86 posts categorized "Earth-friendly"

End-of-Year Classrooms: Eco-Friendly Tips

May 27, 2014


We came across some great reminders and tips to keep in mind as we approach the end of the school year, so we thought we'd forward them along:

Can you reduce waste at end of the year celebrations?  Consider sharing these tips with staff and parent volunteers at your school:

Continue reading "End-of-Year Classrooms: Eco-Friendly Tips" »

Garden work and the magic of friends

June 03, 2012

"I'm too lazy!" is the answer when I asked my oldest, almost 10, to help with yard work. Occasionally he'll be overcome by a project and lift and dig and plot with me for a while -- maybe a half hour or an hour if I'm crazy-lucky. He's certainly not lazy; his idea of after-school relaxation is to run around and around the house playfighting with his brothers. He once rollerskated seven miles in an afternoon. He can bike anywhere I can.

But, when it comes to repetitive, back-breaking, dirty drudgery, he's just not my guy.

Until, that is, we went over to a friend's house yesterday for a garden remaking. We missed out on the hardest part; slaughtering blackberry vines (though I got to stuff some in the chipper for an hour or so, ridiculously satisfying work), but immediately when he arrived he joined a band of several kids about his age whose task it was to help shovel, carry and distribute wood chips and lay the cardboard beneath it to cover the grass and weeds.

Not only did he work the whole afternoon -- nearly six hours -- he rallied the team uncomplainingly, vigorously leading the effort with an older girl. Oh, he did complain; when we left to take him to a birthday party. "I want to WORK moooorrrrre..." he whined as we biked away.

Continue reading "Garden work and the magic of friends" »

And May Day Flowers Bring...

May 03, 2012

"You made my day!" said the woman at the doctor's office, grinning. I'd brought Monroe with me, carrying a little jar of simple flowers from my garden, tied with twine. I needed a tetanus shot and it was May Day and I was overcome on April 30 with a sudden urge to Do It.

We started with the next-door neighbor and we went bonkers; several neighbors on our block, including a few we've never met. The receptionists at the doctor's office. Truman's teacher. A friend. Drunk on our gratuitous gifting, my two younger boys ran away from two of the houses in full giggle and victory. "This is the best May Day EVER!" said Monroe (and the only one we've ever celebrated, making it a low bar).

It was such a joy to me, even more than the recipients of our random secret gifting. It was so easy; picking a few of the volunteer flowers and tulips from our yard, fill in with mint and herbs, put in old canning jars, tie with kitchen twine and a little May Day greeting, deliver as quietly as possible. To see the faces light up -- not just of the recipients, but my boys in victory after our "missions" -- was a thrill. So much fun, in fact, that I might do it again before next May 1.

Have you celebrated May Day the old-fashioned way? If you haven't, have you found unexpected joy in some simple and secret act of small generosity? Any other ideas? I need another mission.

Happy Earth Day! Where do you dig?

April 22, 2012

It's Earth Day, and many local schools are celebrating by having work parties in their rain gardens or school vegetable gardens or compost bins. We're headed to Grout today, where the garden has been greatly expanded by a lot of work (and machinery) last weekend. We're so impressed! We'll probably do the smallest bit of work there -- planting things on this gorgeous day while the littles swing and run on the rocks.

It's a hard balance, though, as I'd rather spend the whole day in *my* yard uprooting the copious weeds and digging and figuring out where to get some free dirt (got extra? bring it over!). I want to plant peas, even though I'm a bit late, and lettuces and radishes and beets and kale. I can't wait to start harvesting more than I have this winter out of my garden -- just a bit of chard and green garlic and lots of herbs. So when we get back from Grout that's what I'll do, harvest nettles for quiche (this nettle quiche recipe, no pine nuts), slay a few blackberry vines and burdocks and uproot as much mint as possible.

How do you decide where to devote your gardening efforts on this and other gorgeous weekend days: your child's school garden, or your own? If you have two or more different school gardens competing for your energies, what will you do?

Just Between Friends Sale is Coming Up!

April 20, 2012

175x175 50-90 off adThe organizers of Just Between Friends, two N/NE mamas, are passionate about offering Portland's community of parents an opportunity to save not only natural resources, but also financial resources.  Items at JBF are priced at 50-90% off retail, which means you can save major moolah and get everything you need for your kids for the upcoming season under one roof.  Why waste gas and time driving around to a bunch of yard sales?  "I appreciate the great savings that shopping JBF provides,” wrote Fara, a consignor and shopper. “I value knowing that everyone who participates is doing their part to save the environment...recycling gently-used baby and kid wear and decreasing the environmental impact of creating new items.”

JBF embraces many shades of living green through its semi-annual sales events. The next event is right around the corner... April 27-29 at the Portland Expo Center (free admission).  Do even more to save our planet and save gas by taking the Max! 

Just Between Friends Children's & Maternity Resale Event
Portland Expo Center (Free Admission!)
Friday, April 27-Sunday, April 29

The Lorax & Earthy-Day Activities at School

March 06, 2012

We have always loved the Lorax, the wonderful tale of Truffula Trees and Bar-ba-loots, the tale of how we all live in an interconnected ecosystem, and the tale of how we all have an important part of protecting all parts of our web of life.  The Lorax Movie  comes at an interesting time, when were are kicking off efforts at school to start thinking about how we can celebrate Earth Day at our school.

When I asked the kids at assembly: "what can we do?!" Lots of kids suggested picking up trash.  One kid suggested that we have a No-Waste Lunch Challenge.  Others suggested planting trees.

The Lorax, who speaks for the trees, could live in all of us.  How will you harness your inner Lorax to celebrate Earth Day upcoming in April this year?  Please share, I am looking for ideas!

The Great Turkey Debate: What's your Thanksgiving main dish?

November 10, 2011

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, as it's all focused on food. A traditionalist and a lover of everything about this holiday, from the concept of gratitude to cooking elaborate meals to Native Amerian tales to the artist's imagination of Pilgrim garb (knowing, of course, the inherent conflict of the romanticized tale of the first thanksgiving celebration -- well, I like a complex tale too), I've been cooking a full Thanksgiving meal almost every year since I was 19 years old. That year, I made a Kroger turkey and cranberry-and-orange sauce and mashed potatoes and turkey gravy and two kinds of pie.

At the time, I had no idea about the politics of turkeys. These I would learn later -- when I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in the winter of 2007-2008. I was already a farmer's market junkie, but this opened my eyes to the crazy modern history of poultry raising. I know it's kind of a weird way to go about making judgments, but the part that had me convinced was the whole chapter on turkey sex. (Yes. There was a whole chapter, pretty much, on turkey sex.) The turkeys that are for sale at every grocery store in the country right now are 95%+ the broad-breasted white variety -- one that has been carefully selected and bred for enormous breasts and fast growth. This breeding has left us with a turkey that's pretty much unable to have regular turkey relations. Like chickens, our turkeys are brought to us through artificial insemination.

They're also grown in big turkey pens that look something like the videos of riots at soccer stadiums. You know the ones? You're always afraid someone will be trampled. That's what routinely happens to turkeys (I know this is a fairly alarmist link, but there isn't much controversy about the underlying conditions in turkey farms; they're mostly like this). And besides the obvious inhumanity concerns, there is the fact that stressed, unhealthy birds are not the best choices for our table.

Continue reading "The Great Turkey Debate: What's your Thanksgiving main dish?" »

Halloween Costumes Verboten at Buckman; How 'Bout the Candy?

October 17, 2011

However tempted I am to say something like, "Halloween was simpler when we were kids!"; it's just not true. When I was of trick-or-treating age, I was faced with an enormity of moral and safety concerns each October 31st. My family, very faithful Conservative Baptists, approached Halloween with great suspicion thanks to its age-old ties to the Devil himself. A few years, we went to church on Halloween for witch-free celebrations (that's where I got my first goldfish!); I always chose "good" costumes, princesses and fairies and, ok, I really only ever wanted to be a princess. Also, we had the specter of razor blades and poison, which must have happened one time ever, and yet most of our parents were sure there were razor blade vendors on every block. Beware of the caramel apples! Take heed of the popcorn balls!

This year, in Portland, we have a modern flavor on the ages-old debate over Halloween. At Buckman Elementary, costumes will be banned for the second consecutive year; the principal "says celebrating Halloween at school excludes some kids and can be very offensive." (My six-year-old's school, Grout, is allowing costumes but banning weapons and gory/offensive/skimpy "content.") This has brought up all the debates you'd think ("what's happened to childhood?" "Halloween is an American celebration" "children need to have the opportunity to use their imaginations and dress up, but I do not believe this needs to be accomplished through Halloween"), and a few new twists. A few commenters on Think Out Loud said that they were disallowed from costumes by their family due to strict religious beliefs, and they appreciated the opportunity to stand up for their beliefs (in one case) or to soak up the "normalness" of the culture around them (in another case).

I'm not very passionate either way on this one; costumes at school, for me, means I have to have them ready earlier (I'm a very-last-minute homemade costume aficionado). And I do understand that they are distracting from the learning environment, and agree that there are ample times outside of school to wear costumes. On the other hand, I disagree that Halloween costumes in particular create disparity and cultural discomfort. As one commenter said and I agree wholeheartedly: these differences are always apparent, and Halloween costumes don't highlight them more or less than any other day at school. In my experience, you can see the cultural/economic differences best in the clothing worn to school when it's cold and rainy outside. (And as someone who was once a very poor high school student and is now a high school coach, I'm telling you, the disparity issues only get worse and more obvious every day that goes by in public school.)

Want more reasons to feel ambivalent about Halloween? The candy. It's not just probably pretty bad for you and your kids (and even I let my kids gorge for a day or two on Halloween and a few other holidays; childhood, right?). It's also the product of child slave labor.

Continue reading "Halloween Costumes Verboten at Buckman; How 'Bout the Candy?" »

Granola Bars, Cereal, Lunch Meat & Bread: my love/hate relationship

September 20, 2011

Having recently moved, my new neighborhood supermarket is Safeway in addition to a small, great local produce stand.  I find myself accomplishing my supermarketing tasks very, very slowly.  Not only do I try to enjoy the time without kids (when I am able to escape to market without them), but I am stuck on the labels.  I look carefully.  

Granola bars: the 70% organic CLIF bars run over a buck a pop but a box of the Quaker Oat bars ("now made without high fructose corn syrup" the box boasts!) will give you 8 for $2, if on sale.  The economics are compelling.  The kid CLIF bars usually run about $0.75 each, still significantly more than the ones I usually consider "candy bars" more than anything.  I struggle.  Do I have time this week to make my own (this one being the favored recipe so far)?  The wrappers.  I think about the wrappers.  Can we make an art project out of the wrappers?  Make a reusable shopping bags for holiday gifts?

