7.29.2011

DIY - Chalkboard Tile Art With Vintage Flash Cards - rebel reclaimed

I have these chalkboard tiles in my kitchen that I have been trying to figure out how to decorate for a year. I have put various food-related quotes on them and my husband likes to draw holiday-related pictures from time to time. But I wanted something new and unique. So, there is a really great store in Grand Rapids called Rebel Reclaimed that sells antique furniture and accessories that owner, Dann, re-purposes and dresses up with modern style. The other day I was browsing and found these old flash cards and a chalkboard idea was born! I picked out a bunch of food and nature related cards and decided to make a sort of farm-to-table flowchart! All I needed were some sticky magnets, green yarn (courtesy of my mom's leftover yarn basket) and scissors! Here is the finished product. I think it turned out pretty good!

7.28.2011

Organic Alternatives - Lip Balm - stewart and claire

I've been addicted to lip balm (chapstick as we call it in the Midwest) since middle school. I remember carrying around every new flavor of lip smackers in my pocket to the point that I would have a worn lip balm tube-sized mark on the pocket of my jeans similar to the kind men get around their wallets. There are a lot of (un-reliable) reports out there about how women eat like 6 lbs of lipstick in their lifetime. While common sense would suggest that number is a bit ridiculous, we can safely assume that a good amount of what we put on our lips ends up in our system somehow. And much of what is available at the average drug store has been shown to contain lots of unsavory and often toxic ingredients, including lead! I've never been a big lipstick user, but I'm never not wearing lip balm. Lately, I've just been trying various brands from my local health food store, like this and this...

...but then, I saw an article from a blog I follow called Of a Kind. They profile and sell limited edition clothes and accessories from independent fashion designers. Very cool. Mostly too expensive for me. But this article was about lip balm, which is usually within my price range. The story goes that Claire, a like-minded lip balm addict, decided to play around with organic ingredients and make her own batch of balm one day, and now sells seasonal and other varieties that tickle her fancy under the name Stewart and Claire. You can even custom create and order a line for yourself or your friends! I figured I had to try one since it's the only cosmetic product that's guaranteed to be on my face all day and night.
This one is called 'summer' and it has hints of apricot, basil and coriander. It isn't oily or glossy; in fact, it has a very pleasant matte finish. It was $5 a tube, but worth every penny. Yum.

7.27.2011

Meaningful Purchase - Maya Works Pillows - pure citizen

I've been wanting to buy something from this online merchandiser for so long just so I could write about it on this blog because they are so awesome! So, the site is called Pure Citizen and here is a quick blurb from their info page.
Pure Citizen is a place where you can save daily from a featured company that is making our world a better place. Each flash sale lasts only 72 hours. What you will find every day are products that are organic, fair trade, sustainable, recycled, cruelty free, natural, handmade...
Not all products can claim all of those labels, so you can also sort by your top priorities. (For example, their sale today is from Matt and Nat, who, while they boast handbags made from vegan and recycled materials, still manufacture in China and use non-organic materials like PVC and polyurethane as substitutes for leather.)

Basically, you sign up with your email address and they send you daily sale offers from awesome companies, often at 50% off or more! (There's no obligation and they don't sell your email to 3rd parties.) The other cool thing is that you have the option with every purchase to selflessly donate some of your discount to a non-profit or charity organization. I have to admit, I was selfish with this purchase and didn't donate anything, but I have high hopes for many purchases to come. These pillow covers are fair trade from Maya Works which is an organization set up to help support Mayan artisans in Guatemala. They bring some color into our previously all black, white and earth tones TV room and I'm hoping they will inspire more colorful accessories to come!

7.26.2011

Organic Alternatives - Re-Finishing a Butcher Block Table

The previous owners of our house had this little booth table custom built for them in Vermont out of butcher block. It's really beautiful, but after years of wear and tear from their kids and then a few scratches and stains from us, it was in sad shape. So we needed to re-finish it. But, of course, the question was 'with what?' Whatever we used to seal it needed to be food safe and, to meet our standards, natural and eco-friendly as well. As I started researching, the most common material that came up was 'food grade mineral oil;' however, after some detective work, I found that mineral oil, even though it sounds all earthy, is actually a petroleum-derived product and not really natural at all. No thanks. After weeks of searching on the internet for products and methods, we finally decided to do it ourselves using these instructions. It was quite a process...

