Sunday, August 25, 2013

Pasta Jewelry

I found this project in a Family Fun magazine - my almost 3 year old LOVED it!  This is the project that has perhaps kept her attention longer than any other we've done!

Making jewelry from pasta!

All you need is:
a box/bag of larger, easy to string pasta (we used rigatoni)
food coloring
zip-top bags (or other sealable containers)
a twist tie
cookie sheets and paper towels

First, dye your pasta.  Since we had the standard, 4 color food coloring box, we did 4 colors.  So, I got 4 ziplock bags, and divided the pasta among the bags.  Then C poured a few teaspoons of vinegar and several drops of food coloring into each bag.  I sealed the bags, and let her shake and squish away!

Line some baking sheets/pans with paper towels, and dump the pasta out.  Spread evenly and allow to dry.

Isn't it pretty?
Cut lengths of string to make necklaces or bracelets (make sure they are big enough to pull over your head for necklaces; she insisted on bracelets, but we could only fit 3 or 4 "beads" per length and I didn't particularly enjoy these).  Twist one end of a twist tie around one end of the string, and straighten out the rest to make a "needle".  Loosely tie one pasta bead to the other end.  Let kiddos string away!  Once they fill a length of string, untie the pasta piece and securely tie the ends together - voila!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

What a waste...

My whole life I've always tried to clean my plate - because I think of those in the world who don't have anything to eat, and feel bad throwing it away.  Of course, everyone cites the argument "What are you going to do, send it to them?", and the reality of it is true (and thus absurd that I feel the need to eat it all).

However - I read this in the summer 2013 edition of World Vision's magazine, and it really hit home.

Up to half of all food produced in the world never reaches a plate.  Between 1.3 and 2.2 billion tons of food are wasted each year due to lost harvests, inefficient storage practices, and retail and consumer waste.  In industrialized regions, almost half of the total food squandered - more than 330 million tons of edible food - would be enough to feed the estimated 870 million hungry people in the world.
So no - you can't scrape your leftovers into a carryout carton and mail it to India.  However - we can be smarter about our purchasing/eating habits, and more aware of those in the world around us, and make a difference, indirectly.  Be more aware of waste.  Buy efficiently, consume efficiently, and use those monetary savings that are sure to result to support a cause you believe in - like an organization that feeds the hungry.  It is a shame to waste when there are so many who go hungry.

Living on the most remote wildlife refuge in the lower 48 has made me much more efficient/less wasteful.  When you must drive 4 hours round trip to the grocery, and in the winter only make the trip once/month, you learn to be extremely organized, efficient, and waste nothing.  But, this is a skill I will carry on, even once we're in civilization again.  Making a month's worth of menus, and a grocery list to obtain all the needed ingredients, and being smart about making the fresh meals first and the canned/frozen later, makes sure you use everything before it spoils and waste nothing.  I think the convenience of grocery stores encourages over-buying and thus waste.  Think about the people in the world who do their shopping daily or weekly at the local market, buying everything fresh for that day/week, and using it immediately.  I suspect they waste much less.  We could all adopt a lifestyle more in line with this.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Choosing Personal Care and Cleaning Products

I've always tried to choose products that: a) are not tested on animals, b) are safe for my family, and c) do not contain palm oil or any derivative of it.

For the first, there are a couple of sites I rely on - The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, and PETA.

For the second, I turn to the Environmental Working Group.

For the third, I simply read the ingredient list.

Disappointingly, a couple of brands I had felt good about using previously - Burt's Bees and Tom's of Maine - I learned were owned by the larger, NOT cruelty-free and NOT manufacturer of family-safe products, giants Clorox Co. and Colgate-Palmolive.  The Body Shop is owned by L'Oreal.  Granted, a few of the companies I list below (JASON, Earth's Best, Alba and Avalon) are owned by a huge corporation - Hain Celestial.  However, mostly it consists of food companies, with the exception of a few cosmetic companies like the ones I just listed, which do not test on animals and I feel good about supporting.  So, I made an exception here.  I am always open for alternatives that fit my criteria, if you have some to share!

This led me on a quest to thoroughly research and update our household products, to those we could feel good about using.  I started with what was in our cabinets, to see if they were deemed safe by the EWG.  If not, I found an alternative that was.  Also of importance was price and accessibility.  I am not willing to pay $2/ounce for lotion.  And not willing to go to the ends of the earth to find a product.  So, if I couldn't find it on Amazon or Vitacost (a GREAT site for obtaining many natural products), it was out.

