Monday, December 29, 2008

How To Stop Global Warming, or, A Cranky Person Spouts Off

People say, "What is the sense of our small effort?" They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.
~Dorothy Day

Travel and learn. Photo by Lisa Kau.

When contemplating what to write for this month's Green Mom's Carnival, which has the topic of Global Warming, I was flummoxed. Global Warming? What on earth could I add to the Global Warming dialog? I felt inadequate, small, unworthy (even though sustainability is what I do). And that, dear readers, is the key.

Each and every one of us MUST do what we can. Regardless of our scientific credentials. Regardless of our status, our education, our confidence (or lack of it). It is up to us - individuals - to make a difference. I am not a parent (although I have three nieces, whom I love so fiercely it actually hurts, and for whom I would throw myself in front of an oncoming train), but when I think of what kind of world we are leaving for future generations I almost despair. Almost.

I once had a boyfriend (of the Earth First! variety) who would spray paint “Nature bats last!” on isolated bridges and over passes in ravaged, heavily-logged national parks and wilderness areas. While I was a bit appalled at the vandalism, I agree with the sentiment. Human beings are just a blip on the planet’s radar; we are currently wreaking havoc, but are ultimately not as important as we like to think we are.

We have the opportunity to make a huge paradigm shift – respecting nature, living sustainably, slowing consumerism, sharing our wealth, building communities, and learning kindness. I am embarrassed at the riches Americans squander each and every day; for example, we buy bottled water with extra shots of caffeine or vitamins or just a really pretty label, while others, by a mere accident of birth, do not even have clean water to drink.
To me it all comes down to personal responsibility, and deciding to think about something other (bigger!) than ourselves. I remain optimistically realistic, and just a bit cranky.

How to Curb Global Warming, Part One
  1. Take responsibility - for your actions, your non-actions, your attitudes and your biases.
  2. Stop driving. Seriously. Just stop. (Mark Sheppard doesn't agree with me...and boy, he is really cranky!)
  3. Work (hard!) for change.
  4. Take care of everyone. Not just the pretty or the rich or the sane or the educated. Everyone.
  5. Be kind.
  6. Stop competing.
  7. Consider reading the Utne Reader, Orion and YES! Magazine instead of People and Entertainment Weekly. Do we really give a horse's patoot about how Jen is coping with Brad and Angelina's ever-growing family?
  8. Find work you love. Embrace a new paradigm.
  9. Share. The one who dies with the most toys does NOT win. He's just dead, with lots of stuff for someone else to deal with.
  10. Turn off your TV, and cancel your cable.
  11. Read books. Borrow them from the library, or use Bookmooch.
  12. Speaking of libraries, support them. If you don't have any cash, volunteer.
  13. Become frugal. Think of it as another way of conserving resources.
  14. Grow your own vegetables, swap with neighbors. If you don't have the space, join a community garden. Get creative!
  15. Compost, and be amazed at what nature can do.
  16. Spay and neuter your pets (9.6 million animals are euthanized - killed, put down, - annually) and encourage others to do so, too.
  17. Do not buy dogs from puppy mills.
  18. Get to know your neighbors.
  19. Travel, and learn that the world is made up of people a lot like us.
  20. Understand that valuing conspicuous consumption is, well, kind of stupid. Do we think it really matters if we have the new style of Jimmy Choo shoes?
  21. Don't be cranky.

Sell your soul (sole?) for Jimmy Choo's. Photo Credit CafeHangout on Flickr

More info on the Green Mom's Carnival can be found here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Vision of a New Way of Doing Business

I haven't posted here for awhile. And I was feeling guilty (ah, well, there's something new!) about it - after all, a new business needs constant attention, enthusiastic diligence, constant feelers to contacts, both new and old...

Frankly, I've been rather frantic. Working on a Media Kit (Earth Day is four months away - and everyone seems to want to talk to us at Earth Day!), making lists (and checking them twice) of green bloggers who might be interested in collaborating, writing copy for ads that won't run until the fall of 2009 but are due NOW, trying to determine which of all the tempting events, conferences and trade shows to attend (hmmmmm....if I "Pitch My Product" in Chicago at the Country Living Women Entrepreneur's event I can't make it to the Book Expo in NYC...), creating a delightful, cohesive and fun seminar program for the summer & fall of 2009, PLUS cook dinner, pretend to clean, sew thermal window shades for our house (it's been below zero - outside - each morning for the last week when we awaken...), filing all the dozens of papers, magazine tear sheets, pamphlets, and brilliant ideas that are constantly whirling around my desk and my head...

