Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Year - A "Greener" You

As we say goodbye to 2008 and welcome in the New Year, millions of people will be making New Year's Resolutions. Exercise equipment will fly off store-room floors and shelves as people resolve that this is the year that they will lose weight and get in shape. Resolutions such as these are great if you stick with them. Here are some changes that you can make right now to start off the New Year "Green".

Change a light bulb. You have probably heard this many times before but this is one of the easiest things you can do for the environment. By changing your light bulbs over to either compact fluorescents or LED bulbs you will also save money on your electric bill. According to a New York Times article last December, a bill was passed so that by the year 2012 all inefficient incandescent light bulbs will no longer be sold in stores. If you cannot change your current light bulbs all at once because of the higher cost, just change one or two at a time, or go room by room. Every little bit helps.

Sleep "green". I know it is a bit early for spring cleaning and the ritualistic airing out of the mattress, but put some thought into investing in organic mattresses, bedding and pajamas. We spend one-third of our lives sleeping and if you are doing so on a conventional mattress, you are breathing in some pretty nasty stuff. All mattresses and much of kids' sleepwear are now coated in a cocktail of flame-retardant chemicals classified as Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) This toxic brew includes Antimony Trioxide and are classified as neurotoxins and possible carcinogens. They are linked to learning disabilities and even seizures. There are many companies that offer chemical-free alternatives to help you cut back on inhaling and absorbing these dangerous toxins. If you find organic mattresses unaffordable, you can wrap your current mattresses to prevent out-gassing. *See Resources.

Go cloth. We are talking diapers and bags here. Manufacturing of plastic diapers and bags are a huge contributor to environmental pollution and are disposed of in massive amounts. Plastic bags can take a thousand years to decompose, and plastic diapers, five hundred years! Many consumers have made the switch to more economical cloth that helps save money and natural resources. Opt for organic cotton whenever possible so that you are not contributing to the way conventional cotton farmers pollute with pesticides.

Shop local. Scout out your local farmer's markets and health food stores and find out where their produce comes from. Look for CSA's nearby where you can get in-season, organic, locally-grown produce. Shopping local insures that you are getting fresh food that hasn't traveled thousands of miles to get to your table. You are also helping to save fuel and lessen greenhouse gas emissions.

Build "green". If you are planning on doing any home building or remodeling projects in the coming year, consider more eco-friendly options. By choosing bamboo or maple flooring, reclaimed wood cabinets and furniture, energy efficient windows, VOC-free paint, denim insulation, recycled glass countertops, solar or wind power, a tankless water heater and Energy Star appliances you are taking a huge step towards a healthier home for you and your family. You are also reducing indoor and outdoor pollution which is wonderful for the environment.

Take the time to make changes throughout the year and make it a great 2008. These small steps can add up to significant savings financially, physically and help preserve the Earth and its God-given natural resources for future generations.


LED Lights

Organic Mattresses & Bedding

Cloth Diapers

Cloth Bags

Mattress Wrapping Info

Additional Mattress Wrapping Info

Local Farmer's Markets & CSA's

Harvest Eating

Written by Sarah Outlaw originally for Natural Life 101.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Have a Healthy Holiday!

Merry Christmas everyone!

There is nothing worse than being sick for the Holidays and not being able to enjoy all the wonderful sights, smells and sounds that this Season brings. Here are a few healthy tips from my family to yours to keep you feeling healthy and festive.

Everyone should be taking probiotics daily and if you are traveling, you will want to take them with you to help prevent "traveler’s diarrhea" and stomach viruses. Probiotic information could fill up an entire article, but simply put, they are the good bacteria in your intestines that fight viruses, bacteria and keep your immune system functioning properly. If you find yourself in the throws of a stomach virus or food poisoning, increased dosages of probiotics could literally save your life. Try to find a brand that is shelf-stable so that you can easily take it with you. Keep in mind that there are different strains of probiotics for adults and children, so be sure to read the labels carefully. You should also look for a good quality brand that has many different strains and a high bacteria count.

Digestive enzymes are a wonderful addition to your daily health regimen and will help to digest those big dinners that we all tend to eat this time of year and eliminate the gas and bloating afterwards. Cooking food destroys most if not all of the valuable enzymes, so if you are not eating any raw or fermented foods consider taking a supplement. You will want to look for a brand that targets both the upper and lower intestines. Be prepared to spend around $30 for a good quality brand. You do not want to go cheap with these because they may not work as well as you need them too.

