What Small Step Will I Take Today?

This morning Dr. Laura Simmons shared in our Sunday service about her recent experiences in South Africa and Rwanda. She visited both countries to learn about some incredible efforts at reconciliation in places where hate and violence have recently prevailed. She reminded us that the acts of Hitler in Germany and apartheid in South Africa were legal at the time they were committed. How did atrocities such as putting Jews into ghettos or blacks into slums become law accepted by the majority? One tiny act of injustice at a time.

Laura met people in both countries who have found the strength to look beyond their tumultuous histories and extend forgiveness to those who hurt them. Some reconciliation activists she met are now working side-by-side with those who brought them incredible pain in the past. She pointed out that yes, it is a small minority who are involved in such dramatic work. Not every Tutsi who lost a family member to a Hutu machete is able to embrace the very person who harmed their loved one. But those who are remind us that, just as tiny acts of injustice lead to atrocities, so tiny acts of reconciliation bring about justice on a large scale.

I hope every day my choices bring me, my family, and any other areas of influence one tiny step closer to justice. What small step will I take today?

Some Thoughts On The U.S. Healthcare System

I’m concerned about healthcare in our country. Deeply concerned. The facts are that over 45 million Americans do not have access to health insurance and most of those people (80%) are part of working families. America spends more per person on healthcare than European countries with universal coverage and yet we leave millions of our citizens in the dust. We are subject to an incredibly inefficient system motivated by profits rather than the health of our citizens. I’m married to a physician and hear regularly his concerns about patients who fall between the cracks and don’t have insurance, and therefore can’t get the care they need.

But neither the impersonal facts nor my husband’s daily experience are what really upset me this week. What made this reality of inequity and lack of access hit home was when a good friend confided in me that she and her toddler son were denied health insurance. She recently quit her full-time job to stay home with her son but was denied coverage when she went to buy insurance through a well-known healthcare system. The reason? She had kidney stones last year. And why would an insurance company deny coverage for a healthy 18-month old? Because he has had ear infections! What toddler hasn’t had ear infections?

My friend was finally able to find insurance through a more expensive plan but many people are not so lucky. Her experience demonstrates that none of us are truly safe in our country’s healthcare system. It is beyond faulty, it is intolerable. I believe healthcare is a right of every American, not just for those who are lucky enough to have employers who provide it.

My plea to you, my blog readers, is to please make healthcare a part of your decision-making in the presidential election. I’m unabashedly an Obama supporter but you can make up your own mind. Look closely at both candidate’s plans and see which one you like best. Even if you and your family have quality, affordable healthcare, remember under our current system that may not always be the case. Our current system is a disaster and clearly unjust.

Who do you think has the better healthcare plan? How important is healthcare as you make your decision for president?

Green Party Decorations

Not literally green, although it is an awfully nice color. I’m talking about making your next party festive without generating a lot of waste. The first one you probably already use: balloons! Yes, it has recently come to my attention, thanks to blog reader Pam, that latex balloons are actually biodegradable. Latex comes from the rubber tree, so they’re natural and break down in landfills within about six months. Seriously I had no idea balloons were eco-friendly. Still you might want to think twice before releasing them since I imagine they could harm a bird or other animal who might find them before those six months are up.

Another cool alternative is reusable pendant banners. A fellow mom and entrepreneur, Jill Friese, makes colorful fabric pendants like the one below and she just opened her own shop on Etsy.com. I want to get this multi-colored banner to have on hand for baby showers, birthday parties or summer barbecues.

How do you decorate for parties without creating a lot of waste?

Do Reverse Trick-Or-Treating This Year

I know, it’s still summer so what am I doing blogging about Halloween? Hey, free chocolate is at stake here. Global Exchange is giving away FREE reverse trick-or-treating kits to households wanting to promote fair trade chocolate to their friends, family and neighbors. Just click on the above link and it will take you to their site where you can order a kit that includes free chocolate and informational cards. The idea is when your kids go trick-or-treating, they give the cards (and chocolate) to each house they visit. (Of course they can still accept all that non-fair-trade chocolate everyone gives away at Halloween).

Last year I ordered too late to get the free chocolate but I did get some great informational postcards from Global Exchange, which I gave out to kids along with these fair trade chocolate coins. I ordered my kit today so if you’re in my neighborhood, you’re going to be in for a real treat when Grace comes knocking!

Order your kit soon. The deadline to order is October 13th unless they run out before then, which they probably will!

Bambootique On Portland’s Street of Dreams

Bambootique is going upscale this summer with our Anti-Body skincare products being featured on Portland’s Street of Dreams! Interior Designer Maureen Pulicella of Gallerie Nouveau discovered these fabulous products on our website and loved the eco-friendly packaging, natural fragrances and the story behind them! You’ll find Anti-Body’s Bath Fizzers, Lavender Lotion and soaps in the bathrooms of house 11148 SE Scotts Summit Ct in Mt. Scott. The Street of Dreams runs August 16-September 14th. Be sure to peek in the bathrooms if you go!

Brownbagging It Without The Bag

It will be a few years still before my daughter Grace starts school, but I remember my own mom’s attempts to cut back on lunchtime waste. She was way ahead of her time. Before anyone else (that I knew anyway!) was thinking about saving trees or reducing landfill waste, she packed me tupperware containers of home-canned fruit, made me bring home my ziploc baggies so she could wash and reuse them, and filled thermoses with hot soup.  I always used a lunchbox or reusable insulated lunchbag, although I think I did go through a self-conscious phase in high school where she caved and let me use brown bags for a time.

These childhood memories came flooding back today when I saw reusablebags.com focus this month on packing waste-free lunches.  One child’s lunchbag can send thousands of ziploc bags to the landfill over the course of their schooldays. One child’s lunchbag can also send just about nothing to the landfill, with a little planning and use of containers you probably already have in your kitchen, perhaps augmented with some really cool products from the Reusablebags site, such as this Wrap-N-Mat (pictured right) for sandwiches. It’s only $6.95! One box of ziplocs costs that, so it quickly pays for itself. I love it when I can be good to my pocketbook and good to the planet.

Cooperatives Work Here, Too

When I buy products for Bambootique, one of the things I look for is groups of women who have come together to form cooperatives. In a cooperative artisans band together in a way that benefits all of them to buy inputs in bulk, negotiate shipping rates for their products and to have bargaining power with buyers like me, among other things. This bargaining power of cooperatives is a central principle of fair trade and is missing from most economic transactions between the West and the developing world. It’s not just alive and well in my business, it’s also a thriving principle in my neighborhood.

Last week while playing and giggling on the floor with two little toddlers, one mine, it dawned on me that I am also part of a cooperative. The other toddler in that happy moment was my neighbor’s son, Braylon, who spends one day a week with us at our house while his mom works from home. Grace goes and spends another day every week at Braylon’s house while I get a few precious hours to work myself. The kids have a wild and crazy time and the moms get worn out but it’s all good fun.

By pooling our resources (time, patience, lunch, sanity, toys) my neighbor and I both come out much better off than if we each did everything on our own. Our little neighborhood co-op makes us each stronger and saner not to mention the savings on babysitting fees. This power we women hold together is definitely much greater than the sum of our individual strengths.

Fun For The Whole Family At Multnomah Days This Saturday!

Multnomah Village celebrates 100 years this Saturday, August 16th, with the annual Multnomah Days street fair and Bambootique will be there!  The day kicks off with a pancake breakfast at 8am, a parade at 10am, the 5-block street fair from 9am-5pm (that’s where our booth will be!), and a doggie wash by Dove-Lewis at 11am at the Lucky Lab. There are street performers, live music, a kids’ play area, lots of people and dogs and it should be an all around fun time. I grew up near Multnomah and love the village’s atmosphere, unique shops and restaurants, and its walkability. Come on down with your family and join in the fun!

A Good Read: Healthy Child, Healthy World

I’m an information junkie. If I care about a topic, I read anything and everything I can find on the subject, sometimes to the point of obsession. So when the publishers of Healthy Child, Healthy World asked me if they could send me a copy of their new book to read and review, of course I jumped at the chance. The offer involved three of my favorite things – babies, the environment, and free stuff. Of course the publisher was looking for some publicity for the book and I’m happy to oblige, although I can tell you right now my buzz always includes the good, the bad and the ugly, as you shall see below.

