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Extending Christmas: For the Birds

We had a real Christmas tree this year. We debated much about what was most “green,” and I read several accounts that said a real tree, when recycled after use, is still “greener” than artificial options. Something many people don’t consider is the amount of energy that goes into producing and transporting (usually overseas) artificial trees. Added to that, most people only keep artificial trees for 5-6 years (average), which means the used trees simply end in landfills. Christmas tree farms plant a new tree for the one you cut, and, natural trees can be recycled into mulch when you’re finished. Most of all, we simply love the experience of making a day, as a family, to go out and choose a tree on a farm.

This year, we found another way to extend the life of our tree. Jenna was very upset to see the tree go, but my allergies were flaring up, and we suspected the tree (mold? pine?). In an effort to compromise, I suggested that we set the tree outside the French doors on our patio. Then, inspiration hit, and I suggested that we decorate the tree for the birds with peanut butter and birdseed ornaments. Jenna was sold.

Here’s how our project went:

First, we tied dental floss (any string/yarn would work) through the holes in Saltine crackers to make a loop. (We also decorated one cardboard toilet paper tube that we poked a hole in for hanging. I preferred the crackers because the whole ornament was edible.)

Second, I pulsed chunky peanut butter in my food processor with a little sesame oil to make it thinner and easier to dip. Those lucky critters got some organic peanut butter (Yikes! $$) because that’s all I had on hand. We poured the peanut butter in a glass for dipping.

Next, we dipped the crackers. We pushed them down in with a spoon and sometimes scooped the peanut butter up over the crackers to cover completely. We laid them out on wax paper to wait for the next step.

Then, we dredged the peanut butter crackers through the birdseed. We pushed the seeds in, to make sure they were stuck more securely. This was an EXCELLENT sensory exercise for Jenna, who did NOT like the way the peanut butter and seeds felt on her hands. She wanted to get them done to hang on the tree, so she stuck with it.

The finished product waiting on wax paper.

Next, we strung popcorn on dental floss. This was good fine motor therapy for Jenna, but she didn’t do it long. My needle-phobic girl (too many bad blood work experiences) was too terrified of the threading needle. Especially after this happened to Mommy’s thumb:

Finally, we decorated the tree:

Ta-Da!!

Now, to sit back and wait for the birds to come.  ……..

By that evening, our guests arrived.

They didn’t have wings, but they were still fun to watch. Within a day, we had six at a time climbing all over the tree and trying to pull the popcorn strings out! Within three days, the tree was bare. That’s OK! We can do it all over again. Christmas can last as long as the tree does. Then we’ll recycle it to mulch.

Next year, we’re considering finding a tree at a nursery that we can decorate for a couple weeks and then move outside for planting.

 

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Green Art, Office & School Supplies

I recently had the opportunity to review art supplies from O’Bon. O’Bon carries a variety of eco-friendly art, office and school supplies, and when they asked me what I’d like to review, I decided on the colored pencils pictured above since Jenna loves art so much. They generously included the notebook pictured above as well. That photo doesn’t do it justice, either, because those kiwis look incredibly like the real thing when you see the notebook in person.

At O’Bon’s website they explain their goals:

“To give the consumer a a better choice. A selection of products that look better than what you find on any shelf. A collection of lines that are environmentally-friendly so you can make this world a better place through purchasing for your needs. A standard of quality that is top-notch and ideally suited for your high expectations.”

I have to say that I was immediately impressed with the quality of the products we received. The paper in the notebook contains bright white pages made from white sugarcane paper, that comes from recycled sugarcane pulp. It doesn’t look at all like the typical brown textured look of the recycled paper I’m used to. With a touch of humor, the back of the journal states: Trans fats (0%), Cholesterol (0%), Carbohydrates (0%), Rainforest fiber (0%). Hehe! The cover is recycled cardstock that is printed with soy inks, and, as I mentioned, the colors are absolutely vibrant.

The pencils are made from recycled newspapers that they claim last 2-3 times longer than standard wood pencils. They’re non-toxic and well protected so the colored wax core doesn’t break as easily, and they sharpen easily. We received the Wildlife Series set, that includes 12 colored pencils printed with animal patterns. Jenna was fascinated by this feature, and we even talked a little bit about each animal represented. The set includes: Turtle (light green), Zebra (black), Parrot (red), Alligator (dark green), Leopard (yellow), Tiger (orange), Snake (light brown), Bear (dark brown), Kingfisher (dark blue), Starfish (pink), Hummingbird (light blue), Marine Fish (purple). Jenna’s favorites were Kingfisher Blue and Tiger Orange. The pencils were smooth to write and color with and Jenna didn’t have any trouble sharpening them. Here’s a photo journal or our test session:

Sharpening….

“Wow! Look at that! It worked!” She was fascinated by the newspaper print that you could see once you sharpened them.

Testing…….

Kingfisher Blue in motion! (Psssst! Check out that pincher grip! We’re working on it….)

All in all, we were thrilled with the products and their quality, and I’m pretty happy about their reasonable pricing and the fact that they plant a tree with every purchase! Besides the products we reviewed here, O’Bon also carries art (graphite) pencils, pocket journals, binders, folders, and “regular” pencils. Perfect for keeping the kiddos on summer vacation occupied and marvelous for stocking up for back-to-school in the fall, which will be here again before you know it!

This was not a paid review. I was sent the notebook and the pencils at no charge to review & keep, but the opinions expressed are honest & solely my own.

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2011 in Going Green, Jenna, Product Reviews

 

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Make Your Own Natural Deodorant

homemade deodorantphoto by lorigami

Alternate titles considered: “Going Native” or “To Stink or Not to Stink”

Hehe!

In all seriousness, I truly AM making an effort to go a little more native in areas dealing with purchasing/consuming synthetic chemicals. I’m guessing true natives didn’t worry too much about deodorant at all, so I’m not quite going all the way. BUT, I’ve started making my own foaming soap that I use for dishes, hand washing, showering, bathing, shampoo, and even general cleaning! I’ve even started making my own laundry detergent. I hope to post on both of those products at another time.  I’m making these changes in an effort to limit the number of synthetic and potentially toxic chemicals that I’m not only absorbing through my skin, but also adding to the environment and the world’s water system.  {Side note: The key, active ingredient in commercial antiperspirant/deodorants, for example (along with many other synthetic chemicals), is aluminum. We’re rubbing it into our skin and the sensitive lymph tissue frighteningly near our breasts. Yikes!} I’m also making a concerted effort to minimize the amount of waste I produce (especially plastic), and hand soap dispensers, laundry detergent bottles, and deodorant containers are items I was frequently discarding with very little thought. Ugh. Shame on me. Finally, I’m pretty happy that those changes also tie in to a pretty significant savings in the area of our checkbook. You can’t beat that!

Today, I made the switch to homemade, natural deodorant. I held off on this step longer than the others for one fairly obvious reason. I don’t want to stink. I’ve tried MANY natural deodorant alternatives over the years, and I’ve just never been impressed. I always felt like I ended up with at least slight body odor (if not SERIOUS BODY ODOR) that was often mixed with a weird herb-y smell. Eww. Just…..Eww. Since having a baby and a hysterectomy, I swear that body odor creeps up on me faster than it used to, so this is a serious concern. If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a researcher at heart. I’ve read all kinds of recipes for natural deodorant as well as a plethora of reviews. I finally found this one that many people swore by who had gone through many years of trying other natural alternatives and feeling frustrated.  Here’s the recipe:

5-6 Tbsp Coconut oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup arrowroot powder or cornstarch

That’s it! I’m not sure it could get any easier! When mixed, it has a pasty, gel-like texture like what you see pictured above. I simply spread it on with my fingertips the same way I would any lotion. If you want to add a scent, you can add a drop or two of the essential oil of your choice, or even a squeeze of lime! I’ve considered a drop of tea tree oil due to it’s antibacterial qualities (bacteria are what create the stink) but am slightly concerned that it might be too drying. I didn’t add any scent to this batch, and the coconut oil has a very soft, unobtrusive scent of its own.

I’m giving it a seven day test and will update this post each day with my general level of activity, how sweaty I felt & how stinky I got. Hehe! I’ll end with my overall satisfaction with the switch and let you know if I plan to stick with it or not. If you want to join in, please leave a note in the comments and let me know what YOU decide!

Here’s the post where I originally found the recipe. Fingers crossed for no stinking!

  • Day 1: Moderate activity (vacuuming, light exercise, yoga, & usual Mommy stuff). No stink! Didn’t feel sweaty! Like the slightly coconutty scent.
  • Day2: Big test = no shower today. DID re-apply deodorant in the a.m. Ran errands & got very hot in winter coat, due to spring thaw in progress. Worried about stink. Guess what? NO STINK! Color me impressed.
  • Day 3: VERY active day. Laundry, therapy w/J (I do steps & squats, too!), yoga, exercise bike, cooking, & errands. NO. STINK.
  • Day 4: Good news & bad. Good news: still no stink, I LOVE the soft coconut scent, no residue/oils on clothes (commercial deodorant is MUCH worse), and I really think it works. Bad news: I developed a rash today. Ugh. I am TOTALLY bummed. I love everything about this stuff. Except the rash. I’m guessing that it’s a reaction to the cornstarch, so I’m going to abort this test and make another batch. I’ll substitute arrowroot powder from our co-op for the cornstarch and see if it makes a difference. Hoping to get some arrowroot powder to have a new batch mixed tomorrow or Saturday. Will do a new post & a new 7-day test from there. Sorry to leave you hanging!

Update: Have been doing some research and am learning that allergies to any of these ingredients are VERY RARE. Hmmmm. So why do I have a red rash?? I think I’m going to delay my next batch a bit longer and do some skin testing with each individual product to see if it causes redness. My other thought is that my rash is possibly heat/moisture related. Since there is no antiperspirant involved, I’m sure there’s some sweating going on, and the coconut oil itself kind of creates a perpetually moist environment. If that’s the problem, I’m not sure how to solve it. Will research more, do some testing, and keep you posted.

Update #2: Everything I’m reading seems to be pointing to the baking soda as the rash culprit. Who knew?! Apparently, sodium bicarbonate can be irritating to sensitive skin. I think I’m going to try cutting the baking soda in half and see what happens. If the rash is from moisture, & possibly fungal realted (Eww!), tea tree oil might help, but essential oils can be irritating, too, so I think I might try the soda solution first.

 

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2011 in Going Green, Health, Recipes

 

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