oils are flammable and need to be kept away from open flames.

Prepare your container by ensuring it is clean, dry, and sitting near your work area…you want it to be a little warm when you pour the wax in.

Get the double boiler set up and the water heating.

Attach the wick tab to the bottom of the jar with a wick sticker or stick-um, using the straw (or chopstick or pencil) to help you really push it down. Make sure it is centered in the jar for even candle-burning.

Add your wax to the top of the double boiler, and wait for it to melt. You can stir the wax around a little to help it melt, but don’t do so too vigorously or you will end up with a bubbly candle that burns unevenly. Don’t walk away from the wax at this point. It shouldn’t take long for all the wax to melt. Make sure the double boiler doesn’t run out of water, but also be sure that no water gets in your wax, or again…uneven burning or a wick that won’t work.

Once all the wax is melted, you can turn the heat down on the double boiler, but leave the wax over the hot water. Add your essential oils and stir well to distribute the scent throughout the wax. Pour this mixture into your prepared jar. Leave the jar in a place it will not be disturbed and wait for it to cool. Use your tools of choice to prop the wick to an upright and centered position in the jar.

DON’T clean up yet! As your candle cools, you may notice a “well” developing in the center of your candle around your wick. All you need to do is melt a little more wax, add a few more drops of essential oil, and pour it into this well. Depending on how warm or cool your house is, it should take about an hour for the candle to solidify (at least mine did). At this point, you can trim your wick, to about a ¼ of an inch and decorate your jar for gifting.  Voila! They’ll look something like these from the gardentherapy site

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

For the balm I mentioned above, aka “unpetroleum jelly,” you can go through the same double-boiler process of melting stuff together, but this time it’s going to be a little bit of wax mixed with your oils and/or butters of preference. This is my recipe:

For 8 ounces of balm:

2 4-ounce jars (like baby food or pimento pepper jars)
1 ounce of beeswax (or soy wax for a vegan balm)
1 ounce of cocoa butter
4 ounces of coconut oil
1 ounce of olive oil
1 ounce of Vitamin E oil
40 drops of your essential oils of choice (I use the same combo as above, but half of each oil)

NOTE:  You can also use shea or mango butter instead of cocoa butter, if you prefer.

Prep your jars…baby food jars are a great size for this product—you will need two. Or if you can find smaller glass “pots” for a purse-sized, use those. Make sure they are clean and dry.

Melt the beeswax, cocoa butter, coconut oil, and olive oil together in a double boiler. Once everything is melted, turn the heat off the double boiler, and add the Vitamin E oil and essential oils to the still-hot mixture and blend well.

Pour the mixture into the jars and let solidify.  Decorate the jar to your liking!

BAM!  A second homemade gift item, just like that!

I LOVE this balm. I put it on when I sleep at night and wake up with perfect lips every morning. Do be careful with some essential oils—they can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. If you use one such essential oil in this balm, be careful not to let your lips get sunburned when you use it outdoors.   Please note that this is going to be more solid than actual petroleum jelly, but it works wonders, I promise.

So, there you have it. Two amazing gifts you can give to friends and family. You can add a store-bought soap (South of France brand is a fave of mine), or a clove-studded orange (which becomes a pomander once it is fully dried), and you have the perfect green and healthy AND homemade gift.

Whew! I think this post might be my longest yet, but it’s so worth it!  Good luck with your crunch-time gift making!

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What Matters Most?

Since we are getting close to the new year, I’m planning my future research and product reviews and wanted to pose to the people: What matters most to you?

I’ve listed the top-ten most common things that crop up as questions regarding the healthful qualities of a better-for-you product.

Please let me know what matters to you and I’ll put those things highest on my list to delve into this coming year.

And thanks in advance for playing along!

The Southern Girl

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Green ‘n Healthy Gift Baskets Ideas – Part 2 (Minty Spicy Delights!)

So, last time I wrote, I recommended a slew of “beach-themed” gift-basket fillers for the person on your gift list who yearns for summertime year round. For something more seasonally appropriate for winter and holidays and warm-feely-good feelings, you might be looking for gifts that have more some traditional fragrances like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mint, or pine. Try some of these green & healthy products for a wintery-basket for those who relish the season of snow!

For some sweet, Christmas-y perfumes, look no farther than Demeter. Demeter makes all kinds of crazy scents that are “at least 95% derived from natural and sustainable sources, and…use no artificial color or phthalates or parabens” (from their website). The best-reviewed holiday-themed fragrances are: Egg Nog, Christmas in New York, Cinnamon Toast, or Fraser Fir. They also came out with a Candy Cane Truffle this year. Sounds delish! This is a very affordable perfume line and the fragrances are great for layering. I recommend spraying this perfume on clothing, rather than skin, for a longer-lasting effect. Since Demeter doesn’t use the harmful phthalate-based chemicals, these fragrances do tend to volatilize faster than non-natural perfumes when sprayed directly on the skin.

candy cane truffle

For a good body wash, look for JASON Orange Clove, Cranberry, or Frosted Plum. I’ve seen some combo packs with a natural sponge included for about $6. JASON is a company created and committed to the purpose of providing healthy products based upon scientific knowledge and human-based testing, only. This product is terrifically moisturizing, too, which means it will not only smell great, but also chase away the itchiness of the dreaded winter skin. Hooray!

You might also want to try Nourish Organic’s Spiced Citrus body wash paired with the Spiced Orange Hydrating & Smoothing lotion…these products are certified organic and come highly recommended not only for the lasting and delicious fragrances, but also for the product effectiveness and extremely high standards of purity. Nourish Organic also promises the following: “No parabens. No phthalates. No sulfates, petrochemicals, synthetic dyes, or silicones. No propylene glycol, mineral oils, synthetic dyes, triclosan, EDTA, or aluminum. And absolutely no artificial fragrances or preservatives. Period” (from their website). They are also cruelty free, use recycled packaging, and most products are vegan (except those containing beeswax). They also have several products in Lavender Mint, which is seasonal, but also can be used year-round.

spiced citrus

Everybody knows Aveda, right? They are preferentially featured in fancy hotels and chic hair salons and their Rosemary Mint is a great, greeny-wintery fragrance that works well for men and women. You might be a little reluctant to buy hair products for your giftee because everyone has hair product issues, but you should be fine getting the body lotion and maybe even a bar of soap in the Rosemary Mint. According to their website: “Aveda’s products are formulated without parabens, phthalates and sodium lauryl sulfate.” And their “definition of a green ingredient requires that it meet at least one of the following criteria: Be naturally derived, which we define to be those for which more than 50% of the molecule comes from a plant, non-petroleum mineral, water, or some other natural source; be certified organic; and/or be sourced from sustainable or renewable plant-based origins, and does not negatively impact the ecosystems from which they are sourced.” And because they do specialize in hair products, look for the travel-sized sampler—enough to try and still experience the splurge of a special product.

And you might like to try a few things from Love + Toast, which touts its products as having “No parabens, no phthalates, no mineral oil, no propylene glycol, no retinol, no synthetic color, never animal tested.” Sounds cool, right?

Wait. I just realized something.

Maybe you’ve noticed a plethora of citrus-y things on this list…It just now occurred to me that “citrus” might not seem Christmas-y to many people. Well, before I recommend yet more citrus for this list, let me explain. When I was a kid, on Christmas Eve, there was always a big church pageant with the kids and a candlelit “Silent Night,” and when we left church all sleepily excited for Santa (yes, the cultural amalgam of religious/secular Christmas was completely, overwhelmingly, and magically confusing), some dear soul at our church passed out mesh stockings full of oranges, grapefruits, apples, uncracked nuts, and hard candy. The smell of those ripe oranges and grapefruits in the midst of the cold, quiet hush before bed has been burned into my olfactory memory forever. Put my grandmother’s orange-spiced tea recipe with that and I’m in Christmas heaven. That’s why oranges and grapefruits equal Christmas. Sorry if it doesn’t for you (but get these things anyway, because hello, they smell delicious!)…

ANYWAY, Love + Toast has a “classic” collection called Mandarin Tea that features a blend of these fragrances: African rooibos, Pomegranate, Neroli, and Orange blossom. YUM. The collection includes one of each: Handcreme, Eau de Parfum, Little Luxe Eau de Parfum, and Vanilla Chai Lip Balm.  They also have a classic scent called “Sugar Grapefruit” that just sounds good enough to eat!  One of their newer fragrances is Persimmon Plum, a wonderful blend of fruity + woodsy that will be sure to remind your giftee of a delicious, juicy winter punch. They have body butter and sugar scrubs among other body care items to choose from. Sounds marvelous!

persimmon plum

And again, fill your basket or stocking with some all-natural extras like a pumice stone or natural-fiber wash cloths, a loofah or a natural-bristle nail brush to round out the gift set.

Next up: MAKE IT YOURSELF! (I promise it’s easy and people will be so impressed)

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Green ‘n Healthy Gift Basket (or Stocking) Ideas – Part 1

I don’t know a girl alive who doesn’t enjoy a good “basket o’ stuff” for the holidays. Of course, it is important to personalize this basket for the particular girl you have in mind, so I thought I might offer some basket filling ideas that are green and healthy! And clearly, you can stuff a stocking with this stuff, too.

If you are looking for some healthy bath products for a girl who likes tropical or beachy themes, try these:

Indian Coconut Nectar, Island Vanilla, Hawaiian Ruby Guava, or Brazilian Mango Grapefruit perfume and body butter by Pacifica. Each one is an exquisite blend of tropical and luscious fragrances. The coconut is reminiscent of your favorite summertime sunscreen, but more subtle (though surprisingly lasting). The vanilla is really an all-year kind of fragrance that reminds me of Aquolina’s Pink Sugar, but richer, less candy-scented, and all-natural guaranteed. Hawaiian Ruby Guava is fruity, warm, and floral, while the Brazilian Mango Grapefruit is fruity, crisp, and bright. Pacifica is one of my favorite makers of natural perfumes…you can normally find them in stores like Whole Foods, Central Market, Sprouts, etc…but they are also online and you have plenty of time to order now! They often have candles, diffuser reeds, and solid perfumes to pair with their perfume scents, as well. They also have a relatively new line of face care and makeup that is getting rave reviews.

Honey Mango or Island Citrus body wash by Alba Botanica are very much like “standard” body washes that smell incredible, hydrate the skin, and omit the following types of ingredients: artificial colors, parabens, phthalates, sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate or sodium methyl sulfate. Alba Botanica is a company focused on vegetarian and earth-friendly products and is usually easy to find in your natural grocery stores. Try iherb.com for sweet online prices.

Coconut & Hibiscus Body Butter by SheaMoisture is a luscious lotion that is super softening and moisturizing—so much so, that I keep it on my desk at work. When I first started using it, my co-workers immediately commented on how “lovely” it smells. It’s a nice floral and tropical scent that works with those Pacifica perfumes above and it should be fairly easy to find at your local Target.

Himalayan Pink Salt Scrub – Grapefruit or Brown Sugar Body Polish – Kumquat by Hugo & Debra Naturals make great scrub options for your basket. Hugo & Debra Naturals are committed to creating vegan products that omit the following ingredients: parabens, phenoxyethanol, sulfates, PEGs, propylene glycol, petroleum products, silicones, phthalates, synthetic surfactants, artificial colors, or synthetic fragrances. Also soy free, gluten free, and cruelty free. These products smell amazing and are gentle enough to be used on the face and décolleté. Find them at your local natural grocer or online.

Coconut Foot Cream by Burt’s Bees is, in my humble opinion, Burt’s best creation. Not only does it have a wonderfully simple coconut (and rosemary and peppermint) fragrance, it is the best healing “balm” type of product I have ever found. It’s super rich, and although it is oily, it works wonders at smoothing out rough heels! I even use it on my hands in the winter time because they get chapped and cracked…this is the only thing that heals that dryness. I cannot recommend enough. Also, it should be super easy to find at stores like Target and Walmart.

And it might sound weird to give your gal deodorant, but if you do, it will be a very special treat for her. Fancy deodorant by La Vanila comes in all kinds of scents, but Vanilla Passion Fruit or Pure Vanilla will stay within the “tropical” theme we have going here. These puppies are expensive for deodorant, but are all-natural and effective, luxurious and lasting. This is Oprah’s deodorant of choice, if that means anything to you. I find it hard to spend this much money on deodorant, personally, but that’s what makes it such a special treat! You can get this from Sephora or directly from Lavanila.com.

Round out your basket with a natural loofah, pumice stone, nail brush, and towel, and you have got a magnificent gift to give that someone special.

Dang. I wish someone would buy all of this stuff for me. Note to self…have hubby read my blog.  Happy gifting, y’all!

Up next: Peppermint and Cinnamon!

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Holidays are coming…are y’all getting ready?

There are so many things to get ready for!  It’s overwhelming, right?

Well, maybe this year will be different.  Maybe this year you can be greener since you are already planning in advance and you actually have time to do some green planning.  I posted a few holiday ideas last year…you can read them here, here, here, and so on and so forth…go take a peek! But enough of last year…this is 2013, baby!  We need to send it off in style!  A more environmentally-friendly and healthier style, that is.

So…where to begin?

At this stage in the holiday games…Thanksgiving is first usually pretty easy, right…it’s all about food!  Some green tips:

1. Go Local!  Try to buy as much of your menu ingredients as you can from your local farmer’s market, or from a grocery store that sources produce and meat from your local region.  Of course, there are special dishes traditional to Thanksgiving like cranberry sauce and pecan pies and apple pies and whatever might be your family’s favorite that are just never going to be local to you.  That’s fine, but do what you can.

Why? Not only will you support your local economy and hard-working farmers, but you save the environmental impact of whatever fuel it costs to get the food to you–that’s a smaller carbon footprint and reduced greenhouse gasses!  And you know…it wouldn’t hurt to be adventurous and introduce more local ingredients to your Thanksgiving table, even if they aren’t “traditional.”  Mix it up a little!  Make NEW traditions!

2. Be vegetarians!  GASP!  I know, I know…but seriously folks…we all know the sides are the best part of the meal and most sides are already vegetarian.  When I first told my parents I was not eating meat anymore, they sort of panicked about what I was going to eat, but when my plate was full of potatoes, dressing, three different salads, green beans, candied applies, and a big ol’ roll, I told them, “Look, I don’t even have room for the meat!”  And they got it.  Surprise, surprise!

Why?  Livestock and poultry production is problematic in a variety of ways.  It is beyond an environmental stressor.  Do a little research of your own.  Start here. And the animals are all so beautiful. And who wants to stress out about a dry turkey? Just skip it. And if you really want to have an even more positive impact on the environment…it might be a little bit harder…but try a vegan meal. Maybe not this Thanksgiving, but next? I’ll just let you ponder that…

3. Decorate (if you are into that sort of thing) with…food! Fruits and veggies are traditional fillers for a Thanksgiving cornucopia, all in the harvest theme, of course. The thing with this type of decor is, of course, it’s edibility. You can also use fall leaves, branch and twig cuttings, pinecones, berries on the stem, and the like. It’s rustic, it’s compostable, it’s very possibly FREE, and in the spirit of the season. Maybe you even saved some of those gourds and pumpkins from Halloween…plunk them in a pretty bowl, line them up on the mantel, or place them on the porch. Heck, set them in the fireplace with candles and make a sweet substitute for a fire (especially advised if you live in not so chilly parts of the country, yet find yourself with a fireplace). I like this:

thanksgiving fireplace

Why? It’s cheaper than fake decorations made of plastic or styrofoam or the like. It also had a much smaller environmental impact in its creation since nature made it with sunlight, soil, and water. It better represents the true spirit of the harvest celebration that gave origins to the holiday. It’s totally compostable, as long as you don’t paint your natural products with toxic paints or glitter, and you can potentially grow your own pumpkins/gourds next year! And let’s face it…it’s sooooooo super easy. I am so about the least amount of stress!

4.  If you have to use disposable plates or cups (heaven forbid!), for goodness sake, use paper-based or otherwise compostable products.

Why?  It’s compostable, way less toxic than the chemicals used to make plastic and styrofoam, and it keeps those non-compostable products out of the environment and out of the landfill.  Even paper products have a pretty nasty chemical trail, but there are reasonable, non-bleached products out there that have less of an impact than plastics and foam-based products.  You can also find some corn-based “plastics” that are compostable and perfect for one time usage.  Regular plates and glasses/cups are preferable, of course, because you can just wash them and be done with it.  But I get it…you might not have enough place settings for ALL of your guests…it makes sense for such an occasional situation to have a temporary solution.

5.  And finally, go organic!  If you can get organic ingredients, do it.

Why?  Organic ingredients are often fresher, though possibly superficially flawed.  Don’t let a few spots deter you from that organic apple…you’re probably going to peel them anyway for that pie, right?  Organic ingredients also lack potential toxic chemicals that some non-organic foods may contain.  The fewer toxins you consume, the healthier you will be in the long run.  And the fewer toxins used in growing the food, the healthier the environment will be.  Also…and maybe this is just some kind of placebo effect…I think organic foods taste better.  YUM!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone…I hope you find other ways to be green this holiday!

