Mama Gone Green is a blog dedicated to raising happy children and reducing our impact on the Earth. My name is Taryn and I am the mother of 2 young kids and an environmental studies instructor at a community college in Portland, Oregon. Please join me as I journey through life as a mama, teacher, knitter, photographer, gardener, and environmentalist!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Expunge your Sponge?

Sponges are one of the nastiest places in our house; their porous surfaces are perfect places for food to hide and germs to congregate. This means that sponges, really, should only be used for a couple of days before getting tossed. But, if you ask me, that is a serious waste of materials and money. To clean your sponge (and get some more life out of it) you can run it through the dishwasher (top shelf only) or you can run it through the washing machine with your kitchen towels. If you really want to sterilize it (and kill 99% of the germs) you can put it in the microwave for 2 minutes. Just make sure the sponge is wet (or else it can catch fire) and be forewarned that it will be HOT when you remove it. Pin It Now!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

30-Minute Curtains

Need some inexpensive curtains in a hurry? Here is how:
  • Find out the dimensions for your new curtains by measuring the window you need covered. Add several inches to make sure the curtains actually cover the entire window, and to allow them to bunch up a little (which looks nice).
  • Now split your measurements in half vertically, as we will be making 2 separate panels.
  • Select a fabric that will work for your situation (ie; a light colored fabric will not block as much light as a darker fabric). For extra-darkening curtains, you will also want to get muslin (a plain, inexpensive fabric).
  • Cut 2 pieces of materials to the size of your measurements. If you are using muslin, cut 2 pieces of muslin to those dimensions as well.
  • If you are using muslin, sew a piece of muslin onto the back of each piece of fabric. It may help to pin the fabric to the muslin before sewing.
  • Now, sew all 4 edges of each panel under. After sewing them all under once, I like to go back and sew the top and bottom edges under again. This gives it a sort of cuffed effect.
  • Your curtains are almost done! Just need to add something to hang them with. Decide how far down from your curtain rack you want your curtains to hang and measure that distance. Now double that distance. We will call this new length "x"
  • I used thick (1-inch) pieces of ribbon to hang these curtains. But you can use other fabric or whatever else you can think of. Ribbon is just neat and easy, and looks cute in a kid's room.
  • Cut your ribbon into strips "x" inches long. I used 5 ribbon loops for each curtain panel (10 total) but you can alter this as needed.
  • On each panel, use a pencil to mark on the underside of the top edge where each of the ribbons should be sewn. I usually put one near each edge, then fold the panel in half to find the middle and put a mark there. Now find the halfway point between the middle and the edge of each panel and put a mark there as well. That gives you 5 evenly-spaced markers.
  • Now you will double over your ribbon to form a loop. Sew the end with the cut edges to each of your marks. Make sure the cut edges are sewn to the underside of the panel (not the front) so that it is not visible from the front.
  • Iron if needed.
  • Your curtains are ready to hang! Ta-da!!
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Make Your "Back-to-School" Toxin-Free

Summer is nearing an end and the new school year is right around the corner (yikes!) Before you go out and purchase new school supplies, it's time for a little run-down on the safety of these products. Many common school supplies are made from PVC (plastic #3). This type of plastic has a whole slew of health concerns and environmental problems that come with it, yet no one seems to talk about these serious issues.
I promise that I will blog about PVC very soon (it deserves an entry all of its own). But, for now, take my word on it that the less PVC in your life, the better.
Check here to see which school supplies contain PVC. And to sign a petition banning PVCs in school supplies, or to get more info on the dangers of PVCs, check out the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
In addition to buying PVC-free, also try to only buy what you need. Do you have markers and notebooks from last year to get you through another school year? What about making your own notebook from used paper? I have had success finding used (but still usable) school supplies at my local Reuse store and in free-boxes around town. Pin It Now!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Save the Heirlooms! Save the World!

