Organic skin care & cosmetics from Miessence – review & giveaway

Note: Giveaway is now closed to new entries.

When I was first introduced to the Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database, I was reluctant to do a search for the products I was currently using. I had a feeling the results would be bad news and, while I’m not usually one to turn a blind eye, I just didn’t want to think about it right then. Eventually, however, I came around, especially when my daughter Ava wanted to start playing with my makeup too. If I wasn’t going to be concerned about the safety of my cosmetics for my own health, I was going to be for the sake of my daughter.

As I looked up my products, I was disappointed, though not surprised to see several fell into the “moderate hazard” category, and a couple (like my mascara) fell into the “high hazard” category. Although I wasn’t letting Ava experiment with mascara, it still made me feel icky to think of the toxins I was applying to my eyelashes on a regular basis.

When Erin Ely from Ely Organics, distributor for Miessence Certified Organic products, asked if I wanted to try out some samples, I was more than excited.

Jaffa lip balmFirst of all, I love that Miessence products are certified organic and are grown and processed without the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Many of the ingredients sound like things you could eat. Like the Jaffa Lip Balm (which goes on soooo smooth and you’ll have a chance to win below), contains things like sunflower and avocado oils, fruit butter and rosemary leaf extract. With ingredients like these, it makes you feel like it’s more than OK to lick your lips!

I also tried the Mascara and was no longer using a product that scored in the “high hazard” category, but in the “low hazard” category. That made me feel a lot better about applying mascara. In fact, all of the Miessence products score in the low hazard category on Skin Deep!

Some of my personal favorites were the Moisturizer and the Balancing Skin Care Set (which you will have a chance to win below). And although I didn’t get a chance to try them, I also like that they have a full line of Baby Care products.

Overall I am very pleased with Miessence products. They are skin care products and cosmetics you can feel safe and good about using, even when your 3- or 4-year-old wants to try them out! :)

WIN IT!

shampooSkin careYou can win a “Miessence Sample Kit” from Ely Organics which will include:

Retail Value is: $65

All you need to do to for a chance to win is leave a comment below letting me know which Miessence product you would like to try. You aren’t required to post about it or Twitter it, but if you do either, I’d be most appreciative. :) (Be sure you to let me know in the comments if you do either post or Tweet it so I can be sure and send you a pony, or at least a virtual hug.) The deadline to enter is midnight Sunday, Oct. 19. The winner will be selected using Random.org and contacted via email on Oct. 20. Please make sure you include a valid e-mail address. Thanks and good luck!

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SKOY eco-friendly cloths instead of paper towels (giveaway)

In keeping with the spirit of the Ditch the Disposables Challenge, I have to tell you about one of my new favorite eco-friendly paper towel replacements – the SKOY cloth. SKOY cloths are reusable, very absorbent, bright and fun, machine washable and microwavable, and at the end of their life, biodegradable. They are non-toxic, chlorine-free and made using water-based colors and inks. According to SKOYcloth.com, “Using one SKOY cloth is the equivalent to using 15 rolls of paper towels in an average home.”

SKOY clothSKOY clothsI’ve been giving the SKOY cloths a try for the past several weeks and they really are great. I’ve mostly been using them in the kitchen or for cleaning up faces and grubby little hands, but they also work well in the bathroom both to clean the room and to clean body parts. :)

Another great feature of the SKOY cloth is that because it dries quickly, it’s not a breeding ground for bacteria. I don’t know how many times I’ve picked up a sponge out of the kitchen sink only to have it leave my hand wreaking from God knows what. If you toss your wet SKOY in the microwave for a minute or two, you will keep it germ-free. It can also go safely through your dishwasher or your washer and dryer (or outside to dry on a clothesline – hint, hint).

After many, many uses (perhaps even up to a year or more), when your SKOY has finished it’s cleaning life cycle, it can be composted, though it will also break down in a landfill.

In addition to cloth towels or microfiber cloths, SKOY cloths are another great way to kick the paper towel habit once and for all.

Win It!
SKOY clothsThanks to SKOY, I’m giving away SIX 4-packs of SKOY cloths. All you need to do for a chance to win is first sign up (if you haven’t already) for my Ditch the Disposables Challenge. Then leave a comment on this post and make sure you include a valid email address or a blog URL so I have a way to contact you. Deadline to enter is Tuesday, Sept. 23. The six winners will be chosen using Random.org on Sept. 24 and notified via email. Good luck!

If anyone else makes or sells reusable products that are in line with the Ditch the Disposables Challenge and you’d like me to review them and do a giveaway, shoot me an email : crunchydomesticgoddess AT gmail DOT com. :)

How to make and can strawberry jam (with giveaway)

This giveaway has ended and is closed to new entries.

A couple of weeks ago, I made my first batch of strawberry jam (from the organic strawberries we’d picked at a local farm) and tried my hand at canning for the first time as well. It was a lot of fun, but also a very time-consuming task as I learned the ropes. I decided to write up a how to guide with pictures up the wazoo to hopefully help someone else with their first foray into jam-making and canning. I think pictures would have helped me a lot.

I know some people are firmly against it, but I decided to use pectin in my jam, though not just any pectin. I found Pomona’s Pectin at the farm where we picked our fruit. Pomona’s is a natural pectin made from 100% pure citrus. Its jelling power is activated by calcium, not by sugar content, which allows you to make low-sugar or even no-sugar jam*. For my batch of strawberry jam, I used only 3/4 cup of honey as a sweetener. For the batch of peach jam I made, I used 3/4 cup of agave nectar. I thought it was fabulous to avoid the usual 5 or 6 cups of sugar required to make jam. (My kids don’t need all of that!) Oh, and both taste amazing!

Please note: The step-by-step guide below is for making jam with Pomona’s Pectin. If you have another brand of pectin or are making jam without pectin, this guide to making jam will not work for you. However, the process of canning should still be the same. :)

How to make strawberry jam with Pomona’s Pectin:

Get out all of your delicious organic strawberries:
Freshly-picked organic strawberries

Wash and hull the strawberries:
Washing the strawberries

While you work on making the jam, wash jars/lids in soapy water, then sterilize them in boiling water. The rack I had to put the jars in was too big for the size jars I was using, so I put two cookie racks on the bottom of my pot which kept the jars up off the bottom of the pot:
Sterilizing the jars and lids

Mash the strawberries (Cute helpers optional):
Mashing up the strawberries Mashing up the strawberries Ava helps mash the strawberries

Measure out 4 cups of mashed strawberries:
Measuring the mashed strawberries

Measure and add 2 teaspoons calcium water (included with Pomona’s Pectin) into the strawberries:
Calcium water

Measure out 1/2 cup to 1 cup honey (or agave nectar) or 3/4 cup to 2 cups sugar. Put in small bowl:
Measuring out the honey

Add and mix 2 teaspoons Pomona’s Pectin powder into the honey, agave or sugar:
Pomona’s Pectin Stirring pectin into the honey

Pour strawberries into pot. Add the honey/agave/sugar/pectin mixture to the strawberries:
Adding honey and pectin to the strawberries

Bring to a boil and stir vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to dissolve pectin. Return to a boil and remove from heat.:
Stirring the strawberries vigorously

Remove hot jar and lid from boiling water. Carefully fill jar to 1/4 inch of top. Use a funnel if you have one. (I didn’t at the time, but I do now.):
Filling a jar with jam

Wipe the rim of the jar clean:
Wiping the rim of the jar

Place lid on jar and screw ring on until finger-tip tight:
Tightening up the jar

Using tongs, place the jar into the canning bath. Repeat until all jars have been filled and placed into canning bath. About an inch of water should cover the jars:
Jam in the canning bath

Boil 5 minutes (add 1 minute for every 1,000 feet above sea level). (I believe the amount of time varies for each recipe.)

Using your tongs, remove the jars from the water:
Putting jam into canning bath

Let jars cool completely for several hours. As they cool, the lids will suck down and you will probably hear a popping sound as the vacuum seal forms. Pop!

Once the jars are completely cooled (several hours), unscrew the ring and lightly pull on the lid to check the seal. Any jars not sealed will need to be reprocessed or refrigerated and consumed first.

Admire your finished product. Makes 4-5 cups jam:
The finished product - strawberry jam!

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Win It!
Pomona’s PectinNo, I’m not giving away a jar of my jam, but I am offering you a chance to make your own! Leave me a comment telling me what kind of jam you like best and you will be entered for a chance to win a box of Pomona’s Pectin. The deadline to enter is Friday, Sept. 19. The winner will be chosen using Random.org and notified via email, so make sure you leave a valid email address or a link to your blog where I can reach you. Good luck!

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Pomona’s Pectin is generally available at health food stores, food co-ops or farm stands. If you can’t locate it locally, you can purchase it online. They also have a JAMLINE for questions or assistance with converting recipes. (Doesn’t that rock?) And their boxes are made from recycled cardboard and the paper the recipes are printed on is recycled as well.

* From Pomona’s site: “Some other possible sweeteners are honey, fructose, sucanat, concentrated fruit sweetener, maple syrup, agave nectar, frozen juice concentrate, stevia, xylitol, Splenda and other artificial sweeteners.”

World Breastfeeding Week 2008: Support Moms (& a giveaway)

This giveaway is closed to new entries.

World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated by 120 countries worldwide Aug. 1-7, is just days away. This year’s theme is “Mother Support: Going for the Gold” and, in my opinion, is such an important one. Sure we can drive home the fact that breast is best and stress the numerous health benefits for both baby and mom, but if a mom don’t have the support she needs, the pressure from well-intentioned relatives or friends, the pressures of keeping a job, and the convenience and availability of f*rmula, coupled with the fatigue of caring for a newborn, can quickly become overwhelming and make it all too easy to give up.

2008 World Breastfeeding Week logoThe Village Midwife writes: “The WABA (World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action) World Breastfeeding Week program this year is promoting the Global Initiative for Mother Support, and is using the Olympic Games circles to remind us of the need for ‘circles of support.'”

I feel very fortunate that I’ve had a circle of support for the past 4+ years I’ve been breastfeeding. My mom, who breastfed me and my siblings, encouraged me, and I had the support of several friends I met through my Hypnobirthing instructor who were all breastfeeding and parenting similarly to me. While I was lucky in that I never had any serious problems with breastfeeding (knock wood), it was still wonderful to have a group of like-minded friends to turn to if the need arose.

La Leche League in the USA has a list of helpful suggestions for mothers, fathers, employers and just about everyone to help support breastfeeding mothers:

You can “go for the gold” when you —

  • give a mother the phone number of an LLL Leader.
  • tell a first-time breastfeeding mother she is doing just fine.
  • bring the new mother a nutritious snack and a big glass of water.
  • as an employer, accommodate a mother’s need to pump with a private comfortable space.
  • as the baby’s father, intercede with family and friends so that mother and baby can feel confident
  • write to legislators to support the enactment of laws supporting paid maternity leave and mother-friendly workplaces.
  • contact an emergency relief organization and request training to help in emergency situations, especially in breastfeeding support.
  • take care of your health and nutritional needs during pregnancy and lactation.
  • set up or join a network of lactation experts in your community.
  • provide transportation to a mother to attend an LLL meeting or visit a lactation consultant.
  • advocate for legislation that enacts the provisions of the WHO/UNICEF Code of Marketing.
  • ask for support and offer support to others.

As WBW approaches, there will undoubtedly be more Internet buzz about it, but here are a few WBW/breastfeeding-related contests I rounded up.

Food blogger Linda at Make Life Sweeter! is holding a Got Milk? recipe contest to help promote and celebrate World Breastfeeding Week.
The contest is open to bloggers and non-bloggers alike. All participants have to do is “Prepare a sweet dish with milk as an ingredient.
You can use any type of milk (cow, goat, sheep, …), non-dairy is allowed as long as is something that is generally substituted for milk.” After breastfeeding her two children for a combined total of 3 1/2 years, Linda says the reason for the contest is, “if this event will motivate even one mother (to-be) to breastfeed or breastfeed for a longer time it will make me feel like I’ve made a difference.” You can read the full requirements for entering the contest over at Make Life Sweeter! The deadline to enter is Aug. 7.

Breast Pumps Direct, a breast pump and accessories distributor, is holding a story contest for any woman who wants to share a story about her breastfeeding experience(s). The winner will receive a gift basket loaded with great stuff from Breast Pumps Direct. For more information, including rules, about the contest, visit www.breastpumpsdirect.com. The deadline to enter is Aug. 7.

There was also a breastfeeding photo and video contest recently held at official World Breastfeeding Week site. Here are the photo contest winners, which are just amazingly beautiful, and the video contest winners.

How about you? Will you blog about your breastfeeding experience or otherwise promote World Breastfeeding Week? What will you do to support breastfeeding mothers? If you do blog about it, please leave a comment with the link back to your post.

Breastfeeding resources:
KellyMom – one of my personal favorites for breastfeeding information
La Leche League International
Breastfeeding.com
CDC: Breastfeeding
Ask Dr. Sears : Breastfeeding
Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative – a global program sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to encourage and recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care for lactation
Ban the Bags – a national campaign to stop f*rmula company marketing in maternity hospitals

Breastfeeding Blogs:
Black Breastfeeding Blog
Breastfeeding 1-2-3
Breastfeeding Mums
The Lactivist
Mama Knows Breast
Mocha Milk
The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog

Win It!

Mama Knows BreastThe ABCs of BreastfeedingTo help support breastfeeding moms, I’m giving away a copy of two breastfeeding books – The ABCs of Breastfeeding by Stacy H. Rubin and Mama Knows Breast: A beginner’s guide to breastfeeding by Andi Silverman. Both are wonderfully informative books and would make a great gift for any new mom or mom-to-be to assist her on her breastfeeding journey.

To be eligible to win, simply leave a comment with a helpful piece of advice for breastfeeding moms or a breastfeeding story AND let me know which book you prefer. There will be one winner for each book. The deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 9.

This giveaway is part of the ginormous Bloggy Giveaway Carnival. Go check it out. :)

Cross-posted on BlogHer

How to throw an eco-friendly party (with a giveaway)

This giveaway is now closed to new entries.

Felt party hats from GreenPartyGoods.comIs it possible to throw a child’s birthday party (or any party for that matter) without piling up mounds and mounds of trash? The answer is most definitely YES. Throwing an eco-friendly party (or green party or nearly zero-waste party) is actually probably easier than you think. Like any party, it just takes some planning in advance.

Here are some tips and ideas to get you started planning your next eco-friendly bash.

1) Invitations: Consider electronic invitations from Evite, which is what we did for my daughter Ava’s recent 4th birthday party, or EchoAge. Both options save paper and trees. If you have to have paper invitations, check out seed embedded paper (that you can plant) from Green Field Paper or Botanical Paperworks or others, so your invitation is reused and recycled.

All compostable tablewareZero-waste party table sign2) Tableware: One of the biggest waste creators at a party is the tableware – the plates, cups, napkins, bowls, and eating utensils, and even the table cloths. All of this plastic stuff (made from oil) gets used once, then ends up in the landfills where it doesn’t degrade. You can avoid the waste and plastic altogether by using reusable tableware, which may be cost-effectively purchased from a restaurant supply store. If you enjoy throwing parties and do so often, this might be the best way to go. Another option is to use compostable* tableware which is often made from corn, potatoes or sugarcane. Thanks to Green Party Goods we had compostable plates, cups and utensils in pink (for all of the kids) and I bought additional compostable tableware from EcoCycle, where Amy is so proud of the compostablesthey offer up a zero-waste event kit. Unfortunately the kits are only available locally; they do not ship them. EcoCycle provided me with table signs and boxes/bags to collect the compostables. After the party, I dropped them off at the EcoCycle facility to be composted. We collected recyclable items separately and took them back to my house to put in our recycle bin.
*It’s worth noting that many of the compostable tableware requires the very high heat of an industrial composter (not a home composter) to effectively decompose.
If you need table cloths, consider using an old sheet (check out Freecycle or thrift stores) or a piece of fabric in the color or theme of your choice. My mom whipped up a couple farm-themed tablecloths in no time for Ava’s party.

3) Decorations: Children’s birthday parties often mean lots and lots of balloons which are not good for the environment. Most are not biodegradable, are bad for sewage treatment plants, and are bad news for marine wildlife as well. As an alternative to balloons, one could decorate with Chinese lanterns or felt banners (both of which are reusable). Recycle Your Day has a tutorial on how to make a paper bag pinata. Or you could have your party at an outside location (at least during the warmer months) and let the natural scenery be the “decorations” and avoid artificial decorations all together. We held Ava’s 4th birthday party at a local farm where the kids had the option to feed and pet animals, have a pony ride, play in a giant tree house, and more. They loved it! Parks make a great setting for children’s parties too. We’ve had two of Ava’s previous birthday parties there. Outdoor parties are a great way to get kids connecting with nature.

Ava’s 4th birthday party - 6/21/08Kids at Ava’s outdoor farm party, eating with compostable plates, cups and utensils4) Food and Cake: When planning your menu, try to keep foods as healthy, organic and whole as possible. Avoiding prepackaged, preservative-laden foods is healthier for your guests and better for the earth since there’s less packaging involved. For Ava’s party I went with a fruit salad, a carrot salad, my version of confetti salad, a green salad and crackers. Instead of a cake, I made cupcakes using a healthier recipe sweetened with applesauce and honey, but my frosting (which my mom and I used to try to make the cupcakes look like pigs) included a lot of powdered sugar. I know, tsk, tsk, but ya can’t win ’em all. The good news is that the food coloring I used to dye the cream cheese frosting was plant-based (from beets). You can buy natural food coloring (and avoid artificial colors) at most health food stores.

5) Gifts and Wrapping Paper: When it comes time to wrap presents, think recycled or reusable materials first. Encourage your party attendees (as I did) to wrap their presents using newspaper or cloth. My friend Julie took the cloth suggestion one step further and made her own zero-waste wrapping “paper” by naturally-dyeing play silks a lovely shade of pink. The play silks are like a bonus present and provide unlimited imaginative play.
You also always have the option of politely declining presents. Kids often have so many toys that it won’t bother them to make presents optional, suggest books only (used books are even better) or request no presents at all. Another idea is to ask for donations to a charity in lieu of gifts. Let your child choose the charitable organization.

Party favor bagsFelt birthday crown6) Party favors/hat: I wanted to stay away from cheap and/or disposable party favors/hats and bags for the kids. Thanks to Green Party Goods, we received a felt queen’s crown for Ava’s big day (and you’ll have a chance to win one below). They also carry felt party hats.
Since I wanted to avoid plastic for our goody bags, I picked up some mini canvas bags from Hobby Lobby as well as some craft paint. I painted a pig and each child’s name on the bags. You could also buy a yard of fabric, cut it into squares and make your own bags tied up with a ribbon.

Party favor recycled crayonsThen for filling the bags, I bought some groovy recycled rainbow crayons* from Art 2 The Extreme, an Etsy store. In keeping with our farm theme, I printed up Party favor mini coloring booksmini coloring books of farm animals on recycled paper. I also wanted to include some sort of treat, but I wanted to avoid sugar and artificial colors, so I included a box of organic raisins for each child. That was it. Simple, but fun and no junky little plastic toys to end up in the landfill.

Party favor raisins

Another neat eco-friendly party favor idea is to give polished stones or geodes. They are natural and great for imaginative play. Check out Etsy for other unique and/or recycled/eco-friendly favor ideas.

*Other Etsy stores that sell recycled crayons include: IvyLane Designs, Butterfly Brain and Ferret Bento.

 

7) Thank you notes: Again, these can easily be done without trees by sending electronic thank yous. If you feel the need to send them in the mail though as I did (what can I say, I’m old-fashioned), use recycled paper/cards. We made our thank you notes and Ava stamped them with a new stamping set she received for her birthday. I think it’s important for children to be involved in the thanking process and she really enjoyed creating cards for all of her friends.

Looking for more green party ideas? Check out Nature Moms Blog’s Eco Friendly Birthday Party post.

Now on to the giveaway…

Win It!

Felt Queen Crown Felt King Crown

Collapsible baseball girlCollapsible baseball boyThanks to Green Party Goods, I’m giving away one felt queen or king crown (your choice) and 10 collapsible baseball figure party favors. To be eligible to win, simply visit Green Party Goods, take a look around, come back here and leave a comment letting me know what your favorite thing is. That’s it! (If you want to link to it, Twitter it, or Stumble it, especially if you found this post helpful, I certainly won’t object, but that’s not required to enter to win.) The deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 7. The winner will be selected by Random.org and emailed, so be sure to include a valid email address or link to your blog so I know how to reach you. Good luck!

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Nature’s Avenger organic weed killer (review & giveaway)

UPDATE: This giveaway has concluded and is closed to new entries. 

Every spring I have the best of intentions of keeping my yard and patio well-weeded. And every spring I do my best to keep up with the little suckers, but because I can’t make weeding my full-time job (after all I do have two kiddos to watch after and a little thing called a blog to tend to), the weeds eventually declare victory and I hang my head in defeat.

This spring, however, I decided to get a headstart and try my hand at creating a natural weed killer. With two little kids and two dogs, I don’t do petro chemicals in my yard, so making something as non-toxic as possible was a requirement. I played mad scientist and concocted a mixture of vinegar, hot water and dish soap, sprayed it on the little buggers and waited. While it worked to some degree (they shriveled a bit), it was not the miracle herbicide I was hoping for.

spraypic.jpgThankfully, right about that time, I was contacted to review an organic weed killer called Nature’s Avenger. I was more than happy to give it a try. Nature’s Avenger is made with natural citrus oil which gives it a very pleasant scent, is EPA-certified, safe around children and pets, and, I’m pleased to report, it gets the job done! I tried it on a few rogue weeds in my yard and it killed them and quickly too (within a couple hours). While I wouldn’t use it all of the time (it’s still fun to get my hands dirty now and then), it is nice to have an organic weed-killing alternative for those occasions I don’t have hours to spend weeding the yard.

Find a store near you that sells Nature’s Avenger or you can buy it online.

WIN IT!
If you’d like to try to win a bottle of Nature’s Avenger, just leave a comment here AND link to this post on your blog. If you don’t have a blog, that’s OK. You can still enter to win. The deadline to enter is Friday, June 27. The winner will be chosen using Random.org and notified via email the following day. Please make sure you include a valid email address.

If you are looking for another eco-friendly giveaway, head over to A Mama’s Blog for a Let’s Go Green giveaway.