Thursday, May 29, 2008

the Boneyard: Not Just for Dominoes Anymore

Today the mail brought a copy of Heifer International's WorldArk magazine. On page 7 they feature the licensed electronics recycler

Although I've drug home a few cell phone recycling mailers, I've never felt totally comfortable sending used cell phones to semi-anonymous organizations collecting them. The Boneyard guarantees to strip and permanently delete personal information from recycled products. They also email you a link to a prepaid shipping label, so all you have to do is package your item and drop it in the nearest post office box.

If your PC, laptop, cell phone, or flat panel monitor has resale value, the Boneyard will credit you a reward on a Visa debit card.

Whenever possible products are remarketed and reused (the best form of recycling). Older and damaged products are disassembled and some components can be reused. Remaining waste material is disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner. Because of the hazardous elements used in electronics, this kind of recycling can keep a lot of nasty materials out of the landfill.

So, if you community isn't lucky enough to have a Free Geek-like recycling initiative, please consider disposing of your unwanted electronics through environmentally responsible companies like the Boneyard.

I'll be shipping out 5 old cell phones tomorrow. These old and feeble phones have no resale value, but I'm glad to think someone can reuse some of the parts. And another dark corner of the Jones house will become a little cleaner...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fair Trade Peanut Butter Bars: A Recipe for Awesome

Some friends who gave up commodities chocolate and switched to fair trade were talking about how much they missed Reese's cups.

So, for day 5 of my 29 day giving challenge, I'd like to offer all you fair-traders a sweet alternative: my family recipe for peanut butter bars with chocolate. We can only trace this recipe back to a staff newsletter (Faultless Caster's Top Drawer) from the early 80s.

Brace yourself, this confection is anything but healthy.

Peanut Butter Bars
Grease 9"x13" pan.

Cream together:
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 c. peanut butter

Add and blend:
1-1/2 to 2 c. crushed graham crackers
(throw them in a baggie and let your kid pulverize them with a rolling pin for family participation)
1 lb. powdered sugar

When fully blended, press into pan.

Melt and spread evenly over peanut butter mixture:
12 oz. of deliciously child-slavery-free Fair Trade chocolate chips

Cool in refrigerator until firm. Cut into bars before chocolate gets too solid to cut.

Do not eat entire pan in one sitting.

How does Fair Trade chocolate limit child exploitation?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Nipple Cream Recalled: Mommy's Bliss Off The Shelves

A friend sent me a notification of an FDA product recall on Mommy's Bliss Nipple Cream by MOM Enterprises.

Since it's an FDA recall rather than one by the CPSC, it has not shown up in the regular RSS feed of recalls (I recommend everyone who uses a feed reader subscribe to the CPSC recall feed).

Why was the nipple cream recalled? According to Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research:
[The] FDA is particularly concerned that nursing infants are being unwittingly exposed by their mothers to this product with dangerous side effects. Additionally, these two ingredients may interact with one another to further compound and increase the risk of respiratory depression in nursing infants.
I find the manufacturer's response to the recall a bit intriguing. Although it has many of the same characteristics of Tylenol's laudable response to the deadly Tylenol tampering of the 80s, I can't help but feel their self-defensiveness is premature as their ingredients are under scrutiny. It also seems apparent from their own web site that they're using natural ingredients in quantities that have not been tested with infants:
The FDA also neglected to mention that the amount of chlorphenesin and phenoxyethanol in the product is minute relative to what is considered allowable for adults.
Wow, I feel like I'm having flashbacks to my April conversation with Johnson & Johnson's Susan Nettesheim regarding the safety of products made by start-up companies and the fact that natural isn't synonymous with safe.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

29-Day Giving Challenge: A Sharing Initiative

Ranger sometimes suffers from a crisis of sharing. I know that's true for most toddlers at one time or another, but I feel particularly responsible. I tend to cleave to things at times that I don't really need or even want.