The EWG has two consumer guides that I used - the Skin Deep Guide to Cosmetics, and the Guide to Healthy Cleaning.  Also helpful is sometimes you can tell if a problem is free of animal testing from their guides, without checking the Leaping Bunny or PETA database.

The following is the products I came up with, that I am using from this day forward in my house.  I feel good knowing no animals were harmed in their production, no rainforests cleared to make room for palm plantations, and they won't harm my family.

First I list those products specifically for baby, then adults, and finally cleaning products.  Sometimes some products scored higher by the EWG than the others - these are listed in italics.  Some of them have prices (from either Amazon or Vitacost) beside them for comparison purposes.  Some of these I've not actually tried myself yet, so can't vouch for them.  Many I have.  Hopefully this will be helpful for anyone else looking to phase out harmful/cruel products in their own homes!

Personal Care and Cleaning Products


Weleda Children’s Tooth Gel  (4.49 – 1.7 oz)
Earth’s Best Toddler Apple and Pear

Earth Mama Angel Baby (7.39 – 5.3 oz; 33.79 – 34 oz.)
Seventh Generation (6.99 – 10 oz)

Seventh Generation (6.99 – 10 oz)

Earth Mama Angel Baby (7.09 – 4 oz; 12.99 – 8 oz)
Seventh Generation (6.99 – 6 oz)
Avalon Organics Nourishing Baby Lotion (7.69 – 6 oz)
Earth’s Best Organic Sensitive Skin Lotion (9.19 – 16 oz)
BabyGanics Smooth Moves Extra Gentle Baby Lotion

Diaper Cream:
Earth Mama Angel Baby Bottom Balm (9.79 – 2 oz)
Method Baby Squeaky Green Diaper Cream
Desert Essence Baby Don’t Be Rash Diaper Cream (8.79 – 3 oz)


JASON Powersmile

Kirk’s Castile (3.00 – 3 bars)
Kiss My Face Olive Oil Bar Soap Fragrance Free

Avalon Organics Olive and Grape Seed Shampoo (6.79 – 11 oz)
Avalon Organics Olive and Grape Seed OR Grapefruit and Geranium Conditioner (6.89 – 11 oz)
Kirk’s Castile Shampoo (5.49 – 16 oz)
Kirk’s Castile Conditioner (4.99 – 16 oz)

Nature’s Gate Colloidal Oatmeal Moisturizing Lotion (11.19 – 32 oz)
Alba Botanica Very Emollient Original Unscented (11.59 – 32 oz)

Alba Botanica Clear Enzyme Deoderant Stick Aloe Unscented (4.39 – 2 oz)
Crystal Roll-on Body Deoderant (2.56 – 2.25 oz)
Crystal Stick Deoderant (4.39 – 4.25 oz)
Naturally Fresh Crystal Deoderant with Aloe Vera (2.79 – 3 oz)

Shaving Cream:
Kiss My Face Moisture Shave Fragrance Free

Hand Soap:
Desert Essence Castile Liquid Soap with Eco-Harvest Tea Tree Oil (11.09 – 32 oz)
Kiss My Face Castile Peace Soap Lavender Mandarin (7.39 – 17 oz)


Planet AP Spray Cleaner
Method AP Surface Cleaner Ginger Yuzu (3.99 – 28 oz)
Simple Green Naturals Multi-Surface Care
Simple Green Naturals Dilutable Concentrated Cleaner
Ecover AP Cleaner Natural Lemon (4.19 – 32 oz)

Dishwasher Detergent:
Ecover Dish Tabs (4.05 – 25 packs)
7th Generation Automatic Dishwasher Powder Free and Clear
7th Generation Detergent Concentrated Pacs Free and Clear (5.99 – 20 packs)

Dish Liquid:
Planet Ultra Dishwashing Liquid Hypo-allergenic
Ecover Dish Liquid

Ecover Cream Scrub
Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Surface Scrub

Method Wood for Good Daily Clean Almond

7th Generation Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner, Emerald Cypress and Fir

Simple Green Naturals Glass and Surface Care Rosemary Mint
Citra-Solv Citra Clear Window and Glass Cleaner
Method Glass and Surface Mint (3.99 – 28 oz)
Ecover Glass and Surface

7th Generation Chlorine Free Bleach

Stain Remover:
Earth Friendly Everyday Stain and Odor Remover
Ecover Stick

Air Freshener (use sparingly - not generally considered good to use at all):
Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Room Freshener (Basil/Lavender/Lemon Verbena) (5.29 – 8 oz)
Earth Friendly Unifresh Air Freshener Cinnamon (3.99 – 4.4 oz)

Carpet Cleaner – steam cleaner:
Earth Friendly Carpet Shampoo

I realize there are some holes in my list - at some point I'll publish a "Part Two" of this, but at the moment I didn't need any of those products, so I'll resume my research once I have a need for them.  Please, if you have any favorite products that are cruelty-free, people safe and palm oil free, share them!

