Kids Go Global Travel Contest – My Other Blog

In my other life I’m a mom to Grace, 17 months old, and my husband Steve and I have a separate blog, Kids Go Global, where we blog about travel with kids, especially internationally. Today we launched a really cool contest with the grand prize of an Ergo Baby Carrier travel system. If you have kids and have ever traveled with them, this contest is for you!


Play Fair: Putting Old Toys To New Uses

When my daughter Grace was born 16 months ago, my husband Steve and I swore we wouldn’t let our home be run over with plastic, flashing, beeping toys. We’ve mostly avoided the “plastic, flashing, beeping” part but we haven’t done so well on the “not over-run” part. One corner of our living room (where we allocate the toys) is scattered 12 hours of the day with books, wooden blocks, stuffed animals, a shape sorter, and at times, assorted cardboard boxes. Some nights one of us shoves all the toys and books back into the big rattan toy box and the pink book basket, other nights we just sigh and walk away. Mostly it’s a sweet mess, since it means Grace has had a full, fun day.

Last week I realized Grace needed a toy upgrade. I don’t mean she needed some fancy new model of a toy, I just meant that when I wasn’t looking she moved beyond the baby rattles and push toys. Not wanting to spend a lot of money on new toys that will, like so many kids’ toys, be cast aside long before they’re worn out, my husband and I tried to think of creative ways to get some second-hand toys.

A trip to Goodwill yielded a plastic telephone (fun) and Grace’s first (and last) plastic-beeping-flashing toy that is driving me a little bit bonkers but she can’t get enough of it. A request to my die-hard garage-saling mother resulted in a huge bucket of like-new duplo building blocks that were only $1! They’ve been a huge hit. And then today our sweet neighbor boy, Nolan (age 4), showed up with two big stacks of his and his brother’s board books they’ve outgrown. As Nolan informed us, he is not “sharing” his books with Grace, they are Grace’s books (i.e. don’t even think about giving those baby books back to me!) So in the course of one week and for less than $10 Grace now has more than $150 worth of gently used toys and books, all which are age-appropriate and lots of fun. To me that just feels really good. Now if I could only figure out how to kill that beeping-flashing toy…

Do you have a great source for second-hand toys?

The “Magic” Soap You Can Use For Everything

I was just recently introduced to the wonders of Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soaps. The soap has been around forever, at least since the hippy days, but a more recent development is that they are certified organic and certified fair trade!

Dr. Bronner’s castile soap is an all-vegetable soap made from fair trade oils such as coconut and olive. There is absolutely nothing synthetic in these soaps and not only are the soaps biodegradable, their funky packaging (covered in Dr. Bronner’s eccentric philosophies) is 100% post-consumer waste recycled. The great thing about this soap is you can use it for absolutely anything! Here are just a few uses listed on Dr. Bronner’s website:

  • Bodywash or shampoo. It’s especially good for babies as it’s gentle and all-natural, although don’t get it in their eyes
  • Everyday cleaning using a ratio of 40 parts water to one part soap (light cleaning) or half water half soap (heavy cleaning)
  • Toothbrushing using just a few drops on your toothbrush
  • Laundry using 1/3 to 1/4 cup plus a dash of baking soda

I have yet to use my Dr. Bronner’s much but I have a big bottle of peppermint scented soap and a little bottle of lavender soap just waiting to be put to use. I did wash my hands this morning using a small squirt of the lavender soap and my hands still feel soft, smooth and smell great. As soon as my hand soap pumps are empty of their artificial, store-bought contents I’m going to refill them using this recipe I found on Enviromom:

1 cup water
1/4 cup liquid castile soap (like Dr. Bronners)
1 tsp vegetable glycerine

I think I’m going to quickly be hooked on this stuff. I’ve slowly switched to mostly natural cleaning and personal care products but most of them are so expensive. One big 16 ounce bottle of Dr. Bronner’s is under $10 at New Season’s or Trader Joe’s and can replace the myraid of various natural products I’ve been buying. The one use I think I’ll be slow on picking up is brushing my teeth with it though.