Vitamin C is crucial this time of year especially because we tend to eat less fresh fruits and vegetables. Adding a fruit and vegetable supplement like Juice Plus, Barleans, or Garden of Life can be helpful for your overall health and wellness. Did you know that humans, guinea pigs, some primates, some parrots and fruit bats are the only known species that do not produce their own vitamin C? Buffered vitamin C in powdered form is easy to take in juice or water by both adults and children. Chewable vitamin C is best to avoid for children as it can contribute to tooth decay. One of my personal favorites is Emergen-C which is sold in most health and drug stores. It is a powdered vitamin C and mineral complex packaged individually so the are convenient for travel. Rose Hip syrup is also a wonderful source of vitamin C and very delicious.

Fish or Cod Liver Oil are beneficial as an everyday supplement and can be taken by adults, infants and children. During the spring and summer it is best to take fish oil as it does not contain vitamin D. Because the sun’s UVB rays metabolize vitamin D and are the sole source, you do not want to overdose on vitamin D by additionally taking a supplement that contains it. During the fall and winter months vitamin D production is reduced and Cod Liver Oil is a wonderful source. The main reason we take fish oil supplements is for the Omega-3 fatty acids they contain. Standard American diets are deficient in essential fatty acids and need to be dramatically increased.

Herbal remedies and homeopathic remedies are an effective way to boost immunity and stimulate the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Some of the most popular remedies include Echinacea and Astragulus which are incredible immune system boosters. If you have an autoimmune disease, medicinal mushrooms including Reishi, Shiitake, and Maitake are excellent for those with autoimmune diseases because they strengthen rather than boost the immune system. Homeopathic remedies are to be taken based on individual symptoms and there is a remedy for basically everything that ails you.

Armed with these healthy tips you can celebrate confidentially this Holiday Season knowing that you are prepared for the common illnesses that could try to dampen your spirits.

Have a Healthy, Happy Holiday.

The information contained here is not meant to diagnose or treat any disease nor should it be misconstrued as medical advice. If you have medical related questions please consult your Physician or Holistic Doctor.


Probiotic Information:

Herbs and Alternative Medicine:

Nutrition and Supplement Information:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Toy Safety Legislation: Good Intentions Lead to Catastrophic Results for the Natural Toys Industry

This effects all of us, both consumers and retailers.

Imagine Christmas morning without Selecta, Haba, Sarah's Silks, Etsy toys, or American toys from small, creative mom-and-pop natural toycompanies. It reminds one of the Grinch who stole Christmas—and unfortunately, it is days away from coming to pass. That's why we desperately need your help to contact your representatives in Congress and share your concerns.

Parents everywhere have been deeply concerned and up in arms about the unsafe state of toys in the USA. We've been happy to see lawsformed to ensure more safety for children everywhere. It's been disappointing to find out that the law is not retroactive—but now,there is even more disappointment at hand. The new testing protocolswill ironically hurt and undermine the one group that has been a toy safety advocate for children all along: safe, principled, small and independent toymakers and sellers.

The new toy safety law, if not ammended, will require every toymaker(including the ones we love so much on Etsy) to test each toy at acost of $500 to $1500 per toy. European toy companies will also haveto retest their toys, at the same expense, with a company that teststo American standards. This sounds fair, until you consider that Europe has an established, exceptionally thorough and successful testing system in place, and the tests would be redundant.
Increased toy safety is absolutely the right direction for our country; however, a poorly nuanced law like this one, as it stands,will devastate the very best parts of the toy industry and leave only companies like Mattel and Fisher Price standing.

Please write and/or call your representative to share your concern.



Here's an example:

Holztiger is a beloved German toy company that produces wooden animals and figures, painted with clean, non-toxicpaints. If they were to meet this new law's testing requirements,instead of only having to test a vat of paint, which could be appliedto 300 different animals, they have to test each animal or figure individually. A small company like Holztiger would have to spend$150,000 to $450,000 to test 300 toys. And this would need to be done on a regular basis—at least annually, but possibly with each production run.

Sarah's Silks is a beloved and popular source for playsilks, canopies, and more. They produce their silks in a Chinese village within a program that allows mothers to be work-at-home-moms. Sarah's Silks also runs a Waldorf school in China with the proceeds from its business. They would need to test each color silk four times, giventhe four components of the playsilk.

Yesterday, Selecta, a German natural toy company, announced that they will no longer sell their toys in the USA. "This is just the beginning of the disappearance of natural toys in the USA," said Rob Wilson of Challenge and Fun, an online natural toy store.

Says Adam Frost of, "We are very selective in the manufacturers we work with. In our discussions with these workshops,we've been told by many that they are satisfied that their toys andstuffed animals meet or exceed all safety standards, and that theywould not be able to bear the expense of testing. (The same of courseis true for small American manufacturers who produce their goods inthis country.) This would in effect cut off the supply of all those toys that have been held up as exemplars of good craftsmanship, the imaginative and natural toys to which many parents have turned sincethe lead scares began to happen a year or more ago."

Reposted from a message board posting.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Back to Basics

By Sarah Outlaw

Have you ever heard the expression, “The best things in life aren’t things”? As I sit here and contemplate Christmases past, I can’t help but long for the simpleness that seems to have disappeared as times have changed and years have gone by. I can remember being perfectly happy with plain wooden blocks or a trash-picked refrigerator box as a child. I would imagine that the box was my house and that the blocks were my furniture or food. My sister and I used to dress up in long flowery skirts and aprons and pretend we were Laura and Mary Ingalls from The Little House on the Prairie. We used to spend all day, my brother included, exploring the woods behind our house or climbing up on to the roof of our barn. We had a small shed in our yard with a hand-me-down wooden kitchen set that provided hours of entertainment.

As a child I didn’t feel like my “stuff” defined me. Times are different now with parents waiting in line at stores for hours and sometimes even days for the latest game system. Consumerism is all around us and kids’ worth is unfortunately judged on what they have, especially by other kids. I am not saying that “stuff” is bad. I am also not saying that you shouldn’t buy toys for your children because toys are important. I am simply stating that too many people believe that what they own makes them who they are. This is not the message that we want to instill in our children.

What is consumerism really, and how can we fight it? Consumerism is an “attitude that values the acquisition of material goods”. It can also be defined as “an attachment to materialistic values or possessions”. I cannot tell you how many times I have fallen into the consumerist’s materialistic trap. My children see a commercial or an ad for the latest toy and I feel guilty if I don’t get it for them. My seven-year-old presents me with a Christmas list with nothing on it that I feel good about buying, but I end up at the store looking for those items anyway. The grandparents want to know what to get the kids so I just tell them what is on their lists. I feel that if I don’t buy them what they want that they will feel slighted or that I don’t love them. Reality check! I know better than that and you should too. Children need to be taught to value other people over things that they can posses. Having the latest fad toy is not going to help them become a kind, caring, and upstanding member of society. They will get bored with it sooner than later and move onto the next new thing. Why do you think that Goodwill and thrift stores never go out of business?Perhaps the best way to fight consumerism is to be conscious of it. If we acknowledge that it is rampant in our society, we are then able to teach our children to be less materialistic.

One of the best ways to stop kids from wanting so much stuff is to turn the television off during commercials. This does not work as well once they get older but when they are young, children are very much visual learners. They want what they see, especially when it is so glamorously portrayed on TV.

I recently came across a wonderful website and video called the “The Story of Stuff”. I recommend that everyone watch the video to better understand consumerism and why so many mothers and others are passionate about fighting it. In this video, the host brings up the point that though we have so much stuff we are unhappy. This is because we think that our stuff will make us happy.

This fact was driven home for me last Christmas during a gift exchange my kids had. None of the children present were satisfied with the gifts they chose and they all went home in tears. The teachers and the parents were appalled at the selfishness of them all. No one could understand how these children could be so upset about getting presents! This happens when we put more value on things than on people. Our children are being taught very well by big businesses and society. It is time to turn the tables on society and get back to basics.

As we celebrate this year, remember to take the time to model for your children things like empathy, kindness, love and grace. Don’t let “stuff” take away what this Season means to you and your family. Help to break this cycle of putting things above people and start valuing what really matters; each other.


The Story of Stuff

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Greening" The Season

By Sarah Outlaw

Growing up in New Jersey, I remember Christmas with cold, crisp air and the smell of freshly cut Evergreen trees. I am in Southern California now where memories like white Christmases and ice skating on the pond down the road from our old farmhouse are things of the past. I’m not sure why, but I always thought that Californians all had those big aluminum trees like the ones Lucy longed for in ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’. Obviously I was mistaken. My family always had a cut tree or a live tree when I was a child. Some years my dad cut cedar trees down, which smelled like dirt and truly were “Charlie Brown” trees. You know the kind where the branches droop as soon as you put the ornaments on? That always gave everyone a good laugh. Other years we picked out and cut down our own tree from a Christmas tree farm. I didn’t know much about “green” or sustainable living back then but I have learned a few things along the way about having a “green” Christmas from Eco-giving to decorating that I would like to share.

