A Chinook Book Birthday

Last spring I purchased a Chinook Book* -a green version of an Entertainment Book- for my area (Portland) and realized that the coupons expired on Oct. 31. Since my birthday is the 30th, a plan immediately formed in my head: spend an entire day shopping at organic and eco-friendly shops, and redeem as many coupons as possible. Or least as many as affordable.

So the morning of my birthday, which fell on a Saturday this year, my husband and I set out for the city, baby in tow. (Our three older children were watched by our dear friends Keith and Sandy.) I had clipped out the coupons which I wanted to redeem and charted a course. My rule for the day (which I broke once) was that all the places we shopped would be with a coupon/discount.

1st Stop: Joann Fabrics

OK, so this wasn’t a Chinook Book coupon, but I happened to have two 40% off coupons, and took the opportunity without kids to stop in a choose 2 cuts of flannel to make into PJs for Christmas.

2nd Stop: EcoCarWash (SE Portland)

The coupon was for a free wash…I think their soaps are non-toxic, and water is recycled. Clean van, good to go.

3rd Stop: Bob’s Red Mill

Yes, the flagship store. Smells heavenly even before you walk inside…Heiko checked out the breakfast menu with a 1/2 price coupon, while I stocked up from their bulk section on a few baking items I needed: tapioca flour (for GF baking), baking powder, yeast (non GMO), etc. I used the Buy One Get One Free coupon on two 25 lb bags of tapioca flour, and a $.75 coupon on the yeast. Then I sat with Heiko (french toast and fried eggs) and had a gluten-free marionberry scone, while we showed off the baby to an elderly lady sitting near by.

4th Stop: The Healthy Bread Store (right across the street!)

I ran in while Heiko did a drive by (it was raining) and bought 2 loaves of day old Good Seed Bread (“say no to bread on drugs”) with a 2 for the price of 1 coupon.

5th Stop: Drive through Ladd’s Addition Neighborhood

Admired the rose gardens and gorgeous fall leaves.

6th Stop: Artichoke Music (Hawthorne)

Again a drive by for Heiko, while I went in a bought a rosin for my daughter’s violin practice; hers had broken. Used the 25% off coupon. Store with many beautiful folk instruments.

7th Stop: North Portland Wellness Center (North Portland)

It was now pouring, so we sat in the car for a bit while I fed the baby, then ducked into the Center, which is in a nicely restored Craftsman. I chose two scented handmade soaps with 2 coupons for free soap…mmm, the citrus scent smells so nice in my bathroom!

8th Stop: The Meadow

Here‘s where I broke my rule: I had no coupons for The Meadow. However, it had recently been recommended to me as a great place to get good sea salt. And what a selection!

The Meadow has over 150 different kinds of sea salt from around the world; this is the largest collection of salts in the world to their knowledge. We sampled several, chose an economical grey salt for multipurpose cooking, and splurged on a bar of dark chocolate and a small bottle of flake salt for sprinkling.

Besides salt and chocolate, The Meadow sells only two other wares: wine and flowers. Salt, Chocolate, Wine, Flowers…somehow it all goes together, doesn’t it? As we checked out, I asked if they give birthday discounts (perhaps I wouldn’t have to break my rule…). No, but she she gave me a flower instead. How sweet! Love this shop.

9th Stop: Laughing Planet

Hungry for lunch, we walked 2 doors down to Laughing Planet, where the staff was having a scary costume contest (ugh…the one thing I don’t like about this time of year). But the Draper Valley roasted chicken burrito (Heiko) and bowl (me) were delicious and hit the spot. We sat by the window and watch a friendly old dog in the courtyard while other patrons admired our baby. Oh yeah, we used the 20% off 2 entrees coupon, and left the coupon for 2 smoothies for another patron.

10th Stop: Pharmaca (NW Portland)

Heiko strolled the baby while I chose eyeliner and lipliner pencils to replace the ones I’ve used up. Jane Iradale and Dr. Haushka brands respectively were the colors I liked best (after much debate), and I used the $5 off $20 purchase coupon.