Leave me a comment and tell us how you have used Dr. Bronner’s. I’d love to hear more ideas and your experiences.

Coming tomorrow: Fair trade lotions and lip balms, continuing two weeks of fair trade product reviews for Fair Trade fortnight.

Fresh Baked Fair Trade Cookies

I love to bake. Now that I’m a mom I have more excuses than ever (never mind my child is still a baby and doesn’t care if I feed her cake or vegetables, so we usually go with vegetables). One of my favorite things to bake is chocolate chip cookies from a recipe my mom cut out of The Oregonian a few years ago. She’s converted the recipe to be Fair Trade Chocolate Chip Cookies just by using certified ingredients. They were amazing to begin with and now they are incredible, since they help farmers and their communities.

The three fair trade ingredients she uses are:

Chocolate Chips Sunspire makes a brand of fair trade chocolate chips available at Whole Foods. They haven’t always been in stock when I’ve looked for them but generally are. Look for the Transfair logo.

Vanilla – Vanilla plants in many parts of the world have to be hand-pollinated, making it by some accounts the most labor-intensive crop on the planet. Vanilla prices skyrocketed in 2000 following environmental disasters in some of the biggest vanilla producing countries. Many companies switched to synthetic vanilla flavoring as a result while, at the same time, farmers around the world planted more vanilla to try to capitalize on the high prices. These forces combined caused prices to drop more than 90% and put the vanilla industry in general in crisis.

I only use real vanilla in my baking and I want the industry to thrive, not be in danger of extinction all together. Fair trade vanilla ensures the farmers receive a livable wage for their efforts. I found Frontier fair trade vanilla at Whole Foods. The vanilla is from India and is grown using sustainable agriculture practices, according to the bottle.

Fair Trade SugarWholesome Sweeteners offers a wide range of fair trade sugars, which I’ve seen at Haggen’s, Whole Foods and New Seasons in my area. The U.S. grows 80% of our sugar domestically and imports the rest. Sugar is a polluting crop in the U.S. and is highly subsidized by the government, meaning it’s really not economical to grow it domestically but our government uses tax money to pay farmers to grow it to make it worth their while. The sugar we do import is grown by impoverished farmers in the developing world, according to Transfair, who have a hard time competing because of our subsidies and tariffs. Fair trade sugar ensures the farmers receive fair wages plus that they follow strict environmental standards. Fair trade sugar is significantly more expensive than conventional, sometimes three times as expensive or more, in large part because of our subsidies. I still buy U.S. grown white sugar and have been buying fair trade brown sugar, since the price difference isn’t quite as great as it is with white.

Here’s how to use these fair trade ingredients for a scrumptious batch of fresh cookies:

Fair Trade Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup whole-barley flour (available where Bob’s Red Mills flours are sold)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup fair trade brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp. instant espresso powder
2 tsp. fair trade vanilla
1 Tbs. cider vinegar
1 egg
2 cups fair trade chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flours with the salt, baking soda and baking powder. Cream butter with sugar and espresso powder until smooth and somewhat lightened. Add vanilla, vinegar and egg; then mix in dry ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips by hand. Drop spoonfuls of batter on baking sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes, until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes before transferring to rack to cool completely.

Did you try these cookies at the trunk show Saturday? They ran out fast but if you were lucky enough to get one, what did you think?

Coming tomorrow: Day four in two weeks of product reviews for Fair Trade Fortnight. Tomorrow’s product is a book that will help you shop better, no matter what you’re in the market for.

Best of the Better Living Show

My friend Kecia and I, along with Grace, braved the crowds of this green expo last Saturday here in Portland. The mix of vendors was incredible and I regretted putting Grace in the stroller, since it made it difficult to navigate the packed aisles let alone actually enter a booth and see the offerings up close. Still I managed to take note of some really cool companies doing great things for people and the planet. Bambootique didn’t have a booth at this event but I’ll be the first to admit product_thumbphp.jpgthere are a lot of other cool companies out there. Here’s a run-down of a few I liked:

Baskets from recycled chopsticks. Kecia and I went in together on their special buy three, get one free on these cool reworkings of used chopsticks. Yes, we asked, they have been cleaned and sanitized before being made into all kinds ofelephant_poo_paper.gif
creative designs.