As agriculture becomes more and more industrialized, we are starting to see fewer and fewer varieties of plants. In other words, where we used to have many different types of potatoes (or insert any crop here) grown widely across the US, now we only see a few types available commercially. This is hugely problematic and let me tell you why: more varieties of plants means more diversity. More diversity means more protection against disaster.
Disaster you ask? What do you mean? Well, think back to your history lessons about the potato famine in Ireland. The reason why there even was a potato famine was because the Irish were no longer growing the many strains of potatoes that they had traditionally grown, but instead had 'simplified' and were only growing one strain. Well, that one strain just happened to be very susceptible to the blight that came that year, which killed most of the potatoes and left a potato-dependent nation with little to eat. Other countries that had continued to grow a wider variety of potatoes did suffer some losses, but were able to survive on the other strains that were more inherently resistant to that particular blight.
If many varieties are grown instead of only one, you may lose some each year to a certain pest or a low rainfall, but with a large amount of diversity, you will never lose it all. Diversity is protection against a cold summer, a wet spring, an infestation or whatever else may come its way. The more diverse, the more chance some will recover and the better off you and your food supply will be. And this is not just for potatoes here; the same is true for every crop.
In addition to protection against losses, diversity is important for our tastebuds! Ever wonder why store bought tomatoes just don't taste that good? For one, they have been traveling for days or weeks to get to you, but they are also strains that have been selected not for taste, but for their ability to travel well. If you branch out and taste some of the older non-hybridized strains (aka heirlooms) that have been around (in small quantities) for centuries, you will taste exactly what I am talking about. These are the tomatoes that have been selected for taste, and not for travel, and you will be able to tell.
Unfortunately, as more and more farms grow fewer and fewer strains, we are losing more and more of that genetic diversity. So let's all keep our fingers crossed and hope that our entire food system doesn't get wiped out by a couple of years of bad pests and poor weather. You can help to keep these heirloom strains alive by planting them in your garden. Next year when you are selecting seeds, choose specifically for heirloom varieties. Increase the diversity of your yard and of your dinner plate. Pin It Now!

Saturday, August 22, 2009


So, you're at the store trying to decide between a cleaner that is biodegradable and one that is all natural. Which one is better for the environment? What do those eco-friendly labels actually mean?
Sadly, many of these so-called eco-labels mean relatively little. A lot of the labels that can be put on food, cleaning products and personal care products are not regulated whatsoever, which means that you are simply taking the manufacturer's word as the truth. And when we are living in a "green-is-in" society, manufacturers know that they can squeeze more money out of a product that is labeled as environmentally friendly.
For example, meats labeled as "natural" can still contain artificial ingredients. "Free-range" animals often never go outdoors. Something labeled as "biodegradable" is not regulated as such and so there is a good chance it is not. If it is "certified biodegradable" however, that means it is a product that you can trust.
So what does all of this mean? First off, I personally think it means that the FDA is not doing that great of a job in protecting the American people and the world we inhabit. Labels should be enforced and customers should be able to know exactly what they are buying. But, until then, it is up to us, as consumers, to be informed on what we purchase, consume, and put down our drains. Check out the Greener Choices website on eco-labels where you can check what every label actually means, how it is regulated, and how likely that claim is to be true! Pin It Now!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Scoop on Recycling

Recycling is great, and hopefully all of you out there are doing your part to recycle whatever you can. Making goods from recycled materials take about 1/2 the energy of making them from virgin materials, and reduces all of the energy, carbon emissions and pollution that would go into extracting the raw material. Plus, the more we recycle, the less we have to put into landfills, and our need for extracting new resources from the Earth decreases. However, recycling is not the answer to all of our environmental problems.
First of all, recycling takes a LOT of energy, from collecting it and transporting it to recycling centers, the process of recycling it, and then moving the recycled materials to where they are used. Pollution and carbon emissions are produced in the process, and some nasty chemicals are often by-poducts as well. So, recycling is better than trashing something, but not having anything to dispose of or recycle is the ideal choice. Whenever possible, first try to REDUCE the things you buy and then try and REUSE what you already have.
Also, if you recycle, please support the industry and buy recycled as well. Without a market for recycled goods, recycling costs skyrocket, and many cities have to decrease or cut recycling programs all together.
Lastly, be careful what you put in your recycling bin. If recycling gets contaminated with non-recyclables, entire loads can be discarded. At the least, someone will have to pick out contaminates, which causes recycling costs to increase even more.
So recycle, but recycle smartly. And when you can, choose to reduce your purchases or reuse things you already have. Pin It Now!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Safe CHEAP cleaner... right from your cabinet!

Tired of paying $3 (or more!) for a spray bottle of cleaner that you are just going to use up and then recycle? I was! So, save your spray bottles and refill them with a homemade all-purpose cleaner for a fraction of the price.
Mix about 1/4 cup white vinegar and a couple tablespoons of baking soda into your spray bottle and fill with warm water. I like to add a few drops of essential oil to give it a nice smell ( tea tree or grapefruit or a mix of the two works great). It is most cost-effective to buy the generic gallon-size jugs of vinegar (instead of the tiny jars meant for cooking). Viola! Now you have a cheap, effective, NON-TOXIC cleaner and you don't have to recycle yet another piece of plastic!
To clean glass or windows, just use a mixture of white vinegar and water. I usually use about 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water. Clean with an old newspaper for a streak-free clean! Pin It Now!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Get Your Herb On!

Calendula, part of the aster family, is a flower long known for it's anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. It is great to use topically for cuts, scrapes, and burns or it can be taken orally for cramps, pain and minor swelling. Calendula is safe and has no side effects - I have used calendula topically on my son since he was born.
You can buy calendula salve or ointment at your natural food store, or you can get your herb-on and make a SIMPLE salve of your own.