Cereal: this is a treat in our household.  The poor children beg for it.  I sometimes look past the high fructose corn syrup (why do Rice Krispies need HCFS as a sweetener?) and reason that the iron-enrichment is worth it.  Why not?  On special, we could get two boxes for a few dollars, compared to the one box of my preferred brand of "natural" cereal.  What are your preferred O's?  Does it break the bank?

Lunch Meat: Oscar Mayer was on sale.  And, as I was humming "my baloney has a first name, is O-S-C-A-R....", I was thumbing the list of ingredients: ham, water, sugar...... sodium nitrite.  Is sodium nitrite bad?  Well, it could be.  But, it also does good in preventing botulism.  To be sure, though, the meat processing industry have indeed found ways to make us lunch meat that do not include sodium nitrite.  I've seen it at the store "No Nitrites", but it's just a bit too expensive.

Then, the bread: we have had long conversations about our decision-making process on the bread.  We look for lower sugar, no high fructose corn syrup, more whole grains, no enriched processed white flour (but wonder bread can be so good!).  We look for loaves under $5, please!  Under $2!  There are so many things to consider.

Between choosing these four items and whether or not I buy them, I could easily spend 45 minutes. It is a balance, and we all have our own ways that we juggle the cost, the convenience, and the health impacts.  What frustrates me to no end is how much I feel bombarded to buy the cheaper varieties, which often end up being the less healthy options.  How easy it is, though: cereal for breakfast, meat sandwich for lunch, granola bar for snack.  That's half of the day's meals, taken care of with just a few dollars and a few boxes.  It's not a decision I feel good about.  To eat out of stuff that has been previously wrapped no longer feels right to me.  That's just me.

When I go to the market, I wonder: why is it so hard to buy whole fresh foods?  Why do many factors push us to buy the convenient food, the cheaper food?  How can I continue to afford the whole food if it is priced higher than the processed food?  All of these things, I wonder, in my love/hate relationship with granola bars, cereal, lunch meat and bread.  It's a luxury to be armed with all the information we have, to have the time to ponder these questions, but I know I'm not the only one thinking about these things.  

Inspiration From Mama Feats at Fiets of Parenthood

August 22, 2011

I thought I was speedy and skilled on my mamabikeorama. Two of my boys and I careened around the course Shetha designed for this summer's Fiets of Parenthood PDX yesterday at Clever Cycles, sure with Everett's jousting skills (which earned him first place in the Kindercross race) and my well-honed riding ability, I'd be at least in the top three.

While my time wasn't that bad, my skill level was nothing near the top of the Portland heap. I had earlier been watching a mom test out a huge platform-style box bike. She had her husband and a bunch of kids in it; Monroe hopped in, too, and she gleefully steered the passel of kids around the blocked-off street. "Is there a weight limit on this?" she asked, peddling in her dress, one hand on the handlebars.

Other inspirational biking parents were there, like Katie, who biked to the birthing center to deliver her infant daughter Kestrel -- she and her husband were pedaled home with the baby in a Pedicab. Kestrel, tiny still, was there after a jaunt with big brother Jasper and her parents to and from North Portland. A mom who had just picked up her longtail mama bike on Saturday stopped by with her two children. Travis and his family -- three boys, mom in stripey knee socks -- had made themselves matching tees, because you know, they were bringing it, their all to the competition.

I went first in the competition, and was quickly knocked out in both speed and overall skill. With a 10-second bonus for each child aboard, Emily -- with six kids of her own aboard one bicycling contraption (for the record: Bakfiets with four littles in the box, one in a rear-mounted bike seat behind that looked like it was vintage or European, and one attached via a Follow-Me tandem coupling -- a neat import that allows a parent to hook the child's bike to the parent's rear wheel) -- had most of us beat. Here's how this looks:

It's proof that my competitive spirit can be easily quelled by the wow-factor of an inspirational mama feat or two. I'm so inspired that I want to tell everyone -- did you see the mom with the six kids bike jousting? -- but it's not a one-time sight. She's bicycling Southeast Portland every day with her family, and she's not the only inspiration on the streets. Keep an eye out, and prepare to find wow-factor every day. Smile and wave when you see them, and tell everyone about the ordinary, extraordinary, Fiets of Parenthood around us.

(For the record, Travis was one of those who tied for first thanks to his three boys and four rings jousted -- and blazing speed! And next year, I think we should give extra bonuses for parents who pedal their co-parent around -- I think our winning lineup may have been different if we did.)

27% of PBOT budget to keep streets safe for our kids: Thank you, Sam

May 18, 2011

It's all in a headline, isn't it? That's something I've learned from my two decades as a journalism junkie. And then there's the old saying, "statistics lie." I worked on Wall Street and for a bank selling loans to other banks -- I know from long practice doing and analyzing other people doing so, you can get numbers to say whatever you want them to.

So the above is the headline I'd like to see on Oregonian writer Joseph Rose's piece on how Sam Adams and the Portland City Council decided to spend the "uncommitted budget" -- in other words, the part of budget that's discretionary. It's funded by gas taxes and parking revenue, and makes up about 25% of the overall transportation capital improvement projects funding. He went instead with "Portland Mayor Sam Adams boosts funding for bike projects, but now there's less for paving streets" as a headline and then, in the first few paragraphs, described Adams' statements about the funding (which, for bike projects, works out to 17% of discretionary funds, or 6% of overall CIP funds) at the Alice Awards as having "boasted about what he had done for bicycles." Rose's piece kept up the rabble-rousing bent: "Portland quietly boosted the amount of uncommitted transportation funding it spends on bike projects from just 1 percent to 17 percent – or $2.8 million – in the budget adopted last June. Meanwhile, it slashed the amount allocated to motor vehicle projects by 22 percent... Coming out of the recession, the budget is still bruised. Pothole complaints are up. Nearly 60 miles of the city's streets remain unpaved. By allocating 17 times more of that funding on building bikeways, Adams has left no doubt that he wants more commuters on bicycles."

There are many, many things on which I'd love to see Portland spend its money. And while I understand that Portland's roads are pot-hole filled and it's not nearly easy enough to drive 40 MPH everywhere you want to go, well, when it comes down to it I value the safety of our kids and older citizens more than I do speed. Spending 6% of our budget on bicycle projects (which improve traffic safety, speeds, pollution, noise, and long-term environmental costs for everyone who uses our roads and even those who don't) and another 21% for pedestrian projects (which make our communities more livable and make our citizens healthier and happier -- attracting businesses and invigorating the retail climate and wooing middle- and upper-class new residents), even though these funds come from gas taxes and parking revenue, seems like a sensible and worthwhile investment in a safe and sustainable transportation mix.

Continue reading "27% of PBOT budget to keep streets safe for our kids: Thank you, Sam" »

Proposed HB 2228, ban for kids on parent's bikes and trailers, thinks wrong

January 13, 2011

Update: Jules Bailey tells Bike Portland he and Greenlick have agreed to alter the proposed bill to instead call for a study of family biking. I've written asking Greenlick apologize for jumping into this conversation by demonizing parents who choose to put their children on bicycles (and comparing this to the seatbelt debate in the 1950s); I hope he does so.

Representative Mitch Greenlick has sponsored proposed House Bill 2228, which would make it illegal to carry children aged six and under on bicycles, including trailers and trail-a-bikes, punishable by a maximum fine of $90. He tells Bike Portland he did it to keep children safe; while he has no statistics on children's death, he does have a study on adult males, who often are injured when they crash on their bike. He said, "if it's true that it's unsafe [for a four-year-old to ride on his parent's bike], we have an obligation to protect people. If I thought a law would save one child's life, I would step in and do it. Wouldn't you?" His email address is rep.mitchgreenlick@state.or.us; his district office phone number is (503) 297-2416. (He represents NW Portland; Jules Koppel, (503) 986-1442, represents my SE neighborhood. Find your representative here. Katie wrote this letter, inviting Rep. Greenlick to Kidical Mass on Saturday. Here's another letter.)

The four of us who founded urbanMamas didn't all start out six or seven years ago as the things we are today: competitive and eager runners, whole food-conscious, green-minded, three-kid-having, family bike activists. It's happened, as much because of the place we lived and the people we live around -- we're co-inspirators, I've said -- than because of any special long-held personal conviction. The conviction, it's grown on us, and some of it grew like a weed, accidental, perhaps meant to be after all. Native to Portland, Oregon, we're sure.


Biking has become for all of us a personal freedom, an identity, a way of glorious life. It's frugal and emission-free and it changes the dynamic of risk for transportation; instead of putting everyone else on the road in danger, we're putting only ourselves and our children. Given the statistics -- the by-far-and-away-crazy leading cause of death for children is automotive accidents, over a thousand kids die each year and many more are badly injured -- our risk is miniscule. I've looked for statistics on death as bicycle passenger, and can't find them. Julian describes the data as "entirely without denominator." Surely, one day a child or even a dozen will die as passengers on bicycles, probably in a collision with an automobile. It is guaranteed that another thousand children will die next year, and the year after that, as passengers in cars.

Continue reading "Proposed HB 2228, ban for kids on parent's bikes and trailers, thinks wrong" »

Ethical child transport from the New York Times & me

December 12, 2010

I know many of us transport our kids by bike through much of the year; many of my closest mama friends (and I) have done such shocking things as bike-while-heavily pregnant, tote a small baby around, put our children between our handlebars in a baby seat, or expose our young offspring to rain, wind and even, rarely, sun (ha) through miles of commuting. Many of you can remember a dozen or a hundred times you've heard another citizen of this city opine on your transportation choices. My favorite (or something) is when a woman yelled at me, "get those babies baptized!" (I had.) I've also had any number of angry men and women shouting about how "that's not safe!" I've been reminded loudly how I forgot to put a helmet back on a youngster after a stop (we stopped and put the helmet back on right away, me shaking from the vitriole of the FYI); I've been asked who's going to take care of the kids when I DIE FROM NOT WEARING A HELMET (I had a hat on, and forgot my helmet, and by the time I remembered it we were too far away from home).

After one of these exchanges I often spend the next 10 or 15 minutes of my ride composing a undeliverable response to those who question my parental responsibility, exposing the kids to the elements and the possibility of death-by-vehicle. My thesis usually looks like this: I believe not only in the superiority of this method of transportation -- which emits zero pounds of carbon per mile and has no regular monthly cost nor incremental cost, saving me thousands each year, and has an infinitesimal chance of seriously injuring any other humans than those aboard by its use -- but I believe in the power and imperative of living one's values. If I am so worried about the health of the planet that I toss and turn many nights, wondering if my grandchildren's Portland will be overrun by refugees from an unlivable California, I can hardly put them into a single-family vehicle (that I can't afford anyway) for the 13-and-some miles of daily commute.

There's a lot more, involving my own vivid fear I'll run into a pedestrian or another car every time I get behind a wheel, and the nausea that I seem to always suffer after driving. But last night, I was thrilled to see on another mama's Facebook stream a link to an official ethical scholar's general agreement with my thesis. The questioner, a Portland, Maine bicyclist with children aged four and one, wondered, "Is it O.K. to take the kids by bike when our admittedly safer, albeit not risk-free, car is available?"

Randy Cohen's answer had its usual twists and turns of humor and extreme examples. ("Different parents tolerate different levels of risk for their children. Some allow their kids to go rock climbing while on fire; others forbid them to leave the house unless they’re swaddled in Bubble Wrap.") But here's the important bit: "There is no universal and immutable scale for your ethical obligation here. But there is a better way to describe your duty: seek prudent, not utopian, transportation...  If you forswear bikes and travel with them only by car, you teach them to do likewise, promoting the sedentary lifestyle that contributes to obesity and other health problems, and you express acceptance of the environmental damage cars inflict even on nondrivers — two disheartening lessons."

I thought it an excellent answer and with his usual non-judgmental acceptance of most of our parental choices. Don't text while driving or biking; don't do either under the influence; wear helmets. If you really believe in biking, work in your community to support better infrastructure for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

Now I have a bigger question, though: how do you communicate this to someone shouting at you on the street? I've been composing a PSA video on the topic for some time; independent filmmakers are encouraged to contact me immediately. In the interim, perhaps my usual; a sigh and a deflating of the shoulders; is the best response.

Portland redeems school lunches, breakfasts

September 16, 2010

I've been downright cynical about the fate of school lunches. The breakfasts have often been the worst: plastic-wrapped greasy sugar-or-salt balls, was my verdict. While there may have technically been "nutrition," protein and carbohydrates and some pass at vitamin enrichment, I suspected breakfast from McDonald's would have been healthier.

Today, I dropped my children off late at school and there was a big basket of leftover breakfast in the office. Monroe got one, too, and as we headed home I checked it out. The Zac O Mega-bar had me at "northwest fruit filling" and the insurmountably reliable ingredients list which was filled with stuff that's in my kitchen, not the contents of a chem lab. Yes, there's still sugar (zoinks!) but I was pleased with the whole wheat flour and oats, the molasses and honey. Fairlight Bakery in Vancouver makes the treats, and uses Shepherd's Grain flour from northern Washington, a sustainable farming cooperative.

It smelled good -- smelled real! -- and tasted great.  Today's lunch is macaroni and cheese; I've got a call in to ask further, but a lot of effort has gone into making more food from scratch, so I'm hopeful.

Continue reading "Portland redeems school lunches, breakfasts" »

Back-to-School Clothing Swaps: 08.21.2010

August 09, 2010

I hate to say it: our first days of school are right around the corner. The weather will turn, and we'll go from afternoon air of warmth to air with a cooler bite. And, we'll have to dig through our bins to rotate weather appropriate garb, from the flimsy to the more substantive. Do you have your coats, socks, jackets, rain ponchos, pants, long-sleeve shirts in order? Sneakers, boots, galoshes? Lunch boxes, thermoses, reusable lunch containers? Start purging!

urbanMamas is teaming up with folks to hold Back-to-School Clothing swaps on Saturday, August 21, 2010. We have locations lined up in each of the five quadrants, so hopefully you can find a time and place that works for you. Emphasis will be on school-aged kid gear, but there will be a section for preschoolers as well. Some snacks and drink will probably be available at each location. Swap school clothes and gear, and maybe make a few new friends, too. Thank you muchly to all of our co-hosts! Let us know if you have questions & we will try to get them answered.

N PDX: St. Johns Swap 'n' Play, 7535 N Chicago Ave, 9-11am

NE PDX: Milagros Boutique, 5433 NE 30th Ave (near Killingsworth), 10am-12n

NW PDX: Isobel's Clubhouse, 300 block of NW 10th Ave, between Hanna Andersen & Cupcake Jones, 11am-1pm

SE PDX: Know thy Food, 3434 SE Milwaukie (entrance on Haig Street), 1-3pm

SW PDX: Westside Academy of Kung Fu, 1509 SW Sunset Blvd Suite B1, 3-5pm.

PSA: The mosquitos are hungry and we are delicious

July 07, 2010

As I went into my garden this evening for a little therapeutic weed-pulling and, ironically, to pick St. John's wort buds (to make more skin salve good for burns, hives, bruises... and bites), I wasn't that surprised to get a few hungry mosquitoes swarming my yummy arms. After all, I'd been heedless enough to go out with a sleeveless top. And then. I got a bit through my stretchy black cotton pants and my underwear, right on my behind. As I rubbed some of the buds I'd just picked inside my undies, another mosquito landed on my pants and went in for a snack. Ouch!

For the next 45 minutes, I proceeded to pull weeds with dozens of mini-breaks to wildly swing at the mosquitoes. Never since I lived in Montana when I was a tween have I seen so many mosquitoes in such a short time. I ended up with so many bites I was afraid to look; I went inside and slathered myself with St. John's wort oil (thankfully, I have lots already steeped).

As I have a sister who lives in Panama and gets regular governmental notifications of such things, I realized quickly that our recent weather has been perfect mosquito breeding weather. Lots of recent rain, with a few cloudy cool days following, means lots of standing water for mosquitoes to lay their little eggies. The warm weather we're moving into now is pitocin to these biological processes! Zow!

Thanks to those weeds growing in my backyard, many of them medicinal, I was hoping I'd find the perfect concoction for a natural herbacious mosquito repellent (I've always been sensitive to the smell of bug spray and I finally decided it couldn't be good for me; I've foresworn). Sadly, I may have to suffer through. I found these recipes for catnip and rosemary repellent... lovely, but you need to let 'em steep two weeks. Also, I hve no catnip. I may try to spray myself with a rosemary tea tomorrow, it's worth a shot. If you have other ideas for more instant herbal repellents, send them my way! And dump any standing water you have around, pronto.

The revolution will be put into glass jars

July 05, 2010

Last year, I was invited to join a group of amazing women, mostly food writers or bloggers, but a few simply passionate about preservation, in Seattle, Philadelphia and a few other locales to help promote the Canvolution -- a celebration of Canning Across America all year long that culminated in a weekend Can-a-rama. In cities across the country, canners were invited to host events in which beginning and experienced putter-uppers would join together in something like the harvest parties of old.

The inaugural event was scheduled for the weekend of Hood-to-Coast; much though I wanted to host something, it was a little more than I could juggle. I canned alone on Sunday when I returned home from a lot of mostly-sleepless running. I was lucky enough, though, to be invited to a tomato canning party in September, giving me the community canning fix to get me through the winter (and, for the record, I canned enough tomatoes! -- with my solo jars and the product of our canning party, 70 pints were more than my family needed). I've been inviting a few friends over for strawberry jam-making on Wednesdays, and though it's been a bit chaotic, it's been lovely, too. And the jam has been delicious!

This year I was thrilled to see the Can-a-rama scheduled for the weekend of July 24 and 25. Immediately, I knew I'd host a canning party; every time I've mentioned food preservation here, I've had at least one commenter wonder, how can I learn to can food? This will be just a bit of a lesson, and it will be hands-on and messy and probably hot, but it should be fun.

I'm planning to book a solid day of harvesting and preserving on Saturday, July 24; we'll begin by harvesting some plums from a neighbor's tree, then make a number of preserves based on those plums (including jam, a savory sauce and perhaps plum pickles), and probably some other preserves -- blueberry, apricot, zucchini? -- based on what's bountiful and cheap that week. I'll demonstrate both water-bath canning and lacto-fermentation; but no pressure canning. I think my Southeast Portland home can fit about a dozen mamas and papas; I'd love to see parties clustered around neighborhoods so that you all could use this as a community-building as well as a teaching/learning/food-securing opportunity. (If you want to host but aren't into the coordination, leave a comment and I'll help.)

Glass jars, reusing, recycling, and getting off the goo: an urbanMamas green thing

June 21, 2010

Olivia posted on Facebook a few weeks ago about jars -- what do you do? Reuse, recycle, avoid? Now that we're trying to keep as many plastics out of our lives as possible, buying food and other grocery items in glass seems like a great option. But oh! That can be a lot of glass.

I've spent a lot more time considering the life cycle of my food packaging than is probably healthy, and after being a sanctimonious recycler for decades, I have finally clued in to what someone on the Shift To Bikes email list this morning called "first order" solutions -- reduce, reuse -- rather than hanging on to the "second order" solution of recycling. (If you're interested, he called truly walkable neighborhoods "first order" solutions with bicycling for transport, second.) I bought some hazelnut butter in a glass jar from People's, on which was stated that reusing the jar by returning it for deposit used 10% of the energy used by recycling a glass jar. I started to think, what if I reuse jars myself? That's got to use even less than 10%, given that the sum total of the energy required is enough to wash it. Which I would have done before sending it to the recycling bin, anyway.

News of the cycle of plastic recycling is even worse; most of America's recycling is shipped to China, where it's processed using techniques that, while not guaranteed to be evil, are certainly far less strictly regulated than those in the U.S. Once done, it's manufactured again into products that we can once again buy, very cheaply, shipped back to us on huge boats. Stories of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch point to both the dumping of trash on beaches and in waterways and the (?) accidental loss of things on their way across the Pacific Ocean. To China and back, or maybe, just straight into the middle of the ocean.

Then there's the oil spill, which only makes everything seem more painful.

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Earth Day in Portland: an urbanMamas green thing

April 22, 2010

On one hand, I love the idea of Earth Day, because it gets people talking about how to reduce consumption, and cut down on waste, and it was lovely to see so many parents biking their kids to school/day care today. (I was unapologetic when I biked down Division with Monroe and Everett today: usually I feel bad getting in the way of traffic that wants to be moving faster than 15 miles an hour, but hey! It's Earth Day!) On the other hand, really? Just one day? And I worry that many with less of a feeling of weighty culpability than me (I'm not sure if guilt & fear is the answer, but I've surely got a lot of it) will bring their own cups to Starbucks for a free coffee, and plant a couple of lettuce seeds, and recycle something, and then forget about it until next spring.

I'm conflicted; I like the talk but but worry that's most of it. A scientist has written a book about alternatives to cutting carbon emissions -- because, he says, although everyone seems to agree cutting emissions is the only sensible solution, we all just keep driving cars and using, and mining, coal. The fact that few governmental officials made even the smallest commitment to reducing the number of coal plants in their countries and municipalities after the latest terrible mining accident says that nothing -- not the loss of human life, not the obvious destructive effects of carbon mining on the environment during and after the coal mines come in (really? mountain top removal??? how did that ever make sense in the first place?), not the clear connection between coal-burning and climate change -- will get us off this train, the end of which seems to be dead oceans, big swaths of the world becoming uninhabitable due to high temperatures and drained aquifers, drought, starvation, and the rise of Canada's watermelon-growing industry. More of us need to stop driving; we all need to stop burning fossil fuels to turn on our lights and pouring petroleum-based chemicals into our soil, our rivers, our bodies.

