Posts Tagged With: green

Day 3 Gift Idea – Give Experiences, Not THINGS!

If you are like me, you have a slew of people to buy gifts for.  I mean, in just my immediate family there are 10 people who (traditionally) need a “real” gift.  And of *those,* five are children between the ages of 17 and 8, two of whom expect Santa Claus to really blow it out every year.  This age range, in case you don’t have any kids in your life, or have forgotten your own childhood, is apparently the height of “wantist” behavior.

I remember sitting for hours and hours with the J.C. Penney and Sears catalogs and a legal pad taking careful notes of which items I would like to get, what color it should be if there was an option, and the price.  I knew the elves were supposed to make the gifts, but…I mean, in case it was cheaper to buy it at Penney’s, I thought I would just help Santa out with the price check.  And some years I was disappointed, because I didn’t get that one thing I *really* wanted, even though I DID get dozens of other gifts.

Ah, first world problems.

So, too, my kids have already been tricked out with fancy phones, iPods, gaming consoles of various kinds with various games, sporting equipment for every sport they ever expressed an ounce of interest in, puzzles, board games, and so many clothes we can’t even keep track of them all.  Based on how they take care of the things they already have, I am reluctant to buy them more.  Because here’s the thing.  They don’t seem to care if they destroy or lose or leave at the soccer field or stain any of the above.  And I’ve come to understand that they don’t care, because 1. They did not earn the thing they have broken or lost or ruined, so it has no real meaning or value, and 2. They believe the thing will be replaced almost as if with the snap of their fingers.

And who can blame them, really?  It’s the world they’ve become accustomed to—a throwaway society.  These kids are actually my stepkids and they don’t live with us full-time, only on the weekends.  You can imagine how well it goes over when I, self-dubbed “Crazy Stepmom,” tries to get them to eat like vegetarians, go outside and play, and earn things like X-Box privileges by doing simple chores like crushing cans and taking out the trash.  So…you can imagine how well this “let’s go do something instead of getting gifts” might go over.

But honestly, when I look back at it, I remember things I did with my family 1000% better than the gift I wanted but never got when I was 4 or 5 or 9 or 10 or…ever. 

So, especially if you can explain to your kids, or even just convince your folks or friends or whomever, that you are going to *do* something instead of get something, they will be able to keep the memory much longer than the thingamajigs they got (or didn’t get) this year. 

It doesn’t have to be that grand or even cost that much money.  I have tried this year to instill a little more Christmas doing and giving by taking the kids to the local Christmas parade where a local charity collected gifts for needy families.  Next weekend we are going to the “Trail of Lights” where there is a walk-through Christmas light display.  There are a handful of Christmas-themed 5Ks and Fun Runs complete with face painting and hot cocoa happening around town from now until Christmas Day and afterwards.  If you have a sporty family, it can be fun for all, especially if you just want to get out and get some fresh air. 

There are Christmas Markets in some parts of the world that have food and drink samplings and fun things to peruse/purchase.  There are sing-alongs, caroling, Christmas tree lightings, ice skating, parades…if you have snow, a simple day of sledding can be amazing fun for kids of all ages.  If you don’t have snow, try hiking or camping, and family games of charades or Pictionary or (something everyone has a chance to play and do well—let’s avoid the hurt feelings at Christmas) or whatever happens to be your favorite. 

It’s a perfect time of year to get your family involved in a charity of some sort, either volunteering at a place that serves the needy, visiting nursing homes, collecting items for donations, or getting involved with an animal rescue.   This kind of thing can really put the world into a different perspective for kids who are used to everything they could ever want being at their fingertips. 

Religion is an obvious part of the holidays, and if it is part of your family’s traditions, go and sing and light candles and remember why we celebrate.  I will always remember the specialness of getting dressed up on Christmas Eve, everyone holding candles and singing Silent Night, and then the stockings of apples and oranges and nuts and candies some dear soul at our church gave to all the kids.  Just a whiff of those fruits in the midst of a cold night takes me right back to those days.  How exciting it all was!

 And honestly, just making things together like cookies and decorations or a snowman becomes the stuff imprinted on our brains when think about the holidays.  I can still remember laying under the Christmas tree, looking up through the lighted branches, while my dad listened to Elvis’ “Blue Christmas.”  It was so simple, but so lasting.

Of course, these are all things you can do *this* season.  But maybe NEXT year, you can actually plan a trip somewhere special.  Go to the mountains, go to the beach, rent a cabin in the woods, go on a cruise…or, gasp! Go to Paris, Costa Rica, Hawaii, or Rome!  If you plan it now, or broach the idea to your family THIS year, you’ve got a whole year to plan and save and make it happen.   I mean, life’s too short to sit around dreaming about going somewhere when you could…you really could, if you just decide to spend all that Christmas money on something different and longer lasting than just “stuff.”