The Lights

Christmastime is by far the most taxing time of year for the power plants. All those meticulously lighted homes put a real drain on energy. You can help lessen the strain. A simple solution would be to use LED lights instead. LED lights are very environmentally friendly, don’t contain mercury like compact fluorescents and use less energy. Many Christmas light companies make LED lights now so they shouldn’t be too hard to find.

The Tree

This is one of the touchiest subjects among “greenies”. The controversy lies in whether to get a cut tree or a live tree, an artificial tree or a real tree. There are pros and cons on all sides of this heated argument.Artificial tree factories pollute the environment tremendously; not-to-mention that the PVC plastic used to make the trees is highly toxic. Most artificial trees are manufactured in China where the potential for lead poisoning from one of those trees is very high. The thought of fuel costs and carbon emissions associated with shipping these trees all over the world is enough for anyone to realize that this may not be the best choice for the Eco-conscious person.Live trees can only be indoors for about a week or they will be less likely to survive outdoors once planted On the other hand, cut trees could be considered sustainable when they come from environmentally friendly farms that replant each year. Most pesticides will have washed or blown off by the time you are ready to purchase but some may remain. You can try to find an organic Christmas tree farm (See Resources below) but if the farm is to far away it may not be economical to purchase one.If you do decide to get a cut tree, there are things for you to consider when the Holidays are over. Some options include recycling the tree or using it for the birds or firewood. You will want to avoid tinsel or snow flocking if you plan to recycle the tree as this will make it ineligible.

The Decorations

We have heard a lot about lead this year with all the toy recalls from China. Unfortunately, many imported ornaments are covered in lead paint that easily chips. It is not a good idea to have lead paint present in a home with children or pets. Homemade, wood, or stainless steel ornaments are the safest options. Popping popcorn or stringing cranberries can be family traditions that make a comeback this year. Candles are very popular this time of year but can contain some very unfriendly ingredients including lead. Look for candles that are free from petroleum-based paraffin, those that are soy-based, and that don’t contain lead.

The Gifts

Once again, with all the lead paint concerns it may be best to skip the painted toys this year. Plastic toys have their own set of dangers with phthalates and Bis phenol-A. Wooden toys offer a safer alternative but be sure to buy from manufacturers that use sustainable resources and non-toxic finishes. Go back to the basics with blocks and wooden trains. Children can use their imaginations and create whatever they want from the simplest toys. Gift baskets full of non-toxic cleaning products or organic foods make wonderful gifts. You can also make your own herbal gifts like bath salts and herbal sprays or Flower Essences. Choose lotions and personal care products wisely. Look for ones that are paraben and chemical-free and contain natural fragrances and essential oils. Organic is always the best choice, but be sure to look for the USDA or Certified Organic seal. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, chances are you don’t want to put that product on your body. Instead of standard wrapping paper, try pillow cases, cloth or recycled gift bags. You can also purchase gift wrap made from recycled paper or go treeless altogether. Check your local health food store or see Resources below.

This time of year can be stressful as it is and overhauling your entire Holiday can add to that stress. Just be aware of the changes that you can make to have a healthier, safer and “greener” Holiday and take it one step at a time.

As you celebrate this year, keep old traditions alive for your children and make new memories.

Remember the Reason for the Season.


Organic Christmas Trees:

Tree Recycling:

LED Lights:

Wrapping Paper and Bags:


Herbal Gift Recipes and Supplies:


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Harvest Salad - I'm Addicted!

I teach after-school enrichment classes and this is one of the recipes that we make this time of year. I am totally addicted to it! I could eat a whole batch myself...and have!

Harvest Salad

1/4 cup Balsamic (preferably White Balsamic) or Rice vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey (preferably Raw)
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup olive oil
10 oz mixed salad greens (preferably organic)
1 apple or pear – sliced (ditto)
8 oz crumbled feta cheese
½ cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup walnuts or pecans (my favorite)–(optional)

In a blender combine vinegar, mustard, honey, the 1/4 teaspoon salt, and some fresh ground black pepper.

Cover and blend for 30 seconds.

With the blender running slowly, add oil in a thin, steady stream. (If necessary, stop blender and scrape down sides.)

In a salad bowl, combine greens, apple or pear, feta cheese, cranberries and walnuts.

Drizzle with dressing.

Toss gently to coat.

Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Serve and join my addiction!