So, today is an everyday for me, and I know especially in Portland, many of us feel the same. (Sharon Astyk, a writer about sustainable living and environmentalism, wrote this about the topic, focused on the "greenwashing" of corporations in the celebration.) Many of you, like those who have joined the new Portland Radical Homemaking group on Facebook, are part of the choir, right? I will do this: plant a blueberry bush, eat my leftovers, take out the compost bucket, feed my chickens something yummy, buy organic food, in bulk, with my own containers, ride my bike, start another loaf of bread, keep the TV off, make instead of buy, write about what I believe in. I will do this, too: try to relax, not worry; it's kind of crushing.

How are you celebrating Earth Day: and how do you feel about the holiday? My neighbor sent me a link to this piece on Green My Parents, an advocacy group started by a 12-year-old that encourages children to use savvy marketing tactics (those that advertise on cartoons call it "the nag factor") to get their parents to wash in cold water, ride their bikes, and stop drinking bottled water. Writes Allison Arieff, "they've designed a program that makes behavior change easy and economically rewarding for participants." Is this the answer? Would you change your behavior if your children were advocating it? Or do you feel you already do all you can?

Homemade deodorant and triclosan tales: an urbanMamas green thing

April 19, 2010

Who knew such a little post on going sans shampoo would send me down so many do-it-yourself roads? It was easy (and, as they say in Pokemon, super-effective!) to give up washing my face for the oil cleansing method and I just had one personal care product holdout: the deodorant. I've been applying my trusty stick of Dove (sensitive skin fragrance free) daily for over a decade, and after reading something about how chemicals to which a pregnant woman is exposed in her first trimester affecting behavioral problems (boy do I have those around here): well, it was time to cut the cord.

I went to the package today and read the list of chemicals I'd been avoiding. What do I know about the active ingredient, aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex GLY? Nothing. And it could be fine, or crushingly destructive. Who knows? The "inactive" ingredients were equally curious, and though sunflower oil sounds fine, I've been trying to avoid conventional almond products because of the crop's excessive use of pesticides and its contribution to colony collapse disorder (many scientists believe stress from trucking bees to pollinate the almond crops, added to the detrimental effects of those herbicides and the lack of a diversity of diet when all the weeds are whacked, is a big factor in CCD), so even one of the other things I recognized, sweet almond oil, didn't have me exactly relaxed.

There was more, too, and while it doesn't appear on my Dove package (phew), it's evidently in lots of other products: triclosan. After the first few giddy years with antibacterial soaps (I was living with a bit of an obsessive when they were introduced, he was thrilled), I became suspicious and, after a few of those usual exposes in which it is shown that antibacterial soap doesn't kill any more bacteria than Ivory, or that people don't stay any weller using antibacterial soap, I went back to the ordinary variety. According to the LA Times, this doesn't necessarily prevent me from having lots of triclosan exposure in my everyday life; a bacterial inhibitor, it's also used as a preservative in soaps that aren't marketed as antibacterial, and in deodorant, face washes, mouthwashes, and toothpaste (Colgate Total is one offending brand). Why this is scary: after having approved the ingredient since 1970, the FDA is once again reconsidering its safety after research in animals shows similar effects to the super-scary chemicals like bisphenol A, dioxins, and pesticides like DDT. That's not all: one of the reasons I tossed it in the first place, the potential for it to hurry along the development of superbugs, is also a concern.

Instead of spreading chemicals of unknown quantity, quality and harm onto our skin (the best way, incidentally, of getting the chemicals into our bloodstream), why not rub on a mixture of things you know and wouldn't actually mind eating, if it came to that?

My deodorant is simple: coconut oil (which is a semi-solid consistency at room temperature), baking soda and arrowroot. I didn't measure exactly, but it's about two parts oil, one part each baking soda and arrowroot (I suggest looking for arrowroot in bulk at People's or New Seasons, it's probably cheaper than buying it in the spice aisle, as I did), stirred around to a good consistency with a little spoon and then spread on with my fingers each morning. Amy Karol has a lovely 'mail order' recipe book (it's #11) with a more involved deodorant, and some other great homemade personal care products, if you want something fancier.

It doesn't work quite so decidedly as the Dove, but it smells delicious and, as long as I apply it every morning, inhibits odor quite nicely. And there's something so liberating about the knowledge that (should I happen to without thinking) I can lick my fingers after applying deodorant. For some reason, that makes me quietly happy every day.

breastfeeding is best, to the tune of billions

April 05, 2010

When I first saw the news, I wanted to just, you know, sigh. It's a drum many Portland mamas have been beating for at least a decade, probably several: breastfeeding is not just great for a baby, it's cheap, and not just for a family's budget during those first several months but for society. (And I want to say here that I know some mamas want to, but aren't able to, breastfeed because of work or health reasons or adoption or just some rare bit of fate that comes between a baby and "breastfeeding success," and that I don't want to call out the mamas for whom it doesn't work out -- except to offer my sympathy and support and love.) But, says my friend and fellow finance geek Melly, a "recent study published in Pediatrics found that poor compliance with breastfeeding recommendations costs the U.S. at least $13 billion each year, with nearly all of the cost related to infant morbidity and mortality."

Well. You know if the finance geeks, the AP, the Daily Mail and Business Week and CNN and the rest of them are putting the word "breastfeeding" in headlines and -- it's not just a casual glance at the practice, they're encouraging it -- you know times, they are a-changing. And I appreciate the specificity of the facts here. Another bit from Melly's piece: "In 2006, only 13 states met the quite low 17% target set by the Healthy People objectives for mothers exclusively breastfeeding their infant through six months of age." Wow -- I know Oregon is one that easily met the target, but 17%, and we know why (poor social support, terrible workplace conditions for breastfeeding moms, tiny or non-existent maternity leaves, too many low-income working and single moms, too much -- too effective -- marketing by the formula companies). Mamas in Portland and elsewhere are working on that stuff; a press release even this weekend from the Nursing Mothers Council of Oregon offers support to businesses to give moms a place to pump at work -- see more info from Marion Rice about that, after the 'continued' link. But we can't even get 17% of moms (theoretically, quite a few more than 17% are able to stay home with their children) to breastfeed for six months, even though it's far cheaper?

Here's the part that had headline writers clucking and the news anchors squawking: "The study authors listed direct and indirect costs associated with illness and premature death due to the current poor levels of compliance compared with 90% compliance in 2007 dollars." I'll go ahead and list the ones Melly put in her piece because, they're not shocking to us who've been stressing about how easy it would be to make the beginnings of so many little lives better. Here it is:

  • $4.7 billion and 447 deaths due to sudden infant death syndrome.
  • $2.6 billion due to 249 deaths from necrotizing enterocolitis, a common gastrointestinal syndrome in premature infants.
  • $1.8 billion due to 172 excess deaths from lower respiratory tract infections, such as pneumonia.
  • $908 million due to otitis media (ear infection).
  • $601 million due to atopic dermatitis (eczema).
  • $592 million due to childhood obesity.
Umm, wow, again. And I decided in the end that I shouldn't sigh or roll my eyes or wring my hands one more time and ask, "why? how? what the heck have we done, modern society?" but just be hopeful, because to have finance geeks and news anchors and CNN talking heads well, talking about this is an awesome way to get breastfeeding more accepted. And really, money that we all are spending on ear infections and eczema and obesity and death should get us sitting up and paying attention, and then sitting back down in our favorite cozy chair to breastfeed our babies.

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The cult of spring: Perspectives on mamas' need for nature

March 29, 2010

I have just negotiated a new quasi-peace in the house -- Monroe, I declare, is no longer allowed to use the iPod touch to play fruit matching games due to tearful angry meltdowns when he gets even a taste, while depriving him wholly keeps relative calm -- when I open the newest issue of Brain, Child. The cover story takes me several hours to begin; honestly, it sounds as bent for artificial controversy ("let's get mommies talking!") as any of the other mommy war-type content that has lately been flooding the journal's pages. Titled "Guilt Trip into the Woods," it starts as all long essays in mothering magazines do: with a little anecdote. Family, consisting of blogging journalist mama, dad and seven-year-old son adopted from Asia (this seems relevant to the writer), must decide where to go on vacation: nature, or New York? They pick New York, kid loves it, can't get enough of Times Square and the 10-story movie ads. He's just not a nature guy, says mama.

She's feeling bad about it, after all; she's been reading and seeing stuff online about getting kids out to nature. The focus of much of her ire is the echo of the headline, Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods, with generous distaste left for the National Wildlife Foundation's Green Hour (for which, incidentally, I wrote a blog post last year). But writer Martha Nichols is not a believer. "...perhaps most disturbing for environmentalist moms and dads, I’m discovering that the nature movement—green and forward-thinking as it appears at first blush—looks an awful lot like a conservative message cloaked with some liberal fig leaves." She goes on to explain that she's feeling guilty, in the "morning when there’s barely enough caffeine in my system to cope, NPR seems to pummel me with stories about why our multi-tasking, Internet-chained pace isn’t good for kids..." but "whether nature is the only solution is the question," and though she connects with the concept of loving nature herself -- remember that pine tree I used to climb when I was a kid? she asks -- " long before I finished Last Child in the Woods, I wanted to chuck it across the room."

What comes down to it is this: her son isn't the nature journaling type. "He’s never been one to draw daisies in a journal if I suggest it. Instead he’d sketch a jousting tournament or a new comic strip, no matter how much I burble about the veins of a leaf. Or he’d rip the leaf apart—which for Louv might be just the ticket for a young naturalist—except that what fascinates Nick is the landscape inside his own head." She begins to describe the "fellow believers" of Louv as sectarians, they "present themselves as valiant nature warriors facing a horde of technology Visigoths," they're "nature evangelists," they're "polemical."

Continue reading "The cult of spring: Perspectives on mamas' need for nature" »

What we learned in a cooking lesson: Soup every way

March 07, 2010

A nice mama took me up on my offer from the post about Jamie Oliver, and came over Thursday for a cooking lesson. While I'd quizzed her on likes and dislikes before she came (no mushrooms, she said, and her husband wasn't an onion fan), we hadn't really talked about what she wanted to learn. "I feel overwhelmed," she said, with a 14-month-old in the kitchen and a tight budget. "How do people just always have what they need on hand?"