11th Stop: Pottery Barn

After a parking change to avoid being ticketed, we browsed through Pottery Barn, an icon of eclectic and cozy decorating. I didn’t have a coupon for this store, but I had a gift card, which is even more fun. However, after browsing, I decided I’d rather wait for the after Christmas sale to redeem my gift.

12th Stop: Restoration Hardware (across the street)

And of course we always have to stop in here when in NW Portland: Heiko loves to look at all their do-dads and stocking stuffers. However, this year was a disappointment, as they have seriously cut down on the kitsch. And their looks has changed too: the sage walls and cream trim have been replaced with grey walls, ceiling, everything. Cool at first, and then the drab begins to feel depressing.

13th Stop: Anna Bananas

Of course there are several coffee shops right on 23rd Ave, but we went a couple streets over to get our late afternoon lattes at this place, since we had a 2 for 1 coupon with them. The Milky Way has almond and caramel syrups…yum.

14th Stop: Estate Sale

Lattes in hand, we ventured back into a few 23rd Ave. boutiques, then followed the hand written sign half a block to an estate sale. Found a great flat basket for gathering herbs (was told it is called a trug) for a few bucks (OK, no coupon, but it was still a great deal).

15th Stop: What’s Upstairs

Nice resale shop with a boutique feel on the top level of shops. The lady was kind to stay open a little longer while I tried on a cute top (25% off coupon).

16th Stop: Wild Wood Restaurant

White-linen restaurant with food that’s too gourmet for my husband (we had that discussion). He had the steak and I the quail; lovely flavors in sauces, veggies, and meat, on plates too large for the food (part of the definition of gourmet). Of course we used the 2 for 1 coupon for our entrees.

17th Stop: New Seasons Market

Heiko dropped me at the door to collect our free organic french baguettes and hand stuffed sausages (apple chicken feta, which was good, and Bratwurst, which was also good but still nothing like a true Bratwurst in Germany). 4 coupons redeemed.

18th Stop: Home

Where 3 happy children in pajamas greeted me with birthday cards, and we all sat down to dark chocolate cake (GF) sprinkled with flake salt before sending the children to bed and playing pinochle with Keith and Sandy. Even though they beat us, it was still a fun ending to a great day!

*The Chinook Book offers some great money saving coupons. It costs $20, and I saved more than that in the first two purchases I made with coupons this spring (items I was purchasing anyway).

More Nesting: Entryway Update

Do you remember back in March when I blogged about the Healthy Habit of removing shoes at the door, and mentioned I was working on making my entryway more friendly to shoe removal? Well, I finally have something to show you.

Here is my entry [before]. Not welcoming, and very boring.

And now . . . here is what it looks like [after]:

Big improvement, yes? So here was the progression:

First, I found a bench on craigslist. Addicted to Love craigslist shopping! (If you missed it, read my safety checklist on bringing used/vintage pieces into your home.)

I looked for a couple of weeks for a great bench, and finally saw this one for $60. Too bad it was about 45 minutes away, but then all the good stuff seems to be that far away from me. It just fit into the center area of my minivan (seat removed), with the kids stuck in the back. It’s a solid quality piece of furniture, but came with no pad. (Strange how the seat is stained a different color, isn’t it?) So I threw down a white quilt and some pillows, and it was OK for a couple months.

We continued to use the small metal bin for shoes, but as warm weather came we always had a pile of shoes in the corner which didn’t fit in the bin. It’s the other corner of the entry, and I don’t have a picture, but I’m sure you know what a pile of shoes looks like. Not pretty.

So I started shopping for baskets to go under the bench.

So after several trips to multiple TJMaxx’s, Ross’s, and finally HomeGoods, I found these baskets. I learned something: these kinds of discount home stores only stock 2 of any kind of basket. It’s like a rule or something. One cannot find 3 of a kind at these places. At least not in the dark color I wanted. So the middle one is the same type of material as the two on the sides, but a slightly taller shape. And our shoes fit great.