And then I finally came to my senses. I moved to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage to live more sustainably. And the longer I live here, the more I realize that sustainability is about more than reducing my physical footprint. I need to be sustainable. I need to set reasonable working hours, regardless of how new and entreprenerial my business is. I need to breathe, to play, to run around with the dog, to talk with friends, to give myself time to recharge and regroup. I need to nap. So I'm taking a few days off; I hope to have a sustainable plan for this blog in 2009.

Fionn, snoozing.

Thanks for reading. I hope to continue to make it worth your while in the future.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Milkweed Mercantile November Newsletter

Photo: Glen Bolosan

This Month's Theme: Gratitude

Dear readers,
Regardless of what is happening around us, we all have so much for which to be grateful. As an individual, I am grateful for my husband, who makes my life a joy; my supportive friends who are always there when I need them; and my crazy pets, who never fail to provide entertainment. I am grateful to have a warm house to live in; what I like even better is that you can often find a friend nestled into the couch, cup of tea in hand, in front of the wood stove. As the Top Banana of the Milkweed Mercantile, I am grateful for the talented Rabbits who are and will become members of the staff, and for their creative and insightful contributions to making the Mercantile a thriving, heart-based success. I am also grateful to you, the Mercantile's many supporters - thank you so much! And as an American, I am grateful to have a new president-elect, and a renewed sense of hope in our country.

So take a deep breath. Thanksgiving CAN be fun, and the day after does not have to be crazy.
A Bit Nervous about Thanksgiving? Read Facing the Family by Teri Trespicio

Featured Seasonal Recipe: Cranberry Sauce (hint: it's easy!)
Growing up I thought that cranberry sauce always came in the shape of a can, and that those horizontal lines etched in every inch or so were to help your mom know where to slice it, just like this:

A few years ago, though, I learned to make my own cranberry sauce. What a revelation! It's easy, and the taste difference is stunning. Added bonus: the cranberries pop as they cook, making it a fun project to do with kids. Cranberries have a lot of natural pectin, so your sauce will definitely gel. I don't strain mine (way too much work!) and like to add pecans and orange zest. Presented in a lovely dish when you arrive for dinner, Aunt Edna will think youĂ­re a GENIUS! Note: Make extra so that you can add a bit of it to your leftover turkey sandwiches on Friday...

Photo Credit: Sarah J. Gim

Delightfully Delicious Cranberry Sauce
Makes 2 1/4 cups

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
4 cups (1 12-oz package) fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans
zest from 1 orange

1. Wash and pick over cranberries.
2. In a large saucepan bring water and sugar to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add cranberries, return to a boil.
3. Reduce heat, simmer for 10 minutes or until cranberries burst.
4. Add in the roughly chopped pecans and orange zest. You can also add a cup of raisins or currants, or up to a pint of fresh or frozen blueberries for added sweetness.
5. Remove from heat. Pour into serving bowl and cool completely at room temperature. Chill in refrigerator. Cranberry sauce will thicken as it cools.

Mercantile Construction Update

Thomas keys the plaster into the strawbales.

Our beautiful strawbale building now has two of three coats of plaster, and the Fuego fireplace was installed this week. We are planning on heating the upstairs with a series of ducts (also installed), counting on the theory that hot air rises. For updated photos, please see our Flickr page!

The Department of Give That Woman A Microphone and She'll be Happy Forever:

I was a guest on the Revolutionary Muse Podcast Radio on Monday, November 11, 2008.
Click here to listen.

Holiday Sanity, Part One
Are you looking for ideas for inexpensive, creative and eco-friendly gifts? Take a look at this from our Friends at the Center for a New American Dream.

And there are lots of ways to wrap your gifts without spending lots money OR trashing the environment!

Featured Products: 15% off all Edibles!

Dark Chocolate Wally Bar

Last but not least, we would appreciate your support as you are doing your holiday gift-giving. Highly recommended: the amazing Chocolate Wally Bars and Blueberry Lavender Preserves make the perfect hostess gift. And be sure to check out our "Giving to Others" section. All Mercantile purchases are unconditionally guaranteed, come packed in eco-friendly packaging, and are shipped via USPS Priority Mail.

15% OFF Coupon
Use the secret code "Sweet Potato Pie" during checkout to receive a 15% discount on all edibles purchased before December 20, 2008. Supplies limited to stock on hand - shop early!

All of us here at the Milkweed Mercantile send good wishes for a healthy, harmonious and delicious holiday!

