Friday, August 29, 2008

Green Friday--A Safer Beauty Routine

Most of us use dozens of chemicals on our skin, teeth, and hair every day, without any real knowledge of what they are or how they can affect us or the environment. It’s hard to decipher ingredients lists, if they’re even given, and to figure out which products are safer than others.

It seems that every year we’re told that things we thought were safe actually aren’t. The cosmetics industry is not regulated as strictly as the food industry—neither for its ingredients nor for the accuracy of its claims—and some companies use known carcinogens and other toxic chemicals in their products. Many other ingredients, while not proven to cause health problems, have been associated with them in scientific studies. And for a lot of what we pour, rub, or brush onto ourselves, and then wash down the drain, we just don’t know if they are safe for long-term use.

The Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, maintained by the Environmental Working Group, can help you evaluate products you use every day: soaps, make-up, shampoos, toothpaste, nail polish, hair color, baby products, and so on. They rate products according to known or suspected hazards, based on databases of government and academic research studies on their ingredients.

You can look up your favorite products and see how they compare to others. You can search for specific brands, fragrance-free products, those with or without certain ingredients, those associated with or not associated with specific health concerns, and those likely or unlikely to contain allergens. You can also find out which companies are testing their products on animals and which have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics.

One of the important messages of this website is that we—meaning not just consumers, but scientists and regulators—know very little about the safety of these products. Most ingredients have not been fully tested and we can’t say with any certainty whether or not they are truly safe. But with a little knowledge we can at least limit our exposure to the most worrisome ones.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #25--Why I've been so quiet lately (Trip 2)

Taken August 21, 2008, in San Francisco.

This photo is also being posted for Carmi's Thematic Photographic theme of the week, colorful.

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's, see

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Green Friday on Thursday--Better book buying

Last week, Green Friday got buried under a mountain of work as I tried meet a deadline. Not only did I get the job done on time, I got it done early. Did you feel the earth momentarily stop spinning on its axis in shock when I sent the files to my client four days before the deadline?

I won’t be able to post tomorrow, so I’m doing Green Friday on Thursday this week.

We’re a family of readers and our house is already full of books. We’re also heavy-duty library users. So any book I actually plunk down my money for—especially new—has to meet certain criteria. It has to be something that will get read more than once, or that we can share with someone else, or that requires writing or drawing in, or that I need for my work, or that we’ll refer back to over and over.

For me, it comes down to this: I don’t want to spend my money or the world’s trees on something I will read once and then stick on a shelf for 20 years (although I think the insulating value of the books we have could save us quite a bit in heating costs if we stacked them all up along the outside walls). If I can borrow a book instead of buying it, I will. If it turns out that I absolutely love it or need to have it on hand, then I’ll buy it, preferably second hand.

When I am going to buy a particular book, I always check first with Better World Books, an online seller that sells both new and used books. One of their goals is to demonstrate that a business can make a profit while having a positive environmental and social impact.

They collect unwanted books from thousands of universities and libraries, many of which would have otherwise ended up in landfills or spent years in storage facilities. They buy carbon offsets to make their shipping carbon neutral. The shelving in their warehouse is reclaimed library shelving.

And they’re devoted to literacy, which, in terms of social causes, is my “thing.” Every sale generates a donation to a literacy organization. On their website they say “So far [since 2002], the company has converted more than 11 million donated books into $4.5 million in funding for literacy and education. In the process, we’ve also diverted more than 6,000 tons of books from landfills. . . . [And] we’ve donated nearly one million books to partner programs around the world.”

Not only that, but their prices on new books are often as low as or lower than other online sellers (at least the ones here in Canada), and they have reasonable shipping costs (free in the States—can you get more reasonable than that?—and $2.97 per book anywhere else). Every time I’ve ordered from them, I’ve been happy with their service.

Please note that I have received no money, free books, credits, or other perks for writing this review (darn!).

I’m always on the lookout for businesses like this. If you know of any, tell me about them!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #24--Pattern in the sand

Taken February 29, 2008, in North Vancouver, BC.

This photo is also being posted for Carmi's Thematic Photographic theme of the week, patterns.

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's, see

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Enough, already!--Month six and Improg word: Sassy

Isn’t it funny how sometimes certain words or themes will keep popping up, almost as if the universe were whacking you over the head, trying to tell you something very important?

Last month I did a calendar journal in which I cut out a word or two for each day. As the month drew to a close and I looked over my calendar, I realized that my month had been kind of boring. It’s not that it was a bad month or a hard month. It was just a rather serious month, and on many days I was hard pressed to think of anything that defined that day other than work.

One of my favorite days was a Saturday late in the month when, without any forethought, I bought a small mountain of blueberries and made jam for the first time in at least a decade. So by the time the month and my calendar were done, I had already decided that in August I would declare “Enough already!” to seriousness and make at least a little bit of time every day for some kind of simple pleasure. Nothing huge, both because I don’t have time on most days for huge and because I do believe that it’s the small things that make for a happy life.

Then, on Sunday, the second day of “Enough seriousness, already!” month, two of the funnest people in the world came to stay with my mom: an old family friend, who is in her 60s, and her 40-year-old daughter. My mom and I hadn’t seen this friend for over 30 years, nor had we been in close contact with her, and we’d never met her daughter, so we didn’t really know what to expect from this visit. As Child One said, “I expected two ladies to come and sit around Oma’s kitchen table for days. I didn’t expect to have so much fun.”

One of the daughter’s favorite words is sassy, so on Monday, I laughed out loud when I saw that this was the newly posted improg word. Oh, Universe, you’re not subtle with your ways of getting your point across, but you are funny.

Over the last five days, we’ve done all sorts of sassy things, from dancing at a free bluegrass concert to stuffing five people—including my 75-year-old mother—into a photo booth in the mall for a raucous picture-taking episode. I’ve laughed more than I usually laugh in six months—the kind of laughing where your legs go wobbly and you think you just might pee your pants. And despite several late nights due to long conversations and despite more than one trip to Dairy Queen, I’ve felt more rested, relaxed, and healthy than I have since I don’t know when.

I was sad to say goodbye to these friends, who are now on their way home. But I’m determined to keep some of their sassiness in my days from now on. Thanks, Universe, for whacking me over the head and reminding me of when I used to do fun things just for the sheer joy of it. Enough seriousness, already. It’s time for some sassiness.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Thematic Photographic--Signs

Taken June 13, 2008, in West Vancouver, BC.

Carmi's thematic photographic theme this week is signs. Like Hayley, I collect pictures of signs; I've posted some of them on my blogs (here, here, here, and here). I've posted another thematic photographic entry on Making Do today.

Although I live in a big city, I often see warning signs about wildlife--bears, coyotes, even cougars. But this one was new to me.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Green Friday--Composting

We’ve composted for years, but it was only recently that I learned (from my kids, who learned it at the environment club at their school) that composting has a major benefit besides reducing the mass of garbage going to landfills and producing wonderful stuff for your garden. As produce and yard waste decomposes in landfills, it gives off methane, a major greenhouse gas. But because composting involves a different decomposition process, no methane is produced.

Some people don’t want to compost because they think it’s stinky, but a smelly compost pile just means that the balance of materials is off. We keep an old garbage can full of dry leaves, dead flowers, old potting soil, and other “brown” materials next to our compost bin and every time we empty the kitchen compost pail, we add approximately the same amount of brown stuff on top. No smell at all.

If you can’t or don’t want to have a composter in your yard, consider vermiculture, or worm composting. We did this when we were living in a rental house. It was easy, fun for the kids (and educational), and helped us keep at least some of our garbage out of the landfill.

I used to be kind of squeamish about worms—due in large part to some boys who lived on our street when I was kid, who liked to chop them up—until I started gardening and realized just how important they are. But worm composting is not at all gross and you won’t end up with worms all over the place (unlike the time I dropped a full container of live crickets in my kitchen when we were frog-sitting for friends).

There are many resources available to learn about composting, and your community, like mine, might offer workshops. Some towns even subsidize the cost of backyard composters or offer them free to residents. Environment Canada and the Composting Council of Canada both have information to help you get started.