I grew up with some fabulous older friends in my childhood neighborhood who told me stories about living during the Depression. The moral of many of these stories was "waste not, want not," so I tend to hang onto random things even when I don't have a clue what to do with them.

There are lots of fine items in my life and home that would be loved and better used other places, and I would like to use the next 28 days to create a good habit of giving.

*What's in it for you?*
Well, today tips about how to reduce the influx of paper into your home.

Things are also much easier to acquire now. Some things come unsolicited that can flood your house if you're not paying attention (like junk mail). This wasn't as big a problem for my Depression-era adopted grandparents in part because there was so much less of it and also because recycling was fledgling idea in this part of the Midwest in the 70s and 80s.

So, my house fills with papers and plastics sent by alumni associations and bought at mini-marts while rambling around the country. I hoard them (and my guilt for incurring them in the first place) in the garage until Jim or my Dad says the words "fire hazard" and we drag it all to the county recycling center (okay, the guilt remains and overflows into the house).

Because of my guilt, it sounds like we have a daily tidal wave of mail, but we don't. Since 1994, Jim and I have worked to limit our junk mail inflow- and it's had great effect. Most of the mail we receive is personal and from organizations we know and love.

Mail reduction tip #1: Cut the Cruft with Mail Preference

The Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) mail preference service is the spamblocker of direct mail and catalogs. This was our first step at reducing junk mail in 1997 and you see big results within the first 3 months. When we registered, you just sent a post card to the DMA, but now they have online and mail-in forms. There's a $1 fee for the mail-in form and possibly a similar fee on the web site, but it's well worth it to get that junk out of your mailbox.

Mail Preference doesn't usually stop communications with companies from which you've purchased. In those cases, you often need to call the company and request that they remove you from all mailing lists. It can take a few minutes, but it does pay off in the long run.

Mail reduction tip #2: Pre-Approved No More
Back in our salad days we lived in an apartment in a reasonably nondescript complex. Although the buildings were new, the place was troubled. We lived in apartment F of building 14 while the neighbor in nearby and otherwise identical building 15's F (also listed as an A. Jones on the mailbox) sold crack. Long story short, people on crack aren't great at discriminating 14 from 15, so we had a lot of unsavory traffic in our building, to our door, and around our mailbox.

During the long remainder of our lease, you could periodically find us laying on the floor with the lights off whenever someone pounded on our door screaming "!@#!@, you sold me bad !@!#!" (In the dealer's defense, the stuff seemed to be working as the screamers were often stoned far beyond reason.) I worried about having any pre-approved credit offers in my mailbox as it was regularly rifled through by criminal types. It turns out that the credit reporting agencies have an opt-out from pre-approved offers.

I really like this because it also means far fewer parties have access to my credit files without my knowledge.

You can call the opt-out toll-free numbers (we recommend doing this on a land line without a cordless phone for optimal security) or opt-out online for 5 years, but you have to submit a written form for permanent opt-out (which I believe you can request when making the phone call).

You can also call each of your credit card companies individually and tell them not to send you any courtesy checks. While you reduce paper inflow, you also protect your identity.

Mail Reduction Tip #3: In Retail Sales, There's No Such Thing as a Free Gift
It's funny to say this, but marketers are pursuing our children while they're still in the womb. Remember those free gifts from maternity stores in exchange for your address and due date? In exchange for a bag of cheap junk, you just sold your child's information to people who send you piles of children's catalogs and direct marketing even before they take their first breath. If you really want the bag of stuff, ask if you can opt out of all future mailings. If they answer no, this probably isn't a good trade.

Some baby registries will also sell your due date and contact information. Read the privacy policies carefully and watch closely for buried opt-outs.

For day 1 of the giving challenge, I also plan to mail a fat braid to Locks of Love. I had my hair cut short in March, but the braid lingers in my house. Kim, did you ever mail yours? If not, do it now before postal prices rise again.

I won't pester you with daily details of my 29-day challenge, but I'll periodically update my progress at my 29-Day Giving Challenge page.

