Friday, November 27, 2009

From EWG

Not in my cosmetics: The Series

By Lisa Frack

NOVEMBER 23, 2009

iStock_000006076800Small.jpgBy Leeann Brown with Travis Mitchell

If you love EWG's Skin Deep database, then this series is for you. If you've never even heard of our Skin Deep database, this series is also for you. And for pretty much anyone else on the planet who uses toothpaste, shampoo, diaper cream, lipstick, cologne, shaving cream, nail polish and basically any other "personal care product" you can think of.

We're kicking off the series with a True-False Quiz because, well, so few people know how bad it really is in the cosmetics aisles. How wildly unregulated. So if you get them all wrong, you're not alone. But you do need help. Ready?

QUESTION 1: Ingredients in personal care products are required to be proven safe for use before being sold in the US.

FALSE! "Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval authority, with the exception of color additives." - Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Nearly 80 percent of the 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, the industry's own public research organization, the FDA or any publicly accountable institution.

QUESTION 2. If you use a product without having a noticeable adverse reaction, it's safe.

FALSE! As you can tell from the first question, we really don't know. What is known is that common ingredients in personal care products have been linked to various concerns, such as reproductive issues, cancers and allergies. We also know that some of these ingredients can accumulate in our bodies. For example, phthalates, a group of common plasticizer, have been found in breast cancer tissue.

QUESTION 3. Avoiding a few key toxic ingredients will allow you to reduce your toxic exposure.

TRUE! While you can't shop your way around chemical exposures completely, you can avoid key cosmetic ingredient offenders, like fragrance and triclosan. You'll be doing yourself and the environment a huge favor. Hint - sign off one ingredient at a time. It's a lot more manageable, and allows you to focus your attention on one area while shopping, instead of examining every 15-letter word on the label.

QUESTION 4. Products labeled as having "natural" and "organic" ingredients are always safer than conventional ones.

FALSE! Just as ingredients aren't required to be tested for safety, there is no recognized standard for organic personal care products, either. A "natural" ingredient is not automatically safe. These ingredients can still be biologically active, and thus, have a strong effect on the human body, e.g. poison ivy.

Your best bet is to go with companies that fully disclose formulations, many of which proudly advertise certain missing toxic ingredients.

QUESTION 5. Personal care products can make their way inside your body.

TRUE! Whether a chemical is soaked in through the skin, or an aerosol spray is inhaled or suds wash down the drain and back into the drinking water supply - they can easily end up in your body. The musk xylene, which is commonly found in fragrances (and paint thinners!) has been found in human fat (link:

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists the skin as the "most common path of toxic substance exposure." No wonder, as it is the body's largest organ and has impressive absorption abilities. Medicinal dermal patches are an example of how reliable of an exposure route it really is. No need to swallow, inhale or inject - just apply to a small area and the skin will do the rest.

Stay tuned for future installments of Not in my cosmetics: The Series. Got a question you hope we include? Stop hoping and tell us - in the comments, please!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bloglines - Experiential Gifts for the Holidays

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Check these out for those who don't want to buy consumer goods for the holidays.

My Year Without Spending
Nothing new for a year? I took the plunge and joined The Compact... Let this be a record of my anxieties, contemplations, insights, missteps, and topples off the wagon during the course of 2009...

Experiential Gifts for the Holidays

By Angela

This is the first segment of a series I'll be doing this week about non-consumer holiday gift giving. Today I'll talk about "experiential" gifts, tomorrow I'll have ideas for handmade gifts, and Thursday I'll give you some frugal gift ideas that cost under $10.

"Experiential" gifts are my absolute favorite, both to give and to receive. I've been a proponent of gifts of experience since way before I started The Compact. Experiences are so much more meaningful than STUFF, and the options are endless.

I started down this path several years ago when I was trying to think of a gift for my mom for her birthday. My parents had recently moved into a smaller house and had already gotten rid of a lot of possessions and put a lot more into storage. Whenever I'd taken the train to visit my parents in San Diego from Los Angeles, I'd noticed a restaurant in San Juan Capistrano that was right along the route and looked so charming. So my gift was a card with a train ticket and a coupon for lunch inside. My mom and I met at that restaurant halfway between our homes for a delicious lunch and a glass of wine, walked around San Juan Capistrano, browsed in a high-end gift shop, and got inspired by the people painting watercolors of the mission. It was a perfect afternoon and my mom absolutely loved her gift. Since then my whole family has adopted the practice of experiential gifts.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

1) Museum membership. One of my favorite gifts from my parents that my husband and I have enjoyed this year is a membership at The Norton Simon museum, which is less than a 10 minute drive from our home. There are so many advantages to a membership, but the main one is that going to the museum doesn't have to be a big "outing," you can just drop by to see a new exhibit or look at your favorite painting, or browse for an hour. I often go just to stroll through the gardens and sit and read a book. A really fun bonus is that members are invited to special events, like the acquisition of a new piece of art or a piece on loan from another museum. My husband and I love the wine and cheese receptions that accompany these events. This is a more affordable option than you might imagine: a one-year membership for myself AND my husband, which included 2 free guest passes, cost just $65.

2) Classes or lessons. If your husband has always wanted to play the guitar, give him guitar lessons. I got that idea from Non Consumer Girl, and I'm thinking it would be a good gift for my husband too. Maybe your mother always talks about taking a writing course at the community college, your parents would love to learn the tango, or your daughter in college is a budding gourmet who would enjoy a cooking class. Music lessons, horseback riding lessons, cooking classes, dance lessons, college courses, the options are endless.

3) Concert tickets. This one has been a big hit with my parents. One Father's Day I took my dad to see Dave Brubeck at a San Diego venue right on the water. It was a fabulous concert and we had a great time. My brothers and I splurged to send my parents to see Josh Groban, something they never would have figured out how to even buy tickets for on their own. My mom is a huge fan and she was swooning for days.

4) Massage, manicure, pedicure, or other spa services. This is the kind of gift that is so appreciated by someone who's lost their job or going through financial difficulty. They can't afford to treat themselves, and the stress relief and pampering will make them feel so much better.

5) Yoga classes. Again, this is the kind of thing people cut from their budget, usually just when they need it the most. This is what I'm giving my brother this year because he loves yoga but just can't afford the luxury of paying for a class.

6) Gym membership. Joining a gym is a big commitment, but if your loved one recently dropped their membership, or you know where they'd love to go if only they could afford it, this would be a great gift.

7) Animal encounters. I'm not talking about getting in a cage with sharks or wrestling an alligator, there are much safer ways for animal lovers to interact with other species. Look into what's available at zoos and animal parks in your area. My mother got into a tank in a wetsuit with a beluga whale at Sea World, and the smile on her face in the photo makes her look 20 years younger. The photo of me at the beginning of this post was taken on Christmas Day in 2001 in the Florida Keys at a marine animal park. My husband likes to tell the story of how my hand shot up with a bunch of kids when they asked who would like to come up and meet the sea lion. Then they asked each of us as we went up if we wanted a hug or a kiss, and I was the only one who chose a hug. It's one of my fondest memories and favorite photos.

8) Wine Club. I'm arguing for this as an experience, even though it's tangible, because it's an experience to receive and drink the bottles. This was one of our favorite wedding gifts from our good friends, because it was an excellent winery and the type of wine we rarely splurge for, but we'd save it for special occasions, and make the event even more memorable. Also, you can look into an organic winery. And if a full year is out of your price range, many places offer a half-year membership.

9) Charity. Kiva dot org and Global Giving are two examples of charities that let you get involved and pick the project you want to participate in. For as little as $10, you can give your loved one the gift of providing a family in Mali with a mosquito net to protect them from malaria, textbooks for schoolgirls in Afghanistan, or job training for at-risk teenagers in the United States.

10) CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery of fresh, local, organic produce. You know what a fan I am of this service we started back in May. This would be a great gift for someone who has good intentions about eating healthy, but doesn't have the time or follow through to get to the Farmer's Market. Check out Local Harvest to find a CSA in your area.

11) Theater tickets. Tickets to a performance of their favorite play or season tickets at their favorite venue are a great gift for a theater-loving couple living on a fixed income or whose funds are tight. Theaters offer great prices on season tickets when you can attend during the week or at matinees. And these days you can negotiate deals because theaters, and the arts in general, are hurting for business.

12) Brunch. Much more reasonably priced than dinner, some buffet brunches at nice hotels offer an incredible spread and a nice dose of luxury for a newly married couple or a couple with kids who need some time alone.

13) Getaway. An overnight or weekend getaway to the beach or the mountains would be a fantastic option for an overstressed couple. A wine country package, canoe trip, cross country skiing, or just sitting on the porch of your creekside cabin reading a good book- just what the doctor ordered.

14) Go-Kart or car racing track. An afternoon with their dad at one of these places would be heaven for a pre-teen boy, especially one who wants to grow up to be Dale Earnhart, Jr.

15) Other options for kids include theme parks and water parks, an afternoon of kite-flying, or a day at the beach. Or introduce your child to volunteering at an early age, by serving up plates at a food kitchen, caroling at a hospital or nursing home, or "adopting" a family who's fallen on hard times and buying gifts for each of them. Your children will learn the meaning of the holidays through their experience.

16) Certificates. Home spa treatments, car washes, babysitting, dog walking. This is a nice option when you're short on money. I recently gave my husband a home facial and he loved it. He said it was very relaxing.

17) A home-cooked meal. It's so simple you might not even think of it, but for someone who's socially isolated, new in town, or has recently divorced or lost their spouse, this gift of food and friendship would be extremely appreciated.

Additionally, spending time with family members doing holiday-related activities like decorating cookies, trimming the tree, or attending a holiday-themed concert or play can be your gift to each other.

I'm sure you can think of more ideas that will be just perfect for the people in your life. When you give this kind of gift, you're giving memories. And you know what they say: memories last forever. Which is not the case with most of the stuff many people will be buying at the mall. The bonus with these gifts is that avoiding the mall this time of year will save you immeasurable amounts of stress and give you more time for whatever rituals you enjoy, whether it's baking, listening to music, or just spending time with family and friends.

I hope you got some ideas here. Please tell us about your favorite experiential gifts in the Comments section.

Everything You Know About Going Green Is Wrong

Everything You Know About Going Green Is Wrong

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Thursday, November 05, 2009

From the NY Times

A new type of visitor came to the National Mall this year, flitting past monuments and museums in favor of trees, flowers and plants. But this wasn’t just some horticultural tour; no, this was work. Each day they were abuzz, gathering and pollinating before returning home to modest quarters with tremendous security near Lafayette Park.

Meet the White House honeybee.

Numbering more than 65,000 at one point, the bees produced a bumper crop of honey this year, the first time honey has ever been made on White House grounds. The hive, located on the South Lawn, is a key part of First LadyMichelle Obama’s organic kitchen garden project.

The Sweet Smell of Honey

75 ThumbnailBasswood and cherry trees helped create a unique taste for White House honey.

The total haul was 134 pounds of honey, or roughly 11 gallons. Charlie Brandts, the White House beekeeper, couldn’t be more pleased. “I figured they would make 30 or so pounds of honey,” he said. “They surprised me.”

That access to the National Mall is one reason. “It’s just an abundance of blooms,” Mr. Brandts said, noting the local flowers, plants and trees were ripe with bee-attracting nectar. “The Ellipse and monument grounds are just a great source of clover. It’s like having a huge pasture.”

A White House carpenter for the past 25 years, Mr. Brandts started beekeeping in the backyard of his Maryland home three years ago.

The natural honey his hives produced drew the attention of White House chefs, who introduced him to Sam Kass, the Chicago chef who followed the Obamas from their hometown to the White House. Mr. Kass wondered whether beehives could be part of the White House garden.

Mr. Brandts secured the hive with straps one afternoon this summer. Doug Mills/The New York TimesMr. Brandts secured the hive with straps one afternoon this summer.

“I said ‘I think it would be very doable,’ ” Mr. Brandt said, recalling the conversation. “It was that simple. It just gets complicated after that.”

For one, the beehive sits in the flight path of Marine One, President Obama’s helicopter. “We don’t worry about just the lid blowing off, we worry about the hive blowing over,” Mr. Brandts said.

Mr. Brandts lent the White House bee swarms from his own backyard, setting up the new hive in late March. The bees –which travel as far as three miles from the hive– started bringing in nectar in April.

“These bees on the South Grounds are such sweet bees,” Mr. Brandts said. “I don’t know if it’s because they are down there by themselves or they are just the best bees.”

In June, Mr. Brandts collected 42 pounds of honey in the first extraction. (Since he uses a handheld smoker to placate the bees, he alerts the Secret Service beforehand.) At first, the bees produced a mild, delicately flavored honey lightly tan in color. The Mall’s cherry trees, which bloomed in early April, provided some nectar for that first batch. Clover, black locust and basswood could also be detected. As the summer progressed, the honey’s color darkened, with the fifth and final extraction revealing honey almost chestnut in color.

“We really only got two pounds of that, it’s a rarity,” Mr. Brandts said, noting that one flower on the grounds could have had an influence. “The whole fountain had red salvia planted around it, and it was always covered with bees. I suspect it was from that.”

To extract the honey, Mr. Brandts first had to carve off the beeswax cover.Doug Mills/The New York TimesTo extract the honey, Mr. Brandts first had to carve off the beeswax cover.

Now that the weather has cooled, the bees’ production has slowed, and Mr. Brandts hopes to keep them alive, however, sleepily, through the winter.

As for the abundance of honey, the White House has kept some for both the residence and for official events. During a Halloween party hosted by the White House on Saturday night, trick-or-treaters received a honey-sweetened shortbread cookie. And at Latin American concert last month, the menu included desserts made with honey.

In addition, spouses of world leaders received special jars of the honey as one of the gifts from Mrs. Obama at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh earlier this fall. Miriam’s Kitchen, a local food bank which serves meals to the homeless, has received honey along with produce from the garden.

“It doesn’t take a lot to make a difference,” said Steve Badt, kitchen operations director at Miriam’s Kitchen, where they have made fruit smoothies finished with a drizzle of White House honey. “Each blenderful gets a tablespoon or so. It’s a nice little touch, just like tea.”

bottling the white house honeyDoug Mills/The New York TimesBottling, the final step of honeymaking

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Who’s on Board?

Who’s on Board?
See this about avoiding the use of plastic. I have been trying to do this for a while, but its time to get serious!!