Alline Anderson, Kurt Kessner, Amy Seiden, and Annie Radford

"You really can change the world if you care enough."
- Marion Wright Edelman

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Realities of Renewable Energy

The power system in our house is very modestly sized. Before leaving Berkeley we went around the house with a clipboard and took notes on how many watts for how much time each appliance we were taking with us used. We bought a small system, knowing that we would have to economize power-wise when cloudy weather prevailed.

This is one of those times. We are still building the Mercantile, and the power that we have is being prioritized for power tools used in construction.

The sun is scheduled to come back out on Sunday (hmmmm, how appropriate!) and I'll have more to post then.

Internet use aside, this is a lovely opportunity to catch up on reading, hanging out with friends, and sitting by the fire with a nice cup of Peace Coffee. Yum.

And just in case you're worried, the Mercantile's power system will be much larger, to accommodate the number of guests we expect to have at any one time.

Have a great day!

Monday, November 10, 2008

I'll Have a Little Humble Pie with that Plastic Tumbler, please...

Learning, learning, learning. I am always learning.

After reading today's Fake Plastic Fish entry, I have asked our web guru to pull all of the #5 plastic items from the Mercantile inventory. I hope it will be done by the end of the day.

While #5 is food grade plastic and previously considered safe, there is now some question about how safe it really is. And it would seem rather hypocritcal for me to continue to carry the items. On one hand it breaks my heart - I love the idea of being able to use recycled plastic, as kind of a penance for our over-consumption. But on the other hand, this is just another red flag, another "come to Jesus" moment.

We must stop all of this consuming. We must find ways to be more thoughtful in what we use, and how. We are so rich, and so priviledged; we must take responsiblity for the waste we are generating.

Also on today's Fake Plastic Fish was this 60 Minutes Report about exporting electronic waste - you know all of those cell phone, computer monitors and televisions we "recycle" each year? Turns out much of the recycling is not done here in the US - our very toxic waste goes to the poorest parts of China. Watch it here:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Do we really need the newest, thinnest phone that does everything from answer your email to walking your dog? And how many tvs do we all need? (Disclosure:when my parents passed away in 2004, there were FIVE tvs. Five. For two people. It's just how we're used to living. We feel we deserve it. But at what cost?).

It feels so insurmountable, so overwhelming. But like anything else, I just have to take it in small pieces. I'm taking a vow to be more deliberate and thoughtful before I buy things. How about you?
Should you need some lovely recycled plastic, um, flower vases, let me know:

Ooooh, what a pretty flower vase!

The Laptop Lunches would be great for beading supplies. I can get them for you wholesale!

Fantastic beading supply cases, cheap.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Plastic-Free Life: WWBD (What Would Beth Do)?

I have been very inspired by Beth Terry and her blog Fake Plastic Fish. While I flap my jaws about plastic consumption, Beth is taking action. Check out her blog – you’ll see what I mean. I really want to join Beth’s Plastic Posse. But to do so I feel I need to be more deliberate and judicious in my plastic usage - just because we live at an eco-village doesn't mean we have it all figured out. Often, it means that we don't, but are consciously seeking the answers!

Here are the questions she poses, and my answers. How would YOU answer the following?

1. What was it that first inspired you to eliminate plastic from your life? Was it a particular issue? News article? Experience? And when was this?
The first I remember being aware of the evils of plastic was in high school (way back in the disco-inferno 70's). We heard about turtles and sea birds being strangled by the plastic 6-pack rings. Of course, we didn’t stop buying the six-packs; we simply became vigilant about cutting them apart. Years later when I started composting all food scraps, buying in bulk, recycling paper and aluminum and steel, my garbage output became pretty darned small (put out weekly in, um, plastic bags...). I was impressed with myself. But I still kept buying plastic. It’s time for a little humility, and a more concerted effort.
2) What have been the 1-3 easiest changes to make?
Some things have been absolutely easy-peasy no-brainers: grocery bags, coffee cups, reusable flatware and glass storage containers at home.

I really enjoy bringing my own bags to the grocery store. The nice Mennonite ladies at the local store totally get it, and the teenagers at the local "supermarket" put up with it (remember, we’re in the middle of rural red-state Missouri). My favorite bag is made from recycled PET (read: plastic) and while I understand the irony in this, I also feel a responsibility to support the companies making products out of recycled plastic. I also have one made out of recycled organic cotton, and some really old beaters from years and years ago...
I always bring my own coffee cup. While this is mainly about being very annoyed by disposable cups, I really like having my own cup. I know exactly how much sugar and milk to put in to make it taste perfect, and my hand doesn’t get burned holding it. This too, is recycled plastic. (I can imagine Beth shaking her head, moaning "oh no, where have I gone wrong..."). But until I can find a stainless steel tumbler with a screw-on lid, I’m sticking to it. Pop-off lids tend to do just that, and I’ve had too many papers, purses, car seats and desk tops soggified from tipped over coffee tumblers to believe that they'll stay on. My search continues. Let me know if you find one!