The first thing we had to do was sand the table, which, using my dad's ancient electric sander, ended up being more of a pain than we anticipated. Josh did most of it by hand.
While he was doing that, I was mixing up the finishing material, which is made of a combination of beeswax and walnut oil, both of which we purchased at our local health food store. First, you have to heat the walnut oil over a double boiler to purify it, otherwise there's a small chance it can go rancid after time. Then, you add the beeswax and let it melt together slowly until it's all combined.
When you first take it off the heat it looks like oil, but it quickly hardens and starts to look more like butter. (It also leaves a film all over everything, so beware. It took multiple cleanings to finally scrub free the glass bowl I used.) All we needed at that point was one of Josh's old t shirts and some elbow grease. At first, we were worried that the mixture was too waxy and wouldn't sink in, but if you keep it just a little warm, it polishes in nicely... and you give your arms a nice workout. We coated the whole table and then let it sink in overnight. I wiped it with another clean t shirt in the morning and it looks like a brand new table! Plus, it has a nice faint sweet smell to it from the beeswax. The leftover mixture will harden and keep in a jar for years. All we have to do is reheat it slightly anytime we want to use it. A complex process, but worth it in the end! I should also add that you can use this re-finishing technique on any wood that you want, including wood toys for all you parents out there!

7.25.2011

Household Hazardous Waste

Unfortunately, too many of the products we have lying around our homes these days should be labeled 'hazardous.' They're hazardous to our health when they're in the house, and they are also hazardous to the environment and other people's health when we throw them away. For this reason, it's really important to dispose of household materials that contain any kind of harmful chemicals (and this includes even things like beauty products and cleaners, not just antifreeze and bug killer) in a safe way. Our city has a hazardous waste disposal drop-off location that you can make an appointment with anytime, but they also do Saturday open drop-offs throughout the summer. Everyone there was very nice and helpful and happy that we had done our research to keep these products out of landfills. While we were out, we also dropped off a bag of expired medications (both over the counter and prescription) to a local pharmacy to be disposed of. There are a lot of unsavory reports about medications being thrown away improperly, particularly by being flushed down the toilet, and seeping into the water supply. It's easy to do a Google search and figure out what pharmacies in your town have a medication take-back option. Ours was right down the street.

7.23.2011

Organic Alternatives - tom's toothpaste and preserve toothbrush

The other day I was browsing online news and saw this article. I get so annoyed by the lack of consumer protections in this country. It already takes work to find organic brands that are accessible and reasonably priced and then when you do, you can't even trust that they really are what they say they are! Ugh, so steamed. The reality is that the labels on most mass-consumer products like 'organic,' 'natural,' 'free range' don't even mean that much because the standards are so low and the oversight so minimal. I've known all this for awhile, but this particular article made me especially annoyed because I had just recently begun to use one of the brands indicted in it, Kiss My Face. I was using their toothpaste.

Well, to be honest, I didn't really like it anyway. It was aloe based and tasted funny. So my husband and I just decided to switch to the standby in natural toothpaste, Tom's of Maine. I remember hearing about Tom's when it first came on the market and being told that it was gross and chalky. But we haven't had that experience at all. In fact, I think it tastes great.
But, what I really want to talk about is this toothbrush! Not only is it made from recycled yogurt containers, but it also comes in a package that is postage paid so you can mail it back to them after you've used it and they'll recycle it again! What? Rad.

7.22.2011

Meaningful Purchase - Bracelets from Peru - rrunaway

Johanna is an American living in Arequipa, Peru. She moved from Grand Rapids, Michigan to have an adventure and while she's there, she's making beautiful jewelry from local materials and selling it online.When her Etsy store first launched, she had some bracelets that immediately caught my eye. But apparently I wasn't the only one and the next time I visited, they had already sold. So, since I know her personally, I decided to email and see if I could place a special order. No problem! She made them custom in my size and shipped them in a matter of days. I found this lovely note and cute little alpaca figure tucked in with my shipment. I love the mixture of earth tones and metallics. They go with pretty much anything and I can keep them on all the time and they just keep looking better and more worn in. But the best part is... 30% of all profits from Johanna's shop are donated to Rosita. Rosita was born in Peru with a cleft lip and palate and has undergone surgery to correct it. Now, at almost two years old, she has developed additional health issues requiring medical attention. Johanna is supporting the work of Paz Holandesa and La Casa de los Pinguinos in Peru in keeping Rosita and her family healthy and happy. Here are just a few of her gorgeous pieces. I just love the all of the unique stones she uses and the soft, but vibrant colors. Click on over to her shop and show her (and Rosita) some love!

7.20.2011

Recycled Paint - re-coat

Raise your hand if you have cans of old paint in your garage and you have no idea what to do with them! Well, join the club. The previous owners of our house left us with stacks of old paint and we've been trying to figure out what to do with it for years (well, we've also lazily been ignoring it, too.) I really didn't want it to go into a landfill, and there wasn't enough of one color to donate to something like Habitat for Humanity. I had almost given up hope, when I came across this website... and found out they were right in my hometown! Re-Coat takes old paint and recycles it into new paint that people can buy! The new paint comes in really nice designer colors and it's inexpensive, too. We loaded up the car and took it over to RepcoLite, a local paint company that is currently selling Re-Coat. They'll take any amount in any color unless it's rancid. We even got a dollar voucher for every can of paint we donated that we can use if we ever want to buy a can of Re-Coat paint ourselves. Good deal. If you live in West Michigan, go check them out!

