Friday, December 21, 2007


We're going to Oakland for Christmas. Last travelling venture we have planned as a family...I will take my first solo trip, to a conference, in February. I have been preparing by pretending to be a goddess of craft (nobody is very fooled) by:

Making dehydrated fruit tree ornaments (I'll post a picture of them hanging, once they're on the tree in Oakland):

Making wrapping paper out of butcher's paper we had on hand (sadly we were too painted to get a good picture during the making of the paper):

And I dredged up the sewing class I took in high school, senior year, and which I probably went to less than a dozen times, in order to produce these malshaped socks:

The pink socks are made from a wool shawl Greendaddy and I purchased in India, our first trip there, together...the shawl was later ruined in the wash, but turned out to be perfect for weird socks. The blue socks are made out of the leftovers of a sari my mother-in-law's aunt and uncle gave me. The maroon velvet socks are made out of the bottom of a long, victorian looking dress my step-mother gave me a few years back, and that I never wore. I saved the top of the dress, hemmed it, and now it's a shirt I'll wear!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sometimes It's the Huge and Vicious Things That Count

We have worked hard here in Megalopoland to teach Grasshopper how to be a smart, green little baby. She shares, so long as she gets something she wants at the same time somebody else does. Her drinks have never been tained by the taste of old plastic. Her butt has rarely been covered in poo, her hair has never been covered in sodium laurel sulfates. She has eaten cherry tomatoes from our own organic garden, she has learned to love molasses (thanks Amit) and is a pretty good little green baby. We thought we were teaching her to make intelligent, thoughtful choices that would guide her through life. But as we exited the plane in Missoula, and headed towards the stairs we passed this seven or eight foot tall Grizzly:

Grasshopper saw it, ran towards it full tilt, squealing, "Doggy, doggy, doggy!" and then hugged the bear's giant glass cage.

Thus proving that sometimes it isn't the little things that count. Sometimes it's the very, very, big, and vicious things.

Sadly, or perhaps luckily with Grasshopper's track record, we didn't see a live bear or moose, though we saw tracks. We saw Rock Creek freezing over, and deer, and this crazy bird that only comes to Rock Creek in the winter. It dives into the freezing water and digs for crazy, cold-loving insects. In the photo above Grasshopper is proving that so long as you have a daddy's chest nearby, it is possible to take a snooze sub-zero land.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Good Gifting

This is newly updated for 2007. A couple caveats: I welcome suggestions, but this is not a site to advertise stores. I mention stores I've been to or shop at, but the goal here isn't to amass a long list of deserving stores. Mostly it's a list of 'generes' of giving with examples I particularly like. So feel free to leave info about your store in the comments, but don't be offended if I never ad it. There are millions of organic clothing stores, for example...I note this, and suggest people google them rather than this list being over-wrought.

I would like creative, unusual, green ideas...


In my green gift guide, below, I’ve sort of categorized the sorts of gift genres I like. Sometimes I construct a green gift; sometimes I get an item that I would otherwise label hoary from a local shop or a used store and feel better about it; sometimes I get a fairly traded gift from the web. Generally This list will grow with time, with your suggestions, etc. And please do make suggestions.

Basically, the local version of any of the following is better than the internet-purchased version in terms of supporting local businesses. Local meaning a store owned by an individual in your community--probably not a corporation-- or a non-profit organization in your community. If the choice is from Amazon or Target, I don’t see a huge difference, especially if you’re sending it to an Auntie in Argentina or something.
1) Crafts, Foods, Clothes from Locally Owned Fair Trade Shops.
Most major cities have a few. In Houston we have an ever growing number, though I most often frequent: Corazon, Taft Street Coffee, and Ten Thousand Villages (which is a chain, but a worthy one…). Hey, see what shops sell fair trade products in your part of the states (there’s not a world-wide listing, yet…but Google…)
2) Resale or antique shops. I am not a pro at Houston resale. Mostly, I go to a resale children’s shop called Young and Restless. In Montrose I go to Bluebird Circle, but I know this city abounds with good resale I don't know about. I will quote a little birdie's comment on adult resale rather than paraphrase: "Blue Bird on W Alabama is the granddaddy of resale - good selection of furniture and so forth and they sort the clothes by size. Catholic Charities on Lovett and the Junior League shop in the Heights also sort by size, but the Junior League store is best for the size fours of the world. Salvation Army on Washington and Goodwill on the North Freeway are the largest of their brethern."
3) Gifty Foods or Crafts from Farmers Markets Etc. We go to Central City Co-Op and they sell little edible items. Friends like Bayou City Farmer’s Market and Mid-Town Farmer’s Market. To find other Texas or US markets, go to Local Harvest.
4) Support A Local Charity instead of a Mega-One In Your Loved One’s Name. Too many to mention…
6) Gift certificates to local venues…restaurants, your favorite baby shop, a masseuse, an art class, a composting class, a cooking class, a writing class
7) Memberships to a local museum…children’s, mfa, natural science, zoo. 
8) Pass to a National Park in your area…go here
9) Shops of all Ilks. Childrens’, bookstores, bikes, hardware stores, antique shops. Might cost a little extra, but hey, no shipping and handling and the monetary and environmental costs it incurs.