Tucked in the bottom of my bag whenever I travel is my bamboo flatware travel kit and cloth napkin. The first one I made for myself, and then I made more for friends. These were so popular that I now make them for our store. Once again, my motives are pretty selfish. I HATE using plastic flatware. The stuff breaks, and is just plain cheesy to eat with. The same goes for the “compostable” flatware (talk about a load of crap! Just because it CAN be composted doesn’t mean that it WILL be composted. Can you say “greenwashing?”).

When we leave for a trip we are fully stocked with delicious edibles. But when we get to our destination we usually buy some food. (Side note on life at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage: Trips beginning here in rural Missouri seem to take forever. We get up at 4:30 a.m. and drive our bio-diesel vehicle-coop car to the train station in Quincy, Il. From there we take a 4½-hour train ride to Chicago’s Union Station. From there we either get on another train or take the El to the airport. It makes for a long, hungry day.)
In train stations and airports (and on trains and airplanes) it is considered criminal to give a patron a metal fork and knife to use while dining. So I bring my own. And get to use my own cloth napkin, too.
You can just as easily bring your own flatware; it doesn’t have to be fancy schmancy bamboo. Just get a cloth napkin, wrap it around a fork, knife and spoon you’re willing to part with and tie it up with a rubber band or ribbon. This will, however, only work on trains. Dude! You’re so eco!

Home food storage: I love Pyrex. Borosilicate glass is the coolest stuff! I’ve found some fabulous old glass refrigerator containers at auctions and on E-bay - the truly "vintage" ones have glass lids. We also sell some at the Mercantile, so I have a set of these in my kitchen, although they do have plastic lids. Quart jars are great for leftovers. Once you start, it gets easier.

3)What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Plastic is everywhere! EVERYWHERE! It’s like body snatchers. Or Republicans. Or SUVs. Or ragweed pollen in the fall. Even when I buy in bulk there is plastic. A 10-lb box of organic raisins or walnuts? Inside the cardboard box is a plastic bag. Sigh.

So I set small goals, and reward myself for small victories (I am very easily amused). My goal this month: learn to make ricotta and mozzarella (both easy cheeses), cottage cheese and sour cream**. Ted (here at Dancing Rabbit) makes fabulous yogurt and delivers it in quart jars; there’s no reason to be buying any of these in plastic containers. Milk is available from two local dairies; both use glass bottles.

**just found this link for sour cream and cottage cheese, and this for ricotta, both over at Crunchy Chicken. Yay!

4)What one thing would you say to encourage others to lessen their plastic consumption?
Start small. Be kind, to yourself and others. And realize that you are not alone in your quest!

Here is lots more inspiration from members (official and unofficial) of the Plastic Posse. You'll find great ideas, lots of humanity, and absolutely no judgement for anyone but themselves:

This will make you want to give up plastic altogether......while this will inspire you.

Good luck - we're all in this together!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

Great Green Reading

Interested in what some of the greenest female minds are thinking this month? Head on over to the Best of Mother Earth for this month's Green Moms Carnival. Down-to-earth, insightful and a variety of viewpoints always make this event a treat. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Greenwashing Is Alive and Well and Aimed at YOU!

I just received a copy of a trade magazine called "Homeworld Business." Aimed at retailers, it is filled with ads by manufacturers hoping to entice us to carry their goods. I was especially interested in the Andis EcoAir Hairdryer. Here is a photo of the ad:

Curious about what made this plastic, electrical hair dryer "eco" I eagerly read the green circle with Eco Friendly in large type. It became clear that the only thing remotely "eco" about this hairdryer is that it has a setting for 1200 watts. That's the low setting, the one that most people using a hairdryer ignore. Here's a closeup of the "eco-friendly" details (sorry about the poor photography! I'm still learning):

"Eco Friendly Go Green and Go Healthy Use lower setting for gentle styling and to conserve energy. Dual 1875/1200 Watts."

And oddly enough, the exact same hairdryer is listed on Amazon as "The Andis Healthy Choices Tourmaline Ceramic Dryer." (Healthy Choices? Sheesh! These folks need an ethical update.)
Same hairdryer, different name - a few months ago this hairdryer wasn't Eco, it was Healthy. Go figure!

This is how it is described "The Andis Healthy Choices Tourmaline Ceramic Dryer is a dual wattage dryer: 1875 watts and 1200 watts of drying power. Use lower wattage setting for gentle styling and to conserve energy."

Down in the bottom right-hand corner is a little green box that says "Green Friendly Packaging." I suspect this means that the packaging can be recycled. Not good enough. And totally lame.

Do you get the feeling that you're being played?

This ad is only the tip of an enormous iceberg. As consumers we have the responsibility to do our homework, and to demand that the stores we patronize do the same. It is simply not enough for manufacturers to slap an ECO label on any product - they have to show us how it really truly is eco.

Some things to look for:
1. Does the product make sense? (Clearly, this hairdryer is just a hairdryer. And while we're on the subject, do you REALLY need a hairdryer?)
2. Where is it manufactured? I try to support US industry whenever possible. It is tough to find items NOT made in China, but we need to at least try! If store owners know this is what we're looking for, they will work to help make it happen. Like Diane MacEachern of Big Green Purse always says, where and how you spend your money can change the world.
3. What is the item made of? Is it sustainably made? Bio plastics, which are plastics made of everything from soybeans to potato fibers, are really hot right now. But do we want to be using food crops to make plastic? If the product is made of paper, is it made of recycled paper?
4. What is the recycled content? While I really don't want to be bringing more plastic into my life, I make exceptions for items made with recycled plastic. I feel that if there is not a market for post-consumer recyclables, companies will have no incentive to do the research and production. I also feel that it is a sort of penance for all of my plastic bottle purchases in the past. I applaud companies like Ecospun and Trex (it seems a bit selfish to build a deck out of redwood when you could be using recycled plastic and wood) for their use of recycled materials. And there's no reason to be buying paper products without some percentage of post consumer waste (PCW) recycled paper in them!
5. Where are you buying the item? Local independent stores are best - they are the grassroots support of your community. Last choice: the big box stores. Walmart doesn't give a fig about you, nor does it care about it's employees or the environment. All Walmart cares about is the bottom line. Do you really want to help them set the standards for how retailing should be done?
6. Be smart. Do you need this item? Is it a priority for you? Here's Diane MacEachern again: "People will spend eight to 10 dollars a week on bottled water, and say they can't afford organic milk or apples," she said. "With bottled water, you're paying for, basically, trash to capture water that is tap water anyway. With paper towels, people say they can't afford the green option. Well, the green option is a sponge." Could you buy one used? (Check out Craig's List, EBay, Could you make one? I am not asking you to construct, say, a lawnmower. But instead of dashing off to Home Depot for a gas-powered one, consider finding a used reel mower. It's good for you, and good for the environment. Here at Dancing Rabbit we use an electric mower on the area around our house. Because we're totally off-grid, it is a guilt-free choice. Kurt waits until we have a sunny day and our batteries are full. Then, it's yard beautification time!

That's it for today. Time for a walk in the sunny fall air - it's 70 degrees out there!

Friday, October 31, 2008


Is anyone reading blogs today? I suspect most are busy with last minute touches to costumes and making sure there is enough candy in the house. Hmmmmm, is there EVER enough candy in the house?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Buyer beware: Unsafe plastic toys are still on sale.

What's in this duck, and why is he smiling?

Over breakfast this morning I was catching up on my reading. There in the Personal Journal section of the October 23rd edition of the Wall Stree Journal was this headline: Toys Containing Banned Plastics Still on Market: Restrictions on Phthalates Don't Take Effect Until '09; Fears of Reproductive Defects.

My first thought was "are you freaking kidding?" But no, they are not. Here are the highlights:

"In February, 25,000 rubber ducks in Craig Wolfe's inventory will be illegal to sell because they contain chemicals called phthalates, which some studies indicate harm early childhood development.

So the toy maker is liquidating what he can, discounting stock to stores that can place big orders. He hasn't destroyed the novelty ducks, he says, because he believes phthalates are safe. "We've never had any problems," he says.The flood of ducks hitting the market now, along with other toys that contain phthalates, is an unintended consequence of a law aimed at avoiding potential hazards precisely like this one. Last summer, after a spate of recalls, Congress overhauled the mandate of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the government's consumer watchdog agency, and ushered in big changes like tougher manufacturing standards for all-terrain vehicles and new limits on lead."

Huh? The toys have been declared unsafe so lets put them all on sale?

Ecoleeko Seahorse, made of organic cotton/hemp corduroy and bamboo fleece with natural kapok stuffing

The article continues: "Three types of phthalates, chemical additives that render hard plastics flexible, will be banned from children's toys and child-care products starting Feb. 10, while three other types of phthalates will be temporarily prohibited from child-care products and toys that can be placed in a child's mouth.

Consumer advocates complain that the law has ended up sanctioning a grace period that allows toy makers to sell off soon-to-be banned toys, rather than forcing them to dispose of them. "This holiday season is going to be 'buyer beware,'" says Elizabeth Hitchcock of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Consumers will see "toys marked down at a discount without knowing that they contain a substance that will be banned in February," says Ms. Hitchcock. That could "present a tremendous danger," she says, because the lower prices will be all the more appealing to shoppers during an economic downturn.

The outcome has frustrated even members of Congress who passed the law. "The effective date was meant to give the CPSC time to implement its new mandates, not to encourage fire sales in toy stores across the country," says Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D., Ill.). A CPSC spokeswoman said Congress didn't deem phthalates unsafe, but had only banned future sales.

Once omnipresent in plastic toys, phthalates have been used in everything from action figures to vinyl inner tubes. But the industrial chemicals began to fall out of favor after a number of studies linked them to genital development problems in rodents, a finding eventually correlated to human infants."

Read the entire article here.

Organic Cotton, made-in-the-US Bath Buddy. Not quite a rubber duckie, but pretty darn fun!

What you can do:
1. Throw away all plastic toys that you are unsure of, especially the soft toys, like rubber duckies, soft read-in-the-tub baby books and other toys intended for infants and toddlers. Also affected: plastic baby bottles and teething rings. Throw them away, do NOT donate them, for all of the obvious reasons. I know this is HARD - we are all looking for ways to save money, not simply throw it away. But what is the health of children worth? More than the few dollars saved.

Food grade, BPA-free stainless steel Klean Kanteen with non-leaching, toxic free Advent sippy spout.

2. Examine the packaging. Look for toys, bottles and teething rings with labels on packaging that state they are lead and phthalate-free. Products produced in Europe (not subcontracted out to China) are often your best bet. And if stuff is on sale? Drastically reduced? Wonder why, and read the fine print. If the packaging does not say phthalate or lead-free, it most likely is not. The product is on sale because it has been dumped by the manufacturer, trying to recoup his investment at the risk of your child's health.

3. Opt for toys made with other materials, such as latex or silicone, both of which are resilient, easy to clean and satisfying to sore gums for mouthy.

4. Cut yourself some slack. It's tough fighting the plastic machine. And I've heard from moms all over that their kids want plastic, and only plastic. Fergit those foofy European toys! Sigh. All we can do is try. And try again. When it comes to kids and plastic, Yoda got it wrong ("Do or do not: There is no try"). You're doing a great job.

Laundry Day stringing toy from German toymaker Haba. Waldorf approved and made to stringent EU environmental standards.

Additional Resources:

US Consumer Product Safety Commission Toy Hazard Recall Page

Parents Magazine Biggest Toy Recalls of 2008

Safe toys are available. This one, made in Vermont of sustainably harvested Vermont maple, and has no finish at all.

If you have any question or further resources, please let me know!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The State of being Grateful

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity.... It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.
~Melodie Beattie
The neighbors (nothing to do with gratitude, but I took this on my morning walk).

On my mind lately has been what to write for my entry in the Green Mom's Carnival, on the topic of three green things for which I’m most grateful. This month it is hosted by the lovely and hanky-toting Karen Hanrahan.

My first thought was, of course, hankies. Hankies? Yes, HANKIES! No longer the sole domain of librarians, grandmothers and spinster aunties, it’s time we all stood up and shouted: “Say it loud! I blow my nose on hankies (instead of paper tissues) and I’m proud.” Or something like that. Perhaps I need to work on a catchier slogan. But hankies can wait for another post.

Because I’ve been out-classed (happily so). Instead of my own ego-centric writing I’d like to share a marvelous post I found while searching online for inspiration about gratitude.

Finding Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits was like the proverbial breath of fresh air. The site is marvelous. Three Truths to Help you Create a Life of Gratitude was guest written by Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity. It is absolutely spot on. Read the article. Please. Really. Take a deep relaxing breath and read it now.

And then, I extend Chris’s Gratefulness Challenge: This is not a theoretical challenge–it’s designed to be quite practical.

Over the next 30 days, I would like to challenge you to create your own life of gratitude in a way that is meaningful to you, and to begin practicing acts of gratefulness more than you have ever done before. I’ll be doing it along with you, and so will a lot of other readers. It’s always good to be specific, so here are some ideas… but don’t let these limit you.

  • Spend three minutes every morning writing down a few things you are grateful for that day.
  • Devote a full morning or afternoon to composing a more detailed gratefulness list. (One tip: think both about what you are grateful for and also how you can show that gratitude
  • Make it a habit to encourage at least one person every day
  • Review your finances to make sure they are in order and aligned with your values

  • Plan something fun, like a trip to somewhere you’ve never been

  • For one day (or more), say something positive to every person you meet

In closing I'd just like to say that I am grateful for you, dear readers, for the abundance with which I am surrounded, for the encouragement and support I receive from people who seem to appear out of nowhere when I need them most, for the natural world which changes beautifully each day, and for all of the possiblities that lay ahead.

Now, it's your turn. Go!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Yes. We. Can.

I was over at A Cultivated Life and found this. Now, I understand that most of you who live in the "real" world are sick to death of political ads. But we don't have TV here - we do subscribe to Netflix, but there are (blissfully) no commercials. (I have, however, stopped answering the phone, especially after 6:00 p.m. If I had a nickel for every time Rudy Guiliani called me this past week - "Hi! This is Rudy Guiliani..." So I DO, partially, feel your pain).

I was incredibly moved by this video. It finally (finally!) a Democratic response to Hal Riney's Morning in America commercial for Ronald Reagan in 1984. Watching this video I feel hopeful, which I have not felt for almost eight long years. **

Yes. We. Can.

**Transcript of text used in the song, thanks to Japi's Blog:

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation.

Yes we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom.

Yes we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.

Yes we can.

It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballots; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.

Yes we can to justice and equality.

Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity.

Yes we can heal this nation.

Yes we can repair this world.

Yes we can.

We know the battle ahead will be long, but always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.

We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics...they will only grow louder and more dissonant ........... We've been asked to pause for a reality check. We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.

Now the hopes of the little girl who goes to a crumbling school in Dillon are the same as the dreams of the boy who learns on the streets of LA; we will remember that there is something happening in America; that we are not as divided as our politics suggests; that we are one people; we are one nation; and together, we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast; from sea to shining sea --

Yes we can."

Celebrities featured include: Jesse Dylan,, Common, Scarlett Johansson, Tatyana Ali, John Legend, Herbie Hancock, Kate Walsh, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Adam Rodriquez, Kelly Hu, Amber Valetta, Eric Balfour, Aisha Tyler, Nicole Scherzinger and Nick Cannon

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The First Post

Hi all. Welcome to my new blog. The old one, Ecovillage Musings, will soon evolve into exactly that - musings (and a few facts) about life here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. A Passion for Green Business will concentrate on the how and why of running a truly green, sustainable, ethical and profitable business.

I can't believe how much I have learned in the past year. I feel like my brain is on hyper-drive. At the risk of being horribly, miserably trite and filled with cliches, life lately feels like peeling a huge, not-so-stinky onion - the more I peel the more that I find is there. And while I might cry a little, all in all it is rich and delicious.

The Milkweed Mercantile recently lost a bid for a $10,000 grant through But we "lost" to Emily Pilloton and Project H Design, a "charitable organization (501c3) that supports, inspires, and delivers life-improving humanitarian product design solutions. We champion industrial design as a tool to address social issues, a vehicle for global life improvement, and a catalyst for individual and community empowerment." I simply cannot get too upset about their victory - especially since the proceeds are going to a project for AIDS orphans in Uganda. Kurt spent over a year in Uganda as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and it changed his life. Having the opportunity to see first hand how little much of the rest of the world lives on, he became an even more ardent environmentalist. He fell in love with the Ugandan people, and was astounded at how they had not let despair overwhem them. So a huge congratulations to Emily and her team, and all good wishes for continued success.

Helping me to wrangle all of this rampaging emotion into perspective is something I found on the blog of our friends over at the Permaculture Activist. It is the Incomplete Manifesto written by designer Bruce Mau (I had it on Ecovillage Musings but never had the chance to explore it, fully or otherwise). It is a wonderful, meaty, brain-expoloding conglomeration of ideas that I can hardly wait to get back to. It seems to encompass everything that I want the Milkweed Mercantile to be and to do: Process is more important than outcome, everyone is a leader, harvest ideas, don't be cool, make mistakes faster, laugh, and power to the people stand out. But YOU take a look, and see what you think. I find it invigorating, and can hardly wait to get started!

1. Allow events to change you. You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.
2. Forget about good. Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you'll never have real growth.
3. Process is more important than outcome. When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we've already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.
4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child). Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.
5. Go deep. The deeper you go the more likely you will discover something of value.
6. Capture accidents. The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions.
7. Study. A studio is a place of study. Use the necessity of production as an excuse to study. Everyone will benefit.
8. Drift. Allow yourself to wander aimlessly. Explore adjacencies. Lack judgment. Postpone criticism.
9. Begin anywhere. John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.
10. Everyone is a leader. Growth happens. Whenever it does, allow it to emerge. Learn to follow when it makes sense. Let anyone lead.
11. Harvest ideas. Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.
12. Keep moving. The market and its operations have a tendency to reinforce success. Resist it. Allow failure and migration to be part of your practice.
13. Slow down. Desynchronize from standard time frames and surprising opportunities may present themselves.
14. Don’t be cool. Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.
15. Ask stupid questions. Growth is fueled by desire and innocence. Assess the answer, not the question. Imagine learning throughout your life at the rate of an infant.
16. Collaborate. The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.
17. ____________________. Intentionally left blank. Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet, and for the ideas of others.
18. Stay up late. Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far, been up too long, worked too hard, and you're separated from the rest of the world.
19. Work the metaphor. Every object has the capacity to stand for something other than what is apparent. Work on what it stands for.
20. Be careful to take risks. Time is genetic. Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.
21. Repeat yourself. If you like it, do it again. If you don’t like it, do it again.
22. Make your own tools. Hybridize your tools in order to build unique things. Even simple tools that are your own can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. Remember, tools amplify our capacities, so even a small tool can make a big difference.
23. Stand on someone’s shoulders. You can travel farther carried on the accomplishments of those who came before you. And the view is so much better.
24. Avoid software. The problem with software is that everyone has it.
25. Don’t clean your desk. You might find something in the morning that you can’t see tonight.
26. Don’t enter awards competitions. Just don’t. It’s not good for you.
27. Read only left-hand pages. Marshall McLuhan did this. By decreasing the amount of information, we leave room for what he called our "noodle."
28. Make new words. Expand the lexicon. The new conditions demand a new way of thinking. The thinking demands new forms of expression. The expression generates new conditions.
29. Think with your mind. Forget technology. Creativity is not device-dependent.
30. Organization = Liberty. Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context. That context is usually some form of cooperatively managed enterprise. Frank Gehry, for instance, is only able to realize Bilbao because his studio can deliver it on budget. The myth of a split between "creatives" and "suits" is what Leonard Cohen calls a 'charming artifact of the past.'
31. Don’t borrow money. Once again, Frank Gehry’s advice. By maintaining financial control, we maintain creative control. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s surprising how hard it is to maintain this discipline, and how many have failed.
32. Listen carefully. Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.
33. Take field trips. The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphic–simulated environment.
34. Make mistakes faster. This isn’t my idea -- I borrowed it. I think it belongs to Andy Grove.
35. Imitate. Don’t be shy about it. Try to get as close as you can. You'll never get all the way, and the separation might be truly remarkable. We have only to look to Richard Hamilton and his version of Marcel Duchamp’s large glass to see how rich, discredited, and underused imitation is as a technique.
36. Scat. When you forget the words, do what Ella did: make up something else ... but not words.
37. Break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, crack it, fold it.
38. Explore the other edge. Great liberty exists when we avoid trying to run with the technological pack. We can’t find the leading edge because it’s trampled underfoot. Try using old-tech equipment made obsolete by an economic cycle but still rich with potential.
39. Coffee breaks, cab rides, green rooms. Real growth often happens outside of where we intend it to, in the interstitial spaces -- what Dr. Seuss calls "the waiting place." Hans Ulrich Obrist once organized a science and art conference with all of the infrastructure of a conference -- the parties, chats, lunches, airport arrivals — but with no actual conference. Apparently it was hugely successful and spawned many ongoing collaborations.
40. Avoid fields. Jump fences. Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields.
41. Laugh. People visiting the studio often comment on how much we laugh. Since I've become aware of this, I use it as a barometer of how comfortably we are expressing ourselves.
42. Remember. Growth is only possible as a product of history. Without memory, innovation is merely novelty. History gives growth a direction. But a memory is never perfect. Every memory is a degraded or composite image of a previous moment or event. That’s what makes us aware of its quality as a past and not a present. It means that every memory is new, a partial construct different from its source, and, as such, a potential for growth itself.
43. Power to the people. Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can't be free agents if we’re not free.

This is way too looooooonnnnnnnnggggg, with no photos! I'll do better tomorrow!