We quickly realized that she didn't need help figuring out how to dice and peel and saute: she needed to be released from the stress of a recipe. She's one of those people (on the other end of the spectrum of home cooks than I) who must absolutely put two teaspoons of thyme into a recipe if it calls for two teaspoons of thyme, and if she can't find thyme or if it's very expensive or if she gets home and realizes she has, after all, no balsamic vinegar (just cider), or whatever: she panics.

What she needed, I said, was to cook without a recipe at all. Just a process. That would save her from the planning, list-making, recipe-checking, budget-busting stress. She could just buy whatever she saw that was in season and inexpensive (or whatever was growing in her garden, arrived in her CSA box, or her mom had given her), and use the process to make it fit.

We made one thing: a cabbage black bean chili, in which I used the beans from the recipe I included in the first post, and I stressed throughout our time that weren't going to talk about quantities or requirements, just procedures, categories and maximums, and ways she could fit this process into her own family's life. One piece of advice I gave her was, I thought, universally useful, and that is to figure out what are your favorite and most versatile spices, and become comfortable enough with them so you'll always know how much to use. Mine are cumin, smoked paprika, dried chiles, cloves, nutmeg and allspice; other good standbys could include ginger, dry mustard, star anise, thyme, dill, cinnamon and cayenne or chipotle pepper. You could only have two or three (cumin and thyme and some sort of pepper, for instance) and still manage to make good food no matter what, I think. Buy the spices in bulk (Limbo has a fantastic fresh spice and herb aisle; many other neighborhoods sport their own super spice sources) and you'll save money and ensure freshness.

Below is the process for bean soup I used. This is an endlessly great way to make soups, and could be vegetarian, vegan, or thoroughly meaty-creamy, depending on which options you picked. The one we made was delicious! And though I'll probably never make it exactly like that again, I'm sure we'll make many more great soups in our day that will best even that.

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Garbage-less: An urbanMamas green thing

March 01, 2010


It wasn't hard to reduce the volume of our trash; many of the lifestyle changes I've made over the past few years, like getting chickens (who eat many of our food scraps), composting (the rest of 'em), and changing the way we eat (buying in bulk, cooking from scratch, avoiding plastic, and reusing containers religiously) meant we were already generating far less trash than before. Other things, like our recent tight budget that had me seriously considering every purchase (and thus, its waste-generating packaging) and going out to eat less (no more takeout containers or Burgerville bags) helped, too.

I'm barely even recycling much; I've been reading more about how little of what we recycle actually makes it back into the product stream (newspaper has the best chance, FYI) and how much energy and byproducts are used and spewed to recycle. A glass jar at People's Co-op noted that it takes 90% more energy to recycle a glass jar than to return it for re-use under a deposit return program -- this is probably even a bigger differential for the jars I bring to fill with maple syrup or olive oil. Because of this, I try to stick to packaging that can be either reused or composted.

I still have a long way to go, of course! But today marked the first month I'd managed to generate only one can of trash for the whole month. I'd cut off my weekly service at the beginning of February, and here I was, March 1, wheeling out one 32-gallon can. A major cleaning project had meant it was well-filled, but still! No bags lolling off the side, splitting because they'd been so tightly packed. (And this is even with disposable diapers still in use for Monroe; I have never made the leap to cloth diapers, much as I know it would be a good thing for the landfills and my own sense of responsibility for the planet.)

Here's the thing, though, that bothers me about all this: I'm barely saving any money at all. Weekly pickup for a 32-gallon can is $25.30 (it's a little bit more on the west side). Monthly pickup for a 32-gallon can? $16.45. I reduce my trash by roughly 77%: and I save 35%. There's no every-other-week option and the smaller can, a 20-gallon minican, only saves $3.10 per month of the regular rates. I've looked at rates for other cities that I could find on Google; barely any localities offer the monthly pickup (yay for Portland on that), but in most Washington towns I found, the rates were more sensible, paying per gallon (roughly) for your trash generation.

Of my bills, this is one of the littlest, so it's hardly breaking me to pay the (as I perceive it) $11 more than what's fair. But it seems a little cockeyed to build a pricing structure in a way that seems to give an incentive to produce more trash -- or, put another way, subtly encourages us to produce an average amount of trash. Average is an American who throws away 4.39 pounds of trash every day. Seems as if Portland could strive for better than average.

I know some of you have reduced your trash, too; I heard the story from one woman who, with her husband, only generate a can every six months -- I think they call the garbage company for special pickup on "trash day." Another woman is so focused on trash reduction, her garbage fits in a coffee can. I've mulled over the idea of asking a neighbor to switch off weeks with me; I'd save more that way, even if I had more trash! Crazy. Have any of you found other solutions? Does this (admittedly small) financial incentive misalignment bug you, too?

Jamie Oliver, fresh food, and changing our (doomed) destiny

February 23, 2010

I think we've all heard these statistics by now, right? We're raising the first generation of kids who won't outlive their parents -- their life expectancy is 10 years less than ours. Obesity will cost $150 billion this year -- 10% of our health care costs -- and that's projected to be doubled by 2020. Diet-related diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and many cancers, are by far and away the biggest killers, far worse than even auto accidents. Why?

Jamie Oliver, in his TED talk that has everyone talking, has pegged a couple of culprits. Fast food is one; sugar is two. And we're starting to realize that it's not just high fructose corn syrup that's bad; it's all kinds of processed sugar. Even that "raw" brown sugar in the sweet brown packets. Sugar in the chocolate milk (it's truly terrible; one carton of the stuff has more sugar than the American Heart Association suggests a child have in a day, and more than soda), sugar in the yogurt, sugar in the breakfast cereal, sugar in the ketchup, sugar in the peanut butter and the jelly and the bread, sugar in the pizza sauce for goodness' sake.

And where is this killer food being served? In our schools, first. Even when fresh local cooked-on-site food is available, there's an alternative that includes yogurt, chocolate milk, chicken nuggets, pizza. In our homes, second. We're killing our kids. (Not just other people. Me. Everett's lunch yesterday: yogurt and "I don't want to talk about it any more.") What's more, in many classrooms Jamie's visited, kids don't even know what fresh food looks like. A radish is maybe celery, maybe an onion; an eggplant is maybe a pear; one kid doesn't recognize a potato in its skin. Jamie doesn't mince words: we are, he says, committing child abuse by feeding kids this junk.

His takeaway is this: "I wish for everyone to help create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, to inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity."

How can we do this? Here's one way: to cook, really cook, from scratch. I don't mean "a can of this and a can of that" from scratch; I mean carrots and potatoes and cabbages and dry beans. Take our kids into the kitchen (even if they're just playing with the water in the sink while you peel and chop); take them to the market; buy vegetables and fruits whole; plant a garden (you can put peas and spinach and lettuce and broccoli raab in now!). Here's one recipe I've been making that's easy, easy, cheap, and delicious -- Everett likes it just plain but I dress it up with plain yogurt, hot sauce, and some braised kale or cabbage:

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Cleaning your face with oil: An urbanMamas green thing

February 05, 2010

When I wrote about going shampoo-free a few weeks ago, I had no idea it would inspire such great discussion, action, and several more ways to release myself from the bonds of "product" I've been struggling against since adolescence. Joanna left a comment that once more set me free. "i also haven't "washed" my face in 10 months and no longer have the cystic acne which i was told once by a dermatologist would be with me for the rest of my life unless i took accutane, but i guess that's another blog post."

Indeed, said I, and emailed her for more information. She said she has been using the oil cleansing method (OCM). I Googled around a bit, and found this amazing and detailed post on Simple Mom. I chose to make my mix of about 1/3 olive oil and 2/3 castor oil (purchased at Walgreens, found among other methods of constipation relief) -- good for oily skin -- and tried it a few days later. I've been having trouble with painful blemishes on my shoulders and upper back, so I tried it there, too.

Within a few hours, my skin felt better than it has for a long time. It was already looking smoother and more even, too, and the next day I realized some of the acne on my back was healed entirely. It was such a simple, elegant use of natural ingredients; and the process is restful and relaxing too. I doubt I'll ever buy product for my face again and you can bet I won't be spending my luxury money (at that time in the future when I have some, that is) on spa facials again. After all, I have them right here at home.

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The face of no shampoo: an urbanMamas green thing

January 15, 2010

Shetha_noshampoo  Me_no_shampoo

Two of us now have immersed ourselves head-first into a practice that's more liberation than environmental imperative (though it's that, too): we've left the shampoo behind. A practice that's known by the stinky moniker "no 'poo" -- or "what everybody did until the 1970s" -- living without shampoo can be as simple as just rinsing your hair with hot water when you shower. Even at its most complex, the shampoo-free routine consists of a few rinses each week with a solution of apple cider vinegar (about a tablespoon) and water (about a cup) and the occasional baking soda solution (a teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of water).

The important thing about giving up shampoo is recognizing that our miraculous bodies were not manufactured for the profitability of beauty-products companies. In fact: human hair restores its natural balance and loses that greasy, unwashed feeling after as little as a week or two. Shetha's hair, here, is without shampoo for only a few weeks; I haven't used anything but the occasional cursory rub of Dr. Bronner's bar soap for months, and removed the shampoo from my grocery list a year ago (at first, I used a vinegar solution once a week or so). A piece on NPR last spring noted that washing hair every day removes the sebum oil our sebaceous glands produce to keep our hair healthy (and, straight out of that Pantene commercial, shiny!). Our sebaceous glands react and produce more oil, more often. Take away the detergents? And you get sebaceous glands that behave the way God intended, prettier hair and a more healthy scalp.

No one used shampoo, or washed their hair at all, until the late 1800s. For the next century, women used shampoos once or twice a month. In the 1970s, shampoo companies went on a campaign to "educate" us on the need to shampoo daily. Thanks guys! This hasn't been good for anybody; not only have we become dependent on harsh chemicals that strip our hair of the natural healthy sebum, but we've greatly harmed our watersheds and wildlife by washing that stuff right out of our hair... and down the drain. Here's the effect of phosphorus; surfactants are terrifically harmful for fish. Even the "green" ones can be problematic.

These two heads of hair are proof: going without shampoo isn't a hardship. Have any of you gone shampoo-free? How is it going? Do you have questions? Tips? Let us know!

Post-holiday cleanup that brings joy: an urbanMama green thing

December 28, 2009

For two days, the pile sat in the middle of my living room. The Pile of Christmas (just) Past. Even though we'd done our best to have a holiday low on gratuitous buying -- no new ornaments or lights or wrapping paper, no dollar store toys, no gifts I didn't think would last and be enjoyed for a really long time -- we've still amassed quite a pile of mess. There was the wrapping paper and ribbons from the generous gifts from grandma and grandpa; there were clothes three sizes too big (with gift receipts, phew!); there was the huge box of dollar store toys purchased for us by a well-meaning girlfriend of one of my husband's fellow soldiers. And to top it all off, one of my (favorite) gifts was a full day of help from my mom and sister, cleaning my office/craft room, which had been absolutely destroyed while I worked full-time and Monroe was a baby, and I had never had the oomph to tackle the piles of junk on my own. This had yielded big bags of mixed trash and recycling and things-I-really-didn't-want-to-throw-away.