All this time I was considering what type of fabric I would want on the pad/cover I would make.

My children selling hot cocoa (day 2 of the garage sale). We discovered that kids can sell a lot more at a lemonade stand (day 1) than cocoa stand, even if it is raining.

And then we had a block-wide garage sale. My neighbor was selling upholstery from her garage; she has 2 pallets of a wide assortment of fabrics. She let me take several home to compare them to the bench, and then when I decided on one, she gave it to me. Thanks, Trish!

I really like the brown and cream houndstooth check. I think it’s classic, practical, and stylish.

Then it was just a matter of time for my pregnancy nesting instinct to kick in with enough energy to work on the pad making project.

For the pad, I used an old bedspread, cut to size and piled 7 layers thick. The cording is some light rope we had the in garage (I think it is made for clothesline).This is the first time I’ve done a cording project, and it was a learning experience!

The houndstooth check made it easy to cut straight pieces and pleat the skirt. The pad took me several days to make, working on it during toddler nap-time.

Then  I wanted to add some more pillows to the bench than I’d had on it, and I had picked up this ugly but clean pillow at a garage sale for 25 cents.

I had this pad thing in the linen closet. It’s from my grandmother and she couldn’t remember what it was for. . . seems like a table pad? Anyway, I like the old soft cotton and the quilted texture. I cut the center out to sew into a cover for the pillow. Two side seams and an envelope opening in the back to pop the pillow through. After sewing the bench pad, this pillow cover was easy-peasy!

Then I used a scrap piece to make a tiny pillow, and piled them on the bench with the pillows I’d had on it all spring. But after looking at it for a day I felt that the putty, blue, and white color scheme was too pale, at least for summer, so I switched in the flag pillow.

Now I just need to decide what I’m putting above the bench and the entry will seem complete. [Hopefully that won’t take another 4 months!]

I’m linking to blog parties at theinspiredroom and funkyjunkinteriors.

Feathering My Nest the Clean Green Way

The concept of re-using things is certainly a “green” idea. But it’s not always a “clean” idea, as in non-toxic. Some old pieces of furniture carry an ugly past —mildew, lead paint— that can pollute your home if you bring them in unawares.

Recently I’ve been enjoying a number of DIY decorator blogs (like theinspiredroom.net and funkyjunkinteriors.blogspot.com), and with 6 weeks until my baby’s due date (and nesting instinct in full gear!) the inspiration has been enough for me to take action, scour craigslist.com for cool vintage items, break out the sand paper, and start feathering my nest. So how to balance a love for vintage items with a determination not to bring toxic stuff into my home? Here’s my go-to list:

  • Check items for signs of mildew (black spotting on wood) and odors. No smoke, mold, or animal smells welcome!
  • Check for peeling paint/other finishes, and be aware of work involved to restore pieces. There’s a real design trend for “chippy white paint” and “weathered finishes” but these are just asking for home contamination as they continue to wear.
  • When attempting a restoration project, be aware of the risks involved with both dust and chemical inhalation. Choose low or zero VOC products (paint), apply in a ventilated area, and wear protective gear.
  • Vacuum and wash/scrub all items with a rag and water, vinegar if needed, before bring into your home.
  • Clean up your mess as you go, so paint chips from old furniture, etc. don’t spread around your work area/home.

Want to see some of the things I’ve been working on?

Drawers

Old drawer used as a kitchen table tray

These drawers (3 of them) came inside this cute old cabinet which I snagged free off of craigslist. (Yes, free!)

Old cabinet

OK, so it isn’t so cute in this picture, but wait until you see my after photo (coming later…). The lady I got it from had scraped half of the paint off, and was done with the project, so I took over. I love the scraped look of the drawers, so with a thorough inspection and washing I brought them inside.

The first drawer is used as a tray on my kitchen table with a basket of napkins and glass bowl of flowers in it. It keeps things a little neater and gives the whole group presence.

Here is another drawer, which I’ve used to hold books in the living room. Love how it again gives presence to the grouping, as well as allowing them to be displayed upright on a trunk.

Drawer used to tidy coffe table books

(By the way, how do you like the architectural paper book covers? I’ve seen this treatment in Pottery Barn to simplify the random colors of a stack of books. My husband thought I was crazy to “cover up all the color.” Hmm, I’ll have to live with it awhile and see if I miss the color. )

Old Mirror

Here is another project that I got for free off craigslist (gotta love free stuff). I actually drove over to get this old mirror, and left because it was too decrepit, then thought, hey, free is free, turned around and went back for it. The lady said it had been hanging on the side of the barn. Oh my. Do you see where the mirror backing is peeling from the frame mirror pieces?

Peeling old mirror

It sat in my garage for 2 months before I figured out a brilliant solution: scrape away what’s coming off, and paint those areas of the mirror black. So, with dust mask and rubber gloves, and a vacuum to clean my mess and not allow it to spread, I scraped the backing off those side pieces. Then I carefully masked up the other areas, and sprayed it with black satin spray paint. It was not a low VOC spray paint (I don’t know of one, do you?), but I did this job outside, in a full breeze, while wearing gloves, a mask, and holding my breath for spurts, then walking away to catch my breath again. (A pain, but I think this is about the only way to do spray painting with a chemical awareness.)

Here is the finished product in my living room.

Old mirror new

Amazing, eh? I think so! This was a completely blank corner, so it’s really added a lot to the space.

Oh, and here are the books before being covered with paper. Thoughts on the difference?

Do you have some fun before and afters from feathering your nest?

I’m linking to a blog party on uses for old drawers at FunkyJunkInteriors and a linky party for inspiration at TheInspiredRoom.

Kid Water Bottles

Wanting to switch from plastic cups in the car to a stainless option for your kids? I was too, until sticker shock hit: retail on Kleen Kanteen’s 12 oz. canteen for kids is $14. 95. That would be for each kid. And you just know one of your kids is going to leave his at the park.

So I went shopping, online that is. I ended up purchasing the Green Sprouts Stainless Steel Water Bottle (12 oz.) from Lucky Vitamin for $8.20 (actually, it was 2 years ago and I think I paid less). The cap is a (safer) plastic, but the water sits in the stainless steel, so it’s hopefully not leaching anything we don’t want in there. (And I don’t recommend putting anything in it except water.)

The advantage of the Kleen Kanteen is that you can buy their sippy lid to use with the bottle when the child is small. However, we’ve found no problem with having our little guy drink from the Green Sprouts sports top when he was 1 year old. Both brands have the same non-toxic credentials:

  • PVC (polyvinyl chloride) free
  • BPA (bisphenol-A) free
  • Lead free
  • Phthalate free

I’ve been quite happy with the Green Sprouts bottle. They aren’t indestructible (my 2 year old flipped his top back and forth enough to recently break it from the strap) but still going strong after 2 years is good in my book!

The Shopping Habit

We women have gotten a bad rap for shopping. But being a good shopper is a valuable skill. And let’s face it; if we never shopped, we’d all be naked and starving. (Unless you live on a farm, and even then it’s debatable.)

Shopping can be a healthy habit, if you know where and how to shop. This means finding Quality at a great Price for those of us on a budget (that’s most of us!).

Quality

I find that making a habit of doing my weekly grocery shopping at a store which has a wide selection of natural and organic products is the most important healthy habit to start. That way, when I am out of a staple, like ketchup, instead of wondering about the quality of ingredients in the standard brand, I can reach for the organic bottle. It’s there, I’m there, it’s what’s going home with me.

Different parts of the country have different grocery chains, and it’s great to see that some of them are bringing in more organic lines. Here on the West Coast, O organics is a store brand carried by Safeway, Naturally Preferred the Fred Meyer brand, and Wild Harvest the Albertson’s brand. There are also many national brands of food and household supplies that are now being carried in the supermarkets, from Seventh Generation cleaners and diapers to Muir Glenn tomato sauce to Organic Valley dairy products. If a standard supermarket is all you have in your area, take advantage of all the natural and organic products you can. (And check regularly for store coupons for these “new” organic brands. . . some of these special coupons often can be found near the pharmacy.)

However, dedicated health food stores will give you a more complete selection, and probably a better price. They are popping up all over the country, so chances are there is a Wholefoods Market or Sprouts near you. Although generally considered more of a specialty foods store than a health foods store, Traders Joes really should be considered both, as they have a commitment to no artificial colors or preservatives in any of their food, and they have a huge number of organic items available.

Price

Staying within your budget is not only healthy for your financial future, it is emotionally healthy, and it’s a must-do for a healthy marriage. But sticker shock over those organic prices can leave any newby to green shopping in despair. Not to worry (or despair), there are lots of ways to stretch the budget while buying natural products.

Buy Local: farmers markets, or farm stands will have produce at peak ripeness, and often for less coin than the less-vibrant veggies at the market. Locally raised pastured for high Omega-3 content beef/lamb/pork/chickens can be purchased direct from the farm and picked up at the butcher (you’ll want to find several friends to split a large animal with). Farm fresh eggs and milk if available are also excellent staples for which to find a local source. Check localharvest.org and realmilk.com for farms local to you, or do as I did, and knock on the door of someone with animals on their acreage. You might just find your own personal source for meat/dairy/eggs.

Buy Seasonal: many local fruits can be had for a bargain when they are at peak ripeness, and if you pick them yourself you can get an even better deal. I have purchased 100 lbs of apples in the past for canning into applesauce and freezing as pie filling. This summer, I plan to pick 150 lbs. of blueberries and strawberries to freeze for smoothies year round. (Yeah, wish me luck.) It will be a lot of work, but I’ll save a bundle over organic frozen berries or even conventional frozen berries at Costco. (And maybe I’ll have a tan to show for it too. . .)

Buy with a Co-op: There are several distributors nationwide of natural products which will allow you and a group of local people to organize yourselves into a monthly co-op with a drop point for their shipment. Savings are realized from near wholesale pricing, and bulk pricing. In the Northwest, Azure Standard is an excellent full-selection coop company, with the bonus of their own extensive organic farm which supplies many of their bulk grain and veggie items.

Buy in Bulk: See above for Co-op ordering. Also, some stores (such as Fred Meyer in my area) will allow you to order a case of a product for 10% discount. I have also heard that Whole Foods will do this at 15% discount, and sometimes near wholesale. And of course, comparing the price per ounce on the small and large bottle of the same product will often mean greater savings on the larger bottle.

Buy Online: nutritional supplements, body care, household products, and some specialty foods can be purchased through online stores. Iherb.com is an excellent company with slashed prices (30-50% off) on lots of brands, great service and low or free shipping. Using code RON268 gives you $5 off your first order. I order every other month to have a $40 minimum order for free shipping. Lucky vitamin also has good prices, although the minimum for free shipping is $100. They carry some brands that iherb.com doesn’t so I do order from them a few times a year. Online buying can also be a money saver for one-time purchases, like cloth diapers.

Buy on Sale, with a Coupon: In the last year I began to follow a couple of coupon-ing blogs. It really is amazing some of the deals that can be found, even on organic and natural products. Read this post about coupon-ing for natural products. The idea with couponing is to save your coupon until the item is on sale to score a really great price. If you are going to do this, find a local blog that lists all the weekly store deals. When there’s a great sale, stock up!

Buy from Discount Stores: Look for natural body care products at Marshalls and TJMaxx. The Grocery Outlet also often carries natural body products, and organic foods for great deals. Lastly, another plug for Trader Joes: they don’t run sales because the have their rock-bottom prices available all the time. I shop there weekly for excellent prices on organic dairy, breads, pantry items, and frozen veggies. Of course, at all stores you must know how to read your labels to know what you are buying, and some of the “clearance” type discount stores (like TJMaxx) may have an old formula of a natural product which carried parabens, and now the manufacturer has reformulated it. Read my post on How to Read an Ingredient Label.