All sorts of charities are making it very easy for you to give in another person’s honor. Most send the person something representative of your purchase, be it a certificate, a photo, a turtle tracking system, or the National Green Pages.
1) Giving That Benefits People: Give a cow to a family in a loved one’s name via Heifer International ... conservatives in the family?  They're pro-Heifer, from what I've gleaned in my own family.  You can all feel good about a gift from there.  Or help a rural community develop health or social services (or a number of other options) via Seva Foundation, Oxfam.  
2) Giving That Benefits Social Justice. Purchasing gift memberships for your loved ones to Oxfam, CoOp America, Pacifica, whatever organization it is you think they’d appreciate membership to.
3) Giving That Promotes the Environment. Trees for Life.
4) Giving That Promotes Conservation. Nature Conservancy gifts to save forests and reefs
5) Giving To Benefit Animals: Adopt and track a sea turtle throughout the year at, Farm Sanctuary
6) There are numerous websites that offer much longer lists of the many different ways you can give these sorts of gifts. The ones above caught my eye for various reasons. But here are three good sites to goto if none of the ones I’ve offered tip your kettles:, NoMoreSocks (defunct!), Oxfam, National Resources Defense Council
7) Echoage is a company that you ask guests to give $20 to for a gift (birthday is the idea on the site) and half that money goes to buying one gift for the child, the other goes to the cause of the child & parents' choice.

There are millions of sites, so I won’t go into detail. But I like the ideas over at NoMoreSocks.
1) Scientific Toys
2) Board Games
3) Craft Items
4) Costumes, puppets…
5) Music
6) Photo related I have used Zazzle a couple of years to make mugs, aprons, t-shirts that make grandparents happy. Zazzle has a lot more options than similar sites for standard items. I am newly impressed with the sites Moo for unusual photo gifting options and the site QOOP because it makes nice photo books.

I forgot this on my original lists, and it has been a longtime favorite gift of mine: sending seedlings or windowbox gardening kits to friends throughout the country. Last year I sent tomato plants to several relatives via -- though they messed up two orders, they resent one and credited me money for the other, and I had a good experience. Windowbox promotes gardening for people w/o the space, which I think is a fabulous idea. Still, this year, my gifts will come via Seeds of Change because they sell organic plants and work hard at preserving biodiversity. You can buy a truffle tree for somebody to reap the benefits of, rent vines you get the bottles of wine from...

Basically, you can get the green version of about anything, but it costs…Also, check to make sure item is really green…ie, many yoga mats from green companies are made out of gassing plastics. Many green things aren’t “fair trade” and “vice-versa.” I’m happy when I can get both (and can buy them locally!)…but it doesn’t always happen. I’d shop around for most any of these items…you CAN find good deals if you look hard enough
1) Clothes: Buying new (or used!), organic, worker friendly, fairly traded, and/or vegan clothes or wallets, bags, or shoes.
2) Crafts: Buying fairly traded crafts from around the world for your loved ones try Global Exchange, Bright Hope, Ten Thousand Villages, World of Good
3) Food Items: AKA fairly traded coffee, teas, chocolates…Global Exchange, CafĂ© Campesino, Shaman Chocolates, Glee Gum
4) Personal Care Items: Soaps, salts,at stores like Our Green House.
5) Toys: Wood, cotton, pvc-free…Kid Bean, Toys from the Heart, Peapods
Portals to find the stores that sell these goods: Co-Op America, Eco Mall, Global Exchange
6) Jewelry: Buy recycled gold etc from
7) Movies: Buy movies that support women filmmakers at
8) Health equipment. Healthy yoga mats at stores like Natural Fitness.

1) The Green Guide via Grist
2) Co-Op America’s Green Pages
3) Environmental Defense
4) Tree hugger

1) Books are good to give used, as they’re not particularly environmentally friendly. And it goes against the idea of local, but these days, it’s pretty easy to get a new-looking used book online. Or go the other way and get a funky old edition of a book, or an illustrated old edition…
2) Jewelry. Want to avoid supporting icky work practices in the mining industry & yet still get your sweetie some kind of bling? Antique jewelry is a good choice…
3) Baby/Kid Things. You can get good wooden baby toys and avoid those nasty plastic chemicals. Or a snowflake dress some baby only wore once. Or black patent leather shoes a baby wore twice. Or cool costumes for babies, kids, toddlers…
4) Furniture. Buy a crappy old table and refinish it. Or if you’ve got the dough, buy a refinished table.
5) Wrapping Paper. I’m ahead of myself here, but as long as you’re out, used stores (and your attic and about everywhere you look) is full of papers or cloth that make inexpensive, cool looking, distinctive wrappings.
6) Doo-dads. You know who you’re shopping for better than I do…go hunting!

1) Bake. Deliver the goods to friends in lieu of purchased gifts
2) Books. Construct them yourself, write a poem or a story, or uses photos…or both…
3) Ornaments, picture frames, magnets. Go to a craft store (or a used store) find materials, and concoct them.
4) Calendars, cds, videos. Use the computer to make calendars or cds or a video
4) Compose. Songs, poems, stories, plays, portraits, dances…
5) Work. Clean out somebody’s garage, cupboards, paint their porch, weed their garden…
6) Sculpt. With clay or snow or granite.
7) Cross pollinate these and other ideas you have…
8) Puppets. Make puppets for the kids in your life…

A few trashy gifts that are not fair-trade, environmentally friendly, local, organic, or educational always slip into my giving. I don’t stress out too much, because I go out of my way to keep their numbers down. Last year I knew somebody who needed a talking Jackie Kennedy doll, so I will look locally and/or used…but I’m not holding my breath.
1) One way around this is to buy your gifts through sites like, which is a portal you enter before shopping at regular places like Amazon or the Gap...but if you do enter these places through the HEARTof hurdel 75% of your purchase money goes to a charity of your choice. Similar organizations that give less money -- 35% -- are or

1) Surprise the family with an outing to some outdoor place on your gift exchange day…an orchard, a sledding hill, a river, a park…bring snacks

***I have definitely not included all there is out there. This is a list that will grow at my pace, not the pace of the green gifting industry. If I forgot one of your favorites, or if you have a good idea about any of all this, please let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


My post on Grasshopper's diet drew concern about Quorn, a laboratory produced mold that makes very tasty faux chicken, chicken nuggets, and meatballs. It is billed as akin to mushroom fungus, but is more like Miso, Tempeh, or certain cheeses that use fungus/molds to grow and/or ferment into themselves. The main concern over Quorn seems to be that a number of people in the US and Britain are very allergic to this mycoprotein. Lucky for everybody in our family, Grasshopper has no known allergies. But even though I had read about how Quorn is laboratory produced and not been bothered about it before, all the controversy Quorn sparked on the Raising a Vegetarian Baby post set me off thinking (that does happen, on occasion).

The highly processed nature of the product, and my desire to have this short cut, not to give up on a fast fix, reminds me about the troubles I have always had with plain vegetarianism or veganism: people use the words as synonyms for healthy eating, or for diets, but in many cases, I've known many (not all) vegetarians and vegans to be terrible, trashy eaters who happen not to eat meat products. They are more sucre-grainarians. In college the first move many of my vegetarian friends made was to find which Hostess products they could still stash away in some secret hiding place in their dorm rooms.

A major portion of the reason we eat 'green'...because vegetarian is vague and that we want to avoid eating processed junk, we want to put in foods low on the food chain high on our diet...which, aside from helping out our feathered and/or four footed friends, allows us to better avoid bioaccumulation of toxins etc. Part of doing this is at least trying to know what it is that makes it onto our plate.

Of course, like the last post I put up implies, it's very hard to know what's in or on our food. Raw almonds, for example, are no longer "raw" in the way the raw food eaters define raw. In being pasteurized things happen to the almonds. Similarly, I know that a lot happens to the dairy products my family eats before we eat them, even when I buy organic, and I'm not sure what exactly. I don't make all our own pasta or bread... I don't know how oil is pressed out of olives...I accept I am ignorant about the paths a lot of the food I eat followed to get to me.

Still, I believe in digging your heels in, wherever you are, and refusing to slide any further down whatever slippery slope you're navigating. I don't over-worry about not knowing what's in everything...but I just make sure that the majority of what I cook or snack on is whole grains, legumes, greens, fruity, nuts, seeds, berries, and vegetables. Dairy, tofu, processed grains, and sauces entering our diet I monitor in amount and by the limited standards that do exist -- organic, dye-free, non-GMO, etc..

We have a neighbor child being raised vegan, though both her parents eat meat. Her parents we barely see, and they seem nice, are great to Grasshopper, and their girl is a great kid. But her diet seems to consist of fake cheese, soy milk, and grains.

It seems a good example to think about how hard it is leaving meat and dairy. All these McVegan products exist because people miss what they had, they are nostalgic for what they grew up with. Our neighbors eat meat and believe, maybe, it is better not to, and maybe they themselves just can't give it up and want to somehow shield their daughter from temptation: but the way they approach the issue is to literally replace meat. It seems well-intentioned, but dangerously McVegan.

Which brings me back to Quorn, a product I originally purchased because I get sick of soy products, and because it's very easy for me to make high-protien faux-chicken nuggets at lunch or when I'm pressed for time. I don't always have time to make my own vegi-burgers or soy nuggets...which are easy enough: freeze tofu, thaw it, cut it into little squres, season breadcrumbs and batter, then bake or fry the tofu. But just like I used to turn my nose up at "real" macaroni and cheese, Grasshopper is about 1/3 more likely to eat the Quorn than she is mamma's nuggets. (Only recently has Grasshopper decided she likes peanut butter and quesadillas, which alleviates some lunch time pressure... )

Now when I think of Quorn I get some picture of a vat of mold in my head. So I don't buy them so much...though on occasion, I will. This whole conundrum has made me think about processed foods and their relationship to vegetarianism and veganism. I mean, there are giant markets for weirdly constructed McVegan foods, located in the McVegan section of the grocery, of course: Gimmie Lean, Tofurkey, Nayonaise, Sheese cheese, Stonewall's Jerquee, Tofutti sour cream. My favorite processed fake stuff is Notdogs. Other fake options I have let enter our diet: some soy milk, Tofutti Cream Cheese and Nayonaise. We eat tofu and sometimes Seitan.

It's funny I would never feed my child packaged Noodle-Roni -- I don't even like to feed her Annie's macaroni and cheese -- but I wouldn't blink if she ate Tofutti. And I have no idea what that is. I don't know what the fake turkey lunchmeat we used to eat on occasion is. Like when I ate beef and knew it was cow and some additives, I know Tofutti is tofu and something.

Okay, not exactly like that. I'm guessing the makers of Tofutti are more thoughtful than the beef industry. But when I'm getting at is my awareness of the need for fast options, and the ease of relying on processed foods, even when eating a diet that most people think is healthy. I'm getting at how it all unsettles me, how McVeganism or McVegetarianism are realities as potentially dangerous as McDonald's. Even when I knew Quorn was mold, for example, I was thinking: but it's so good! so tasty! it can't be that bad, even though I don't have a clue what's really in it.

Quorn is a shortcut. Tofu nuggets are easy to make, but easy still takes time. It's upsetting when the shortcuts we find to enable ourselves to spend time doing things other than cooking turn out to bring us to places on the part of the food chain located in the Twilight Zone.

I guess the solution to this problem is the same as always: everything, especially the more disturbing things, in moderation. Short cuts in moderation.

Monday, December 03, 2007

This Seems Important: Take Action by Dec 3

Our vegetable co-op, Central City Co-op, sent this email over the weekend and I missed it.  I don't believe I've ever posted a take action email/post before, but we eat a lot of greens around here.