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The Halloween Aftermath!

Here we are, again…Holiday Season!

Happy All Saints Day, everybody! Or Dia de los Muertos for my Mexican friends.
sugar skull fabric

Since it is already the day after Halloween, I’ll forgo the helpful non-plastic, non-toxic recommendations for décor and makeup and head straight for the aftermath most of you will find yourself facing from behind a pile of candy wrappers and discarded costumes…

The best way to be green NOW is to reuse any decorations that can be safely stored away for next year…might as well save the money by recycling those plastic spiders and disembodied hands and orange/black/glow-in-the-dark “garland” strands, too. If you had a jack-o-lantern, go ahead and keep it on display as “harvest art” until it gets too gross to leave on your porch or starts attracting flies. Here in Texas, jack-o-lanterns don’t have very long shelf lives since it’s pretty warm, still, but northern states… what with your seasonally cooler weather (I’m only a wee bit jealous)… can have a cut pumpkin that stays pretty “fresh” for a few weeks. Whenever you are ready to say goodbye to Mr. Jack, go ahead and send him to your compost pile so he can return from whence he came and become fertilizer for your spring garden.

If you didn’t do it this year, save those pumpkin seeds when you carve your pumpkins and roast them in the oven for some tasty, healthy snacks.

Also, something to consider next year is choosing as many “harvest-themed” Halloween decorations so they can last longer and be on display right up until Thanksgiving. It’s easy, right? Think gourds, pumpkins, corn stalks, hay bales, etc. You can still go down a fright-themed path by making a scarecrow, other “people” made from clothes stuffed with hay, ghosts from fabric which can be washed and saved again for next year (or even sheets/tablecloths/towels that go back to being sheets/tablecloths/towels), and creatively painted/stacked haybales to make giant spiders, tunnels, or mazes.

When these things are ready to be replaced by Christmas decorations, they can all be composted or otherwise used without finding their way into a landfill or negatively impacting the environment at large.

Many gourds and dried corn can last in storage for years, as long as they are fully dried and kept dry when they are stored. It is probably best to use a plastic storage bin for such things, to avoid attracting mice that might sniff out a delicious harvest treat if they are stored in a cardboard box. I know, I know, I normally don’t recommend plastic, but storage bins are something that can last for a very, very long time—I have some that must be over 15 years old and won’t have to be replaced any time soon as far as I can tell. I also have a wreath with multi-colored dried corn on it that has stayed presentable for about 10 years…not a single mouse nibble!

Depending on your hay source and your yard or garden conditions, some people use hay as a way to protect bare spots from the erosion of winter rains, to act as an insulator/water gatherer for fallow garden plots (much in the way of mulch), or even as a means to get grass growing instead of just sowing grass seed. In the case of growing grass, you will end up growing whatever kind of grass the hay was before it was cut (obvious, right?) so…if you don’t know what kind of hay you have or where it came from, you might want to forgo this usage if you care about having a nice, weed-free lawn. I don’t, personally, but some people do…just be warned.

I could tell you all about the artificial colors and preservatives in your Halloween candy and how awful they are for you and your kids, but…I bet you kind of already know candy’s not the best thing to eat, and I bet you also know that a short-term intake of such things probably won’t do a lot of damage in the long run.

So. No Halloween Scrooge today. Maybe in a few days after that picked-over bowl of candy’s not looking so tempting anymore. Until then…I will be noshing on a few Reese’s cups, myself. YUM!

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Plastic-Bag Free?! Can it Be?

I have a personal vendetta against plastic bags.  Mainly because of their overuse.  I am flabbergasted when I go…say…to a convenience store and I buy…something like…a pack of gum, and the sales clerk automatically offers me a bag.  “For a pack of gum?” I will say, all incredulous-like.  And sometimes they laugh and say “oh, I just ask everyone that,” but sometimes they are dead tired of jerky people, and they just look past me to the next person in line.  This isn’t super-common in Austin, TX, but it is still possible.

I am even more flabbergasted when I go to a grocery store and buy approximately 50 items.  I will get home with anywhere from 8 to 20 (yes! 20! I have counted!) plastic grocery bags.  That’s anywhere from 2.5 – 6.25 items per bag.  I have tried to give instructions to the baggers like, “Please fill the bags up as full as they will go” in an effort to up the number of items per bag…I’m thinking it should be more like 12 to 15.  Then guess what they do when I’m not looking?  DOUBLE BAG THE BAGS!  WHAAAAAT?!  And then I have to stomp over to the recyling bin out front and un-double bag my groceries and place the superfluous bags directly into the recycling bin.  Okay, maybe I’m not really that dramatic about it, but I do get pretty miffed.