Paper made from elephant poo. This paper is gorgeous and 75% of the content comes from the fiber “discarded” by elephants.

Burgerville. My favorite fast-food restaurant and only found in the Pacific Northwest. The rest of the country, you have no idea what you’re missing. They compost, they recycle, they convert their french fry oil into biofuel, they buy wind energy, and they buy the majority of their meat and produce locally.

Alternative energy for churches. My church has been moving towards making our building more sustainable and I’m excited to pass along information about Oregon Interfaith Power and Light. This organization assists churches in being better stewards of energy and to investigating the use of solar power.

In light of my recent posting on cloth diapers, I was also pleased to find a cloth diapering business there. Punkin Butt is a Tualatin-based cloth diapering company and I plan to buy my supplies from them next time Grace grows out of her cloth diaper covers.

There were lots of other great booths but these were the ones that caught my attention (and which my stroller could fit into!). I wished I had seen more fair trade companies present. There were a few but they were not very prominent. Fair trade is so closely tied with green issues, but the two get separated far too often. If you had a chance to check out the show, let me know what was most interesting to you.

The Fuss About Cloth Diapers

In my experience as a mom (14 months to date) the general consensus about cloth diapers seems to be that they are either for hippies or for moms with way too much time on their hands. I am neither but in the last month I made the switch. Yes, we are now a cloth diapering home, although over a year into the diapering experience. Better late than never I suppose!

Can someone please explain to me what all the fuss is about? Cloth diapers are EASY. I can’t believe I didn’t use them from the beginning but it just seemed like so much work, so messy, so old-fashioned. For the past year we’ve used a combination of gdiapers (a flushable disposable diaper) and regular disposables. Gdiapers require a cloth outer cover in which you lay a new gdiaper insert each time you change the baby. They worked really well for us but are quite expensive (30-40 cents per diaper depending on where you buy them).

I was inspired to make the switch after reading my last issue of Mothering magazine, which had a cover story about cloth diapering. The article made it sound so simple plus pointed out the environmental benefits of cloth and the toxic chemicals present in disposables. I called up my local diaper service, TideeDidee, to find out the costs involved and discovered I would actually save several dollars a week using cloth, even with a diaper service. No extra laundry, no dirty diapers to rinse (with diaper service you just throw the diapers into the bin, no rinsing required), plus I found out my gdiaper covers would work so there were no additional cloth diaper covers to buy. I figured I had nothing to lose, I could always cancel the service and return to my old system if I hated cloth.

It’s been a month of cloth so far and both my husband and I agree it’s just not that hard. I can fold the cloth insert, lay it in the gdiaper cover and velcro it all shut (no safety pins required) around Grace in the same amount of time it takes me to unfold a disposable. The diapers don’t smell thanks to a little air freshener the diaper service provides, and the diaper delivery man (woman?) comes and goes unnoticed every Friday morning, leaving us a new pile of freshly washed white diapers.

The environmental difference between cloth and disposable has been debated for years, but it turns out the U.S. studies that equated the impact of both received funding from diaper making companies such as Procter and Gamble. I prefer to base my decisions on unbiased research and all the environmental groups websites I read, such as Treehugger, support the use of cloth diapers. Even with the use of a diaper service, cloth diapers use less energy. Some argue that the diaper service is more energy efficient than washing at home since the service uses large industrial washing machines and dryers to wash many more diapers at a time.

The final clincher for me to make the switch though was when I read that many children potty train up to 6 months earlier with cloth diapers. The technology used in disposable diapers is so advanced the child never feels wet, but with cloth diapers they are aware much sooner of their own bodily functions. The thought of getting Grace out of diapers weeks or months earlier made me want to dance in the streets. The sooner she is potty trained, the better for me and for the planet. I’m glad I made the switch and wish I had done it earlier.

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