7.18.2011

Meaningful Purchase - June - alternative apparel shorts

Even though I'm not shopping there anymore, I do still love looking through J Crew catalogs for style ideas. I love the way they mix casual with dressy in unexpected ways. In particular, I love how they mix lounge-y cotton bottoms (like sweatpants and shorts) with either floaty or structured tops. So, when summer rolled around I decided I was in the market for some sweatpant shorts to try to replicate the trend. (Not to mention the fact that I will jump at pretty much any opportunity to wear stretchy pants, fashionably, in public.)The kicker for me with this month's purchase was what I ended up paying for something I could have gotten for probably 10 bucks at Target. I admit, in this instance, that I used this blog project as an excuse to spend more money than I normally would have on this kind of item (they were 25% off at least). One of my goals with this project is to be more intentional in thinking about what I really want or need. I believe it's a good thing that safe/fair merchandise costs more. It should cost more. The money we save by buying cheap stuff is being paid for somewhere, usually in damage to humans and the environment. In the past, I would have shopped around to find the absolute lowest price for this style of short that I could. But the reality is, if I'm not willing to spend the money that a product is actually worth, I probably don't need it.
I'm happy to say that I have already worn these shorts quite a bit this summer, both around the house and out. They are extremely comfortable, but aren't so baggy that they look like gym-wear. They come from Alternative Apparel. I really like this brand. Everything they sell looks comfortable and lived-in and is made mostly of slubby and soft organic cotton. And they seem to have a nice blend of shapes that are both trendy and classic. They also do have pretty decent sales from time to time.
I also ordered my husband a pair of pants to try, but they were comically short on him. So, fair warning to all tall skinny men out there, these pants may not be right for you. It was easy to return them, however, and their customer service was helpful and efficient when I had a question about our refund.

7.15.2011

Eco Friendly Planner - house of doolittle

I, like most people, love back-to-school supplies... especially planners. I have always been a 'big picture' person when it comes to planners and therefore choose monthly rather than daily or weekly. There's just something about having my whole month on one page that I can take in all together.

Since starting this blog, I have gotten in the habit of checking for eco-friendly, organic, sustainable, fair versions of everything I decide to buy. It's quite a commitment and can often be discouraging... but not this time! I found this planner after a quick Google search and Amazon had it on my doorstep in no time. The brand is House of Doolittle and they sell eco-friendly office supplies made in the USA of recycled materials and printed with soy inks! They also cost about the same as any other planner you'd pick up at Office Max. That's a win-win in my opinion.Now... on to eco-friendly mechanical pencils....

7.13.2011

Meaningful Purchase - May - consignment and vintage

I've been allowing myself to spend more than I normally would on individual items of clothing since I started this blog. But I know that this isn't sustainable, and I never intended it to be! My goal in doing this 'project' is to try to reduce my consumption overall. This month I went through my closets and filled 5 huge trash bags full of clothes to bring to Goodwill. I also saved a few choice pieces to bring to a local consignment shop for re-sale (more on them in a bit). It felt so good to purge all these pieces that were just taking up space in my closet and be able to look at my wardrobe with fresh eyes. I do love fashion and I always have, but the truth is I just don't need that many clothes. I usually end up wearing a heavy rotation of just a few of my favorite things anyway.

My plan after this year is done is to try to do most of my shopping (if I even need to at all) at consignment and re-sale outlets. I've never been that good at secondhand shopping and always found it exhausting and ultimately not worth it to paw through racks and racks of stuff hoping to find a gem. But, I'm going to get over it! While there are many awesome companies using sustainable and eco-friendly materials and fair production standards, the most eco-friendly thing we can do is stop buying NEW things and just RE-USE the things that already exist. So, that's what I did this month.

When I dropped off my clothing at my local consignment boutique, I also picked up this great soft cotton deep green top, which my husband said brings out the color in my eyes.I had been without sunglasses for a few weeks after sitting on mine in the car (don't get me started on how many pairs of sunglasses I've broken that way.) I found these at a different consignment boutique that just opened. I love the subtle vintage cat-eye shape they have at the top.
And finally, I found this super-cute mini purse (it's vintage Coach!) at an Etsy store. It has been very handy to have at the farmers market and wandering art fairs since it's hands free and not bulky at all. It just fits my iPhone, my cash or cards and a tube of lip balm. Plus the red jazzes up almost any outfit. When I got this bag in the mail, the owner sent me this cute little pin along with it. I love those personal touches you get when you buy things on Etsy. More on that topic soon.