You will need:
  • Calendula flowers (grows easily from seed and grows well in pots)
  • olive oil (about 1/2 cup)
  • mason jar
  • cheesecloth
  • beeswax (about 1/8 cups)
  • container to keep the finished product in (you can buy salve containers specially designed for this, or you can get creative and reuse old baby food jars, tins, or whatever you have lying around)
What you do:
  • Cut about 1/4 cup's worth of flower heads off of the calendula plants
  • Place in mason jar and cover with 1/2 cup of olive oil (quantity can easily be doubled or tripled if so desired). Make sure that all flowers get submerged in oil
  • Cover jar and place in a sunny window for a week or 2. Oil should turn a deep gold color.
  • In a week or so, your oil is ready! Put a couple of pieces of cheesecloth over the top of the jar and hold with a rubber band. Strain oil from jar into a small kitchen pan.
  • Add beeswax to the oil (you can also add any essential oils you wish at this point --but none are necessary!) and heat over medium heat until all beeswax is melted.
  • Pour into containers and let harden. Ta-da! See I told you it was easy!!
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

More Bees Please? Join the Great Sunflower Project!

Bees are some of our most important garden friends. While most people want to avoid bees (and their stingers) I am going to urge you to invite bees to share your garden. Bees are some of the most important pollinators (they pollinate 90% of our flowering crops) and without them, we would not have many of the fruits and vegetables that we enjoy. Without pollination, most plants do not reproduce, which means that they do not produce fruit.... and no fruit means nothing for us to eat.
In recent years, bee populations have been drastically declining..... and no one is sure exactly why. Maybe it is the over-abundance of pesticides, maybe it is genetically modified crops, maybe vast stretches of monoculture (think corn) or maybe it is cell phone use or a combination of these factors. Figuring out what is killing the bees could be vital in figuring out how to save them. And trust me, this is one bug we definitely want to save.
Want to do your part in saving bees? The best thing yo can do is plant a bee-loving habitat in your yard and invite the bees to come. To find out the best plants in your area to attract bees, consult your local nursery or do some research online. A great source for information is Berkley's Urban Bee Garden web page. They have loads of information of the importance of bees, bee-friendly gardens, and other random tidbits about these fuzzy little friends.
You can also join the Great Sunflower Project. Sign up online for next summer's planting. You will get a packet of sunflower seeds in the mail and you and thousands of other participants will be tracking bee activity in your yard. This way, scientists can have data on where bees are flourishing and where they are not, and can try and relate bee populations to environmental factors. You can be part of bee-saving research!
If you are bee-brave, you can also consider building bee habitat in your yard. Check with your local nursery to see what types of bees are native in your area and find out what habitat suits them. For many bees (not honeybees), a piece of wood with holes drilled in it works just fine. For those of you in the Portland area (or anywhere else that Mason bees are native) , check out this great information sheet on Mason Bees from Portland Nursery.
Bee Happy! Pin It Now!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

More on Bottled Water

I have already blogged about the problems of bottled water, but this is a relatively hot topic and I have recently come across a couple of worthwhile short videos on the subject. The first link is a video created by one of my students and won runner-up in a National Geographic contest. The second is by Penn and Teller. Both are worth a watch.
* Bottled Water Confidential
* The Truth About Bottled Water Pin It Now!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Extreme Ice Now: A Review

I recently finished reading Extreme Ice Now:Vanishing Glaciers and Changing Climate: A Progress Report by James Balog, which is a book that came out of the Extreme Ice Survey Project. This book is a short, easy read with some amazing pictures of glaciers around the world and how they are being impacted by climate change. This is a fantastic book for someone still learning about global warming, as it is broken up into very short chapters that each focus on one aspect of climate change. It gives some great topic summaries, data, and tips and the photographs are just amazing. Definitely worth checking out!
According to Balog, personal household consumption accounts for 27% of your carbon footprint and transportation is 19%. A couple of James Balog's tips to reduce your carbon footprint: support renewable energy, air-dry clothing, fix leaky door and windows, drive and fly less, stop drinking bottled water and eat local! Amen!
The author was also featured in a Nova/PBS documentary entitled Extreme Ice. Pin It Now!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Build a Solar Oven

Solar ovens use the energy from the sun to warm and cook food, saving energy that would normally be used to heat up your oven. Plus, they are just cool.
I made these solar ovens with my environmental science class last semester and we used them to heat up s'mores. It totally worked, and the day was mostly cloudy! I can only imagine the potential of a warm summer day! These ovens can get up to 200 degress!
This is a great project to do with children. Plan on making s'mores, an english muffin pizza, or some other tasty treat in them!