Last night, we tamed it, and I thought I'd share some of the strategies and info I found for cleaning up after the holidays (while still keeping it green):

  • Reuseables. Foil wrapping paper, ribbons, gift bags (unless entirely made of paper -- most have plastic coating), and most packing materials (like block foam) can't be recycled. I have a system for wrapping paper I'd like to reuse; I cut off the ragged parts and roll it into tubes, then put it into a deep, wide basket in my craft room. It's part storage, part art piece. Ribbons get wound up and put in a quart jar. Gift bags go into a box in the basement. Some packing materials (bubble wrap) get stored downstairs for shipping jars of jam; others (soft foam) go into a bag in my craft room to stuff things like these wings I made for Truman. Packing peanuts can go to shipping stores for re-use; I rarely manage the patience to do this but I mean to one day. I save the prettiest cardboard boxes, especially gift boxes, for things like mailing photos and stickers and crafts.
  • Recyclables. The list of what can't be recycled always seems longer than what can. Metro has a very slow-loading form that tells you where to take a variety of recyclables, and has info on what can and can't. A few highlights: you can take your old Christmas lights to the Zoo through January 3rd for recycling (and get a free piece of fudge); plastic clamshell packaging isn't recyclable at the curb in Portland, but can be taken to a Metro station; plastic containers smaller than six ounces and lids can't be recycled curbside; no plastic bags of any sort can be recycled (and even those that stores will take back are often shipped to China where their fate is uncertain at best); no holiday beverage cups (I put my Starbucks cups in the compost heap where they decompose nicely and just leave a little filmy plastic carcass I remove in the spring); plant and nursery pots can be recycled curbside, as can any bigger-than-six-ounces plastic bottles or containers or buckets (no lids).
  • Trash or give away or compost? I have a cache of toys that are broken or will soon be. One gift in particular, six extremely flimsy plastic cars, will I am sure be broken within days. Should I toss it pre-emptively? I wonder. Another gift, a set of knock-off board games from the dollar store (we already have the far sturdier brand-name versions), I'd rather not keep. But is it worth giving them to Goodwill or am I just adding to their trash pile? I've decided to compost the lightweight wooden paddles for the paddleball games which, as I warned Everett it would, broke within an hour of opening (happened to me, too, when I was his age). If gifts are too flimsy to last, what do you do with them?
  • Return for good. We've decided to take back the enormous clothes a relative bought from J.C. Penney for the boys and get an ice cream maker. We'll buy the boys "new" clothes from a thrift store or the Goodwill Bins and I'll be able to make honey-sweetened ice cream for years. I'm satisfied the exchange will be good for us and will save lots of future ice cream cartons from the landfill.
  • Give up on old clothes. We need room for new clothes and that means giving up on some old clothes that are stained/holey/unloved/too little. My mom convinced me to throw a few things away, but others I saved, cutting up old t-shirts and sweater seams into tiny bits to serve as stuffing for a new toy; saving pretty fabric for handkerchiefs or other upcycling; and putting a pair of pants into the patch pile despite her better judgment (shhh!). Generally very few of the clothes we've finished with are suitable to give away. Three boys! After all.
  • Make room for new toys. I'd already started moving around toys in anticipation of Christmas gifts and as part of my office reorganization. The Legos got a whole new mega-sized jar; I didn't need the old "choking hazard" jar I made when Monroe was tiny, anymore, so the beads and other tiny delights got a new home in my craft room and their jar went to Legos. I'd chosen a few infrequently-used toys to give away, but after a delight-making gift of a new Hot Wheels supertrack, our "tiny transportation" bin isn't big enough to hold all the sorts of things that go into it. I don't know if I should give away a bunch of the toys in it (there will be strenuous objections), recategorize (this one isn't tiny enough, right?), or find a new storage place for the new toy (generally the wrong solution; that's how things get broken around here). What do you do when toys won't fit in your old, painstakingly-organized storage?
  • Green your tree (more). This was the first year we got a live tree, dug in the actual forest for us by my mom and dad. For an investment of one $5 permit (gifted by grandma & grandpa, no less), we have a beautiful big tree to plant in our yard. If you have a chopped-down tree, you can, of course, divest it of its tinsel and other non-compostable ornaments and leave it next to your yard debris bin on a yard debris pickup day on your street, or take it to a charity tree recycling drive (in our neighborhood, Cleveland High School has one). Even better, though, is to reuse your tree in your own garden. Get out your hatchet, chop off all but the biggest branches, and break or cut them up as best you can. Spread them as a top layer of compost, or distribute over the earth of your vegetable garden, or around blueberry bushes and other perennials. Save the trunk and big branches to stake pole beans, tomatoes, and other climbing vegetables this summer. In the garden, all natural material can be turned back into life, after all.

Eat-in for school food, community, and art

September 07, 2009

It seems that each week brings a new bit of evidence or an old-but-new-to-me essay inspiring me to work even harder to ply my children with nutritious, slow, fresh, whole, inconvenient foods. This summer, I've been making progress, involving the kids in the magic of the garden and cooking foods they (supposedly) love in the slow, slow way. A few weeks ago, Everett harvested two pumpkins and brought them inside to me to make his favorite food: pumpkin pie. I did so, in a crust made of whole wheat flour and lard I rendered myself (I believe in high quality animal fats, but that's for another time), using that pumpkin from our front yard garden, eggs from our backyard chickens, and honey from the People's Co-op farmer's market. I worried that it wasn't sweet enough. Was too lumpy. Wouldn't be like that pie at the annual Thanksgiving feast at his school.

He loved it, and offered a piece to a friend who came to visit, saying, "my mom made this, and it's really good!" There were tears, fat and heavy, in my eyes. I'd just finished reading this article about how a young man's diet is the best -- by far, far better than socio-economic class or community or parenting situation or playing violent video games or anything -- the best predictor of criminal behavior. Eat mostly junk food, you're more likely to go to jail. Period.

And yet, here we are, about to head back to school, where the lunchtime fare at most public schools is decidedly junk food. At Everett's school, it's particularly bad, and the teachers there will back me up. The vegetables that are available are so burned by refrigerants, or spoiled, they're inedible. The rare fruits and veggies that survive the weeks (or longer?) from harvest to lunch tray are doused in chemical preservatives and, often, sugar. The meat is from the lowest possible quality sources; the baked goods are thoroughly packed with processed ingredients. Whole foods are cut up and wrapped in plastic. The best thing there is yogurt, and that's full of sugar. Each meal surely exceeds the new recommendation from the American Heart Association that we severely limit our daily added sugar intake. The real food at Everett's school is rare (and he insists on eating school lunches; he's struggling mightily with other kids making fun of him, so I don't dare put my foot down).

It could be better. Slow Food USA is working to to advocate for this. Today, right now (I should have written this earlier!) in conjunction with the awesome Time Based Art festival, is a Slow Food Eat-In picnic as part of the National Day of Action to get real food in schools. I am going. I am bringing a salad I made of green beans (cut in half crosswise and cooked about six minutes in boiling water) sauteed with cherry tomatoes (cut in half) and crushed garlic -- all from my garden -- in a little bacon fat, and tossed with salt and feta cheese. It's real food and I harvested it today. I know this can't be the lunch at Everett's school tomorrow. But it should be, some day.

And I'd love to share some with you if you can make it to this event. There's one in NE Portland, tonight, too. Or tell your real-food-in-schools story, here.

What is your ideal Baby Shower?

July 02, 2009

I have baby shower on the mind of late, as I am well into our third pregnancy (my first pregnancy in Portland!).  So, I am excited at the thought.  I also came across an old thread, wherein we discussed whether it would even be appropriate to host a shower for a second-time mama, to which I say, "definitely"!  As this is our third child, I am not interested in showering baby with gifts.  I am more interested in showering baby with attention as we prepare to welcome him/her into our world.  We recently received an email also wondering about baby showers:

  1. As a mama, what was your favorite part of the shower and why?
  2. Where there any particular gifts/activities that you really appreciated?
  3. Is there anyway to get papas involved?
  4. Was there anything that you didn't like about the baby shower tradition?
  5. Is there anything you would expect from a baby shower?

In which I drive a hybrid Ford for a weekend

June 16, 2009

Most of you know my family is fully car-free (we finally got rid of our three-years-lying-fallow car last month). And at least one of you expressed shock to hear I was test-driving a Ford Escape hybrid this past weekend. Was the world coming to an end? No, the people in Ford's social media group are working to create buzz about their hybrids by offering 'em to mama bloggers for test drives, and I was an eager participant. So was my husband, who, though he was weaned from his mother's chauffeur services on his 10-speed, and actually spent some time in the early '90s as a bike messenger, is a bit of a car addict.

One of the reasons I was eager to forgo our car was his nasty habit of driving to Trader Joe's... three blocks away. But when we found out he'd be going to Iraq this summer; changing our financial situation from just north of "desperate" to a few ticks shy of "flush," he began to sneak this phrase into conversation: "I've been thinking when I come back, we could use some of my money to get a hybrid..." Or this one: "If I get that job as a cop I could drive to work in a hybrid..."

"No!" I'd say, firmly. "No cars!" I love the money we save, $200-300 per month just in gas, insurance and tags; I love that we have to think carefully about all our bike trips, keeping us closer to home; I love my conscience, clean as the air around me as I bike. I've made a significant reduction in my workload so I can spend more time with the kids, in the garden, cooking food; we don't have room in that budget for even the barest car expense. I don't want that to change.

But. I'm all for a test drive. Just to see. Thursday morning, some nice people from Ford delivered us the sparkliest Escape Hybrid you've ever seen. I immediately hopped in with Truman and Monroe to pick up some film on the way to preschool (an impossible task on the bike; my fave film store is Citizen's Photo, about 4 miles from home). They leave us with a rundown on our car... $33,725 including "destination and delivery" for the model in our driveway. But "THIS VEHICLE NOT FOR SALE," said the page. At least there's that...

Continue reading "In which I drive a hybrid Ford for a weekend" »

Happy Earth Day!

April 22, 2009

The day isn't over just yet, but we're a little late in getting this conversation going.  We've been swamped with work, but I've been wondering all day: what are you all doing for Earth Day today?  What did you all do?  Were there scheduled school events?  Chats about earth-loving around the dinner table?  Just another hump day gone by?

Every day is Earth Day!

Veggie Growing 101: Starting Your Kitchen Garden in Portland

April 08, 2009

My neighbor, Camellia Nieh, is a great gardener -- I often admire her skills from my window and have tasted many of her cherry tomatoes and other goodies. She offered to write an introduction to vegetable gardening in Portland, and I said, yes please!

Camellias_gardenAs weather begins to warm, Portland gardeners begin to anticipate the joys of the growing seasons. Waking up on a sunny morning, strolling outside, and harvesting a basket of fresh tomatoes, basil, spinach, and chives for your morning omelet. Sending the kids out into the yard to graze on sugar snap peas, strawberries, and cherry tomatoes when they clamor for a snack. Browsing a bounty of ripening cucumbers, eggplants, and summer squash as you decide on a vegetable for dinner. Snipping a bowlful of baby greens to bring to a dinner party and garnishing it with edible gem marigolds, day lilies, and sweet violets.

The gardening buzz is everywhere. You’ve heard about the Obamas’ breaking ground for their vegetable garden at the white house, and about the resurgent victory garden movement. You know all the reasons. There’s the statistic about how our average meal travels 1500 miles to reach our plates, and the fact that switching to a local diet is equivalent to driving about 1000 miles less per year. And you’re painfully aware that the average American consumes a pound of pesticides a year, and that we don’t yet know how that chemical load will affect our kids’ growing bodies.

But if you’ve never grown your own food before, perhaps you’re not sure where to start. Not to worry. Growing edibles in Portland is easier than wrangling a wild banana slug. There are tons of resources in this town to help you get started, many of them inexpensive or free.

Continue reading "Veggie Growing 101: Starting Your Kitchen Garden in Portland" »

Lowly cabbage goes glamorous: Cooking from box, garden, market

April 03, 2009

Spring is late this year, but everyone still has heavy, wide-eyed piles of one of the original, most thoroughly lowly, peasant foods: the cabbage. I can't believe it took me so long to discover the cabbage. I always treated the bulbous lady so badly, pushing her red fronds aside in college salad bars; eschewing the smarmy cups of coleslaw for her mushy cousin, potatoes and gravy; recoiling in horror from sauerkraut. I hate cabbage, I thought.

Oh me. You were so, so wrong. Or perhaps you were right; that cabbage wasn't loved, not the way my cabbage is now. The first farmer's market of the season I spent the better part of $10 on cabbage, and it's a good bet it will be all eaten within two weeks, and I haven't even made kim chi.

The first, best, most wonderful way to enjoy cabbage is a recipe I adapted from The Paley's Place Cookbook. Trust Vitaly Paley, with his Russian heritage and his local, seasonal mien, to deliver cabbage in its sweetest, truest form. I like savoy cabbage or red cabbage for this; the big heavy pale green heads don't turn as jammy, although sometimes I mix some green in with the red for a play of textures. Here is the recipe for honey-braised cabbage; it also calls for a little bacon fat (or olive oil), an onion and an apple, some vinegar and honey. I serve it with everything; with corned beef or sausages, spooned into lentil or potato soup, heaped into a bowl of pasta, mixed with leftover potatoes and grated beets and lots of fresh garlic for a surprisingly perky fried potato cake. It kind of disappears into soups, even as it adds sweetness, so it's great for kids (yes! mine have now eaten cabbage, and liked it!).

Continue reading "Lowly cabbage goes glamorous: Cooking from box, garden, market" »

The one in which we start cooking from the box (and garden)

March 21, 2009

It's time.

Today is the first day of the Portland Farmer's Market for the 2009 season, and chatting with other urbanMamas I discover that lots of you are expecting your first box of food from a CSA sometime in the next several weeks. And there are questions, mostly, what do I do with this? This weird knobby vegetable (if it's huge, it's celeriac; if it's tiny, it's a Jerusalem artichoke; both should be peeled and can be diced and used in soups or gratins); these four heads of cabbage (one for braising, one to chop and put in soups, two for kim chi, of course!); this enormous quantity of kale (rinse well, chop roughly, and put in a large cast iron or stainless steel pot, with several cloves of whacked garlic, a glug of oil or butter or bacon fat, and some salt, cook, stirring often, over medium heat until almost crispy, put in everything or serve alone).


But let me start over. I am here to help you with your quest to cook more vegetables (and the occasional fruit) and figure out what to do with what seems like way too much of something. Also, it would be good if your children ate some, too. Each week (or thereabouts) when I come home from the market I'll write a post about something that's in season and link to some recipes I love, and present a few for you. If you've just received a CSA box or a gardening neighbor's gift, or harvested a bumper crop, of some particular vegetable, leave a comment and I'll try to come up with some great (and easy) ideas. And hopefully I'll have a few sentences of gardening too.

This week, I'm getting a second round of peas planted outside, and a few kinds of onion seed; a bed of lettuce; and hopefully some carrots and potatoes, too. I'll start tomatoes, jalapenos, celery and artichokes inside -- this year I've promised myself I'll use a flourescent light to help them germinate, we'll see if it works out! What are you planting, harvesting, buying, and eating this week? I need to make some of the aforementioned kim chi, so I'll be picking up an extra cabbage or two at the farmer's market, a jar of jalapenos, some carrots, and some collard raab. I love that stuff.

Are you a 'sustainable' family?

March 20, 2009

NPR's Marketplace is looking to talk to Portland families:

I am looking for a young family to profile for an upcoming series we’re producing about whether the traditional American Dream is sustainable.  It’s a series of vignettes profiling people at different milestones in their pursuit of the dream and the obstacles in their way… retirement, midcareer, a young professional family with children, and college students. 

For young families with kids the traditional narrative would be moving from the city to the suburbs for the good schools and space.  The question I’m posing is whether there’s a growing shift away from that as the suburban life proves too isolating, uneconomic (energy prices) and environmentally unsustainable? 

And do cities like Portland offer an alternative middle ground?  Not only drawing single urban hipsters but young families as well.  Ideally I would be looking for a family with children in the 3-6 year old range who have recently moved or are in the process of moving to Portland to pursue this dream.  I’d also be interested in hearing the story of a family who did move to the suburbs but is now moving back to the city after becoming disillusioned.

Details on Activistas.

Take a deep breath and bike

February 23, 2009

Trees_park_bike_meditation I write on many ad-supported web sites to earn my family's keep, and sometimes I weary of the grind. The cheerful list of tips. The careful consideration of a topic from all sides. So when I got the opportunity to do a presentation at Ignite Portland 5 -- I'd pitched the title "hacking life with kids, and without a car" -- I decided to avoid the usual perky lists and helpful hints and top-10 lists and I wrote it as a meditation. "You are riding your bike. You are taking the bus, train, streetcar... You do not pray for change in the world. You are the world. You are the change."

As usual when I really get lost in something I'm writing, it got away from me and took on a life of its own. The line that was repeated the most after the presentation on Thursday night was this: "You are not en route. You are already here." As I've been thinking over the past few days of dealing with challenging children and my own need to take a deep breath so much in my life, it's a good reminder to myself: this is what I wanted, this life, with children who want nothing as much as to stand in the middle of a parking lot tracing the stenciled letters on the ground, or to take a 90-minute bath because they're just enjoying looking at the faucet, or to play and play and play at the park until the sun goes down. When I dreamed of having kids, it was not a dream of typing at my laptop in a coffee shop without them, no, it was the journey that was my dream, the struggle and the joy, the books read over and over and over. The video of my talk is after the jump; you can link to other Ignite talks here at Blip.tv (I love this one on chickens; this one on taking the bus; and this one on being a refugee).

Continue reading "Take a deep breath and bike" »

New year, new commitments

January 06, 2009

The news of a friend's book deal was paired on a writers' site with an announcement of a book on "My year of living within my means." I had to laugh to keep from crying, because, seriously: isn't that what many of us have been doing forever? It's been several years since I used a credit card (and it's not just because I'm disciplined, but that's another story). Why not a life of living within your means?Old_and_new_books

All ranting aside, it made me think of all the other "year-of" books that I'd prefer to adopt, at least mostly, as a life and not just a year -- or not just a New Year's resolution. I think of the "resolution" concept as something that should be applied to the moment, not a turn of the page on a calender, a new digit. Every moment is worth starting anew (or else, perhaps I'm just habitually late and this is my mantra of excusal). I'd like to re-commit this year to:

  • The year of eating local. I continue to strive for better pathways to eat local, sustainably-produced food, and part of that this year will be to figure out how to do it without paying a lot -- and how to spread local foods beyond their "elite" label. I love what the Portland Fruit Tree Project is doing; part of local eating could be gleaning figs from a neighbor's tree or helping me harvest my cherries!
  • The year without a car. It's been two-and-a-half years since our car was last insured and this year I'm going to join the BTA instead of the Zoo (it's cheaper!) and finally sell the car. No, really. My mission is to convince as many families as possible that biking can work for them.
  • The year of living within my means. Well, I had to say it. But with a freelance career, I'm hoping to spend a little more time budgeting appropriately (and spending my money more wisely at the farmer's market).
  • The year without stuff. While I'm not committing to buying nothing new, I'm certainly limiting it to necessities (a new pair of shoes for Everett, the odd piece of photographic equipment, socks), and yarn. I can't do without new yarn.
  • The year without trash. OK, this one is a stretch, I'm only reducing, not eliminating: I've been striving to refill containers instead of buying products with new ones, compost all my kitchen scraps and feed the chickens what won't go in the compost, and avoid buying products which have packaging I can't re-use, recycle, or compost. This means paying close attention when I'm leaving the house to pack reusable containers, plastic bags, etc; and going without certain products (paper towels, for instance). I still do disposable diapers (because I have inertia, ick) and plastic wrap, but I want to figure out a few ways to reduce my trash further.

What other 'the year of' books am I missing? What are your ongoing 'year of' efforts that have turned into 'life of' instead?

On charitable giving (and receiving)

December 28, 2008

Charity is very much top-of-mind this week. My husband is in the Army Reserves, and either we are the only large-ish family in his unit and thus deemed needful of charity based solely on the number of mouths to feed, or perhaps he has slightly exaggerated our financial plight (I'm freelancing as our main source of income right now, and while the work is plentiful, my time is not so much). Either way we have received two gift baskets in the past week, both stocked with hams, a pound of margarine, and various canned goods and other nonperishables. I am grateful. And yet, given my now year-long commitment to feed my family organic, fairly traded, as-local-as-possible food, it's been a challenge deciding how to face a six-year-old who I found hoarding two boxes of cake mix and a package of Sara Lee dinner rolls in his bedroom. Among other things. One day I'll let the boys gorge themselves on Trix, Campbell's chicken noodle soup, and chocolate icing straight out of the carton, the next day I hide it all and force-feed them sourdough whole wheat baked goods and raw milk. As a culture, we believe that one should not look a gift horse in the mouth and that those receiving charitable assistance should be pleased to eat whatever GMO-ridden, conventional, processed, sugar-packed, wrapped-up-in-excess-packaging goods the givers choose.