A special thank you to Cathy of Chief Family Officer for sharing her 29-day giving challenge online!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Traveling Companions: Crayons and Coloring Books, Never Leave Home Without 'Em

What have we been doing the past few weeks? Well, we weren't trying the newest extreme sport.We were rambling around on a multi-state trip (though traveling with anyone under 10 should count as some sort of extreme experience).

Last summer, a friend gave us a coloring book she'd picked up on seasonal clearance for less than a dollar.

It's since resided in my bag with some crayons (a party favor from our friends' second birthday party [mellow out grammar freaks, they're twins]). The smart hostess had picked up 24 count Crayola crayons at 19 cents each during Back-To-School sales and packaged them in drawstring bags. I still carry the crayons in the drawstring bag because it's easy to find in the dark abyss and it guards against crayon escape.

I love these items when traveling long distances or around town. It's easy toddler entertainment at restaurants and appointments. The scalability is hard to beat; you can entertain 1 to 24 kids.

We tend to use our crayons at restaurants now rather than the small packages or loaners. It made me crazy to use three new crayons for 30 minutes and then either leave them to be thrown out or lose them in my bag, car, or coat pocket.

Some Parent Hackers suggest plastic travel soap containers for crayon storage, but I didn't like the load rattling when I walked or shifted my bag. I may have bought the wrong kind of soap holder.

What kid entertainment do you keep in your bag of tricks?


Friday, May 09, 2008

Meet My Friend (and Pardon My Bragging)

Last summer, I went to BlogHer in Chicago. A side effect of staying at the hostel (beyond saving a fortune) was the lucky coincidence of sharing a room with Jennette Fulda.

The humble Jennette would never be all Braggy McBraggerson about this, but she's one of the funniest and most inspiring people I've ever met. When we met in the registration line at the hostel, two random female adults in a sea of youth groups and boy scouts, I asked what she blogged about. When this lovely, fit woman answered "weight loss" I seriously wondered if she wasn't a bit obsessive. I would never have imagined that she had lost HALF HER BODY WEIGHT with a healthy diet, exercise, and online accountability.

It took a whole day to find that out. During that day, people swooned to be in her presence. It turned out my new friend was a celebrity blogger. Late on day two, after I'd been blathering on about a small print writing contract I'd been offered (unlike Jennette, I wear the clan McBraggerson plaid) Jennette made the smallest mention that she'd similarly been tapped by an editor to write a full-length memoir.

Her book, Half-Assed, is now available, and Jennette's great humor is now available to the general public in print as well her blog. She is the book's cover model (wearing her old fat pants).

Her book is getting great attention; You can see her discuss it on this Sunday's Today Show. Check your local listings for times.

Congratulations, Jennette! Jim and I are bloated like obese puffer fish with pride in your accomplishments as we know you're humbly downplaying all this (and we love you for it).

Set Something Special Out in Tomorrow's Mail: Help USPS Stamp Out Hunger

It's no secret that our nation's economic downturn has left food pantry shelves around the US mostly empty.

Tomorrow is a great opportunity to help out your local food banks, pantries, and shelters without leaving home. Saturday, May 10, postal carriers will be collecting non-perishable foods as well as mail on their normal routes.

Please consider sending out a special package for your neighbors in need.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Frozen Lemon Scraps Freshen Disposal Breath

When it comes to an in-sink garbage disposal, I have little tolerance for unpleasantness. There's something totally unpalatable about smelling damp variety goo when pouring a glass of milk or peeling an apple nearby.

We used to be big fans of Plink, but then we found an elegant solution that is cheap, easy, and reuses kitchen waste.

According to my dad, one of the reasons the disposal smells is because little bits of nastiness get left behind. Apparently, if you run ice through your disposal, it knocks loose all the bits of cruft lurking down there in the dark. Dad also attests to the miracle power of ice to sharpen blades. I don't know if it's true, but in 11 years of home ownership where I periodically feed the disposal ice, I've not had disposal problems.

To get the super-fresh smell of lemons, we grind up frozen chunks of juiced lemon rinds with the ice. It's a brilliantly clean scent. Whenever we juice a lemon (limes work too!), we cut up the juiced rind into chunks no bigger than an ice cube and throw them in a container in the freezer.

Whenever the disposal gets monster breath, we throw in a cup or two of ice and a few pieces of rind (usually 1/3 of a lemon or 1/2 a lime). Run the disposal until the ice is gone then let the cold water run another minute.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Mother's Day Gift Ideas

Okay, this is sort of a last minute post, but please make note that Mother's Day is this Sunday, May 11th.

Last year we wrote a gift guide for geek moms that might provide some last-minute ideas that don't involve the jewelry store or the flower shop. Our Mother's Day Wrap-up reader comments might offer some good ideas too.

P.S. Don't forget that you can donate to great organizations like Heifer Project too! What mom doesn't want bees?

Recommended Reading: Ranger's Favorite Books

Ranger recently started to "read along" with us at storytime, and though we know it's not actual reading, it's still immensely charming to hear him chime in during favorite books.

Debra Fraisier's On the Day You Were Born: Ranger first saw this book as a Notes Alive! story concert by the Minnesota Orchestra. It's one of his very favorite books and music videos. He loves the vibrant papercut pictures and lyrical rhythms. I love hearing him say phrases like "the marvelous news migrated worldwide."

Christine Loomis' and Ora Eitan's Cowboy Bunnies: (aka "Cowbunnies" to Ranger) This nightly request begins "Cowboy bunnies/ Wake up early/ Ride their ponies/ Hurly burly" This is a great bed time story. It poetically takes the bunnies through their day of jumping gullies and mending fences to an evening hoedown. Later "Cowboy bunnies/ In pajamas/ Hug and kiss/ Their cowboy mamas." It's a nice winding down story for parent and child alike.

Scott Beck's Little House, Little Town: This simple book goes through a baby's leisurely day with his parents. The sparse text is in perfect measure while the ample illustrations tell an ongoing story of the life a town itself. We like this book because, like a stroll through a community, you can choose the pace of each reading and sometimes linger to smell the flowers and pet the dogs. We also like Beck's A Mud Pie for Mother which offers similar opportunities to immerse yourself in the pictures.

We found many of these books and authors through our awesome public library and Dolly Parton's incredible non-profit Imagination Library (sponsored locally by a hospital foundation).

What have you been reading and rereading lately?

Monday, May 05, 2008

In Case You Were Wondering What I'm Doing Tomorrow

We're planning on waking at the crack of dawn and taking a most likely dino-jammied Ranger to witness the political process in action. We want him to see that we value civic involvement (from voting to jury duty).

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Hard As Nails: Reuse BPA Plastic Bottles

Plastics with BPA are tough. They're shatterproof and can withstand a lot of torment.

In the 1970s, my dad worked at stoplight manufacturer Eagle Signal. One of the salesmen there, before an appointment to sell the expensive new Lexan lenses, would place four lenses on the ground and then park his car with one tire atop each lens. It was a strong sales pitch for strength and durability.

So, as we're all clearing the BPA plastics out of our kitchens, let's not relegate this near-permanent stuff to clog the landfills before giving it a second thought.

How can we repurpose this effectively non-recyclable material to give a longer useful life without putting anyone's endocrine system in harm's way?

Here at Baby Toolkit Labs we have lots of screws loose... wait, loose scews.. and nails, and washers, and such. My dad stores all his loose fasteners in an army of glass baby food jars which he wraps with clear tape to minimize cleanup in case of breakage.

It wasn't a big leap to see those Soothies, Dr. Brown's, and Avent bottles full of small metal bits and bobs. The bottles are easy to throw in a toolkit and keep the parts in a single, easily accessed container during the job.

How else can we reuse these plastics?

We set up a BPA reuse Flickr pool (, so please post photos of your own solutions.