Of course, there’s no place like home for the holidays!  Just shake it up a bit, start a new tradition, and go DO something!

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Greener Christmas Day 2 – Make Some Snacks!

You know who you are, oh you of the kitchen, who prefers to cook for your best pursuit of the holidays, to show people you love them, to feel jolly and creative and, well, just right with the world.  To eat is human.  To cook is divine.  In my opinion.  BUT, you don’t have to be a master chef to make delicious goodies.

What better way to avoid consumerism and meaningless gifts than to give the gift of yumminess?  And with a little bit of effort, food can become a wonderfully special surprise for your friends and family.  If you use the right ingredients, it can even be healthy, or vegan, or local, or organic, or all four!

Here’s a super easy formula you can follow:

1.  Make three snacks.  These should be relatively easy to store (no refrigeration).  Keep in mind any allergies or food limitations of those whom you would like to give the gift. 

2.  Decorate three lunch size paper bags with stamps or stickers or drawings, or….don’t.  But you should probably, at least, write the name of the snack on the bag so that it is visible before the person opens the bag. 

3.  Fill the paper bags with snacks and tie them with ribbons or raffia or twine or whatever you like to make it festive. 

4.  Write the recipe for each snack (or type it up and print it out if you don’t like your handwriting), and enclose them in a Christmas card.  Write a sweet note to your giftee, too, while you are at it.

5.  Put the snacks in a basket with some colorful tissue paper.  Add things like pinecones, cinnamon sticks, and uncracked walnuts or pecans if you like.  Or, and this is the one I like best, place the three snacks and card with recipies into a seasonally appropriate reusable grocery bag.  Some of them are quite lovely, and when the food is gone, they can go get more with the bag!  Yay!

Easy, right?!  Of course there are so many variations to this that can make it less or more fancy.  You could use tins or jars for the snacks.  You can just give one snack, and maybe just put the recipe on a card and tie it like a tag to the bag.  Maybe write it directly on the bag.  Maybe don’t make a snack, but a drink mix instead.  There are really so many possibilities.

Here are some snacks that might be good:

Granola, spiced or glazed or candied nuts, “real” Chex mix, cookies, trail mix, chocolate dipped pretzel sticks, spiced tea mix, cocoa, homemade marshmallows, and stuff like that.

Do note that anything with butter or oil as an ingredient will make a plain brown paper bag become spotted with oil…in this case, think about using a jar or tin.  If you use any chocolate or white chocolate, make sure it is the kind that will essentially harden after cooling and don’t leave your gifts sitting in the car for too long.

And, to boot, check out the recipe tab of my blog for a good, healthy recipe for Pistachio Cherry Granola.  I’ll likely add some more recipes as the season progresses, so check back often!

If you double or triple your normal recipes, this formula might take care of several people on your list.  Don’t forget to include directions with your recipes so that someone could actually re-create the snack.

Most people love gifts like this, so take a chance and give some food.  Be divine for a day.

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25 Days ’til Christmas! Day 1 Gift Ideas

Now that the season is upon us, it is time to think about celebrating the traditions, sharing good times with family and friends, and making new memories.  In our pursuit of a greener holiday, there are all sorts of options to have a smaller impact on the environment while still making the holidays special.

Some of us may be choosing a life of reduced consumerism, while others may finally have a little bit of money they’d like to spend on nicer gifts this year.  Some of us may merely be on a budget, while others may be wanting to keep their money in the local economy. 

Over the next month, I’ll try to give everyone some good ideas that are greener, cleaner, local-er, and still special.

Today’s idea is one that may not be available to everyone, but you never know until you do a little research. 

For the foodies in the family, for the localvores, or really anyone who enjoys fresh food, check into your community for farms that participate in a CSA program.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  How it works is usually something like paying for a magazine subscription, except instead of a magazine, you get fresh, usually organic, usually extremely local, freshly picked vegetables and fruits.  Many of the farms that offer CSA participation call your investment in their farm a “share.”  Most CSAs operate under the concept that you are helping support the farm by paying for the products they produce in advance of the season.  With this investment in a share, farms are better able to plan their seasons, crops, deliveries, and profit.  Some farms (most of the ones I’ve checked out) even offer eggs, dairy, and meats also raised on the farm or a partner farm for an additional cost.  Some CSAs deliver while others have pick-up locations at farmer’s market locations.  You can even tell them which vegetables you would rather not get or trade with another shareholder.