7.11.2011

Paris Shoes - bensimon

You can always spot an American tourist in Europe by their shoes. Europeans have fantastic style in general (most of the little kids in Paris were dressed better than me), but they have particularly good taste in shoes.
I picked up a pair of these simple sneakers at a Bensimon boutique in the Marais neighborhood in Paris. I love how light and seamless they are. They look especially cute with shorts.
To be honest, I haven't been able to find conclusive information about Bensimon's environmental or labor practices. This online boutique carries them and they claim certain standards. And they have a US outlet that reveals some of the company's history here.

7.08.2011

Meaningful Purchase - April - prairie underground romper

Being in my early thirties and a high school teacher, I often struggle with what constitutes as 'age appropriate' clothing. I typically adhere to the standard that if I see my students wearing something (a specific item or just a new trend) I steer clear of it. So, this month's purchase is walking the line for me. It's a romper. I've actually really admired the romper trend as it has unfolded over the past few seasons and I was sort of hoping to get on board. When I saw this one at my new favorite online eco-boutique, Beklina, I indulged. I hope I can pull it off.Prairie Underground is probably one of my favorite new eco-brands. Basically everything is made out of sweatshirt material, including their amazing 'cloak hoodies' that I have even seen cropping up at non-eco boutiques in town. And Beklina... where do I start... It's really expensive, so mostly I just dream, but I absolutely love love love their style. They also send lovely emails periodically that feel like someone is just typing them in their living room right to you... which is probably not too far from the truth. Delightful.

7.07.2011

Paris Scarf - merci

Paris in the spring is truly everything you'd imagine it to be. It was almost cliche how beautiful it was. We really packed our itinerary full, so we didn't have much time for shopping. But Paris, like most European cities, still thrives on small neighborhood stores, shops and boutiques. So, it's easier to find places that practice fair trade and fair labor and are even eco-friendly. One store I had read about that I knew I had to go to is called merci. Here are some pictures we took inside the store. They sell everything from clothing to linens to stationary. Most of the items there were way out of our price range, but I did pick up this beautiful coral scarf (which seemed to be 'the' color for spring in Paris.) It's so light and floaty, it's almost transparent. And it adds such a great pop of color to my mostly grey wardrobe.But here's the amazing part. The owners of merci donate ALL of their profits to a co-op for young women in Madagascar. Yep. You read me right. All of their profits. Merci, indeed.

7.06.2011

Meaningful Purchase - March - curator by she-bible coat

My husband and I took advantage of some insanely cheap plane tickets and decided to go to Paris for spring break this year. Since there is always a chance of rain during the spring in Paris, I needed a lightweight coat that would keep me warm (but not too warm) and relatively waterproof. Enter this funky number that has this huge collar/scarf detail around the neck that kicks it up a notch from just being a simple (boring) black canvas coat.
There are tons of different things you can do with this collar detail. I love it! Since I started this blog I have had a really good time searching for eco and fair trade stores on the internet. There are actually way more than I ever would have thought! This jacket was made by one of the brands that I saw and instantly loved, Curator by She-bible. They have an effortless and timeless style while still being up-to-date and funky.
I actually first found and eventually purchased this jacket at a different retailer, ecolissa. One of the things I love about these online boutiques is that you know who owns them and they communicate with you personally. I think that personalized shopping experience is something we really miss out on with all the 'big brands' and 'big box' stores that sell most of our stuff today. We have to find our 'shops around the corner' on the internet now. I'd still prefer to be able to walk into a neighborhood store and say hello to the people who make and sell the things I buy, but this is the next best thing.

7.05.2011

Organic Alternatives - iPhone Cases - bioserie

For a very long time, my husband and I shamelessly waited (counted the days, actually) for Verizon to start selling the iPhone. Well, it finally happened! And we were first in line, let me tell you. Though they are far from perfect, I do appreciate Apple's transparency efforts regarding their environmental and social impact. But I will talk more about media and technology in the future. This post is actually about our quest for environmentally friendly iPhone cases.
My husband and I did a lot of research to try to find cases that looked cool, weren't too bulky, and would offer the protection we wanted for our precious new communication devices. We found these bioplastic covers from Bioserie and were initially very excited about them. They are made out of plants!! They are super lightweight and they look really good on the phones; however, we've both had some issues with quality. I dropped mine and it got a little chip in the corner and Josh's got a small crack when he was trying to take it on and off.One of the things that I think we have to keep in mind with new technology like this is that it takes time to develop. Innovation doesn't happen overnight and it's rarely perfect on the first (or even 50th) try. But, the only way it's going to continue is if people support companies that are trying to make better choices for the environment by buying their products. Bioserie is currently designing the world's only bioplastic covers made of plants. They don't use any oil or petrochemicals in production and they are biodegradable. For that, I think I can live with a little chip in the corner. I was the dummy who dropped it after all.