I only request that, if you purchase any of these products as a result of this post, you use the following links, as I am an affiliate and will be rewarded for it.  Additionally, you will get $10 off your Vitacost order for using this link!  Happy shopping!



Monday, February 18, 2013

Meatless Monday - Muffuletta Panini

For my birthday last year I got a panini press from my parents - I LOVE IT!  If you have one, or some kind of small grill, great - if not, you can just press in a skillet on either side.  These are yummy!

1/2 cup black or kalamata olives
1/4 cup artichokes (drained)
1/4 cup roasted red pepper
1 Tbsp. red onion
Chop these up finely together:

To the above, add:
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp chopped garlic

Mix well.  You will need bread of your choosing, and if you'd like, sliced cheese of your preference.

Pile the cheese and toppings on bread, and grill!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


I subscribe to Above the Fold, a collection all all the environmental news from all over the world.  Lately, I'm becoming more and more disheartened at the realization that our environment is riddled with countless synthetic chemicals that my family and I are exposed to on a constant basis, and there is very little that I can do about it.  All I can do is read and learn and eat as much fresh and as little processed food as possible, choosing organic whenever possible, and avoid bringing new chemicals into my home (via paints, furniture, the list goes on and on), and hope it makes a difference.

A Chemical Laden Life

Children exposed to flame retardants in pregnancy/infancy have lower IQs and attention problems.  Unfortunately, your house is likely full of these chemicals.

Black children with high levels of chemicals (such as phthalates) from personal-care products in their systems are more likely to be obese.

Mothers who breathe polluted air are much more likely to have low birthweight babies.  Just like the severe pollution problem in Beijing is expected to cause lifelong problems to babies born into it.  The results were also corroborated in this multi-national study.

Breast cancer likely a result of environmental factors.

Another example of mutant amphibians due to contaminants in the environment.

What the #&!@ is in My Food?

Companies are now using nanoparticles to increase texture and brighten the colors in foods you eat, and these substances have been found in the bloodstream.

Because apparently apples are so ginormous you can't possibly eat one all at once, a genetically engineered apple has been created so that now you can sit it down and come back to it later, and won't be browned on the inside.  Sheesh.

Would you like some antibiotics with your meat?

You trust the companies that make your food?  Think again...

The State of our Environment

As the demand for whale meat plummets in Japan, the industry is subsidized by tax dollars to keep it afloat.

I LOVE this idea, of burning trash to create energy!  Of course, there's the NIMBY issue (not in my back yard...)

Some Good News

It is easy to get more vitamin D - I take a daily supplement, as does my daughter.  It is thought that low levels may be linked to autism, which has risen at an alarming rate.

U.S. carbon emissions are at their lowest in a decade.  If you're partly to thank for this - keep up the good work!  And if not - think about pitching in!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Meatless Monday - Tomato-Herb Frittata

A yummy brunch, or breakfast for supper casserole!

12 eggs
1 cup half and half
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives (or green onions)
1 Tbsp. parsley
1 tsp oregano
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
6 ounces cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 450.  Mix first four ingredients.  Lightly grease a 13x9 baking dish.  Layer tomatoes, 1 cup cheese and herbs, then pour egg mixture over.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Valentine's Craft

Our neighbor's gave us this last year, and I thought it was so cute!

They are super easy to put together and make cute Valentine's!

All you need are:

thin wire
Hershey's kisses
green floral tape
red saran wrap (or you could use clear if you had red foil-wrapped kisses)

1) Put two kisses end to end, sandwiching the bent end of a piece of wire between them

2) Wrap saran wrap around the kisses and twist around the wire

3) Wrap the floral tape around the base of the "flower bud" and down the "stem"

4) And, you're done!  Give Valentine roses to all your friends!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Behind the Dolphin Smile

Interested in dolphins?  Want to read about dolphins?  

I was asked to review Richard O'Barry's book Behind the Dolphin Smile by Mandala Publishing.  

I first became aware of Ric O'Barry through his work on halting the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan.  It is a disgusting, heartbreaking event, and if you are not aware of it (or even if you are) I suggest you check out the film The Cove, which in graphic detail sheds light on the atrocities occurring there.  From this site, you can also find out more and get involved.  To take further action, check out this site, affiliated with them.

Because I am such a strong advocate for O'Barry's work and admire what he's doing, I was disappointed in the book.  Not because it isn't interesting or well-written, but rather because it is strife with stories of environmental plunder and animal abuse.  Granted, this book was published before O'Barry became an advocate for not only the Taiji dolphins but captive dolphins everywhere, and one could argue before he "saw the light"; furthermore, I cannot imagine spending a handful of years creating your own hell that you then spend the rest of your life trying to dig yourself out of (think being responsible for putting many of the world's captive dolphins in horrendous conditions and then spending the rest of your years trying, usually unsuccessfully, to free those dolphins).  I feel deeply sorry for this man who is trying to right his wrongs, and only commend him for coming to his senses and fighting - hard - for dolphins everywhere.  For this reason, I am apprehensive about posting anything negative about him, for fear of harming his cause in anyway.  

Let me state that what Ric O'Barry is doing is courageous and commendable and I admire his efforts deeply.  

I found some anecdotes from Behind the Dolphin Smile fascinating, from the story of his attempt to free Charlie Brown in Bimini, to hand feeding a baby dolphin (which ultimately led to her survival in captivity) when it had never before been done, to the realization that dolphins were not automatic breathers like other mammals and therefore cannot be anesthetized.

I loved this passage:

"In some ages, as depicted in ancient fables, animals were our friends, or at least equals.  Animals and people talked together.  Gods sometimes took the form of animals, and some societies either deified or defiled certain animals. 

With the triumph of Christianity, all that changed.  Nature became the bad guy.  And animals were a part of nature.  When the soul was attributed to humans and not the animals, the pious decided that if we didn’t keep tight rein on our passions, we, too, could return to the level of beasts.  The animal nature in each of us was like the Devil himself waiting to snare the unwary.  Man pictured himself as a sort of amphibian, one foot in heaven, the other in nature with the animals.  He considered passion, emotion, and feelings as signs of his animal nature, the best in each of us that must be restrained.  To many people, civilization itself is but the restraint of animal emotion on the largest scale.  Without laws, they say, we would all revert to the level of savage brutes."

However, I found it bothersome that someone who held dolphins in such esteem has such little (or even total) disregard for other wildlife, including but not limited to stingrays, parrot fish, seahorses, octopi, sharks, and pelicans.  He thought nothing of sacrificing these animals, whether for display in aquaria or for a good screen shot for the TV series Flipper (for which he was the dolphin trainer).  He even implies that the pelican whose wings they clipped upon capture "loved" being held captive on the set of a TV show.  It is this anthropomorphic, naive mentality that has created the very man-made hell for dolphins that he fights against - I was shocked to see that even he is not immune from that mentality, when it comes to species other than dolphins.  Along these same lines, at one point he suggests that Susie the dolphin wanted to be "rescued" rather than allowed to go back out to sea, and later he implies that the dolphins he was training were  "spoiled and manipulative".  Again, these anthropomorphic assumptions are why humans hold animals in captivity in the first place, including dolphins.  He also contributed to widespread environmental destruction through his collection efforts, via trawling, long lines, the dispensing of ammonia into the sea, and the destruction of coral reefs, which he shared no remorse for.

There were a few instances in which he should have conducted some further research - as his use of the terms "gosset hawks" (which do not exist) and "seagulls" (which is an incorrect term) evidence, as well as a remark that dolphin anatomy is different because their mouths are connected to their stomachs and not their lungs (implying that our mouths are connected to what...  our lungs?).

Finally, and perhaps the most egregious criticism of all that I have, is near the end of the book, once he'd decided he no longer believed in keeping dolphins in captivity and started his Dolphin Project, he targeted three individuals whom he called the primary dolphin capturers in the country.  I thought, finally, we're getting somewhere, he's going to go after them and shut them down.  But no - what does he then do?  He paid one of those very individuals in order to acquire more dolphins for his own captive purposes.  He totally lost me here, and I must say, this makes me question, on some level, all of his motivation.  It reeks of "I can have wild dolphins for my purposes but no one else can."  I take enormous issue with this, and would love for him to explain himself on this point.

The book aside, I think the movement behind his organization is larger than the man, and very worthy.  I stand for all they do, and I hope that you will check out the two above links and take further action.

And I will leave you with a quote that I gleaned from the book:

“The time will come when they will sell you even your rain.  At the moment, it is still free and I am in it, I celebrate its gratuity and its meaninglessness.”
~ Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable