Holiday Gift Giving Top Pick!

by Tiffany in Green Holidays

If you had to shop for some gifts for a family that is near and dear to you what would you choose? Would you buy mom and dad and all the kiddos separate gifts or maybe buy them one big one they can all enjoy?

I was thinking about this today when someone close to me asked me what I wanted for xmas. My response was the same as last year…uhm…something for the kids I guess. :) Then I pinpointed a gift that an entire family could really use. It also happens to be a gift that is has minimal impact on the planet and it is one that will enable a family to spend quality time together. What gift could be better than one that promotes family togetherness? So, I think my top pick for gifting a family would be annual passes to a local art or science museum or the city zoo. In my experience you can get an annual pass to one of these establishments for around $75 and they are such a wonderful thing to have. If you had to buy gifts for your sibling, his spouse, and their kiddos for instance you would probably spend more than that buying separate gifts.

When the weekend rolls around and you want to do something together but money is tight you can always pack a lunch and hit the zoo (or museum) with your annual passes. Seasonal events like Boo at the Zoo, Christmas Lights, and new exhibits are easy to attend when your admission is already covered. So you may want to consider annual passes to kid friendly places when doing your shopping this year for family and friends who have kids. These would even be a great gift for your own kids.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

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The Green Beauty Guide

by Tiffany in Beauty

Green Beauty Guide

A couple weeks ago I read The Green Beauty Guide. It is the ultimate guide to organic and natural skin care, hair care, makeup, and fragrances. Not only is the book HUGE, it is jammed packed with great information. It is the Bible of green and natural beauty. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

The beauty industry is a huge multi-billion dollar industry. We are bombarded with ads in magazines on the television that tell us these companies have succeeded in creating beauty in a bottle.  They make money hand over fist selling products to us that are “supposed” to make us look more youthful, give us softer looking skin, hide our imperfections, and make us look like a supermodel. But they are not so forthright in telling us that their products are full of chemical ingredients that can do more harm to us than good. Your skin is your biggest organ and it needs to be treated with care. This book is a must read for every woman.

I am really impressed with the author Julie Gabriel and what she accomplished with this book. I asked Julie to answer a few questions so enjoy the interview below and make sure to find out what beauty struggle she overcame with green, organic, natural ingredients.

Q: Why are natural and green beauty products and practices getting so popular?

Julie:We are becoming more and more aware of the harmful effects of synthetic ingredients used in conventional beauty products and spa procedures, no wonder green beauty industry is evolving so quickly. And it’s becoming more appealing, too. Five years ago green beauty products were less attractive and far less effective than conventional versions, but today green beauty is often more luxurious than synthetic beauty, or junk beauty, as I call it, similar to junk food. It’s a common sense to go green today, since you can replace every single jar and tube in your bathroom with green, non-toxic products that cost pretty much the same money but aren’t harmful for your health.

Q: What are some of the dangers associated with conventional products?

Julie:Most synthetic chemicals used in conventional products have never been tested on humans for safety. Science is only beginning to reveal the long-term damage linked to the continuous use of such chemicals as toluene, phthalates, liquid paraffin, paraben and formaldehyde preservatives. Sadly, list of potentially toxic, carcinogenic chemicals can go on and on.

A few days ago an angry reader complained: so you mean, I cannot wear perfume? Chanel is too toxic? It’s impossible to get away from all chemicals all the time, that is completely unrealistic, she said. Well, it is realistic to abstain from toxic beauty. All it takes is a shift in your consumer habits. Instead of being a slave to a flashy logo or wasting money on a chemical cream that costs pennies to make but sells for hundreds of dollars simply because it bears a famous logo, you’d better become a slave to organic ingredients, plant extracts, and essential oils. Your skin and your wallet will only thank you. And to think of perfumes, there are hundreds of wonderful all-natural perfumes that are just as exquisite as the department store bestsellers, but these botanical wonders contain no phthalates or preservatives.

Basically, the lack of solid safety record based on human studies is the main thing that bothers me about conventional beauty. Humans have been using beeswax, olive oil, aloe vera, or, say, calendula for centuries. However, most of the chemicals used in conventional beauty have been introduced only a few decades ago, and our bodies simply have no mechanisms of coping with these chemicals. Instead of eliminating them, we store these toxins in our fatty tissue making them tiny time bombs that may explode later in our lives infesting us some of the most horrible diseases.

Q: What are your tips for finding the safest and most natural products?

Julie:Always begin with the ingredients list. Many online stores now offer complete ingredients lists along with customers’ reviews. I recommend Drugstore.com, SaffronRouge.com and Lovelula.com for their integrity and great selection of organic and natural lines. I used to like Sephora, but their recent move to eliminate ingredients lists from their product descriptions made me think that this company is not willing to educate consumers by offering unbiased, comprehensive product information.

Health food stores used to be the trusted source of green beauty products, but today many greenwashed products appear on store shelves along with pure and natural oils and butters. Just because a shampoo is sold in a health food store, it doesn’t mean it’s all-natural and safe. Always scrutinize the ingredients list, even if you have to use magnifying glass to make sense of it.

For the biggest bang for my organic buck I go online. Most companies who sell essential oils, flower waters, plant extracts, waxes, and juices, have a selection of ready-made cleansers, creams and lotions. They may sell them in larger quantities, for example, by a gallon, but to think, you are getting quite a lot of a base product to play with for the price of one bottle of a department store brand cleanser. You can spruce it up with some active ingredients like copper peptide, kinetin, or hyaluronic acid, or you can spice things up with essential oils. If you have sensitive skin, you can keep the lotion as it is, and it would be just water, olive oil and waxes. What can be gentler? In any case, the resulting product will be much cheaper than a conventional, store-bought version, and you will know for sure what goes into it. Plus, online shopping is rather green because you are not burning gasoline to get to the store. Of course, online retailers are guilty of burning jet fuels to deliver the goods to you, but overall, the environmental impact is much smaller, especially if you don’t shop overseas.

Q: Do the organic, natural beauty products work just as well as conventional ones?

Julie:Product by product, all green beauty products work better than conventional ones. I am a very discerning beauty junkie. After all, I made my living by evaluating beauty products and writing about them. I used quite a lot of non-green products in my life, and I was happy to spend lots of money on them. I am guilty for promoting some of the worst, most toxic beauty products out there, so maybe this book will help mend the damage…. Anyway, my conversion to green was complete when I got rid of my persistent adult acne by switching to organic, completely natural products. As far as I remember, these were organic baby products, a cleanser and a baby lotion. Today I use only homemade products made with certified organic ingredients, and my skin looks better than it did five years ago. I never suffered dry flaky skin, or brittle nails, or dry scalp, or split ends when I switched to organic body products and hair care. Everything I use today is very, very basic and inexpensive. I only add expensive active ingredients to my face and eye creams. Still, an ounce of my homemade cream with peptide blend costs up to five times less than a retail version, and my cream contains no preservatives, mineral oils, silicones, or any sort of synthetic fillers. Maybe that’s why my skin doesn’t break out any more?

Q: Can you share some of your favorite tips from the book?

Julie: I practice what I preach, and every single tip and recipe from my book I tried on myself, on my baby daughter, and even on my husband. I always have a jar of my manicure scrub: it’s a jar filled with fine sugar and jojoba oil, scented with vanilla and lilac essence (for the fun of it). When I need my cuticles to look great, I rub the oily sugar goo into my fingertips and slowly massage the sugar into the skin while rinsing under warm water. I save tons of money on salon appointments this way! Olive oil is my number one body moisturizer, and I use plain jojoba oil to remove makeup. I am a fan of oils! I also use plain flower distillates, also known as flower waters, as toners and hair conditioners, but make sure you buy them organic, for conventionally grown medicinal plants can be heavily sprayed with pesticides. I make my own perfumes from essential oils and flower waters, and of course, I make my own baby products to pamper my baby daughter. Believe it or not, it hardly takes a half-hour to whip up a three-month supply of a cleanser, a toner, and a face cream, and you get triple reward: you save money, you know exactly what goes into your beauty products, and you simply take pride in cooking something that’s good for you!

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

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How to be a Playful Parent

by Tiffany in parenting


Parenting is a full time job. Changing diapers, organizing car pools or even managing daily affairs is not easy. Then of course add to that the worries of the future! No wonder some parents are so stressed out. They take it so seriously that they forget to smile and laugh with their children. Many expecting mothers glow with the thought of having a “little bundle of joy” and fantasize about how they will build their lives with the baby. However, the moment the baby is born, the parents become stressed and overworked and forget to enjoy themselves. I suffered from two very short bouts (less than a week) of post partum depression with my two oldest kids and I think it had a lot to do with realizing what I had just gotten myself into. This parenting stuff is HARD work…but that its what makes play time so important. Parenting is a great job only when you treat it like a pleasure and not pain.


The first thing that you need to do to start enjoying the pleasures of parenting is to play with your children. Yes, you heard right! Playing is not just for the kids it’s for the parents too. Have you heard that proverb which says, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Playing is as essential for a kid as studying and even more important if you consider its advantages.


Child psychologists are of the opinion that play is actually what children are supposed to do in the first few years of their lives. Many new schools actually give children a period where they are just allowed to play with toys. Play fosters imagination and even strengthens relationships. The book Playful Parenting discusses this at length and talks about how we can learn a lot about our kids by watching them play, byplayful parenting book being there to witness the process or be a part of it.


How can you become a playful parent? How can you help in the development of the child through imagination?


If you refer to the dictionary meaning of play, it is defined as recreation. Recreation can be split as RE-Creation or recreating bonds and revitalizing your relationship with your child through play. These playtimes can be a great morale booster and energizers of the family. If kids know that tonight is the night for Monopoly, Scrabble or even snakes and ladders, it gives them an additional impetus to finish their chores and homework faster. Check out my post on board games for some great eco games to try.


Earlier in the absence of television kids had to use their imagination to play. They used to rush out in the evenings and spend hours in jumping, running or even making sand castles. Eventually, their mothers had to call them for dinner. I have to do this with my oldest (8 years). After we finish his schoolwork in the mornings he will often go outside for the rest of the day. I have to call him in for lunch and then again for dinner. That was me as well. When I was his age I used to come home from school and rollerblade until well past dark with only a brief break for dinner. I relished that time and weekends were for family play.


These days kids are programmed to either finish their marathon of homework or watch television. Parents are too busy trying to earn enough money just to make ends meet. However, parents need to realize that playtime is an effective contributor in the overall development of your child’s personality. When you play with your kids, they consider you more of a pal rather than some kind of an authority figure. Playing with kids effectively tells them that you are someone who can be a friend, who can share secrets and laugh with them, instead of just admonishing them. I know there are many who think being your child’s friend is a bad thing but I disagree with them. I think parents need to be both authority figure and friend. Not like the boss you don’t care for but the knowledgeable mentor you admire.


When I think of my mom during my childhood the things that stand out revolve around play. She made us a Bible trivia board game from scratch once…using poster board and then hand painting an elaborate and colorful game board. She made the game pieces, she made all the hundreds of trivia cards, and we played every week and LOVED it. I also remember her playing guitar at group camping adventures and I remember her donning a pair of tap shoes at one of my slumber parties and putting on a show for us. I remember all of us (mom and 3 kids) dancing around the house to Rock Lobster. She was/is a very fun and playful woman and still managed to be an authority figure. She was the heavy in fact and there is not a day that goes by without my seeing her or speaking with her…or my dad.


Being a playful parent also takes care of your kid’s well being and future. In this stressful world we need an outlet for venting our feelings and frustration. Most people depend on the television or video games for entertainment, which is one of the major factors in lifestyle diseases such as type II diabetes. Activities keep your kids healthy. So parenting is not just about studies and homework. It’s also about having a fun time in the park!

Years from now I want my children’s most prominent memories of me to be all the fun things we did and all the times we played together. How about you?

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

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How to Hatch a Tree

by Tiffany in Enjoying Nature

This is a cross post from Julia over at Our Simple Life. Make sure to stop by her blog and subscribe for updates!

For the most part, I like three of the four seasons in my part of the planet. Winter is awesome with regenerating rainfall and cold weather which makes me happy. Spring is great with wildflower blooms so I can practice plant identification and retain my botany skills. Summer is miserable for me since it is too bleeping hot, thus it’s the one season I like NOT at all. And fall brings with it the gathering of harvests and more importantly it is when thousands of acorns drop from the oaks.

I am always inspired and feel a certain reverence when I walk beneath a 300-year old valley oak tree (Quercus lobata), and I remember that it began from a two inch long acorn, century’s ago. What did the landscape look like back then? Those are oaken memories that can never be answered exactly. And if you could not tell already, oaks are my favorite trees. Here is a valley oak near where I live. We are lucky there are some ancient specimens that I can take the kids to see. This one has a trunk that is approaching fifteen feet in circumference. It’s a grand tree and makes acorns I call “lunkers” because they are so big and heavy.

Acorns consist of high energy packed in a tough but smooth shell, pointy on one end and rounded on the other. It feels great to hold a few acorns in your hand and roll them around against each other. Acorns are gorgeous in their simplicity and can withstanding the fall from as high as 50 or 60 feet without breaking. And all the animals want them: squirrels, birds, deer, pigs and even humans.

OK, so here is the important part: The fun my kids had collecting acorns today was priceless and FREE. The basic recipe for hatching an oak tree as is follows:

1. Assemble children in vehicle and drive to nearby oak groves in your area. You may have to do some homework first to know where to go before dragging kids on wild goose chase for acorns.

2. Arm children with baggies and walk them under said oak trees and show them the acorns. They will instinctively want to gather these. Point out rotten ones or ones with holes as bad. Do not collect these ones.

3. Bring acorns home. Count with children for fun and practice. Using tougher freezer type zip lock baggy, empty acorns and some wood shavings together with a light dousing of water. ONLY LIGHTLY moisten the shavings. A small bag of rodent bedding from local pet store works fine (OK. This project is almost free). DO NOT SOAK. To much water will rot the acorns and shavings. Do not totally close seal on bag. Air exchange must be able to occur. As I plan to plant several hundred oaks this winter these are the gallon size bags. Whatever the size baggy or number of acorns, it should look kind of like this:

4. Place baggy in bottom of refrigerator. The cold stratification speeds up germination. Check bag every few weeks with kids so they can see the emergence of a long white root. When roots are about one to two inches long, transplant into small pot to plant later or directly into ground (better choice of two) with your children.

5. To prepare ground: Dig one foot wide by two feet deep hole to loosen soils. Back fill hole without packing dirt. Make a shallow basin or bowl piling extra dirt around edges. Carefully place acorn with root down, into soil about 1/2 inch. Gently push acorn into soils packing lightly so acorn is firmly in the earth. Acorn should just be visible. If varmints are a problem protect using wire caging below and/or above ground. Option: plant two or three acorns in your hole. If all grow well then cull two of three. **Choose location for planting carefully since these trees will be here decades if not centuries after we are gone.**

6. By early spring you should have a shoot and leaves growing from your acorn. Have kids monitor growth, maybe measure weekly and do leaf counts. Watering of tree will depend upon your specific area. When planted as acorns many oak do not require water, so use common sense judgment. I always water at initial planting and every two to three weeks depending upon rainfall.

I have in some years donated the acorns I germinated to local restoration groups to be planted in preserves. I bet schools would also be happy for sapling tree donations. Additionally, a great resource on oaks in my state is Oaks of California, Pavlik et. all. It provides a description with pictures of all the species in our state, life history, Native American use of oaks and much more. I am certain there are many state specific books to help identify species and biology in other regions of the county.

I hope this inspires someone. Good luck and go hatch an oak tree this fall.

Julia is a former environmental consultant and now mostly a full time mom of two (three counting husband…).  She has a degree in Botany from UC Davis, in CA and worked as a botanist and wetland scientist for 13 years slogging around northern California.  Her serious hobbies are dressage, blogging, and gardening.  However, her days consist mostly of indentured servitude to her children who require meals, play time, clean clothes, baths, story time, band aides and lots of love.

Monday, November 17th, 2008

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Piggy Paints Non Toxic Nail Polish for Kids

Nail Polish for Little Girls

Remember my post awhile back about toxic nail polish and my search for something better for my daughter. Some of the ingredients of conventional nail polish are scary…Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde and toluene so of course I hesitated to let my daughter polish her nails. But I did find many safe options and just stumbled upon another this weekend, Piggy Paints! They are non-toxic, odorless, and very kid friendly. Their slogan is “natural as mud”. They use natural ingredients that dry to a hard, durable finish. There are no toxic chemicals; it’s free of formaldehyde, toluene, phthalates, biphenyl A, ethyl acetate and acetone. They also have a safe nail polish remover. Piggy Paints are a big hit with my daughter. The nail polish dries pretty quickly (1-2 minutes) with a blow dryer and the color is very vibrant and pretty. I love the suggestions on the piggy paints site for distracting young kids while their nails dry too. While I got my camera my own daughter gave herself a blue eyebrow. They have some amazing colors my daughter is in love with. I like Dandelion Dance and Dragon Tears. In the picture below my daughter is wearing Tea Party for Two and Girls Rule! Piggy Paints get two very emphatic thumbs up from us!

Nail Polish