Sunday, February 27, 2011

I stopped n swapped then I met a son of a farmer.

I went to the Stop N Swap in Fort Greene today. The swap was full of the busy energy of workers organizing incoming goodies and swappers of all ages and genders doing some intense digging. Also present was a lovely joy people seemed to take equally in sharing with others and finding fun things for themselves. I discovered this amazingly creepy, quirky handmade wooden and cloth monkey doll. It was a such jewel! I wonder where it came from and who took it home.

Later, I went to the Brooklyn Public Library for a reading and Q&A session with Eric Herm, author of Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth. Herm is a fourth generation farmer from Texas who is in the process of going organic on the huge areas of land he farms with his father. Apparently the transition is a long, hard, and expensive one, but one Herm views as imperative for the future of the planet. Herm also emphasized the urgent need to move away from the model of shipping in our food from afar, suggesting we rely more on local food production as oil becomes more expensive and more difficult to obtain. Herm was quick to point out that lots of inspiring things are happening here in Brooklyn: the food coop, the Greenmarket, and all the rooftop farms. He encouraged us all to start growing on what little land we have-- be it a few inches of soil surrounding a tree or even a box on our windowsill.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Plastic Albatross' Domestic Detox : This is Serious!

Last night I attended a lecture about detoxing our homes. It was hosted by Professor Jenna Spevak of Plastic Albatross. Plastic Albatross is a community-based campaign to educate the public about toxins in plastics and other household products, and how these substances affect the health and fertility of humans. I was surprised to learn exactly how many undisclosed, untested, unregulated, and potentially harmful chemicals are in everyday products. Since World War II, 80,000 synthetic new chemicals were introduced to consumers and  62,000 of them have not been tested! Those that have been tested have been discovered to be carcinogens and neurotoxins. They have also been linked to learning disabilities, asthma, and obesity. Despite this alarming research, manufacturers continue to be allowed to develop and sell products containing these chemicals. Manufacturers police themselves and claim the amount of toxins in their products are too negligible to hurt us. This doesn't take into account what happens when those chemicals in one product interact with those chemicals in other products a consumer uses. Also these chemicals are considered ‘persistent bioaccumulative toxins‘ or PBTs. They don't just enter our bodies, hang out for a few minutes while we use the product, then bounce off to outer space. PBTs accumulate in our bodies, our food and our water.
Our plastics inside an albatross (seagull) chick's belly :-(
 I consider myself pretty savvy about green living. I work at an eco-friendly shop and I recently started a small business offering green residential cleaning. I belong to the Park Slope Food Coop. I like to think of myself as educated enough to make informed "green" consumption decisions, but the lecture highlighted dangers even I wasn't aware of. (Did you know food wrapped in plastic, especially oily food, is bad for our health because the oil of the food absorbs the plastic oil of the packaging? I didn't!) Luckily, Spevak offered healthy alternatives and now I am able to make even smarter choices. Upon arriving home from the lecture, I felt like a veil was lifted. I was surprised to see so many plastic things in my fridge and throughout my home! I am now committed to make a real effort to reduce my plastic consumption beyond not drinking bottled water and accepting plastic bags at stores. The tub of whipped Earth Balance in my fridge will certainly be my last!

Still, I wonder and worry about folks who haven't yet accessed this information. I feel like they need protection. Today, at the suggestion of Plastic Albatross' policy page, I wrote to my government representatives and asked them to sponsor legislation that would create a program to replace toxic chemicals with safer alternatives wherever a feasible, safer alternative exists. It felt good to participate in democracy, but I know government things like that take a long time to really create change (if they even get passed at all).

In the meanwhile, what about those chemicals used by my building's exterminator and cleaning person? Or those used in public spaces like laundromats, libraries, schools, movie theaters, shops, and restaurants? (I can't tell you how many times I've gagged in restaurants when they used Windex or Fantastic or something equally obnoxious to clean a recently vacated table. Grrr!) The next step is to spread the word about toxins and their alternatives to my neighbors, friends, and family. I plan to download and use Plastic Albatross' slide show to host a lecture here in Prospect Heights, in my old neighborhood Bed-Stuy, and anywhere that'll have me. I'm also going to actually speak to the manager next time I am somewhere where dangerous chemicals are being used right in front of me.

This is serious. The synthetic chemicals we humans are making and consuming will never go away. Ever! It's not even a matter of the fact that the lid on the disposable Starbucks coffee cup you're using right now is slowly killing you. As serious and terrible as that is, what's worse is the choices we make now will affect animals and people who won't be born until centuries from now. Yikes! Why not try to move in the right direction?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Brooklyn Swaps!

Ready to let go of objects you don't need but not sure where or how to responsibly dispose of them? Want new stuff but don't want to contribute to industrial waste? Share and/or collect things that are in good condition with your neighbors at one or both of the upcoming Brooklyn community swaps listed below. Busy parents should check out the ongoing online swap service listed below.

Stop 'N' Swap: Fort Greene
Saturday, February 26th, 11am-2pm
M.S. 113 gymnasium, 300 Adelphi Street b/t DeKalb and Lafayette
Organized by GrowNYC. (More info here on their website.)
Cost: Free!

Bring clean, reusable, portable items to share; or just come see what's free for the taking. (No furniture or large items, please.)

Stop 'N' Swap - Brooklyn from GrowNYC on Vimeo.

Fabulous Females Free Fashion Swap
Saturday, March 19th, 2011, 12 Noon-3pm
@ LaunchPad, 721 Franklin Ave (btw Park and Sterling Ave), Crown Heights
Organized by Olivia Lane Housekeeping & Organizing
Cost: Free!
RSVP via Facebook

Looking for a good reason to clean out your closet?  How about sharing your stuff with your neighbors! Please bring clothes, shoes, jewelry, handbags, and other accessories that are in good condition to LaunchPad. Be prepared to find *new to you* stuff you will love too!

This is a free event and welcome to all. (You don't have to bring anything to share besides a smile!) Please remember to think green and bring your own bag. You are also encouraged to bring snacks to share too.

Please make sure everything is freshly washed or dry cleaned to make sure only love is shared, not bed bugs.

This swap service makes the idea of having kids seem much more palatable for an eco-minded gal like me who likes to save money. Parents select the box they like best from thousands containing "pre-loved" <3! clothes and toys. ThredUp then ships the box to the parents' home for only $16. In turn, parents add their own boxes of goodies to the lists and when it is selected they use the pre-paid boxes and shipping labels provided by ThredUp to mail it from their home. (No running to the post office; ThredUp arranges for a USPS pick-up!)
Watch a NBC news video about how it works.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Workshops Galore! Green Housekeeping, D-I-Y Beauty, and Domestic Detox

Looking to detox your body and home this Spring? These Brooklyn community workshops will help you get started! I'm partnering with health consultant Liz Neves, my neighbor and new friend, to present a workshop that'll make housekeeping healthy and fun. I'm also leading a similar workshop on my own. Liz will be leading a workshop on how to mix your own body care products. But first, Prof. Jenna Spevak teaches us how to lessen our exposure to toxins in our home. 

I wish I was here.
 Please share the info below with your neighbors and friends.

Domestic Detox: Pollution is Personal
Thursday, February 24th, 7-8pm
@ The Commons, 388 Atlantic Ave. (btw Hoyt & Bond), Boerum Hill, Brooklyn
Cost: $6 suggested donation.
From laundry detergent and toothpaste to non-stick pans and canned beans, unregulated, untested, and undisclosed synthetic chemicals are used in the production of countless household items. Many of these toxic ingredients are absorbed by our bodies and contribute to a dramatic increase in chronic health problems. Scientific estimates show that the average person carries at least 700 contaminants in his or her body.With the FDA and EPA powerless to regulate the chemical corporations and protect the populace, how do citizens navigate this minefield of domestic toxins? Where do we start?

It can be overwhelming and often paralyzing, but we CAN transform our living spaces into toxin-free homes, starting with a few simple steps. Join Jenna Spevack, City University of New York professor and founder of Plastic Albatross, for a domestic detox with a step-by-step tour down the average household shopping list. Learn how to lessen your exposure to toxins in your own home and reduce your body burden.

Green Housekeeping for the Domestically Impaired
Tuesday, March 8th, 6:30 to 7:30pm. Join us at 6pm for refreshments.
@ LaunchPad: 721 Franklin Ave. (btw Park & Sterling Pl.), Crown Heights. 
Cost: Free. Bring a snack to share if you can.
Let’s face it: You’re busy and you like to have fun. Housework is time-consuming and you have 10 million things you’d rather be doing, that is, if you could stop tripping over the same pile of stuff on your way to do them.

Attend our workshop and learn not only how to fit housekeeping into your full and fabulous life, but learn how adopting a happy, eco-friendly housekeeping practice can make your life even better. Olivia will offer practical, personalized advice on how you can say goodbye to clutter and hello to all the good stuff you really need, want, and deserve. She’ll also share her secrets for making cleaning and organizing a sacred, self-healing and renewing ritual you’ll actually look forward to! Liz will explain how the products we clean with impact our health and our environment. She’ll also demonstrate how to mix our your own homemade cleaning product.  

Participants will leave with a mini-guide to eco-friendly housecleaning, a homemade cleaner, and a fresh perspective on life, love, and dust bunnies!  

Please bring a 4oz jar.

Olivia Lane is a professional apartment cleaner and organizer offering creative, positive, and personalized eco-friendly service to Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Park Slope, Bed-Stuy, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene & Lower Manhattan. Visit for more info.

Liz Neves, healthy home consultant (, thinks everyone deserves to experience health and well being. She helps nurture a more healthful and natural lifestyle by reducing the chemical burden that is common in many households. Her work is based on studies in permaculture, lotion & soap crafting, and herbalism.

Natural Beauty: Make-It-Yourself Body Care
Sunday, March 20th. Light potluck brunch potluck at 10am. Workshop 10:30am-12pm. 
@ The Brooklyn Free School, 372 Clinton Ave. (btw Lafayette & Greene), Clinton Hill
Hosted by The Good Life
Cost: $35 Non-Members/ $25 Grower Members/ Free Pollinators

Are you ready to get crafty making luxurious lotions, polishing cleansers, and other body care products? In this hands-on workshop, you'll learn the simple art of mixing up your very own customized goods that enhance your natural beauty. Many of the ingredients we'll work with can be found in your cupboard, or are easily located at your local grocery store. Everyone walks away with 3 products (all-over body cream, facial cleanser, body scrub, deodorant; subject to change).

Please bring: three 4-oz. glass containers (mason or baby food jars work great.) We will also have containers on hand to purchase if need be.

About Liz Neves of Raganella Healthy Home Consulting
Raganella means "tree frog" in Italian, and like a tree frog with permeable skin, I'm sensitive to polluting chemicals in our homes and environment. Everyone deserves to experience health and well being, and I help nurture a more healthful and natural lifestyle by reducing the chemical burden that is common in many households. By eliminating toxic chemical-based products from our homes and replacing them with simple and effective natural solutions, we can all get closer to enjoying the wealth of health.
I work one-on-one to help you achieve your healthy lifestyle goals. Workshops, in-home make-it-yourself parties, and my recently launched Community Supported Botanicals program are other ways to experience my services.
I'm passionate about helping people live in a healthier, just, and ecologically sound world. My work is based on my studies of permaculture, lotion & soap crafting, and herbalism. I'm also a big fan of composting and urban gardening. You can follow me on twitter @raganella7 or on facebook:

Why Can't the Laundry Do Itself? Housekeeping for the Domestically Challenged
Wednesday, March 23th, 7:30- 8:30pm. Join us for vegan refreshments at 7pm.
@ The Brooklyn Free School, 372 Clinton Ave. (btw Lafayette & Greene), Clinton Hill
Hosted by The Good Life

Cost: $12 suggested; Pay-What-You Wish. Bring a vegan snack to share if you can.
RSVP via EventBrite and/or the Facebook invitation.

Let’s face it: You’re busy and you like to have fun. Housework is time-consuming and you have 10 million things you’d rather be doing, that is, if you could stop tripping over the same pile of stuff on your way to do them.

Attend my workshop and learn not only how to fit housekeeping into your busy, fabulous, fun life, but learn how adopting a happy housekeeping practice can make your life even better. I’ll offer practical, personalized advice on how you can say goodbye to clutter and hello to all the good stuff you really need, want, and deserve. I’ll also share my secrets for making cleaning and organizing a sacred, self-healing and renewing ritual you’ll actually look forward to!

Participants will leave with an original, handmade mini-guide to eco-friendly housecleaning and a fresh perspective on life, love, and dust bunnies!

Olivia Lane is a professional apartment cleaner and organizer offering creative, positive, and personalized eco-friendly service to Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Park Slope, Bed-Stuy, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene & Lower Manhattan. Visit for more info.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Free Organic Wine and Fair Trade, Vegan Chocolate Tonight at Sustainable NYC

Come to Sustainable NYC (139 Avenue A btw 8th & 9th Streets, 6-8pm, Wed. Feb 9th) for free organic wine and fair trade, vegan chocolates from Divine. Divine Chocolates are made with certified fair-trade ingredients-- not just the Ghanaian cocoa butter, but the sugar and vanilla too! Plus, the company is 45% owned by the farmers. Join us tonight in saying "no to slavery" and "yes to getting fat and drunk!" Here's a link to the FB event invitation, if you're into that sort of thing. Tell your friends!

Now, I will shamelessly plug the amazing store I am happy to be a part of: If you're looking for a unique gift for Valentine's Day or any other occasion, you can feel good about buying it at Sustainable NYC. It's not only great because I work there :-), it's also awesome because all the items in the shop have to comply with certain ethical standards. They are either made of organic, repurposed, or recycled materials. They make it easier for consumers to use less resources like energy and water. They're made by local NYC artists or international artisans earning a fair wage-- many of them by practicing a traditional handicraft that is in danger of lost.

Going Grandma, Days 3 through 8: Socks, Soaks, and Naps

For Day Three of Going Grandma, I darned every holey sock I own--all 3 of them!-- using embroidery thread and the aid of a potato. It feels good to know I can now whip off my shoes at a friend's house without fear of one of my gross toes making a surprise appearance. Since old ladies love their cats, I also tried to cradle cranky little Lucy in my arms for five minutes. Yikes! Next time I'm just going to donate $5 to the Humane Society of NY or something.

Days Four through Seven of Going Grandma, things took a morbid twist. I was so so so so sick. I went from being that cool grandma who is living the dream retirement to being the the sickly little grandma in a nursing home. I took lots of soaks in Epsom salts & eucalyptus oil. (I mixed it myself: 15 drops essential oil + 1 cup drug store salt = 1 decent bath.)  I also took lots of naps and put myself to sleep by contemplating when "my time" would come. Seriously, I felt like I would DIE before I ever got better because by Day 4, I had already been sick with the same damned cold for over a week and things were only getting worse.

Today is Day Eight of Going Grandma. I finally started to feel better today, but I kept my appointment with my doctor. I did not have the energy or the nerve to get dressed up to go, as my Momma would have done and like lot of the old ladies I saw in the waiting room. I was so happy to be outside and not feel awful, I walked home from the clinic. It was a pretty good walk-- 2 train stops plus some. Walking is an old-school exercise that's good for your pockets, your mind, and your butt!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Going Grandma, Day Two: Evening Bath & Dessert Prunes

Yesterday was the second day of Going Grandma. It wasn't anywhere near as exciting as the inaugural day, but it did cause a minor fun change in my routine.

Instead of taking a shower this morning, I took a bath last night. I'm not sure if this is an official old-lady thing, but my great-grandmother Momma sure preferred an relaxing evening bath to a hurried morning shower. She claimed it was best to take a bath at night and let your body warm up overnight than to chill your body with a shower and rush out the house, thus putting yourself at risk for catching a cold. I'm not sure how much of that is an old-wives' tale vs scientific fact, but I don't argue with old wives' tales that implore me to have fun! Having some time alone with my thoughts, a Way-Out-Wax eucalyptus scented candle, and Lee-Lai Herbal Bathing Tea (Get Well Soon) was such a treat! I think I slept more soundly as a result too.

Before bathing and after dinner, I enjoyed some prunes for dessert. Prunes are one of my favorite ways to get my daily requirement of fruit but I rarely eat them because I hate the toots. Fortunately, eating them after dinner meant I was able to sleep through all the, er, music.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Going Grandma, Day One: Oatmeal, Meal Planning, and Corn Bread

I'm participating in the 2nd Annual NYC Fun-A-Day! The premise of Fun-A-Day is you pick a project to do everyday for the month of February, do it, document it in some way, then share your work the following month in a big group show. I'm choosing to "Go Grandma". Everyday this month I'll be either: doing one thing in a way a little more old-fashioned than I'd normally do it, doing something that sassy senior ladies are known to do these days, and/ or doing something particular to one of my own grandmas. I'll be garnering lots of inspiration from Erin Bried's superfun book, How to Sew a Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew, as well as memories of my maternal great-grandmother Irene (a.k.a. Momma) and conversations with my paternal grandma Madeline (a.k.a. Grandma Lane), who I wish to spend more time with.

My inaugural Going Grandma breakfast was oatmeal. Momma had oatmeal for breakfast at least five days a week, if not six. And visiting her meant you had to eat oatmeal too. As a child, I hated oatmeal. It was always so simultaneously gelatinous and lumpy, not to mention cold by the time I finally stopped whining and started eating. Fast-forward 20 years and I love oatmeal! No offense to Momma, but I think I prepare mine better. Instead of plain Quaker Old-Fashioned with a light dusting of white sugar and a spot of skim milk, I made a bowl of steel cut oats tricked out with dried cranberries, pecans, walnuts, chopped apples, maple syrup, and a splash of soy milk. Although my oatmeal wasn't as modest as my great-grand's, I think she'd appreciate the similar spirit of health and thrift.

Not photogenic, but still tasty.
Today I also took a cue from Erin Bried and planned my meals for the week according to the instructions in her book. (You can read this section on Google Books.) Planning meals for the week is nothing new for me, but this was the first time I took a sheet of paper, made a column for each day, and plotted what dishes I would be making each day. This made it easy for me to open my weekly-planner and plan meals based on Richard's and my activities. I'm pretty sure I saved some money and reduced waste because I almost scheduled a fourth entree until I saw we have a dinner invitation on Monday and realized Richard's birthday is Saturday so we'll probably dine out.  As a visual person, I'm not sure I would have considered those things if I hadn't seen it mapped out like that.

My final grandma activity was making skillet corn bread. I followed a recipe from The Real Food Daily Cookbook. I can't use my family recipe because I don't eat dairy, but who would miss it? The vegan recipe didn't stray far from the traditional one and resulted in fluffy, moist Southern-style savory (and slightly sweet) deliciousness that would make my Momma proud. As an aside, this bread was at least thrice as good as my first attempt making the same recipe a month ago. I think a great deal of this was due to my swapping out our flour. If you don't remember when you purchased your flour, it's probably not worth baking with. I'm sure your grandma would tell you the same thing.

I served the cornbread with Spicy Sweet Potato Black Bean Stew (recipe from ReadyMade) and sauteed broccoli. This has nothing to do with grandmas. I'm just braggin'.


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