Monday, December 29, 2008

Cat's Cradle

Recycling is good. But it still uses lots of energy and resources.

Reusing is even better! Reusing uses little or no additional resources while not adding to the landfill. Not to mention the cost savings of reusing the stuff you and your neighbors already own.

1 cord from a coffee cake box
1 eight year-old Girlie

Mix together to create a fun game of Cat's Cradle.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Biodegradable Myth

While sitting in the stands at an indoor soccer game, I was chatting friendly fellow soccer mummy named Robin. Friendly Robin had been reading my blog and really knew a thing or two about being green.

Robin mentioned that her family recently test drove new biodegradable plates made from banana leaves. The package promised Robin that the plates would biodegrade. Any logical person would assume that biodegradable plates (or bags or cups or utensils) easily break down without creating trash. And we all know that trash isn't something that we need more of on the planet.

What a load of greenwashing!

Since I'm not a scientist and refuse to wear white (black is more stylish), I will not regurgitate the technical mumbo jumbo about biodegration. Basically, you only need four things to break down biodegradable materials. Oxygen, water, nutrition and heat.

In most of today's modern landfills your trash is first disposed of in a plastic bag and then the entire landfill is capped in plastic. Oxygen and water do not penetrate the plastic in the volume needed to break down the biodegradable materials.

Biodegradable materials like veggie scraps, dryer lint, egg shells, wine corks and banana leaf plates can take much, much longer to break down in a landfill then they do in a simple compost bin. For example, if it takes say one month for the average newspaper to compost in a compost bin, that number could jump up expediently in a capped landfill.

Take Hubby's favorite soap as a real life example. This particular Tom's of Maine soap comes packaged in a biodegradable plastic wrap. Instead of landing in the landfill in another plastic bag, I toss it in the backyard compost bin. Once the plastic goes in the bin it seems to magically disappear. With all of the soap that hubby uses (he sure likes his showers) I have yet to see the biodegradable plastic again after it lands in my compost bin. The time it takes to compost seems amazingly short.

(Is it too early to ask Santa for a new camera for Christmas 2009?)
(I'll update this photo when I can catch a little natural light)
What if I was to toss this same biodegradable soap wrapper in the trash? How long would it linger there?
I have posted this question before, but it is worth asking again. Why don't more towns and states offer free or reduced compost bins? Don't they realize they will save more money and resources by simply educating the public about the simplicity of composting and supplying a bin cheaply? How many tons of food and yard waste could they keep out of their landfills? How much money could towns save by cutting the volume of trash?
I recently posed this question to the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority. They replied that they don't have enough storage to support the program. I also asked my local highway department about about discounted compost bins for residents. They said that they aren't planning any such program. They are sure missing the boat.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Hide and Seek

Today is the day that families around the world follow the age-old tradition of post-family hide and seek.It's the day after Christmas and all of the well-meaning relatives have left. Today is the day that we find all of our stuff. All of the stuff the relatives borrowed, cleaned-up and moved only to be put back in mystery locations.

Our family just loves Hide and Seek Day! The kids look forward to this day all year. They think of today as a giant family game.

Who can find mummy's blow dryer? Under mummy's bras in the linen closet. (huh?)

Soap Nuts? In the trash can. (huh?)

Who can find the potato peeler? In with the cereal bowls. (huh?)

Who can find the bath towels? Downstairs in a showerless bathroom. (huh?)

How about the clementines? In the garage, of course. (huh?)

Maybe these new and different locations make sense to my extended family. Maybe they are simply insane. Really, it could go either way.

Enjoy your family's hide and seek game after the relatives go back to their own fruit-filled garages and combination bra and blow dryer shelves.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Gingerbread Success

Last Christmas I had the romantic idea that the kids and I would create a gingerbread house together using one of those easy-smeashy all-in-one kits.

Big joke.

This Christmas we ditched our lofty hopes of ever creating a house made of yummy treats for a more reasonable goal of cooking gingerbread cookies.

Less stress. More fun. More Yum.

A simple and magical Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hartford Courant

Thank you to America's oldest newspaper, the Hartford Courant, for asking little old me to write a regional story.

I had loads of fun!

Now, can someone tell me why the period at the end of the Courant's title is just hanging out there?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wrap It Up

It's no secret that I wrap my gifts in cloth bags. Christmas, birthdays, new baby, be nice to my kids on their report card. Whatever the occasion.

These cloth bags can go around and around through family and friends. A few of these cloth bags have even made it back to the house as gifts for my family. Most of the gift bags linger out there in the unknown. I like to think that they have been lovingly reused and have crisscrossed the globe as they are gifted from friend to friend.

For years I have purchased gift bags from online retailers and little old ladies at craft fairs. This year my bag suppliers have dried up. My favorite (and reasonably priced) online fabric bag seller closed it's site. The craft fairs aren't drawing the little old ladies like they used to.

So what's a girl to do?

After my sewing machine debacle of 2007 my friendly mummy bought me a drugstore special sewing machine for $8.99. Big didn't work.

I then invested my own ten dollars and three hours of my life into a hand held jobby that could only sew four inches at a time.

I got my money back, but those three hours will be lost forever,

Fourth time's a charm. Right? Maybe? I put down seventy dollars on a real life sewing machine. It had lots of bells and whistles, but I was only looking to sew in a straight line.

This fourth machine helped me sew goodie bags for girlie's birthday. One eight hour day later and the bags were done. "Primitive" I called them. "Um, my eight year-old daughter sewed them... Yeah, that's what happened."
Now, here we are at Christmas time again. And here I am in need of more gift bags. Looking at the prospect of working for many days and nights just to make a few bags, I did what any enterprising suburban gruppie would do.
I called my dealer.
My sewing dealer. Gutter brain.

My friendly neighbor down the street started a small sewing company creating purses, vests and the like. I called her up using my most desperate voice. "Sandy, I um tried really, really hard to make my gift bags this year. I even bought lots of cute fabric on sale. Since you are really talented and I um and pitifully arts and crafts challenged. Could I commission you to make my gift bags this year?"

A Christmas miracle came early this year. Friendly and talented Sandy said "yes." She agreed to be my new fabric gift bag supplier. In one swoop she saved me and saved a little part of the world.

Next time you are lucky enough to receive a fabric gift bag with a wonderful gift inside, take a minute to ponder all of the places that bag has traveled and the woman who may have lost hours of her life trying to make that very bag.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Handmade Toys in Danger

I am a huge fan of handmade toys. The ladies who sell their sweet dollys craft shows always pull me in. The older men who create trucks out of wood call to me. The online sellers of Etsy who dream up original toys set me in a trace for hours at a time. I myself even once had a small business selling wooden toys.

All of that may come to an end very soon.
The large toy companies who have knowingly allowed nasty chemicals to be included in our children's toys have spoiled the fun for everyone. In just a few weeks a new law will mandate all toys to go through a $4000 safety test before they can be sold to American children.

This $4000 per toy fee would include the stay-at-home mom who sews while her babies nap. This fee would include the part-time person who is making a go at importing toys to sell online. This $4000 per toy fee would give all of the power to the big guys.

So what's the answer? Allow the big guys to continue to make unsafe toys and import them? Put all of the little guys out of business? There has to be an answer.

Please take a moment to read about Diane's thought over at dkMommy Spot. She has posted a great video and lots of additional compelling facts about the issue.

If you feel as upset about the possible loss of handmade toys forever, please sign the petition to save handmade toys.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Playing With Fire

Last year I blogged about an amazing nonprofit group that runs a website called Through private donations, Healthy Toys accepts suggestions from it's readers as to which toys to test for safety. No safety tests being quietly sponsored by toy companies. This group is completely in it for the kids.

Healthy Toys hadn't updated it's database in quite some time. Now it's back and better than ever. Thank you!!

Please take a minute to look-up your gifts before you give them to a child you love. You can also look-up the toys you already own. Be prepared to completely freak out and feel abused by the toy industry. I personally have freaked out on a couple of occasions after searching (and finding)toys that the family owns.

It's rocks and sticks for the kids again this Christmas.

The toys being tested by Healthy Toys aren't obscure toys that you've never seen. This list plays out like the who's who of every playroom across the country.

On the Healthy Toys site, I like to search by type of toys. "Vehicles" is always my first step. Those millions of tiny little cars and trucks that Little Guy lives for can't be that bad. Right?


Unfortunately there are literally thousands and thousands of little vehicles out there and Healthy Toys can't test them all. What do I do? Toss them like I did to Girlie's PVC-laden baby dolls? Hope he grows-up and outgrows them soon (never!)?

For one quick example on one of the hundreds of toys you can find on Healthy Toys, peak around to see if you have a Leapster 2 hanging around the house. If so, then you also have dangerously high levels of lead and arsenic with lower levels of bromine, chromium and mercury tossed in too.

If you knew these facts before you bought this educational game system, would you still have purchased it? Would you allow your kids to touch these poisons? Breathe them in? What do you do now that you've already spent your hard-earned money?

What do we do when toy companies have two production lines? One for the EU and one for the kids of the US? What do we do? Why aren't we fighting for our kids a little louder?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

More Good Than Bad

Pick-up any newspaper or turn on any news broadcast. Go ahead. I'll wait...

... .... .... .... ....

Do you feel like the world is going to hell in a hand basket? Do you feel like you are the only person out there who isn't an evil meanie? Well, I feel like that all of the time. Even my kids are staring to feel like the rest of the world is crazy.

I try to tell the kids (and myself) that there is much more good then bad in the world. The bad events and people are the ones who get all of the press. It's the bad that sticks in our mind. But it's the good that's truly winning.

Take a seemingly normal day last week. Little Guy and I were driving home from the children's museum class I teach. We had yet to make it to school on time after my classes and on that day we were organized and right on time. Until we blew a tire.

Since I'm no helpless mamby-pamby woman I proceeded to speed dial the school to tell them to prepare Little Guy's now laminated late pass ready. Then, I lept up on my stacked heels, grabbed the spare tire out of the trunk and flew into action.

Being the daughter of a mechanic, the cars I grew-up with were well-used. Dad's theory was that he could always just fix them so why buy new (or even from the current decade). Consequently, I have had just about everything go wrong with a car. Good experiences now that my mechanic father lives hours away.

Imagine my surprise when my tire iron didn't fit my lug nuts. Sure I just love hanging out on the side of the road in the freezing rain with a five year-old. But wowsers was my day not going well.

Just when hitchhiking with my five year-old started to look like a good idea, a friendly man with a five year-old of his own stopped to help. This friendly man ended-up coming back on three separate occasions with tools borrowed from various friends. All without knowing me.

When I asked friendly Rob and little Ryan why they stopped to help, Rob looked puzzled and simply replied "you needed help."

Simple you might say. But with all of the road raging, financially stressing, shopping cart bumping angry people that I see everyday, it's nice to know that there are people out there who actually think of strangers. Good people who care.

Thank you to Rob and Little Ryan. An extra gift is heading over to you Ryan as a thank you. I know that your daddy tried to refuse, but I want to thank you for my own selfish reasons. My fingers are crossed that you will grow-up and be one of the good ones like your daddy.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Last Supper

Ever since the weather turned frigid and the growing season ended, I have been out of ideas as to what to cook for my family. "Grilled cheese and clementines again Mummy?"

It used to be easy. The CSA would give me a bag of veggie each week. Each week I would plan recipes around the veggies in the bag. We would eat them. Easy smeashy.

Now I walk into the grocery store and are greeting with millions of possibilities. Too many for me to even want to chose from. Often it's just chicken pot pie again. And again.

If I was a smarter Gruppie or I possibly lived back in 1765 I would know just how to preserve those summer veggies to last all winter long. In fact, learning how to preserve food is on my it's too cold to go outside so I might as well learn something new agenda.

Last week I dug deep into the depths of my cabinet and emerged with two small sweet potatoes and a clove of garlic left over from the farm. I took them and made a Real Simple recipe of sweet potato risotto.

Yummy....Still, the question lingers. What do I cook for dinner tonight?