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, Freecycle.org). 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!