Supplies & Tools:

• 1 used pizza box
• newspapers
• scissors
• tape
• black construction paper
• clear plastic wrap
• aluminum foil
• ruler, pencil, stick or something to prop box up with

1. Draw an 8 1/2 inch x 11 inch square in the lid of the pizza box.
2. Cut out three sides of the square, and fold the flap back along the uncut edge.
3. Cover the inside of this flap with aluminum foil, using tape to hold the edges securely.
4. Line the inside bottom of the box with black construction paper. Use tape to hold the edges down if needed.
5. Create insulation by rolling up some newspaper (about 1 1/2 inch thick) and fitting it around the inside edges of the box.
6. Tape one piece of plastic wrap (stretched tightly) to the underside of the lid opening, to cover. Tape another piece on the top of the lid opening, to create a layer of insulation that will help hold the heat in the box.
7. Prop the box at an angle facing the sun. Use a ruler to prop the flap open.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How Important is Organic?

We have all heard the hype about eating organic, but how important is it really?
As more and more evidence is starting to show: it is pretty important. The pesticides and chemical fertilizers used to produce conventional (non-organic) produce have been shown to cause damage to both the environment and human health. These potent chemicals can harm insects and wild animals that use farmland (including birds and insects that help to pollinate the farm fields!). After heavy rains, these chemicals runoff of agricultural areas and eventually end up in our rivers and lakes where they can affect aquatic life, vegetation and wildlife hundreds of miles from where they were applied. Not to mention the fact that we often get our drinking water from these same sources that we have polluted with agricultural chemicals! Farm workers (who are often overworked and underpaid) come into close contact with these chemicals on a consistent basis, putting their safety in jeopardy for the sake of the farm's success. Last (but certainly not least) both pesticides and chemical fertilizers are petroleum-based, meaning that it requires fossil fuels (think oil, people) to make them. This only tightens our dependence on countries in the middle-east and furthers an addiction to an energy source that is on the decline.
Now let's talk about the effects on human health. Pesticides have been linked to headaches, nausea, birth defects, cancer, hormone problems and probably a whole lot of problems that are not yet directly linked to their use. The effects are more severe in babies and young children who consume more food per body weight than adults, and whose body's are still forming and therefore more susceptible to toxins.
That said, the economy is in the pooper and families are already struggling to support themselves and eating organic is not necessarily in the budget. However, some foods more readily absorb pesticides and chemicals than others, so some foods are much more crucial to consume from organic sources while other foods are less harmful when grown on a conventional farm. Here is "the list", which is also available from the Environmental Working Group.

The Dirty Dozen (Buy these organic whenever possible!):
1. peach
2. apple
3. bell pepper
4. celery
5. nectarine
6. strawberries
7. cherries
8. kale
9. lettuce
10. imported grapes
11. carrot
12. pear

The Clean 15 (these tend to hold the least pesticide residue):
1. onion
2. avocado
3. sweet corn
4. pineapple
5. mango
6. asparagus
7. sweet peas
8. kiwi
9. cabbage
10. eggplant
11. papaya
12. watermelon
13. broccoli
14. tomato
15. sweet potato

Now that you know which items are more crucial to buy organic, you can budget your grocery money to include organic items from the dirty dozen. And, of course, if you have access and the budget to buy all of your produce organically... even better! You are not only keeping pesticides out of your body, but you are keeping them out of the environment, away from the farm workers and you are supporting the organic movement.
If your budget does not allow to purchase any items organically, please know that it is better to eat conventional produce than to eat none at all. Remember to wash conventional produce well to remove as many pesticide residues as possible and talk to your local produce department. Many items may not be labeled as organic but may at least be unsprayed (no pesticides used). Pin It Now!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Build a Birdhouse

Here is a great project for a hot summer day. Build a birdhouse! This project has been adapted from the Super Duper Art & Craft Activity Book by Lynn Gordon.

What you need:
  • a milk carton, oatmeal container, or any other container that you can re-purpose before you recycle it (note: containers that have a waxy finish, like milk cartons, will hold up better in the weather). Make sure to wash out your container before building a birdhouse with it.
  • scissors
  • ribbon or heavy-duty string (thin hemp rope works great)
  • glue or rubber cement
  • brown paper bag
  • twigs, leaves, markers and anything else you want to use to decorate
  1. Cut a bird-size hole in your container about an inch or so from the bottom (see picture above)
  2. With scissors or a hole puncher, punch a hole in the top of your container and string your ribbon/rope through the hole. Tie a knot in the string so that you have a loop to hang your bird feeder from
  3. Glue pieces of the brown paper bag to the container to cover the labels. Decorate with twigs, leaves, markers, glitter, or anything your imagination can think up
  4. fill the bottom inch of the container with birdseed
  5. hang it up and watch for birds!
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