You can get weekly or bi-weekly (meaning every other week) “shares” of food that are in season.  Of the farms local to me, they indicate that throughout the year there are 60-70 types of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and sometimes flowers you can get as part of your share, and most shares are 6-10 different kinds of produce that come to you in a box or paper grocery bag–sometimes up to two paper bags full.  What you get, of course, depends on what is in season. 

Additionally, several of the CSAs I have read about have “field” days where you are invited to come help harvest or do other work on the farm, which is optional and completely up to you.  Some even offer a “work for your food” kind of plan where you can earn your food through sweat-equity.  A couple of CSAs come with newsletters and recipes for cooking ideas.  There are even a few that have community meals where members come to the farm once a season and dine with fellow CSA shareholders and the farmers.  It sounds like so much fun!

As for payment plans, they seem to be as varied as the vegetables you can get.  Some have an annual fee, some break up payments throughout the year, some charge “per box” and some have a system that sounds like a season-specific plan, where you get anywhere from 4 to 8 boxes per season.  Right now, many of the local CSAs are offering gift cards or gift plans for as low as $25 for the holidays.  Of course, you can gift as much as a whole year’s worth, if you want, and I am sure they extend the gift-card giving to birthdays and other special occasions.

Considering how much produce I buy every week, this sounds like an amazing alternative/supplement to getting grocery-store fruits and vegetables that are sometimes already “over the hill” or weeks away from being ripe.  Additionally, you’ll not only get more nutritious food (because it’s so fresh–sometimes picked that day!), but you can also have the peace of mind that organically grown foods are lacking in toxic pesticides and have a lower impact on the environment with less inorganic inputs.  Since these foods have been grown so close to home, less energy has been spent on getting the food to you, which reduces air and water pollution.  At the same time, you are actively supporting farmers and their families make a more reliable living without having to be so dependent upon bank loans.

It is a really exciting option that I know I am going to look into not only for my own family but probably a few of my friends.  I hope you will look into a CSA for the holidays and think about giving this gift of green not only to the people on your shopping list, but to yourself as well!

 

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Endless Summer…Coconut and Mango!

I think I have well established the fact that I am addicted to fragrances. I use them to affect a mood that makes me feel…happy (hopefully). Since the scent-center of the brain is so strongly bound with memory, coconut (or coconut-inspired) scents are like summer in a bottle for me. Put a little bit of mango with that, and I am whisked away like in those old Calgon ads, except to a tropical island drenched with sun and sweetness. And in the face of the impending time and season changes to something ever more dreary and less sunshine-y, I intentionally cling to my summer with coconut and mango inspired products.

I know most people are all into the “pumpkin spice” or chocolate or mint or other seasonally appropriate scents, but not me. Not yet. So…let me, as your all-natural product guide who is also addicted to summer, offer some things worth trying and some things to avoid.

Let me first start by admitting that Alba Botanica is the brand that first introduced me to “good for you” products in the form of it’s Honey Mango Very Emollient Bath & Shower Gel.  This product literally smells good enough to eat.  When you look at the details of the ingredients, you will even find that there is no actual honey in the product, meaning that it is vegan (the company also conducts no animal testing and is cruelty-free).  This bath gel creates a creamy, moisturizing lather that seems to work (for me) against the drying powers of more wintery weather.  You can find a 12 oz. bottle for about $8-ish in natural stores and probably for less online.  If you aren’t super excited about a “honey mango” fragrance, they do have other scents like French Lavender, Island Citrus, etc.  I haven’t tried ’em, but I am sure there is something everyone can love.  I give this product a “Hooray!”

And just as a refresher, straight from the company’s website:

Alba Botanica® products are formulated without: parabens, phthalates, artificial colors, propylene glycol, aluminum, mineral oil, petrolatum, oxybenzone, PABA, nano-particles, DEA, MEA or TEA, PEGs and PEG derivatives, ethoxylated ingredients associated with 1,4 dioxane, formaldehyde donors, or GMOs.

Which leads me to the second Alba Botanica “Endless Summer” selection:  “Coconut Milk” Shampoo and Conditioner for “mega moisture.”  I bought a dual-pack of these two (also in a 12 oz. size), for around $11 at the end of September.  I expected something that looked, well, like coconut milk.  I also expected it to smell like, well, like coconut.  So, the shampoo is clear and gel-like and smells like coconut mixed with something that reminds me of that oh-so-popular potpourri fragrance:  mulberry.  Now I like the smell of mulberry, but I don’t think it smells like coconut, and I’m not sure how they arrived at that fragrance given the ingredients listed like pineapple and papaya and ginger.  Must have been a magical alchemy of sorts.  The shampoo works to clean my hair, but it seems to take a bit more than usual to get a good lather going and I sometimes feel compelled to “wash, rinse, repeat.”  So, that’s a bit wasteful.  The Coconut Milk conditioner is very thick and creamy, coming out of the bottle very “dollopy” instead of runny.  It smells like a lighter version of the shampoo, which is fine.  Still not too coconutty.  It does a good job at detangling and moisturizing without weighing my hair down.  So.  I’ll give this duo a “Yay.”  It does the job, and it smells fine, but just not what I’m looking for to satisfy my “coconut” craving.

On to Desert Essence, another brand I have featured before…they are dedicated to natural products that are phtalate-free, cruelty-free, organic, etc.  The Coconut Shampoo/Conditioner (Nourishing for Dry Hair), is also specifically touted as having no:  “parabens, sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfates, Phthalates, artificial fragrances or colors, silicones, EDTA, glycol or petroleum based ingredients (from drugstore.com’s product details).”  For about $7.49/8oz., I think this product (on sale) is a bit too expensive for me.  But I wanted coconut shampoo and it was on sale!  This shampoo is also clear, but lathers really well…I’d say it’s just like “regular shampoo” with a nice rich lather that really leaves my hair feeling clean.  Unfortunately, I think the fragrance is…terrible.  I’ve really tried to like it, but I just can’t.  Again, it is another instance of coconut not being the “superstar” of the fragrance.  This was meant to smell like a pina colada, I think, but…sigh.  Okay, I’ll tell you what it smells like to me.  You know that white shoe polish people use to write on their car windows?  Yeah.  That’s what it smells like to me.  If I *try* to think about pina colada, I can kind of get it, but no.  White Shoe Polish.  The conditioner is similar to the Alba Botanica above, thick and rich, moisturizing without being heavy.  The fragrance is much diminished in the conditioner and I WOULD consider using just the conditioner with some other shampoo.  So…in the end.  This shampoo gets a “Not So Great” and the conditioner gets a “Yay.”

And now, the piece de resistance…the one that has NOT let me down, once again…Pacifica Perfumes, I love you.  I swear they are not paying me.   This IS summer in a bottle, to me.  It is a “true” coconut in my mind, not mixed with a variety of other fruity fragrances that detract from the star of this show.  There is some vanilla in the mix, but even with the dry down, coconut is the feature of this perfume.  I also think that this particular perfume lasts longer than some of the other, more citrusy fragrances that I love from Pacifica.  Here it is 3pm on a warm day and I still smell great.  One of my friends says it smells like sunscreen…which is just fine with me.  I wish they sold “Coppertone” as a fragrance.  All those childhood memories of my favorite time of the year come rushing back when I use this perfume.  Winter-schminter…now I can keep it summer all year long (which makes me happy–mission accomplished)!  So, if you haven’t guessed…this one gets a “HOORAY!”

I am still on the search for a natural shampoo/body wash that will really strike home that coconut summer of love when January rolls around.  If you have any favorites that achieve that feat, please DO share!  Stay tuned…I’ll share if I find some other good ones!

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Ah, Summer!

Oh my gosh!  Where did the time go?  I can’t believe I have been so behind in my posts.  I started a new job and have been trying to eat healthier/live healthier, and this has sucked away much of the free time I used to dedicate to writing.  Well, I’m carving out time for writing again, so I will promise updates.

Here is what you can expect:  revisiting toothpaste, deodorant, and shampoo.  Since it is nearly summer for many of you (it has been summer-like in Austin since April), it’s time to think about sunscreens and chlorine.  I will also put preservatives and colorants on my schedule, in addition to other household items like cooking pans, microwaves, laundry detergent, how to replace plastic in your life, and last, but not least…more recipes!  I make my own soap and occasionally my own laundry detergent, so I will share some of the tricks I have learned over the years.  I might even start selling some of these products on www.etsy.com.  That’s going to take some gumption, though…

I also hope to open some discussions for debate regarding natural products or homemade solutions to those pesky “how did we used to do this before plastic?” questions.  If you have suggestions or questions, I’ll do my best to find some answers from somewhere.

As for me, I’m off to the farmer’s market.  Hooray!

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Post Christmas Splurge!

So, I couldn’t resist…I bought some more shampoo, hairspray, and toothpaste.  They were all on sale!

First, Everyday Shea Shampoo in Vanilla Mint.

Vanilla Mint Everyday Shea Shampoo

This came in a gigantic size (32 oz.) for $13.99 (about $0.44/oz).  I’ll use it for body/hand soap, too, to justify the cost.  The mint (spearmint), in my opinion, overpowers the vanilla, but it’s still lovely and makes me feel all happy.  It produces a nice lather and doesn’t leave hair feeling…shall I say… TOO clean?   If you’ve ever washed your hair with Dr. Bronner’s you know what I’m talking about.  It’s not like that at all.