But what probably makes me more angry than double bagging the bags is when they put my milk jugs or laudry detergent into a plastic bag.  All by itself.  “IT HAS A HANDLE! IT DOESN’T NEED A BAG!” I want to scream.

But I don’t.  I DO sometimes try to bag my own groceries to prevent all this mess, so that works out pretty well.

And, yes, I know what you are thinking.  OF COURSE I should have been using reusable bags all along.  I mean, here I am purporting to be the Southern Girl who has Gone Green, right?  Well, I am no queen of green yet.  I am often harried like a lot of other people, leaving the reusable bags I have purchased en masse either at home or in the car.   I have thought about sprinting back to the car to get the bags, but I just don’t think that’s right when there are people waiting in line behind me.  I have bought new reusables when paper was not available, or opted for paper when the reusable display is too far from the cashier.  I have also, taken my groceries to the car without any bags and loaded them into the trunk all loose and naked.  What?  There’s nothing wrong with naked groceries!

BUT.  I am getting better because my dear city, Austin, TX, has declared that stores must no longer offer single-use plastic bags.  This local ruling of plastic bag limitation has caused a vast number of people to now bring bags with them.  Paper bags are largely available, as well, which were the ONLY grocery bags available when I was a kid.  Of course there is something of a learning curve for the baggers to achieve the paper bag packing method that will get the most groceries in the bag, yet stacked in such a way that the bag can be easily carried in your arms.

The fact is though, that there are still plastic bags, they are just supposed to be for “multiple” uses.  Also, restaurants may still offer them for take out, ice is still sold in plastic, and I’ve noticed that certain non-grocery retail stores are still offering them (I’m looking at you, Michaels).

I will confess that I am still using plastic bags myself.  I had a mountain of a recycling stash when the ban went into effect.  I had every intention of just stuffing them all in one of those store-front recycling bins, but I thought it would be a better conservation practice to use these bags as many times as I could before ridding myself of them.  So, I now permanently store portions of the stash in my trunk.  I grab about 10 on the way into the store, I try to make sure what I buy will fit in 10 bags, and I certainly make sure they are stuffed to the gills before they are considered “full” by the bagger.

Austin is not alone in this bag ban trend–several cities across the country–nay! across the world!–have banned the blight of plastic bags.  Several cities have tried to pass the ban, but they have been voted down, for whatever reason–mainly because businesses claim it is “bad for business.”  But this just cannot be true.  Get paper.  Sell re-usables.  How hard is that?  And how is that detrimental to business?  The only business it might be bad for is the plastic-bag makers.  They could easily transition to making something more durable and reusable, but honestly–the amount of petroleum that goes into something meant to be disposable is just criminal.

So, whether you live in a city with a ban or not, make the change in your shopping habits by adding reusables to your routine.  Or ask for paper.  Or hell, let your groceries run wild and free and naked in your trunk!  Do it.

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Go Green(er) This Month…It’s only 28 Days!

Holy moly, am I behind on this one!

My sincerest of apologies on this ever-so-tardy update to “Southern Girl Goes Green.”  The end of 2012 really threw me for a loop, it seems.  So, now, a whole month into 2013 and I am just now getting to making resolutions.  There is nothing wrong with taking your time, I say.  Right?

So, as I am considering what I want to try, what I want to do, and what I want to change, it occurs to me that February might just be the perfect month for starting a 28-day challenge.  I know, I know…it can be daunting to keep up with things on a daily basis, but hey, there is no harm in setting goals and reaching for them, even if you falter.  At least, you tried!  And so, these are what I am thinking about for the coming month:

  • How to be a Greener Cleaner using greener, more natural cleaning products, providing recipes for products you can make yourself, as well as some new reviews on products you can find at a store near you.
  • How to be a Greener Eater with vegetarian and vegan recipes, gardening, and exploring local and organic products.
  • How to be a Greener Partier including great ideas about decor, hosting, and gifts.
  • How to be a Precycler, discussing the notion of packaging, preventing waste, making things last longer, and homemade solutions.

It seems so exciting, I know, so tune in this month to see what’s brewing in this green mind of mine!  It’s going to be so much fun!

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