I was skeptical at first glance of the book’s cover. In big bright letters at the top the cover announces “Foreword by Meryl Streep” and “With Contributions by Gwyneth Paltrow, Brooke Shields, Tom Hanks…” and the list of celebrities involved goes on and on. I am generally turned off by books that declare a list of celebrity endorsements. Call me a cynic but I want my information to come from experts in a field, not from celebrities with no related credentials beyond their fame.

So I definitely gagged more than once when reading some of the celebrity testimonials sprinkled throughout the book. For example, Tobey Maguire’s unimpressive contribution is that he is thinking about getting a refillable water bottle instead of drinking bottled water! Wha’? I’m supposed to be compelled by that? On the other hand I was duly inspired by Michelle Obama’s call for change in our health system, where she notes only 4 cents of every dollar is spent on prevention and public health. Others including Meryl Streep and Erin Brockovich made their own helpful contributions and I was actually glad they were involved in the project based on what they added.

Now that I’ve made clear what I didn’t like about the book, let me tell you what I did like. A lot actually. This book now holds a place of honor coveted by all other books in my house. It sits in a small pile of a few other favorites on the footstool in my study, a place reserved only for books I want to refer to often and don’t want to become lost in a bookshelf. I found Healthy Child, Healthy World, written by Christopher Gavigan of the non-profit by the same name, to be practical, helpful, inspiring and informative. The book demystifies the world of environmental awareness using science, experts and, sigh, celebrities. From craft supplies to cleaning supplies, it cuts through all the confusing information and advertising out there and boils it down to what you need to know to make informed decisions.

I also appreciated the practical advice to start making changes with the things I use a lot, such as food, and make switches in other areas later. Still at times the book felt overwhelming. After reading each chapter I could easily list half a dozen things I wanted to change right away. It was an easier read when I took it one chapter at a time and then put it away for a few days, which gave me time to process each chapter’s large volume of information.

I’ve read through the whole book once but have referred to it many times since and will continue to do so. I recommend you look it up and see if it can help you and your family live greener and healthier, hopefully more so than Mr. Maguire.

Squished but Inspired at Stumptown

Last night was a standing-room only crowd at the downtown Stumptown Coffee. It was hot, it was crowded but it was fascinating to hear directly from some of Stumptown’s best coffee producers: Daniel and Rachel Peterson from Hacienda Esmerelda and Ricardo Koyner from Duncan Estate, both Panamanian producers of some incredible coffee, were on hand and Steve and I managed to snag front-row seats, I mean, “standing spots.”

I don’t use the word “incredible” lightly in regards to these coffees. I managed to try a free sample of the organic Duncan Estate coffee, which was rich and dark and delicious even without my usually-required douse of cream. I didn’t make it through the dense crowd to try the Hacienda Esmerelda, unfortunately. That would have been well worth it as a half-pound roasted goes for $100. Stumptown has bought their green beans through the hacienda’s annual on-line auction for over $100 per pound! I figured one of the free samples they were giving out last night (a few sips in the bottom of a small cup) would cost retail more than a full-size regular latte from Stumptown but alas it was not meant to be for me last night.

Nevertheless Steve and I left inspired after hearing from both the Petersons and Ricardo about the painstaking processes they all follow to create such a fine product. Both families trace their coffee growing roots back to their grandfathers’ generation so this work is in their blood. They are innovators in the coffee world because they are constantly looking for new ways to not only produce incredibly delicious coffees but they also protect their native environment through organic growing methods and go above and beyond in caring for their employees through services including free medical care and childcare.

There’s something so human about meeting the people who produce what I consume. Granted I don’t pay $100/ half-pound for my coffee but the Duncan Estate organic coffee is far closer to my price range. When I meet people who create a product I consume I value that product so much more. It becomes more than a product, it becomes an extension of those people themselves when I understand how they pour their hearts and souls into crafting it. I may not have a cup from Hacienda La Esmeralda in my future but last night’s experience gives me a greater appreciation for whatever cup of coffee I enjoy.

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