Shea butter and oil, as well as coconut oil, are the saponified fats in this product, so it should be quite moisturizing.  I’ve only used it for a few days, but so far, my hair seems manageable and not greasy and not crunchy.  So far so good.   The company uses fair trade ingredients, no synthetic fragrances, no parabens, and does not test on animals.  The fragrances are created with essential oils (and they have unscented versions of their products, too).  This means no phthalates!

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss an ingredient: cocamidapropyl betaine.  This is a surfactant that is synthetically made by chemically manipulating coconut oil and it can be an allergen to some people.  If you know you have skin reactions to surfactants, you may want to avoid this product.  If I notice anything strange, I’ll report back.

Second, Giovanni L.A. Hold Hair Spritz!

Giovanni L.A. Hold Hair Spritz

Okay, so I delayed getting hairspray after my purge, thinking I didn’t “really” need it and most brands cost about $10/bottle.  Unfortunately, this meant I couldn’t wear my hair up, because I can’t stand the falling-down fly-aways that happen without hairspray.  And, honestly, I’m one of those people who like my hair to be neat and without the hairspray, all of those little pieces that wouldn’t lay flat after midmorning drove me nutso.

THIS hairspray to the rescue!  Giovanni products are vegan with a few exceptions of beeswax in their lip balms and milk in some of their products.  They do not test on animals, they do not put phthalates in their products, most fragrances are created naturally from essential oils and plant extracts, and many of their ingredients are certified organic.

This hairspray smells slightly floral, and holds lightly all day without being stiff (although this is touted as “maximum hold,” I don’t think it can be compared to the hard/crispy hairsprays we remember from high school).  At least the hairspray holds enough that I don’t have to fuss with my hair in the  mirror at work with those crazy fly-aways.  I haven’t tested the up-do hold, yet, but I’ll do more homework and get back to you on this.  It also hasn’t had to stand up to any crazy humidity yet.  I’m happy with it so far, so I hope it works for the occasional bun or ponytail.  It cost $7.95 for 5 oz…which will probably last about 4 months for me.  Not bad. And yes, ANOTHER toothpaste:  Now XyliWhite Cinnafresh Toothpaste Gel.

I have decided for my own health concerns to avoid fluoride.  This toothpaste doesn’t have any fluoride, but it does have xylitol, which works to prevent cavities by killing bacteria.  It also contains papain (a fruit enzyme) for whitening effect.  The paste itself is very much like gel, but it has the same color as beeswax, which I suppose could be a bit off-putting at first, but at least it’s not full of fake food dyes.  Here are the other ingredients: water, hydrated silica, glycerin, sorbitol, sodium bicarbonate, sodium carbonate, sodium coco-sulfate, carrageenan (Chondrus crispus), cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) leaf oil, tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) leaf oil, potassium sorbate.   Keep this FAR away from dogs, because the high quantity of xylitol could be fatally toxic (this is true for anything containing xylitol, obviously).  I like the cinnamon flavor, but it certainly isn’t as powerful as Jason’s Powersmile pepperminty-blast of fresh.  It does foam up nicely even though it doesn’t have any SLSes, and the slick-clean sensation is about a 9/10 for me.  I feel like my teeth keep that quality longer than with regular toothpaste…like it’s 11 pm now (I brushed my teeth around 8:30 am), and there’s no noticeable plaque-y feel on my teeth like there normally would be.  I find this amazing!  It  cost about $4.39 for a big 6.4 oz tube.  On www.iherb.com, you can get other flavors, and it is on sale for $3.81 right now.  It’s a definite thumbs up, and I am happy to feel un-conned on fluoride with this one. AND…although I haven’t tried any of their products, the Yes To Inc. company that creates Yes to Carrots and Yes to Cucumbers (and other vegetables)…have passed the no phthalate test!  They have a wholly organic line of baby products, which of course are good for adults to use, too.  They also avoid the use of parabens and SLSes.  They try to use as many organic and non-synthetic ingredients as possible, so just read the labels to see if there might be anything objectionable in it.  They do not test on animals and most products are also vegan…those that aren’t contain only beeswax and honey.  This is another brand that is widely available at WalMart and drugstores, but you might find a better selection at a “natural” store.  You can also shop at their online store, of course.  So, huzzah for finding another good and easy to find natural brand.  Options are awesome and variety is the spice of life!  Next time…the deodorant test continues.  Spoiler Alert!  I am breaking up with Tom’s of Maine forever!

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