I am torn. I wish to be grateful and am thrilled that such largess exists. I know that those who assembled the gift packages did so out of a genuine and generous wish to make our lives better. (And the PGE gift card that was included in one of them will, indeed!, make our lives better. If anyone should be struggling over what to get for a needy family -- go with the PGE gift card!) And at the same time I wish I could somehow send a message to all those who shop for holiday gift baskets and ask if they might consider getting big bags of Bob's Red Mill organic whole wheat flour, and a dozen eggs from Kookoolan Farms, and perhaps a nice local ham from Sweet Briar Farms or the Pacific Village cooperative.

Continue reading "On charitable giving (and receiving)" »

Getting your tree: Where is it coming from this year?

December 15, 2008

I'm working on a project doing some freelance writing for a yet-to-be-launched green site, and I've been learning way too much about the environmental impact of everything I do (as if it wasn't already enough!). One thing I've discovered recently is that Christmas trees are often grown with lots of pesticides. I mean, I'm not eating the tree, but it's likely that my 17-month-old, Monroe, is getting his fair share of pine needle ingestion.

So I thought more about where to get my tree this year. In last year's discussion about Christmas trees, we noted a lot selling organic, "local" Christmas trees on 25th and SE Division (it's still there this year). I asked friends to recommend organic tree sellers and was advised to just buy anywhere -- after all, Christmas trees are a huge industry in Oregon (so not getting a local tree would be ridiculous) and they "grow like weeds" so very few pesticides are needed. On the other hand, this article points to widespread herbicide and fungicide use to obtain "perfect" trees.

I decided that we would get it through Cafe au Play, who's selling trees to raise funds to help open the planned family-friendly coffee shop and community center at 58th and SE Division. The trees are from Timber Ridge Tree Farm in Molalla and were very well-priced -- we paid $20 for a very lovely, big grand fir. I was unable to find out whether or not Timber Ridge used many pesticides; maybe next year we'll use capella's great idea: buying a new potted tree every year and plant it; after a few years we can start cutting the older trees down (and buying a new one to replace it) for our *own* Christmas tree farm. That sounds wonderfully "green." Where did you get your tree? Was its green-ness a factor in your decision?

Reminder: Eat local at lunch today

November 19, 2008


Are you ready for something healthy and sustainable after that talk about childhood obesity? Remember: today is the Local Lunch at Portland Public Schools cafeterias all over town. I'm heading to Pioneer School today to eat lunch with Everett (and pay penance for having screwed up the dates and missed his annual Thanksgiving Feast parent lunch yesterday, ouch!). The menu appears to have changed slightly and is now "Oven Roasted Glazed Chicken featuring Draper Valley Farms Natural Chicken." Either way, I'm looking forward to having lunch with my little boy; as Aliza Wong wrote so eloquently in her entry on Culinate, eating lunch with your child is good no matter what the ingredients.

Eat local at Portland Public Schools: Come to lunch?

October 28, 2008


We've had a lot to say about the sorry state of our schools' cafeterias, both here and on Activistas, and the criticism is certainly not limited to the Portland Public Schools boundaries; it's a terrible issue nationwide. Movement is slowly grumbling toward a better way, though, and last year the addition of Harvest of the Month (one ingredient per week from local farmers -- this month it's sweet corn on the cob) was, while a small step, still: progress!

This year's small step forward is the Local Lunch: a whole menu, once each month, featuring local foods (defined as Washington, Oregon, and California up to San Francisco -- a generous "local"). The first offering, last Wednesday, was quesadillas with Tillamook cheese and Don Pancho quesadillas. November's offering is barbecued chicken with Draper Valley Farms natural chicken -- yum! I encourage those of you who send lunches with your PPS students to have them buy lunch on these days; or go have lunch with your child. Whole list of dates and menus after the jump.

Continue reading "Eat local at Portland Public Schools: Come to lunch?" »

Cool Moms, Cool Planet in Seattle

July 24, 2008

Very cool.  Really.  This Seattle group has a really, uh, cool thing going.  Neighborhood by neighborhood, mom by mom, they aim to cool the planet.  Here's how they describe themselves:

CoolMom.org brings busy moms into the climate action network in three ways:  through education, lifestyle change, and by supporting policies that mitigate global climate change.  An important part of our work occurs at the grassroots level, with community-based activism in neighborhood CoolMom groups.  Local groups share ideas, take action, and have fun fighting climate change together!

CoolMom.org unites moms to build a better future for our children. CoolMom.org encourages sustainable living practices in how families live, learn, work and play.  We promote stewardship of the natural environment and seek to instill a conservation ethic in future generations.

I am often surprised by how many things are going on in Portland that I am completely and utterly unaware of - and not just dance clubs and other things from days gone by.  So before I say, how come we don't have something like this in Portland, I'll ask you!  Do we have anything like this in Portland?  If now, don't you think we should?

Sustainable living on a budget: Am I inspired yet?

May 22, 2008

Yogurt_in_crock Monique Dupre was, as everyone seems to agree, not what we expected. She's too lovely, too pulled-together, too funny, too American. (For the record, she is married to a Frenchman, grew up near Astoria, and now lives in Vancouver, Wash.) I half-expect her to start her insanely popular 'Sustainable Living on a Budget' workshop with a little ledger for us to add up our errant spending and lots of judgment, but that's entirely not what she does.

She starts by saying that she just wants to inspire us, reminds us that inspire means "in the spirit," and that we don't have to do everything, just start where we are. And begins to talk about where she is.

It's at once devilishly inspiring (I will admit to having called Comcast to cut off my cable the next day, and removed the TV from the living room, although it was only minorly influenced by Monique) and crushingly overwhelming. Monique, through lots of hard work, much ability to be present and inquisitive, and the oh-so-useful French husband questioning all that is America, has created a life that is truly my dream. She gets all her food locally and organically, creating healthy and whole-foods-y meals for each and every bite her family eats. She leaves her home each morning with a clean kitchen and a small pile of laundry. Her children want nothing for Christmas because they have everything they need. Her eldest daughter can recognize fennel plants when they're an inch tall. She loves fennel!

Continue reading "Sustainable living on a budget: Am I inspired yet?" »

Composting for Beginners

May 19, 2008

There are many among us who have green thumbs and maturing gardens.  But, for the beginners among us, can you share with us how you started your compost pile?  Where can you go to learn more?  Samantha emailed:

I read the recent post on using compost for the garden, but I'm just starting out and wondering if there is an old post for favorite methods for starting a compost pile. I have questions such as: which kits to buy, to worm or not to worm? Also wondering if anyone's ever used a pet waste composter.

Metro has some great local resources on composting

What are your recommendations for tips and tricks on composting at home?  Books that are must-have resources?

Got Compost, Now what?

May 18, 2008

Wheelbarrow We've been diligently composting our food scraps and are beginning to reaps the fruit of our labor.  But seriously, for this novice gardener, I'm not sure when to harvest the black gold, and even what to do with it.  Can someone help, please?  I know there are many green thumbs among us mamas.  For starters, when do you know the compost is ready?  Is there are right time to add compost to your garden?  And maybe I shouldn't admit this, but where do you spread it specifically?

Stimulate this! Great ideas for using your economic stimulus package

April 29, 2008

As soon as I heard about Bush's Economic Stimulus plan, I started in with the subversion. I'd use my stimulus check to buy things, but entirely not the things Bush and big retail corporations wanted me to. My debit card wouldn't be swiped at Target or Sears or Olive Garden; with the whopping $2,100 my family will get (we have three children) I wouldn't buy a single gallon of premium unleaded gas, nor sink a nickel into video poker machines (I'm scandalized and saddened that's where Oregon's kicker went). No. I'd buy things that would work gently against big government and big big oil.

I made a promise to myself that I would spend my economic stimulus money on things that would save me from spending future fossil fuels, future money and future greenhouse gases. I decided I would invest my stimulus package into my little urban homestead's soil, air, and food stores. I'd get off the grid, just a bit, I'd use it to live lighter. I made a list of ideas and (helped by a substantial tax rebate) I've already started in on it. Do you have any ideas to add to the list? Where will your stimulus package go?

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How does your garden grow?

April 28, 2008

I have two thumbs but neither are green.  My husband has a green thumb.  For the first couple of years here in Portland, I was pretty green with envy at folks talking about their berry bushes and spinach crop.  They told me of their children frolicking in their yard, plucking from their veggie beds whenever they needed snacks.  I thought: "Wow."

Last year, after lots and lots of reading and consulting others, my husband built two vegetable beds and we planted our own veggies for the first time.  One week last summer, I was eating radishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Another week, I was eating romaine lettuce day in and out.  "Regularity" was not an issue for me.

This year, we are working more closely together to decide what items we love to eat and want to plant.  We have also dug out another two big areas to grow more and are plotting / phasing our growing so we have some diversity in what we harvest at any given time.  I still feel so overwhelmed, though.  I am just glad that my husband has taken the lead on this project.

I've talked with other mamas that are just as daunted by this whole gardening thing.  So, if you don't mind, could you please share your bestest tips?  Do we start from seed?  Indoors?  Buy starts?  Aren't they expensive?  What part of the yard should we plant in?  What are your favorite vegetables to plant?  Favorite fruits?   How about a book where we can learn all the ins and outs of growing our own?

This conversation is inspired by a recent thread on one of my mama yahoo groups: shout out to the mamanandas!

Mad, Depressed or Both? That, Mamas, is the Question

April 25, 2008

8271b78bea0441afb9c7fcfee40053deI grew up on the east coast but married a gentle man and now live in the friendliest city ever.  So while I can thank the bus driver as well as the next person and hold the elevator door open for people miles away, I still have the potential to get REALLY ANGRY.  Ever since I opened the O on Saturday and saw the short article (in the Living section, already!) on Bisphenol A and  - in a mini rage - tossed every Nalgene bottle I could find, I've been pissed.  Why?  I'll tell you all about it - and then some - on Activistas.  Are you pissed, too?

Recycling for a Cause

April 23, 2008

Earth day had me thinking a lot about the waste generated/collected in our small house.  Then I started obsessing over spring cleaning.  Now I have notes scattered throughout the house about the Plastic Roundups, the Neighborhood Hazardous Waste Roundup, and various other close to home dumping events. But wouldn't it be nice if it was all taken care of for us? A mama wonders:

I like helping people.  I hate waste.  I hate feeding bottles into a machine.  I like tax deductions.  These things seem like they all naturally add up to charitable donations of recyclable bottles and cans.  This has been harder to find than I expected.  Does anyone know of a school, scout troop, homeless shelter, who will come to my house, take my recyclables, and give me a receipt?  Bonus points for a group that does it on a regular basis (i.e. they call me every month or two and say "it's time...").