Meal Plan, Make a List: this allows you to stay focused on what you need at the store, and to avoid filling your cart with “filler” items that aren’t parts of meals you’re actually going to make. A rule of thumb on dinner planning is to plan for 5 dinners a week, so you can have one night for leftovers and one night to be out. And then have at least 2 easy meals in your pantry/freezer (like spaghetti) which can fill in if you don’t end up with leftovers or go out.

Plan to not buy cereal. . . even the “healthy” cereals are way too shelf-stable to be “real” food. And they’re pricey. Read Breakfast: Off to a Great Start for some breakfast ideas.

Plan for healthy snacks, too, but don’t let these dominate your budget; focus on the meals. Avoid buying bottled drinks unless it’s a special occasion; they are calories you don’t need, and can wrack up your bill. (Not to mention the environmental impact.) Quality teas and coffee, filtered tap water with lemon or lime, and organic raw milk are real nourishment to your body, and are easier on the budget.

Action Plan:

1. Look up your local Farmers Market or farm stand and begin going weekly for your veggies and fruits.

2. Locate a local natural food store at which to do your other marketing. It doesn’t need to be the same day of the week as the Farmers Market.

3. If possible, locate a local source for raw milk and pastured eggs (eggs can often be found at Farmer’s Markets, but they sell out early!). Again, pick-up days will likely differ from your marketing day.

4. Begin to set aside $50-$100 of  your monthly budget to purchase a side of beef, lamb, or pork. Find a ranch which offers quality grass-fed (not grain finished) meat; you will also need the freezer space to store your meat when you purchase it.

5. Begin to order (bi-monthly works well) from an online retailer such as iherb for savings on personal care products and supplements. Read Iherb.com: Awesome Prices + $5 Off.

6. Find a natural coop which delivers to your area for bulk item orders.

Iherb.com: Awesome Prices + $5 Off

OK, so this is totally just free advertising for iherb.com, but I love this site, so why shouldn’t I rave about it and share it with all of you?

I first found iherb.com when I was looking for better prices on supplements that my Doctor prescribed me, like Carlson’s Cod Liver Oil. But I soon found that they carried a lot of the personal care products and specialty foods (like Bob’s Red Mill flours, nuts, etc.) which I was purchasing at Whole Foods Market, and for discounts of 15-40%.

Also, I became very impressed with how well they wrapped each item in bubble wrap, and had a “no questions asked” customer service attitude. And the site is just really easy to use and find what you need.

It isn’t hard to meet the minimum for Free Shipping: $40 order (I order every other month to insure I’ll never pay shipping.) And if I order on Monday I have my stuff by Thursday (I live in the Northwest, and the iherb warehouse is in California).

If you’re making an order, use my coupon code RON268 and you’ll get an additional $5 off your order (first time customers). Woo hoo! I love a great deal!

And if you think you, or a group of your friends, would make larger orders, here’s how you can save more: after your first order, email iherb and ask them about a VIP Discount. I did this, and they told me that I would have to make an initial order of $500, which would be discounted by 15%. (So my first order was $500 – 15% = $425, and I pulled a bunch of friend orders together to do that.) After that, every order I make has an additional 10% off minimum (it goes up to 12% off for $120+, 14% off for 240+, 16% off for 480+). Since I’ve made an order every other month for the past several years, it has really been worth it.

OK, so what’s NOT to love about iherb? You still have to read the ingredient labels: in addition to great products, they stock lots of natural products with bad ingredients, like parabens, etc. This is the same as Whole Foods: you must read your labels. (Read my post How to Read an Ingredient Label.) Fortunately, iherb has the complete product label listed for each item, which makes this easier than any other online store I’ve seen.

Thinking Like Grandma

It has to be the mother of all earth-friendly mantras. The idea of leaving less trash behind you on the earth, and using fewer resources, distilled down into three words. Reduce, reuse, recycle.  It seems like we’ve seen it printed on the backs of natural products and the front of waste receptacles for years. But do we ever think about what it would look like in our daily lives?

I, for one, used to think only of the last word, recycle. Growing up in CA, recycling meant getting money back for aluminum cans. As an adult, the local residential recycling program raised my awareness that glass and plastic should also be recycled. Oh, and paper and cardboard too. My family is now using the third size/type of curbside recycling container supplied to us by our waste management company in the last 8 years (I hope they recycle the other plastic ones!), and it’s certainly the largest, coming in one third larger than our garbage can. But I’m actually proud to say that we don’t even fill it half full each week (same as with the garbage can). And I’ll tell you why.

I’m proud we don’t fill the whole bin because we are doing more of those two first words in the 3Rs: Reduce and Reuse. Recycling is only the last ditch effort to not let something go into a landfill. Before you relinquish it, think of all the ways you might use it. You might call this thinking like Grandma.

I have one great-grandmother who immigrated as a mail order bride from Switzerland (she and Grandpa had known each other as children) just before the Great Depression. My grandfather, her son, told me he didn’t think she noticed the depression much since poverty had always been her way of life. When I knew her, she was elderly, but still cultivated every square inch of their city lot for fruit, veggies, poultry, or flowers, and hung out each load of laundry, including carefully rinsed paper towels. Her clothes were patched, and repatched; clean of course. I’m sure she boiled into soup every bone that came across her table (see Bone Broth). Her back porch was filled with glass and plastic jars and newspapers which she kept for reuse in food storage, gardening, and then would give her overflow of newspapers to the church for fundraiser recycling. She did not see these “reuses” as a sign of poverty, rather as a sign of the great wealth (no hunger) which she and grandpa had been blessed with through their hard work in this land of opportunity.

Of course, my other great-grandmothers and grandmothers all lived during the Great Depression, and I can think of ways in which they all were, and those living still are, frugal in their daily habits, including reusing and recycling. Necessity made them reduce, and reusing and recycling were the natural results.

As my family has had reduced income in the past year, reducing has become a necessity. It’s exciting to think of all the ways we’ll  be making better habits, just like my grandmothers. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • We purchase milk and eggs directly from the farms; the egg cartons we return to the farmer, and the glass milk jar is in continuous-loop reuse.
  • I don’t plan to rinse out my paper towels for line drying, but have switched over to cloth rags for most cleaning jobs. They’ll be hung to dry as soon as we can get the lines installed (and the weather accommodates).
  • I have switched to cloth diapers; they also will get line drying soon. However, when traveling I do use paper diapers. I just keep positive by rejoicing about all the waste I’m avoiding during the majority of the time! Even if you aren’t ready to take the plunge into cloth diapers, I highly recommend cloth wipes for use with your baby (see my post on Cloth Wipes for Diapering). Traditional disposable wipes are often laced with dangerous chemicals; going to cloth means you get to choose what cleanser is being wiped onto your baby’s bottom each day.
  • We buy most of our children’s clothing, and some of mine, at resale shops; and I enjoy resaling our cast-offs for credit.
  • I made a patchwork quilt out of a number of old plaid shirts of my husband’s. It turned out so cute that I gave it as a baby gift, and have cut out another from the rest of those shirts to make one for my baby boy. You would be amazed at how much fabric is in a man’s shirt.
  • I’ve been reading about using newspaper for starting a garden bed by covering the sod, then piling it with compost. What a great way to reduce (the need for weed cloth), and reuse (the newspaper). Since there seem to be moisture concerns with weedcloth (and it’s expensive), this seems like a win-win idea for the perimeter beds I’m planning in our yard.
  • We compost all our veggie scraps, non-meat/dairy table scraps, and egg shells. Better dirt, less garbage.
  • I collect all the glass jars which come into our home filled with jam, salsa, marinara sauce, etc. I reuse these when storing smaller amounts of pantry items bought in bulk (beans, popcorn . . . looks so pleasant on the shelves, too!) or leftovers. Glass jars can also be used for culturing dairy or storing frozen liquids, or in the garage for holding nails and screws. My collection of glass jars is beginning to overwhelm my kitchen, so this month I’m going to sort them, and store some in the garage until the summer when I can make lanterns from them to hold tea lights around our back patio.
  • A habit which I need to build is taking my reusable bags into the market weekly. My excuse for forgetting (three children in tow) should be my reason for remembering: start this as a habit in their lives. Nonetheless, when a plastic shopping bag does come home, it gets a second life as a bathroom garbage can liner before ending in the landfill.
  • Making most of our food from scratch, mainly from bulk ingredients or fresh produce, is probably the greatest means of our garbage reduction. Besides having a much greater amount of packaging, and being more costly at the checkout, prepared foods are a drain on your health.
  • Still need the convenience of prepared food? Prepare it ahead yourself: double the recipe size which you normally prepare, and freeze the excess for an easy reheated meal. For salad, wash and chop your salad ingredients when you get home from the market. Keep the oversized salad in the refrigerator all week long, quickly pulling out what you need for a meal, and adding the toppings which you desire on that day (tomatoes should be reserved for cutting until use; they make the salad soggy, and turn mealy in the fridge).
  • I recently created a place under my kitchen sink for recycles (finally!). Read about it in my post called Creating a Recycle Center.

Leave a comment with creative ways you are reducing, reusing, and recycling!

How to Read an Ingredient Label

While grocery shopping as a kid, my mom would sometimes send my sister and me to the cereal aisle to choose a “healthy” cereal. In our family that meant that Sugar couldn’t be the first or second ingredient on the list.

Ingredients -both for foods and personal care products- are given in descending order by weight. In other words, a product is mostly those ingredients at the top, and least of those at the bottom.

So will the “healthy cereal method” hold up when buying any product . . . say toothpaste. If the first two ingredients aren’t toxic, it’s a good buy?

No, this is where the “cereal method” fails.

We are now learning that even those ingredients in small amounts -at the end of the list- are also absorbed through the skin, and can possibly stay inside your body for a very long time, imitating hormones and being stored as toxins in fatty tissue.

For example, parabens -an “end of list” synthetic preservative- has been found in 89% of breast cancers in a recent US study. This doesn’t prove the cause of this widespread disease, but until further research is done, it only makes sense to avoid it completely. Afterall, incidence of breast cancer continues to rise, regardless of early detection and awareness.

  • Read the entire product label, including ingredients from top to bottom.
  • In food products, the words Made with Organic Ingredients mean the final product must be at least 70% organic.
  • The FDA Certified Organic seal can only appear on a product which has been inspected by a certified agency to be at least 95% organic, or if produce, grown and handled in compliance with all FDA Organic farming standards.
  • Until a few years ago, personal care products were allowed to qualify for the FDA Certified Organic seal; now they are not as this has been restricted for food use only. The words “organic” and “natural” can be used indiscriminately. However, there are lots of great organic products out there, and if a company has cared enough to go the distance and produce it organically, you can bet that they’ll be trumpeting it all over their packaging! (They should note which ingredients are organically produced.)
  • Read where the product was manufactured. Manufacturing practices in the US are some of the best in the world, but not so for lesser developed countries, or those in political upheaval. A recent episode of pet-food poisoning from food manufactured in China was a tragedy for many pet owners, and raised serious concerns about chocolate also manufactured in that country with some of the same ingredients (powdered milk).
  • If you have questions about one or more of the ingredients, dig a little deeper. Many products have a hotline number or website listed on the product; don’t be afraid to call and quiz them.
  • Check chemical ingredients on the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic safety database called Skin Deep.  They have toxicity ratings on almost every chemical out there, as well as ratings on specific products.

Visit the Environmental Working Group for resources such as print-and-clip guides for pesticides in produce, and databases giving scores to personal care and household cleaning products.