*     *     *    *     *

First email I received:

The US Department of Agriculture/USDA plans to irradiate (which = pasteurize) ALL raw greens  -- including organic. They have proposed to have federal regulations mandating the 'pasteurization' of all greens. The FDA has started using the word 'pasteurize' as a euphemism for irridiation. For example, almonds are being "pasturized" in California, and the most common method for treating them is with a known carcinogenic, banned rocket fuel. 

The plan to pasteurize the vegetables was revealed recently, and the FDA is only allowing comments until Monday, Dec. 3. (In the past, the FDA had comment periods of several weeks or even months.

Second, more detailed email I received:

Protect Fresh Leafy Greens and Family Farms
Federal Regulations Would Harm Sustainable Farmers and Biodiversity

We need your help in another battle to stop the slippery slope toward a sterilized and industrialized food system that threatens biodiversity and the very existence of family-scale farms that grow food in a safe, healthy, and environmentally sustainable way.

In response to the E. coli 0157 outbreaks last year in bagged spinach, the USDA is considering a change in the federal regulations that could potentially require growers of all fresh leafy green vegetables to follow specified guidelines in the fields and during post-harvest handling. The federal rules would be similar to the California guidelines that were set by large-scale operations after the outbreaks. The guidelines include growing practices that discourage biodiversity and sustainable/organic farming practices, deplete soil fertility, and create “sterile” fields—methods that have not been scientifically proven to actually reduce E. coli 0157 bacteria but are certain to reduce biodiversity, harm wildlife, and burden family-scale farms.

Small- and medium-scale farmers would bear the greatest financial and logistical burden of such specified guidelines. For example, if the rules require testing for pathogens at every harvest—as they currently do in California—then large-scale farms that grow one type of crop and harvest only one to three times per season would pay much less than smaller and more diverse farms that continually harvest many types of vegetables. If regulations dictate a single set of growing practices and food safety measures, which are appropriate for large-scale “factory farms” but not for diverse family farms, we risk losing the very farms that grow leafy greens in a healthy and sustainable way. A one-size-fits-all regulation will not work!

The rules threaten biodiversity and environmental sustainability in several ways. Farmers would be encouraged to eliminate wildlife and any vegetation that may provide habitat for wildlife. The rules also discourage the development of microbial life in the soil. These methods have not been shown to reduce the risk of harmful bacterial contamination. In fact, sustainable farming methods that promote microbial life in soil have shown to reduce E. coli 0157 because it has to compete with other microbes and is therefore less likely to thrive. However, the aim of these rules seems to be for sterile fields that support no forms of life, except for the leafy greens.

We must make our voices heard, telling the USDA that we do not support federal rules that would put a great financial and logistical burden on family-scale farmers, discourage environmentally healthy ways of farming, and harm wildlife.

Taking action is easy, but with a December 3 deadline for submitting comments to the USDA, we need your help today. Please tell the USDA that food safety is an important concern, but that mandating measures with no scientific basis that will put small farmers out of business, and harm wildlife, is not the way to go.


Please help insure our right to purchase buy raw greens.

Here are the procedures for posting a public comment:

1) Submit online.  Either

Submit via this website:

OR submit directly:

Go to
In the middle of the screen, you will see "Search Documents."  In Step 1, choose "Documents with an open comments period"
In Step 2, choose "Department of Agriculture"
In Step 3, choose "PROPOSED RULES"
In Step 4, choose "Docket ID" and then type in "AMS- FV-07-0090"
Hit "Submit."
Next, you will see a column titled "Comments, add/due by." Click on the tiny tan dialogue icon, and you are now ready to submit your information and your comment.

2) Fax in your response: (202) 720-8938.

Please take action on this.  Follow the link to read more and take action at the FDA Comment Line

Even more important, get to know your Senators and Representatives and call them; their willingness to address issues depends on how many constituents call them to complain or voice their support.

It only takes 5 minutes to call the toll-free Congressional switchboard numbers when an important issue like this comes up, and they are listening.

The FDA will listen to the public and heed their wishes IF enough people call/contact them.
Even more important, voice your concerns Monday to the Senators and Represenatives who represent you. Let them know you want the agri-business corporations to take responsibility and use more hygienic handling practices and more prudent shipping methods.

Reach Your representatives: