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!