Friday, August 29, 2008

Environmental Concerns Not Even A Topic of Discussion at ADA Conference?

I took EGirl to the dentist last week right before school started, to get the shining of the pearly-whites out of the way before life got more hectic. My dentist and I chatted once again about the topics that intrigue me: the safety of fluoride (whether in water or toothpaste) and the possibility of a link to bone cancer in boys (see this Eugene Weekly review of the issue from 2005 for a great overview of the controversy); sealants and whether BPA leaching out of them is a health concern; and mercury fillings' wastewater as an environmental hazard. My dentist is pretty comfortable with these topics, well-read, and open to discussion. She didn't come down definitively on any of the issues (hot button topics that need more research in all cases). We both were pretty middle of the road in terms of seeing a true need for cavity prevention (literal British teeth in our family), but she did comment that the ADA conference, which she recently attended, didn't address any of my questions. She suggested I write the ADA to tell them to at least put these issues on the docket for their next round. Even if these topics turn out to be non-issues, you'd think dentists would want to discuss fully how to allay their patients' fears given the level of BPA press alone this year.

So, thanks for the suggestion, doc! Done and done. If y'all want to follow suit, here's my letter:

American Dental Association
211 East Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611-2678

To Whom it May Concern:

I recently took my child to the dentist and had a number of questions for my dental health provider. Apparently, none of my questions were addressed at the last ADA conference (which she'd just attended). I would like to outline my areas of interest in the hope that the ADA will be able to discuss and continue to study these issues within your professional community. I am aware that the ADAs official positions on fluoride and BPA are on the website, but in both cases the ADA acknowledges that more research needs to be done to determine if a health concern exists. Please continue to discuss these topics and to inform the public about updated studies of the safety of these chemicals.


With regard to fluoridation of water, as the ADA states on its website, there is a controversy regarding a possible link between fluoride supplementation and bone cancer in boys (my dentist mentioned that this was a "hot topic" in Sweden at the moment and that the issue seems to arise cyclically).

While reading up on the issue, I came across the following additional environmental concerns about fluoride: 1)that the type of fluoride used in municipal water treatment may have persistent organic pollutants bound to it (because "most is industrial waste: sodium
fluoride, sodium fluorosilicate and fluorosilicic acid from phosphate fertilizer, glass, steel and aluminum production. Unlike organic fluorine, these compounds come with pollutant hitchhikers that get a free ride into public water supplies." (via ScienceDaily) and 2)even the levels of fluoride considered safe for humans may be affecting marine organisms.

Regarding the possibility of a bone cancer link, the ADA in 2006 put out a press release noting that it "will require scientific confirmation to confirm or refute the findings." I wonder if there's been any more recent research on this topic? What about the other areas of concern ie the ingestion of persistent organic pollutants and the effects of fluoride on marine life?


Regarding the BPA in sealants, some research seems to indicate that it may be soluble in saliva at high levels during or immediately after application. (In the March 2006 Journal of the
American Dental Association, researchers tested 14 volunteers immediately after sealant application and found that patients who received Delton Light Cure (LC) Opaque brand absorbed about 110 micrograms of BPA, 20 times that absorbed by recipients of another brand, Helioseal F (5.5 micrograms). Delton Light Cure (LC) leached amounts similar to those that caused developmental toxicity in rodent studies and, at 42.8 parts per billion (ppb), are higher than the
highest amount found in canned food, 38 ppb.... ") Is there an alternative to BPA-based sealants that is effective and safe? I tend to try to avoid potentially toxic chemicals (like endocrine disruptors) even if the jury's still out because I have young children with developing bodies. If I am getting rid of a baby bottle that may or may not leach minute amounts of BPA, I certainly want to avoid a massive ingestion of BPA during the application of a tooth sealant.

The ADA's public statement on Bisphenol-A concludes that "any concern about potential BPA exposure from dental composites or sealants is unwarranted at this time. When compared with all other sources of BPA, these dental materials pose significantly lower exposure concerns." While it seems that the aforementioned study might contradict that statement, I am no scientist (just a concerned mother). So I am thrilled to read that "the ADA is a professional association of dentists who remain committed to the public’s oral health. As such, we strongly support additional research into human exposure to BPA and any health effects it may cause." Could you update me as to the status of the BPA research the ADA's aware of? Is the ADA continuing with an internal dialogue on this matter?

3. Mercury Pollution

It's my understanding that research has shown mercury amalgalm fillings to be safe for humans -- but it sounds like the wastewater leaving dentists' offices may be polluting our water supply.

"Mercury is a large component of dental fillings, but it is not believed to pose immediate health risks in that form. When exposed to sulfate-reducing bacteria, however, mercury undergoes a chemical change and becomes methylated, making it a potent, ingestible neurotoxin. While the major source of neurotoxic mercury comes from coal-fired electric power plants, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and at Urbana-Champaign say mercury entering drain
water from dental clinics and offices is also a source. "We found the highest levels of methyl mercury ever reported in any environmental water sample," said Karl Rockne, associate professor of environmental engineering at UIC and corresponding author of the study that appeared online March 12 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology." (via EurekaAlert)

What is the ADA's stance on this topic? Is there any safe alternative to mercury-based fillings? How might dentists mitigate the environmental pollution associated with drain water?

Thank you very much. I am not trying to be alarmist about any of these topics, and your website does a good job of addressing the ADA's stance on both fluoride and BPA. I'd just love to see further study and conversation about all of these topics.


Read more!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

First Compost Complete

Hey! I am so excited. We got to use finished compost for the first time, to start some fall seeds and to replenish our soil in the community garden plot. It was pretty interesting sifting through the lumpy contents of our tumbler so I thought I'd share our successes and failures. We have a tumbler that you can rotate by flipping it over. I will confess that we were erratic about rotating it, and I can vouchsafe that our pile was probably not as piping hot as compost piles get. Still, for a beginner, I'm pretty happy with the results -- we made compost! Compost that we can use! That won't go to the landfill! Wooooo hoooooo!

What did break down?

  • lint
  • bread
  • veggie and fruit scraps galore
  • dog hair
  • leaves
  • bagasse plates and cups from a block party -- I would definitely use these again
  • corrugated cardboard
  • cotton cloth

What didn't break down?

Fascinating to see the process from start to finish, and I am thrilled to be composting our scraps once again. Now, if Worms Eat My Garbage would just come in to my local library -- I actually cleared a couple shelves in my laundry room so I am definitely heading down the wriggler path.

Read more!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Protein-Packed Granola Recipe

We lurve granola in our house. Crunchy people, crunchy breakfast, right? But, really, what's a girl to do when Whole Paycheck's bulk bins have stale granola in 'em and I'm too lazy to get myself all the way over to the People's Republic of Takoma Park to their commie co-op nirvana of bulky goodness? Make my own cereal, of course. And, since I am even lazier than that, I had to shake down my interweb friends for recipes. So a huge thanks and shout-out to Jodifur, GreenBeanDreams, and BurbanMom for their amalgamated recipe(s). I also ripped off parts of a granola recipe from my Vegetarian Times Cookbook, btw. Since I grew up in the same house as a man I'll affectionately call Pumpkin Head (not to have gross insensitivity to people who suffer from life-threatening allergies, but, well, to have gross insensitivity in all honesty?), we avoid nuts in our home. Tree nuts, peanuts, you name it. I do, however, love the crunch and protein power packed in those yummy seeds. So consider this doctored recipe my paeon to crunchy, nut-free granola goodness.

MamaBird's Granola

7 cups rolled oats (not quick cook)
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 cup millet
1 cup (uncooked) oat bran cereal
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup honey
1 cup olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup flaxseeds (I used toasted ones)
1/4 cup maple syrup
5 egg whites
1 cup apricots + 1 cup diced dried plums OR 1 cup dried cranberries + 1 cup dried blueberries

I know you're not going to believe this from a kid who used to ask her mom if we could find yogurts with no sugar or artificial sweeteners, just fruit in them, but I really don't think this recipe is sweet enough. It's pretty good, but I think I will up the maple syrup and brown sugar to a full cup each.

Stir it all together, and bake at 300F for 30-45 minutes. Till it's as crunchy and golden as you like it! Mmmmmmmmm....

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mom, Watch Me!

DC Metro Moms post up musing about the mommy gaze. As in, the ever-elusive full-on MamaBird attention my kids both crave. Read more!

Light Green Thumbs

Post up over at Five Minutes for Going Green about how easy it is to have houseplants - a novice guide to greening your indoors aka embracing desert plants! I know some plants are high maintenance, but if you skip the orchids, cleaning your indoor air can be a breeze. Heh, heh. By the way, if you're local, I have more aloe plants than I know what to do with. Let me know if you want one. Read more!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Green Moms Carnival

Hi folks, in case you're gathering fabulous ideas as you get ready for the first day (some friends of mine in year-round charters in the District have been back for three weeks! and the teachers are at their desks for sure) -- don't forget to submit entries to the Green Moms Carnival. Send 'em to greenmomscarnival@gmail dot com by Sunday, September 7th for entry in the 9/8/08 carnival! We all want to know what eco tips you've been rustling up for the lunchbox. If you're a blogger, send the link and a description, and if you're a blog reader but want to participate, send me your text and I will post it for you, 'cause yours truly is hosting. Many thanks again to Lynn at Organicmania for kicking off this group of partyin' ecomammas. Enjoy your last few days of sunshine and freedom.... Read more!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Take Action: Bush Trying to Weaken the Environmental Protection Act

Pesky (drowning) polar bears. They might give scientists authority to act immediately on global warming!

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said late Monday the changes were needed to ensure that the Endangered Species Act would not be used as a "back door" to regulate the gases blamed for global warming. In May, the polar bear became the first species declared as threatened because of climate change. Warming temperatures are expected to melt the sea ice the bear depends on for survival.The draft rules would bar federal agencies from assessing the emissions from projects that contribute to global warming and its effect on species and habitats. (AP report via Treehugger)

I'm sure you've heard the palpable alarm from around the blogosphere. Just checkin' to make sure you know how to comment, 'cause the Bush administration (surprise!) is going to make it as difficult as possible by shutting down email comments. Luckily, the NRDC Action Fund's outraged and will submit your comments via paper (or mule, or whatever else the Bush admin demands) if you click here to take you to a simple form letter to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne (took me 10 seconds to personalize):
I strongly oppose your recently announced plan to weaken protections for threatened and endangered wildlife. The Endangered Species Act is our nation's strongest law for protecting wildlife. Its purpose is to ensure that imperiled plants and animals never reach extinction while protecting the habitat on which they depend. This simply won't be possible with the reduced protections outlined in your new plan.

Wildlife protection should be carried out by trained wildlife professionals. But your proposed plan would transfer that responsibility to agencies with no such knowledge or expertise. Furthermore, some agencies' interests could be directly at odds with the well-being of endangered species. By eliminating or reducing the consultation processes long embedded in the law, the proposed plan removes essential safeguards, including independent scientific review. In essence, the plan replaces science with politics.

Environmental protection is a top concern for most Americans. As such, our government should be doing more, not less, to protect endangered wildlife and their habitat. I urge you not to formalize these proposed plans, which would weaken the Endangered Species Act.

In addition, I am very concerned that the Department of Interior is only allowing 30 days for the public to comment on these dramatic changes to the way the Endangered Species Act is implemented. I urge you to extend the comment period to at least 90 days and to hold public hearings on the proposal throughout the United States.
Thanks to Burbanmom and Green Bean Dreams who have been urging me to comment. Three weeks left in the comment period. Hope I can motivate one other lazy late summer slacker!

Read more!

Why I Don't Pay for (Bottled) Water Anymore

Post up at at BlogHer about why I don't pay for bottled water anymore despite my deeply conflicted feelings about safe hydration. Leave a comment there about why you do or don't buy water. Read more!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Planting for Fall Gardens

We had a great weekend here in DC; we're having an anti-August which means it's not been horrifically hot or humid. Made for perfect weather for heading down to our community garden plot to plant some seeds. We put in fall, cool-weather crops: beets, lettuce, arugula, cilantro, a few more sunflowers (smile)...and plan to sow some beans and carrots by next weekend. Most importantly for me, we got to use finished compost to augment our soil! Wooo hooooo. Most importantly for EGirl? We have a baby pumpkin growing!

Later in the fall, I want to plant some onions and garlic, a cover crop to put nitrogen back into the soil, and some early spring seeds like peas. They'll come up first thing after the winter's over. Which will be a great change from the other years when it's been wet and soggy for eons and I've been afraid of stepping around my garden and compacting it down so I blow the entire early cool-weather crop season. Who knew you could do this?

Speaking of my novice gardener status, I thought I'd share the tips I got from the kind and generous Andrea of Andrea's Recipes: August Gardening tips (Virginia) and a fall garden planting guide (North Carolina). Both are germane to the southeast near DC. As is this tip for buying seeds from Ed Bruske of The Slow Cook (on the DCUrban Gardeners yahoogroup): the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. As Ed says,

You can also gain a wealth of knowledge from seed catalogues. My favorite seed company is one not too far from us, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange located outside Charlottesville. They collect a lot of knowledge from local growers and give specific information about planting times for our area. They are also very accessible, not a big, corporate operation.
Happy gardening and I hope you're having your personal version of the perfect Anti-August.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Stack Your Plates To Skip the Plastic Wrap

Did you guys read Super Baby Food? With its 17,000 healthy recipes for maximizing the nutritional value of every morsel your drooling baby eats? The baby equivalent of What To Expect From a Book Chock Full of Guilt Trips for Hormonally Vulnerable Women? Anyhoo, I actually really loved reading Super Baby Food and can heartily recommend it as a curiosity piece. You can read a chapter on grinding seeds and growing your own sprouts and go back to feeding your kid some mushy avocado while you daydream about a decade in which you are able to sleep for more than four consecutive hours. Then read a different book on cutesy food decorations, and go back to feeding your kid some oatios.

But I am totally digressing. This post is about a tricky way to get around plastic wrap and foil. Plastic wrap is fraught with troubles: potential leaching into food, even if it's made from theoretically safer plastics; lack of biodegradability; cutesy holiday patterns. Foil takes a whole lotta energy to produce. So what to do? Use Pyrex and Corningware, 'fo 'sho, but what if you don't have any in the right size and no cash to restock your Tupperware supply with glass and metal tiffins?

Use your *existing* bowls and plates and stack them. Yaron, Super Baby Food author and all-round purveyor of fabulous tips, swears by her particular plates (which I don't have). Whatever. This tip still works just fine for me. Salad plate on top of bowl? Check. Soup bowl on top of cereal bowl? Check. Try it! You're just looking for a close-to-airtight fit. What do you have to lose, except a bowl of leftovers?

For other, you know, cheap and easy tips, check out Thrifty Green Thursday at the Green Baby Guide. Read more!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What Does Living Sustainably Mean to You?

So, the APLS community is hunkering down and thinking about what it means to live sustainably (and you can, too, if you post before tomorrow). As a concept, living sustainably -- for me -- boils down to living in concert with my beliefs as much as I can, and giving myself a pass for the egregious infractions of my ideals that occur daily. You see, I do think that I ought to strive to live my life more simply, more in tune with the needs of the entire world's population, present and forthcoming, in balance with the planet. But I also know that to create any lasting change in my ownself, I need to relax and allow myself to make mistakes. I can only improve myself by changing one habit at a time.

That's really what sustainability means to me: figuring out how to do something small in my life (yes! Tiny Choices!), and to do it with fewer resources, more effectively, and more consciously. I recognize that I am very focused on personal change; note that I do also think that to live sustainably, it's important to be politically aware enough to share my views with elected officials and to vote in accordance with my beliefs. But the thing I can control the most? My actions and my attitude.

So that's my take on sustainability: trying to push myself as hard as I possibly can for as long as it takes to change my habits, and letting the rest sliiiiiide. As one of my eco-heroes said about feeding her kids non-local GMO craptastic snack food, and I quote, "Even if they were made from a combination of baby seals and methane gas, you would ALWAYS find Cheez-Its and Goldfish crackers in our cupboard." That's my kind of sustainable. Find the things you can change, that you can live with, and run with 'em. As for the rest? Know your choices, educate yourself so that you can embrace your inner seal-beater, and realize that we're all a shade less perfect than Mother Theresa.

Heck, speaking of perfection, forget Mother Theresa. I keep thinking about Yvon Chouinard, who, when offered a swag bag at an awards ceremony, demurred by saying, "I have everything I need right here." All I'm saying is that when I picked up my DC Metro Moms booty from BlogHer, I realized the core of my poser eco-self is this: I like stuff just as much as the next gal. Especially free stuff that I can give away to my friends! Just like if I'm at a party, I like to toss back a frosty cocktail or eat something horrendously unhealthy that I would never allow into my house. Velveeta queso, anyone? Hey, even in Little House on the Prairie, they got sticks of candy once a year.

All this imperfection is A-ok with me. I think it helps me to tip the balance in favor of simple living. 'Cause although I do love me some Rice Krispy holiday cookies in hues never found in the natural world, I
do, in fact, want them to be scarce. I really do love the whole wheat, honey-sweetened lifestyle, and I want to hang onto it for the long haul.

Read more!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Back to School: Greener Fundraising Ideas

Here's another compilation of resources for fellow parents hoping to get actively involved in their kids' schools from an environmental angle: eco-friendly (or at least eco-friendlier?) fundraising.

I got an email recently from one of my favorite people, a woman who lives in Boulder with her family. K was disenchanted with her school's giftwrap fundraising program, particularly since her children's elementary school is solar-powered and has local, sustainable, organic meals prepared by none other than Chef Ann Cooper. Be still my beating heart. Anyhoo, K is actively seeking fundraising alternatives.

I've enclosed her letter to a local green group below to help the rest of us in our efforts, and I promised K I'd pass along all of the green school fundraising resources I've come across in my blogging travels. If you've used any of these programs (I have no direct knowledge of any of them, sadly) please comment and let us know how you liked 'em.

K herself scouted out Greenraising's Earth Friendly Fundraising and Green Students but hasn't tried them out.

Think Recycle and Northwest Specialty Coffee were recommended by a friend who shifted the fundraising at Capital City Charter School.

Let's Go Green comes via Green Mom Finds.

I contacted a group called Fair Trade Towns and they responded with the following:

We have many Fair Trade companies who are also very green and have school fundraising programs, including some of those WFTD sponsor companies.

Here are a few organizations that have programs in place - links provided :
Global Goods Partners
Equal Exchange
Lutheran World Relief (with Divine Chocolate)
Global Exchange Online Store
A Greater Gift (SERVV Int'l)

You might also be interested in knowing that we have Fair Trade curriculum out there now, for all ages, and it works well to incorporate with the fundraising efforts (so the kids understand the importance of what they are selling and who made these products). Curriculum is provided by: TransFair USA, Equal Exchange, and Global Exchange. For a full list and links you can go to Fair Trade Resource Network (FTRN).

Below is an email that K sent to a GenGreen, a website started by a Ft. Collins woman to connect people who are interested in green products, jobs, programs, services, etc...

"Hi GenGreen!
Thanks for creating a great website! In September 2007, I listened to Ryan Warner's interview with Charisse McAuliffe on Colorado Matters, KCFR. I am writing you today because I seek some advice on locally-made green products. I am an active parent at Mesa Elementary in Boulder, CO. Mesa is doing a lot of good things for the environment -- Mesa has solar panels, a compost & recycling program with Eco-Cycle, a Garden to the Table program. But we also have an annual gift wrap fundraiser. This fundraiser doesn't appeal to me as I am trying hard at home to reduce, reuse and recycle. (None of the 2007 Sally Foster gift wrap was made from recyclable paper. And because gift wrap is high in contaminates, Eco-Cycle only recycles it during 1 week of the year.) I understand that we need fundraisers to help support our schools. So I was thinking that our kids could sell green products that are are actually needed. I found another green fundraising program that sells: CF'L's, Klean Kanteens, Bento-style lunch boxes (to replace plastic baggies). I think these are great ideas. Perhaps we could even find some locally-made green products. That's why I'm writing to you--GenGreen seems to have its finger on the pulse of local green products. Can you recommend some useful green products that are made right here in Colorado? I found a Denver company called "Baggyshirts" that makes reusable bags from clothing. I appreciate any advise or help you can offer. Thanks very much! ~K"

Here is the recent response from GenGreen:

Begin forwarded message:

Hello K,

I recently received a contact form from you via our new site regarding locally produced, eco-friendly products that might be a greener fundraising alternative for your school, Mesa Elementary. We are thrilled that you reached out to us in this capacity and hope to be able to help! Below I have listed some local retailers that might be worth looking into. Some might require a little investigation, but for the most part I tried to include businesses and orgs producing their own products locally. (More info about these businesses can be found on our site).

Africa Bags
Loveland, CO

Boulder's Best Organics
2525 Arapahoe Ave. Suite E4-555
Boulder, CO 80302
Phone: (303) 499-6742

Ecologic Designs Inc.
2500 N. 47th St. #12
Boulder, CO 80308
Phone: (303) 250-5734
E-mail: n/a

English Retreads
4949 N. Broadway #147
Boulder, CO 80304
Phone: (303) 258-1625

Onno Textiles
1633 Pine Street
Boulder, CO 80302
Phone: (303) 928-7170

Cool Planet Jewelry
Telluride, CO 81435
Phone: (970) 544-9808

There are also a couple of online resources that you might want to check out: (I suspect you may have already found this one!)

*Keep in mind that I'm not endorsing the credibility of these sites, they just looked like they might have some useful info.

As you may know, it is the mission of GenGreen to be the most diverse and comprehensive resource available for people looking to live a locally-focused, environmentally conscious lifestyle. Currently, we are in the process of launching our new GenGreen Ambassador Program. GenGreen Ambassadors are highly motivated, eco-minded individuals (like you!) across the country that promote awareness of the resource and the GenGreen mission. If you would like more info about how to become a GenGreen Ambassador and how to encourage sustainable activities in your area, please let me know…we would love to have someone like you on the Colorado Team.

Please let me know if I can be of any more help with your fundraising efforts and let me know how it goes!


Beth Buczynski
Ambassador Program and Content Coordinator

GenGreen LLC
Find the Green in Everything
415 Mason Ct. #1
Fort Collins, CO 80524
Local 970-488-3636
Toll Free 866-922-2952

That's a lot of linkety goodness and even lots of info about local Colorado resources. Maybe K's example will inspire the rest of us, as we filter through eco friendly fundraising ideas, to remember to look close to home. Divine Chocolate, here I come! And K? You rock. Good luck and thanks for your inspiration.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Back to School: Waste-Free Lunches

So, this post isn't about getting your kid a water bottle and reusable lunch bag or even saving money and skipping packaging by buying in bulk. It's about getting your whole school community to act together to do those things, and reduce the overall footprint of your kid's lunchtime fun.

A bunch of us are meeting with the principal of EGirl's school today to talk over just this kind of a program, and since I have been in a researching whirlwind, combing the web and emailing local people who've started similar programs, I figured I would offer up these resources to the wide interweb. As I said when I begged for info on Waste-Free Lunch Programs over at DC Urban Moms, why reinvent the wheel? I know folks have had programs in place for years at some schools.

Here are online resources many kind folks offered up when I put out the plea for info:

EPA Waste-Free Lunch Program resources
Waste Free Lunches (a site maintained by the creators of Laptop Lunches which are neat bento-style lunchbags regrettably filled with small plastic containers - has links to lots of California school programs that are by now well-established)
Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance's tips on packing wasteless lunches
A CA school successfully composting courtesy of Green Bean Dreams

And here's what the generous eco parents in our area had to share about their efforts:

Taylor’s Waste-Free Lunch Program

Goal: The goal of this lesson is for students to see how waste adds up and to learn that that small changes, like packing a waste-free lunch, can make big difference in improving our environment.

Description : The 20-minute lesson provides students with information on reducing school lunch waste and an activity. The student learns to pack a waste-free lunch by bringing reusable containers and utensils, recycling any eligible material, and composting fresh fruits and veggie leftovers from lunch at school.

The first grade lesson was created and led by a first-grade parent using an EPA poster (, some lunch materials, and 3-4 parent helpers. The lesson began with a short review of where our trash goes (incinerated in Alexandria, then transported and buried in an ash monofill in Lorton). Then she reviewed how making less trash improves the environment (less energy and pollution from making single-use packaging, less greenhouse gas emissions, less climate impact, more resources and land available for the future). Lastly, she explained how students can make a big difference by packing waste-free lunches. The students then break into small group and pack their own waste-free lunch. (All food is prepackaged or put in tupperware, so there is no food being handled by the students and therefore no worries about food allergies.)

The Amount of Lunch Waste – “Before”

As part of the program, we weighed the amount of material each grade threw away as lunch waste. Here are the results of the lunch waste weigh-in on November 30, 2007:

* K- 24 pounds (41.1 pounds per student per year)
* 1st - 28 pounds (53.6 pounds per student per year)
* 2nd - 29 pounds (58.6 pounds per student per year)
* 3rd - 22 pounds (43.5 pounds per student per year)
* 4th - 35 pounds (55.2 pounds per student per year)
* 5th - 38 pounds (72.7 pounds per student per year)

This may not seem like much at first glance, but it adds up to 176 pounds per day and there are 180 school days per year. So you end up with 31,680 pounds or just shy of 16 tons per year of lunch waste, which translates to:

* 8 average sized US cars
* 4 elephants
* 54 pounds per student per year (589 students eat at school)

Waste-Free Lunch Day – “After”

We are hoping that students can see that little changes really add up by offering the program to all grades then letting the students have a waste-free lunch week where we would weigh their waste again that Friday and give an award to the grade with the lowest amount of lunch waste per student that day. The blurb below summarizes the results for January 2008:

Feeling Eight Tons Lighter During Waste-Free Lunch Week

Congratulations to Taylor students for learning how to go waste-free at lunch and reducing their lunch trash for Waste-Free Lunch Week. For the week of January 22-25, students cut their lunch waste in half which would translate into an annual reduction of eight tons per year for the school. They did this by using reusable containers, recycling, packing or buying only what they plan to eat, and composting fruits and vegetable scraps. The grade with the least lunch waste was the first grade whose trash would translate into only 19 pounds per student per year earning themselves an ice cream party. The "most improved" grade was the fifth grade who reduced their lunch waste by a whopping 66% earning themselves certificates for free ice cream cones. Many thanks to (parent volunteer) for teaching the students why and how to go waste-free at lunch. Keep up the good work throughout the year!

Curriculum Connections

(I left this in so you will be able to note the need to connect lessons to your community standards and assessment.)

* Science Resources K.10, 1.8, 2.8, 3.10, 3.11, 4.8.
* Health 1.7 Community Health and Wellness (how student decisions contribute to a healthy environment; includes the proper disposal of trash; the prevention of water pollution; the effects of pollution on drinking water and marine life).
* Health 2.3 Knowledge and Skills (influences and factors that impact health and well-being; including the environment).
* Health 4.6 Community Health and Wellness (personal responsibility for healthy practices; the benefits of volunteerism).
* Health 5.5 Community Health and Wellness (work together to build a healthy community; collaborative support for environmental issues).
* History and Social Sciences 1.10 Civics (being a good citizen by taking responsibility for one's own actions).
* History and Social Sciences 2.10 Civics (the responsibilities of a good citizen, actions that can improve the school and community)

Logistics / Misc.

How did you best weigh refuse before and after trying to reduce waste? We “secretly” weighed each grade’s trash before they received the lesson.

Seems a fun opportunity for students to work out the maths of how much waste they could reduce over a year at school. We made a bulletin board with the EPA poster, a sample waste-free and disposable lunch items, and made a bar graph of how the grades were doing “before.”

Did you aim for a reduced waste lunch on one day or did you do them for a whole week? We did a whole week program with a bulletin board in the cafeteria and then weighed each grade’s trash on Friday.

Did you try composting food waste and sorting out litter? Or is that just too messy on a large-scale? We composted fresh fruits and vegetables for the entire week. We also reviewed what can be recycled at school.

Anyone tried keeping worms to work on the compost? Or did you just take it to someone's compost bin each day? We just took it straight to the compost bin outside each day.

What strategies worked best for both school lunch buyers and for students that bring lunch? Only get or bring what you will eat. Take leftovers home so your parents see what and how much you eat. Tell your parents if you do not like something rather than throwing it out. Help your parents pick food that is tasty and healthy. Recycle and compost to the full extent.

What did staff tell the students before lunch and afterwards? Does it fit best with one part of curriculum or another? It fits with the resource strand of the science SOLs and the other Health and Social Studies SOLs listed above.

How did you advertise the event to parents? In our weekly PTA email and one a small bookmark sized take-home paper.

How many parents required to help facilitate each lunch? On Friday, we had two parents to weigh each grade’s trash and remind students what can be recycled and composted. We found some students wanting to pack their trash in their lunch so that it is not weighed, so you may want to remind students to play fair and help collect trash before they zip up their lunch boxes.

How are cafeteria staff and cleaning staff with it? We told cafeteria staff, lunch aides, and custodians that the event was going on, and that parents would do everything.

Talking points for Waste-Free Lunch Announcement

Congratulations everyone for doing their best to reduce waste during Taylor’s Waste-Free Lunch Week!

By using reusable containers, eating your food, recycling, and composting, Taylor Elementary slashed its lunch waste in half. We brought our lunch waste from 16 tons per year down to 8 tons per year! That is two elephants or four cars less trash.

Keep up the good work. Less trash = less pollution = healthier planet and people.

Who gets the ice cream party for creating the smallest amount of lunch waste per student per year? That prize goes to the grade that generates only 19 pounds of lunch waste per student per year…..the 1st grade!

Who gets certificates for a free ice cream cone for the most improved grade? That prize goes to the grade that reduced their lunch waste by a whopping 66% or two-thirds less trash…..the 5th grade!

Thanks so much to Taylor parent Mrs. X for helping us learn how to go waste free at lunch!


From the Key School Green Committee in Arlington, VA --

We experimented with holding a "Trash Free Lunch" one Wednesday before the winter holidays. In early January we launched a weekly trash free lunch. Success has been mixed. Signage and regular announcements from teachers and principal have helped make it work. But without constant reminders, the effort loses momentum. Several parents have told me they now only pack trash free lunches, having made the transition to reuseable plastic containers, Klean Kanteen water bottles, etc. The main point of this effort has been to raise awareness with kids and families, to become more cognizant of how much we throw away each day.

We had a waste free lunch week at Key School in Arlington last spring. It was a week that culminated with a weekend trash to treasure drive we co-hosted with another elementary school.

Basically, we received a lot of our know-how from parents at Taylor Elementary School who had done it last fall. They do far more recycling and environmentally-oriented activities than we do at the moment....

Anyway, I weighed each grade's trash first, before the waste-free/reduced trash week to get a benchmark. I brought in my bathroom scale and weighed myself so that I could subtract that weight from the trash + me weight.

Our student council met and wrote a play about reducing their lunch waste which we filmed and played twice at school on our Friday morning TV program. There were announcements made the week before on the loud speaker, book marks that went home the week before announcing the endeavor along with the trash to treasure drive. Student Council made posters for inside and outside the school advertising both events. I asked teachers to talk up the events in their classrooms.

In the lunch room the week before, I posted a graph that showed each grade's lunch trash weight. I also made a display of items that students could use to reduce their trash such as reusable water/drink bottles, recycled butter tubs for sandwiches, cloth napkin, reusable fork, etc. They were prominent. Over each table, I hung mini posters with trash facts relating their trash weight to the weights of cars, animals (elephants).

During reduced trash week, parents attended each lunch, reminding students to reduce their trash and to have conversations with students about the importance to the earth. They also showed students where to put their fresh fruits and veggie wastes for composting in our schoolyard compost tumbler (it's too small to use it every day, every week).

Even with all of these efforts, we did not get the results we were looking for. The day we weighed the "reduced" trash, some kids hid their trash or threw it away in the bathroom. It is so important to watch for that. I didn't know about it and that class was awarded pens with environmental messages on them. When we learned of the outcome through some vigilant students, their teachers handled it well, making it a character issue. Runners up received the pens.

Taylor parents did more by going into each classroom and giving 20 minute lessons.


Hope this info helps someone else out there who's in the information-gathering stage. I'd be more than happy to talk with you as you plan your own program so shoot me an email if you're just getting started yourself.

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Pita Chips

I love salt and garlic and abhor the incessant wasting of food that happens right under my nose. So, although it's not rocket science, I will share how easy it was to save a bag of crumbling whole wheat pita bread from certain mold and composterdom.

Garlicky Whole Wheat Pita Chips

1 bag not so soft and fresh but still edible whole wheat pita bread
olive oil spray
garlic powder
dehydrated chopped garlic bits
salt to taste

Rip up pita into chips and arrange on a cookie sheet that fits inside of your grill. Spray the tops with olive oil. Sprinkle with assorted garlic and salt. Wait until you are done grilling your dinner,
turn grill off, place tray on grill rack, and put the cover on. Eat your dinner. After dinner, remove cookie sheet and let cool while you find a movie and regain your appetite. Snack wantonly on chips while watching movie.

Any other favorite recipes from the 'saving it from inedibility' files?

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Take Back the Filter Letter Writing Campaign

If you're involved in Beth Terry aka Fake Plastic Fish's Take Back the Filter Campaign, which is urging Clorox to recycle its Brita filters (which it already does in Europe), today would be a good day to send a letter. One of Beth's readers sent her a copy of a letter with a personalized PS from the CEO (a departure, since most of the earlier responses have been form letters). This campaign is small but clear-cut, in my opinion. It may not stem the tide of plastics production or reduce the size of the ocean garbage patch, but it's a simple, achievable goal. Clorox already knows how to recycle its filters. We as consumers want corporations to respect our desire to reduce waste. Seems like a winner. Beth, by the way, is as inspirational in person as she is online. Calm, funny, and kind. It was so great to meet you at BlogHer and to have lunch on Union Square!

Here's the link to the campaign's sample letter and below is my letter if you want to steal it (EGirl put the stamps on herself!):

August 6, 2008

Don Knauss, CEO

The Clorox Company

1221 Broadway

Oakland, CA 94612

Dear Mr. Knauss:

I’m a reader of Beth Terry’s Fake Plastic Fish and a blogger myself. A parent of two young children, I am highly motivated by environmental concerns and after much research have decided that filtering tap water is the healthiest and most sustainable option for our family. This is after years of paying for bottled water for my kids. I am aware, for instance, that the Brita filters and pitchers are made of safer plastics.

I say this to you to note that, as a mother, I carefully research all of the products we buy – especially those related to our drinking water-- from a health and environmental perspective. I warrant other mothers hold similar opinions about toxins in their water supply and that we are a market you’d like to keep.

Sometimes, environmental campaigns are vague and difficult to accomplish. In the case of recycling Brita filters, it seems as though Clorox has already implemented a solution in a different market (Europe). Please respond to your loyal customer base (I’ve been using Brita filters since high school) by providing us the same recycling options you’ve given other customers. I must say, I am trying to use as little plastic as possible, so if you could offer a glass pitcher option, I’d love it.

Thanks so much for your time.


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Back to School: Eco-Friendly Clothes Shopping

It's not rocket science, but it's worth noting that children are tough on their clothes. They get 'em dirty constantly and grow like weeds. Not to mention the tiny divas who will only wear that one glitter-purple leotard for 17 consecutive weeks (while grandma begs for her to wear the smocked heirloom in despair). So while thinking about back to school shopping, don't forget the ease and thrift of the secondhand store.

If you're traveling, you may want to keep your eyes peeled for gems like the children's consignment store I hit up in Healdsburg while visiting family at Preston Vineyards. We got all of EGirl's back to school clothes (she got to do the old thumbs up, thumbs down, and her brother got to play in a rockin' toy area). Her brother is awash in hand me downs so we didn't need to buy him a thing. If you don't live near a thrift store, don't forget EBay, freecycle, craigslist, and yard sales.

I figure if we get everything possible secondhand, we can (more often) afford to shell out the big bucks for fair-trade, organic, sustainable duds when we've got a gap in the system. It's always much easier on the planet to reuse (energy and materials use to create anything new, no matter how sustainable), and this way, you can feel good about your once-in-a-blue-moon extravagances.

Either way (thrift store or hand me downs), don't forget as you are clearing the closet to make way for bigger clothes to make sure you find a good home for the old ones. Whether you give them to family or friends or sell them, those tiny duds can be used and used until they fall apart! And even then someone might be able to upcycle the scraps into something cute.

Now to find myself some good consignment stores....

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Summer Challenges

You know I love to get inspired (and whipped into shape) by other eco bloggers. From APLS to SOWs to buying nada, here's what I am participating in at the moment around the blogosphere, in case you're looking for likeminded people to use the ol' green cattleprod on your behind:

Crunchy Chicken's at it again with an August edition of her Buy-Nothing Challenge! Sign up and force yourself to figure out how to deal with the back-to-school-frenzy in a creative, frugal way. Having to unburden your wasteful, consumeristic self each weekend's a powerful check on the ol' wallet.

I recently joined the APLS group on Facebook and there have been some great discussions about what it means to live sustainably, how to find and bond with likeminded people, and what it means to be Affluent People Living Simply. Thanks so much to GreenBeanDreams for setting up this group. If you're on Facebook, check it out. This is a useful application for that mysterious beast of a social networking site. "The premise is that if you're living in the "developed world" you're richer than you probably realize, and are therefore affluent. If you're also striving for a more sustainable lifestyle, count yourself among the APLS!" Here's the APLS blog if you'd like to participate in that format. Looks like they're setting up regional APLS groups (for information sharing and possibly equipment sharing, like canning apparatus). If you want to be part of the APLS blog carnival, the first topic is about living sustainably. You don't have to be a blogger to participate. If you'd like to write and submit a post, you can email it in and they'll post it on the APLS blog. Great way to be inclusive, folks! Love this group (I met Green Bean in California while out at BlogHer and I have to say, she's smart, real, and has the coolest eco avatar I've ever seen).

Chile Chews is a green blogger who first connected decluttering and being green for me. Since then, I have kept tabs with her challenges and half-participated. Well, this time around she offered the option of half-a$%ing it! Here's her August Discretionary Eating Challenge (Don't Eat What You Don't Need) - note that you can cut each category separately by a particular amount:

Buzz (alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, coffee) – cut caffeine by 100%
No coffee (decaf or not) and no chocolate; cut alcohol out entirely on weekdays no matter how early the children wake up. I'm not a caffeine or a chocolater so this one's pretty easy for me.

Café (deli food, frozen dinners, restaurants) – same as usual
No meals prepared by pros except when someone else is decision-making and letting me sleep (bless the person letting me sleep, and please know I would eat cardboard to get some extra zzzzs), or to respect others' celebratory impulses.

Lite (refined & processed foods) – same as usual
Continue with whole wheat & brown rice and whole-grain pasta.

Sugar (desserts, sugars, sweets) – cut by 25%
We don't have lots of sweets around the house except for the occasional dessert or ice cream shop visit. Will limit treats while at occasional movies and reduce candy stash inhome consumption to zero. Again, this is a cheater move. I am a salty not a sweet person.

SOW (second servings when not hungry) – eliminate
No seconds unless really hungry.

Vegan – 1/7 commitment
I'll have one entirely vegan day per week (for me) and have one vegan family meal; in addition to that vegan family meal, I will continue to increase the number of go-to vegetarian dinners we enjoy.

Finally, no discussion of cattle prods on ones's behind would be complete without a hat tip to Mrs. G and her kind yet firm Ass Project over at Derfwad Manor in which you have to commit to exercising and then posting a weekly picture of yourself (nonrecognizeable body parts acceptable) on the interwebs to keep yourself movin'. We all know I ain't posting much 'cause my camera's broken and, well, I can't buy another one until September (see point #1 above -- loooots of research to be done). I also know I am not heading towards a 5K like a lot of other Derfwads (woo hoo!) But hopefully I will get myself movin'! I still long for Linda Hamilton's Terminator II arms. Imagine a weekly shot of my biceps and wish me will power to lift something besides a 30 pound squirming toddler.

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Summer Fruit Galettes

Some people are chocolate lovers; I am a fan of fruit, in particular the succulent stone fruits of summer. Now, for many valid reasons, you may not want to crank your oven up to make this, but imagine the waste of a dozen or so local, farm-fresh peaches just under or past their prime. Then you'll see the beauty of the galette.

I owe this recipe to Alice Waters and her Chez Panisse Fruit cookbook, although I adapted it to be a whole grain crust. I've said this before, but whole wheat pastry flour is magic. It's light enough to make pancakes, waffles, and baked goods both whole-grain-healthy and delicious.

Galette Dough

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp sugar (if you're Alice Waters, if you're me you put in 3 TBSP of organic raw sugar)
1/4 tsp salt
12 TBSP (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
7 TBSP ice water (make more, you will need it)

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut 4 TBSPS of the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender (or even a potato masher and a knife if you can't find yours immediately), mixing until the dough resembles coarse cornmeal. (Butter dispersed throughout the flour in tiny pieces makes the dough tender). Cut in the remaining stick of butter with the pastry blender, just until the biggest pieces of butter are the size of large peas--or a little larger. (These bigger pieces of butter in the dough make it flaky).

Dribble 7 TBSP of ice water (that's 1/2 Cup less 1 TBSP, Waters helpfully notes) into the flour mixture in several stages, tossing and mixing between additions, until the dough just holds together. Toss the mixture with your hands, letting it fall through your fingers. Do not pinch or squeeze the dough together or you will overwork it, making it tough. Keep tossing the mixture until it starts to pull together; it will look rather ropy, with some dry patches. If it looks like there are more dry patches than ropy patches, add another TBSP of water and toss the mixture until it comes together. Divide the dough in half, firmly press each half into a ball, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap, pressing down to flatten each ball into a 4-inch disk. (Anyone know if you could substitute a damp kitchen towel here?) Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out. (The dough will keep in the freezer for a few weeks).

When you are ready to roll out the dough, take one disk from the refrigerator at a time. Let it soften slightly so that it is malleable but still cold. Unwrap the dough and press the edges of the disk so that there are no cracks). On a lightly floured surface (I actually like to use cornmeal), roll out the disk into a 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Brush off excess flour from both sides with a dry pastry brush (a step I most definitely skipped). Transfer dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate at least 1/2 hour before using (also skipped this step). The rolled-out circles can also be frozen and used the next day.

Makes about 20 oz of dough, enough for 2 open galettes or tarts or one covered tart.

I made a peach galette (we're overflowing in them from our CSA) that roughly followed the proportions for Waters' apricot galette. I left the skins on, and, per her instructions, put the skin side down, touching my galette dough. I followed her tip to use a pizza stone and baked for 45 minutes at 400F (make sure you put the pizza stone in while the oven's warming up). I love her instructions: "Arrange the fruit, skin side down, in concentric circles on the...dough, making a single layer of snugly touching (peaches, in my case) pieces and leaving the border bare. Evenly sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar (raw organic) over the fruit. While rotating the tart, fold the border of exposed dough up and over itself at regular intervals." You're basically making an edge to stem the flood of luscious, lava-like fruit juice that will come rushing from your peaches. Don't forget to dot your tart with unsalted butter before you bake it.

Also? It's unbeatable the next morning for breakfast.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Green Moms Carnival

Today's the day for the inaugural Green Moms Carnival. Brainchild of Lynn Miller at OrganicMania, this monthly collaborative will muse about environmental issues from a maternal perspective (although some honorary Earth Mothers and even fathers joined in too).

I'm honored to be a founding member of the Green Moms Carnival and so grateful to Lynn, who not only gathered our voices together but got a number of green mommy bloggers, including yours truly, recognized at Alltop as top green blogs. Today, the green mom bloggers are musing about climate change. You can read my post here -- don't forget to comment if you want a whack at my Pocket Idiot's Guide to Your Carbon Footprint. We all need to start somewhere!

Every month, on the first Monday of the month, the group will address another issue important to green parenting. The first month, we decided to focus on climate change. So, on August 4, head over to OrganicMania to read the carnival round up, and then check out what the founding members have to say. I'm sure they will be all over the map -- and all germane to us green parents.

Karen at Best of Mother Earth
Diane at Big Green Purse
Crunchy at Crunchy Chicken
Mandi at eco 'burban
Green Bean at Green Bean Dreams
The Green Mommy
Anna at Green Talk
La Marguerite
Micaela at Mindful Momma
The Not Quite Crunchy Parent
Lynn at OrganicMania
Jennifer at The Smart Mama

Here's the post that inspired our first topic: Mothers Needed to Protect Mother Earth.

If you're interested in participating next month, start thinking about how to have a greener back to school - yours truly will be hosting.

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Carbon Footprints and a Respect for the Mundane

As a mother, I tend to think quite a bit about environmental health issues. Let's be honest. I obsessed about food politics and the impact of toxins on human health long before I had kids. So it's refreshing to shift my focus and swing over to the topic of carbon footprints in order to participate in the inaugural Green Moms Carnival. Of course, my favorite way to do this is to reminisce about those who figured out how to conserve (through necessity) long before I came along.

My grandmother lived through the Depression and World War II and flourished for years on a not-enormous pension. She loved nature: birdwatching (including taxidermy -- she once saved some perfect specimens in her freezer for some generationally-horrified neighbor children), fuzzy animals, children. She gardened. She made excellent use of the things she had, reusing tin foil and rubber bands, and refusing ever to buy a dryer, instead ironing her sheets and towels well into her nineties. She cooked her own food, including lasssssagna (enunciate that g). Much of what I learned about living sustainably from my father came from her brand of conservation. So my take on living simply is deeply rooted in this old-fashioned, pragmatic valuing of the everyday, coupled with my sixties' parents' conscious devaluing of stuff. It's a delicate balance -- learning to not desire very much, but to treasure and honor what stuff you choose to have. In thinking over carbon footprints, I realize that this respect for the mundane translates into a modern-day low carbon lifestyle.

My grandmother would never turn on a light if there was sunlight streaming in behind her rocking chair to read. She'd put on a sweater instead of jacking the heat and living, as a friend put it so perfectly last week, as if her house were her clothing. She'd walk to the store for supplies for her daily luncheon salad. This turns out to be a good thing in terms of reducing one's carbon footprint, since electricity generation and usage account for more greenhouse gas emissions than actual direct consumption of said fuels for heating and transportation (who knew? Thanks, Nancy S. Grant! leave a comment below if you want a copy of the Pocket Idiot's Guide to Your Carbon Footprint to read and then pass on. And Nancy? Make sure they print your next edition on post-consumer recycled paper).

I don't know what my grandmother would have said about switching to 100% wind power (which I did recently after reading a great discussion of energy sourcing on Burbanmom's yahoo group - many thanks to Green With a Gun for the simple explanation of choices). She probably wouldn't have paid more for either the green energy (biomass) we bought for 8 years or the wind we're now supporting. She was, after all, a thrifty woman. My grandmother did support environmental causes (carving out a share of her dead husband's pension to champion myriad causes for her furry and feathered friends). It's just hard to imagine her supporting new technologies, 'cause when I lived with her in the early 90s, we were still adjusting the rabbit ears on her old tv.

In deference to my grandmother's generation and way of life, I'd like to propose that more carefully valuing what we already have -- treasuring the mundane -- is a shorthand for conserving energy and shrinking our individual carbon footprints.

Sure, we can better source our electricity, purchase energy-efficient appliances when the old ones run into the ground (and only then), we can stop consuming so much electricity and stuff in the first place. We can buy less food of better, local quality, so our food doesn't have thousands of miles attached to it. What we do buy we can try to get in bulk with as little packaging as possible, even if stores are urging us to get smaller and smaller portions for so-called convenience.

But really what I need to do? Aside from borrowing a Kill-A-Watt from Burbanmom to see what the biggest electricity drains are in my house? Limiting my air travel (which is practically impossible, imho, when you're faced with family reunions and great-grandmothers who are closing in on 100)? The biggest thing I need to do (aside from staying away from those jetliners) is to honor the memory of my grandmother by eating a daily salad for lunch (making her rockin' ketchup-garlic vinaigrette) and treasuring the everyday.

Thanks so much to Lynn at OrganicMania who founded the Green Moms Carnival -- head on over there tomorrow to see a myriad of posts about this important topic. I'll put up a direct link tomorrow with a list of green mommy bloggers who took the time to post about global warming.

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