Condo Blues: July 2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Think You Know What’s in Your Cosmetics? Think Again

This year my New Year’s Resolution is to green my health and beauty aids. So far, I have switched my foundation , shampoo, lotion, body soap , sunscreen , toothpaste, mouthwash, and facial wash. To do this I read product labels.

Turns out that while I think I am a careful shopper, read ingredient labels, and buy accordingly, when it comes to my health and beauty products there is no law or rule that says everything inside the bottle has to be listed on the product label, unlike the food I buy.

That means there could be just as many or more harmful ingredients in my toothpaste as there are in the degreaser I use on my car’s engine block. The only difference is that the degreaser has a warning label. I have no idea if the ingredients of my toothpaste have been tested for safety or not.

To put this into an easy to understand and entertaining way, Annie Leonard of The Story of Stuff fame, created a new video The Story of Cosmetics.

I’m not trying to be a scaremonger. I think it’s up to you to decide on whether you want to avoid something in your products or not. I can honestly tell you that not everything in my medicine cabinet is 100% green, nor will it ever be. To me, it’s all about balance.

However, I do not like the fact that it is hard to make an informed choice as a consumer because the federal cosmetics law was written over 70 years ago and has not been updated since. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics:

"The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1936 has only two pages that relate to cosmetics, and it has not been updated despite a sea change in the industry. The fact is, the Food and Drug Administration has no authority to make cosmetics companies test products for safety or recall products that are found to be harmful."
One of the biggest secrets about what chemicals (or not) is in a product is what makes up the product’s fragrance. Last summer, I had the chance to talk to a representative from a large personal care company. She claimed that even her company didn’t know what was in the fragrances of their products because they buy the fragrance from a special fragrance house that has a super secret formula and ironclad nondisclosure agreement that says the fragrance house won’t tell the company what's in the signature scent of their brand of shampoo.

I call shenanigans. I find it very hard to believe that a huge personal care company with a research and development team of chemists and scientist types cannot reverse engineer their signature fragrance and figure out what makes their product smell like their product.

Buying an unscented product won’t solve the problem either. Most unscented products have masking agents in them to cover up the sometimes nasty scent of combining their raw ingredients.

What’s a Consumer to Do?

  • First, I would watch The Story of Cosmetics to understand the situation in basic, real world language.

  • Next, I would email my congressperson and encourage them to vote yes on the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, which would close the labeling and ingredient testing holes in current federal law.

  • Finally, I would start reading the product labels of my personal care products and research any unfamiliar ingredients.

What would you do?

This post is part of the Green Mom’s Carnival where our topic is The Story of Cosmetics hosted by Organic Mania. Pop on over there Wednesday 28, 2010.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

How to Make Candles out of Cheese Wax

Husband and I had a pile of Mini Babybel Cheese wax wrappers on our kitchen counter. We got them as free samples at a local event.

People passing out free cheese samples
 is Blitzkrieg's idea of heaven.

Sometimes Husband and I accept swag (known in the PR buiz as Stuff We All Get) only if it's something we think will be useful to us. Otherwise, it clutters up our tiny house. Can I interest anyone in a junk drawer full of freebie pens?

In this case, the item was useful because it was food. The wrapper? Not so much until Husband challenged me to find a creative reuse for cheese wax.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How to Identify BPA Free Plastics the Easy Way

I mentioned to Husband's aunt that I want to replace our small plastic food storage containers with glass when they wear out (due to spousal management issues.) She lamented, "It’s so confusing. Now we're supposed to use glass! I can't open glass containers with my arthritis. I can't remember what the plastics are with that stuff in them."

Me, "BPA?"

Husband's aunt,"Yeah, that!"

I love moments like this because it slaps me into the reality that not everyone has the same green needs as I do. This was double that day because we were trying to window shop with a toddler in tow who wanted to pick up and hold everything in the store - especially the very expensive and very breakable glass items (at least the kid has taste.) For Husband's aunt and the toddler's mom, easy to open, non-breakable BPA free plastics are necessary.

I took advantage of this and used it as a Teachable Moment in the store. Aunt K I promised you I'd write everything down  - this one's for you! It's a good reminder for me too.

How to Identify BPA Free Plastics – The Long Answer
AKA The CYA so I Don't Get Sued Version

The little numbers stamped on the bottom of a plastic container tells you or your recycling center what type of chemicals the plastic it is made from. There are seven general categories of plastic. The BPA free plastics are (brace yourself for some big scary sounding words but I will translate them I promise):

  • #1 Polyethylene terephthalate. It uses the abbreviation PET or PETE and can be for example, thin plastic pop bottles.
  • #2 High-density polyethylene. It uses the abbreviation HDPE and can be for example, some reusable plastic food storage containers.
  • #4 Low-density polyethylene. It uses the abbreviation LDPE and can be for example, plastic grocery bags.
  • #5 Polypropylene. It uses the abbreviation PP and can be for example, some reusable plastic food storage containers.
  • #6 Polystyrene It uses the abbreviation PS and can be hard plastic lke disposable cutlery or soft plastic like foam drink cups. Polystyrene is difficult to recycle in most areas of the US.
I like to remember them this way:

(Skip 3)

What about #7 Plastic?
Number 7 is what I like to call Mystery Plastic. Number 7 plastic is any type of plastic that doesn’t fit into the other categories. Number 7 plastic can be made from compostable corn based plastic but it can also be made from polycarbonate which may contain BPA. This makes Number 7 plastics difficult to recycle in most areas of the US.
Is your head spinning with numbers yet? Let’s make it easier.

How to Identify BPA Free Plastics – The Short Answer
AKA The Real Answer to Her Question

Say you want to buy a BPA free plastic reusable water bottle or food storage container. You walk into the store and start flipping things over to read the number printed on the bottom of the plastic container. The safer and most common BPA free choices for reusable plastic food and beverage containers are:

I remember them with a corny little rhyme I came up with:

Number two is cool,
Number five no jive.

Told you it was corny! However, it helps me remember those two numbers when I’m feeling overwhelmed during a next pop quiz at the store.

Did that help? How do you remember which numbers are BPA free plastic?

Help Lisa Nelsen-Woods Win My Dream Dream Job as the Salada Tea Spokesperson!

The Salada Tea Spokesperson voting is open and the votes are very close. I can't thank all of you enough for your on going votes and social media support. Your daily vote makes a difference!

One of the things I do professionally is to develop on-line training courses that translate complicated technical topics and computer geek jargon in to real world easy to understand language like this post. It would be a dream comes true if I could use my professional translation powers to demystify green living and healthy eating ideas on a budget for Salada Tea drinkers.

Voting won’t cost you anything put a mouse click. You don’t have to sign up for anything either. In fact, Salada Tea will give you a coupon for 75 cents off any Salada Tea product just for voting! Please visit Salada Spokespeson and vote for me, Lisa Nelsen-Woods. You can vote once a day every day until the voting closes on August 1, 2010.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

8 Ways to Eat Healthy When Camping

Someone complained that it is hard to eat healthy while camping during a recent Girls Night Out (#gno) Twitter party. I disagree! Every vacation of my childhood involved camping of some sort. My parents often referred to our camper as their hotel room on wheels. Because we brought a kitchen with us, we ate healthy while traveling.

The first summer we were married, Husband and I road tripped from Ohio to South Dakota tent camping all the way. People pitied us because they thought we ate crappy food. Not so. Even when camping in a tent, Husband and I always eat very well. Generally our kitchen is a cooler, a propane grill, and an electric teakettle. (You may consider the electric teakettle cheating but I need caffeine in the morning or else I will turn into a grizzly bear, ‘K?)

Here’s how we eat healthy while camping in a tent. If you have a camper with a little kitchen it’s even easier.

  1. Plan ahead – I don’t do a weekly meal plan at home but I do when we were camping. That way, I can pack the car and cooler with what we need for our trip and nothing more since space is at a premium. My mom used this strategy to counter fussy kid eaters. We only have room in our small camper kitchen to bring certain food so that was what we ate or we didn’t eat. 
  2. Make what you normally would at home – Most of the food you normally eat at home can be cooked at a campsite with a few tweaks. You can stir fry vegetables in olive oil on a camp stove just as easily as you can on your big kitchen stove at home although you might consider serving it with pasta because it has a faster cooking time than rice and will use less propane to prepare. 
  3. Make things up ahead of time – Sadly, there isn’t room service at a campground, which means that the family cook doesn’t get a vacation. If you make things up ahead of time like Sloppy Joe or a cold salad, you can easily cook from scratch at home and have a quick healthy meal while camping. I like to make hummus at home and pack it in the cooler. Hummus makes a great sandwich spread and vegetable dip while on the road! 
  4. Sometimes you might want to take a cooking shortcut – While I’m a big advocate of cooking from scratch, sometimes the convenience or space saving aspect of prepared food will win out during a camping trip. Some of my favorites include spaghetti sauce and whole wheat pasta, veggie burgers, tabouleh mix, deli made stuffed grape leaves, and red wine. Yes, I consider stuffed grape leaves and red wine roughing it because I drink my wine out of a coffee mug. To save space I leave the stemware at home. 
  5. Take advantage of cooking outdoors – You can grill meat, veggies, fish, and kebabs on your patio just as easily as you can on a grill them at campground. Grilled bananas make an excellent camping treat! 
  6. Fruit as snacks – Fresh fruit is so much more refreshing on a hot day than salty snacks. In addition, you can easily park the kids outside when fruit juice dribbles all over their chins instead of letting it dribble all over the inside of your RV or tent. 
  7. Popcorn over the campfire (or camp stove) – As long as you don’t slather it in sticks of butter and pile on a mountain of salt, popcorn can be a healthier snack choice than potato chips.
    • Tip: Try sprinkling oregano or basil or both over your popcorn to make Popcorn Pizza – yum! 
  8. Think healthy drinks – Consider bringing iced teas, lemonade, and bring your own water from home if the water at the campground may bother your tummy (sometimes this happens with me.)
    • Tip: To save money and cut down on waste, fill up reusable water bottles with drinks for the family throughout the day.
    • Tip #2: Put your drinks in a separate cooler to keep the kiddos from opening and closing the camper’s refrigerator or the food storage cooler so often. This goes double if you’re tent camping and you have to keep your food cold in a cooler with ice.
While going on a camping vacation you can eat just as healthy as you do at home. Although I do let that slide a little bit when I’m on vacation because who can resist making and sharing s’mores with friends over a campfire? Not me!

How do you eat healthy while on vacation or camping? Or you do you follow the 80-20 Rule and figure that vacation or camping is the 20% of the time you can throw caution to the wind and eat whatever you want?

Reminder: Help me Win my Dream Job!

I've been selected as a finalist for the Salada Green Tea Spokesperson contest. Your vote will help Salada pick the winner. Please vote for me Lisa Nelsen-Woods and help me win my dream job promoting green living and healthy eating on a budget. You may vote once a day, every day from now until the contest ends on August 1st.

I would be promoting simple healthy meal ideas just like the one in this post. It would be a dream come true!

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Make Personalized Garden Stepping Stones

On Miss M’s first Christmas, she made everyone in the family a personalized concrete garden stepping stone with her handprints in them. Wasn’t she a talented baby?

It says May All of Your Weeds be Wildflowers
 because I had a wildflower garden at my old house.

I never knew how easy it was to make a concert garden marker until Husband and I got a stepping stone kit as a gift from the people who played our characters’ servants when we retired from performing at The Ohio Renaissance Festival.

You can buy a kit or make our own. My stepping stone kit was a bag of concrete mix, a pan/form, and sometimes stamps or a stick to use to write a message in your stepping stone. Some kits inclue the stones and glass or you can buy brightly colored bits of glass or marbles at a craft store like baby Miss M did because she was a talented infant artist AND a bargain shopper.

My stepping stone kit didn't come with glass or colored stone bits. I scavenged around ther house for things to embed in my stepping stone and raided the recycling bin for glass bottles to smash for colored glass bits.

Heresford is the name of characters Husband
 and I played during our last years at ORF.

A few tips:

  • You don’t have to buy a stepping stone kit. You can use any flat pan for your mold although I think the plastic pan that came in my kit made it easier to remove the dry stone from the pan and reuse it if I ever want to make more stepping stones. I've seen just the plastic stepping stone mold for sale at craft stores.

  • If you plan to make more than one stepping stone, it is cheaper to buy a small package of quick setting concrete at the home improvement store than buying special stepping stone mix at the craft store. Why? Because the special stepping stone mix at the craft store is really just a more expensive bag of quick setting concrete.

  • The concrete stamps are a nice thing to have if your writing neatly with stick skills are poor like mine. I think my stamping in a straight line skills could use some work too.

  • To smash my glass bottles I put them in a bucket and draped a rag over the top of the bottles in the bucket. I dropped a hammer into the bucket on my patio so I wouldn’t have glass shards flying all over the house.

  • You need to let the stone dry and cure for several weeks undisturbed. I made my stone on the table in my craft room and left it there untouched until the concrete cured several weeks later.
I use both stones as garden art. Howevert I could make a bunch and use them for a walkway if I had room in my yard.

Personalized stepping stones make great gifts!


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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Greened My SunScreen

I gave up trying to get sun tan years ago because my pale faced Scandinavian skin makes me burn like a vampire in the sun.


I got a sunburn by sitting too close to a sunny window at work once, OK?

My New Year’s Resolution for 2010 is to green my health and beauty aids so I switched to a zinc-based sunscreen.

I bought Alba Botanica. Alba scores a 2-3 on the Skin Deep Database for safety. There are other sunscreens that score better for safety but they are much more expensive and most are only available on line. I go through so much sunscreen I wanted to find something I can buy locally when I run out. Price is also important because I buy a lot of sunscreen during the summer.

So far, I like the protection Alba offers. My only negative is that it’s thicker than my old chemical based sunscreen and takes a bit more time and effort to rub it in completely so my skin does not look whiter and more ghostlike than it already is.

The big test was when I marched in a parade. I slathered on one coat of Alba sunscreen and let it dry. I hoped it would protect me because I knew I wouldn’t have time to reapply sunscreen throughout the day. Even if I could, the last thing I needed was to make my hands slippery with sunscreen because I was twirling a flag in the parade.

After a full day in the sun, I came home hot and tired. To my delight I didn't find a sunburn on my face, arms, or legs. Yay! I jumped in shower. For some reason my head hurt when I shampooed my hair.


I got a sunburn on the part in my hair!

Sunburn on my head.

I never though of putting sunscreen there!

Yes, I got a sunburn on my scalp.

File this one under “these things only happen to me.”

Next time I am wearing a hat.

Do you have a strange sunburn stories or am I the only one?

Reminder: Help me Win my Dream Job!

I've been selected as a finalist for the Salada Green Tea Spokesperson contest. Your vote will help Salada pick the winner. Please vote for me Lisa Nelsen-Woods and help me win my dream job promoting green living and healthy eating on a budget. You may vote once a day, every day from now until the contest ends on August 1st.

Did you enjoy this post? Get more like it by subscribing to the Condo Blues RSS Feed  or to Condo Blues by Email.

Disclosure: I bought the sunscreen with my own money. Alba did not pay me to say nice things about their product nor are they responsible for my sunburned head because I'm an idiot. This post includes an affliate link. If you choose to purchase an item I will recieve a small commission at no extra cost to you. This will help me with my goal of making Condo Blues a self hosted blog.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Make a Cornhole Game

Cornhole  is a game that’s similar to horseshoes but uses beanbags. It’s very popular at tailgates and picnics in Ohio and Indiana. I’m not sure why. It’s kitschy rednecky cool in that Jeff Foxworthy You Might Be a Redneck If… sort of way. Maybe because conhole is a game you can easily play and not spill the drink or drop the cheeseburger you’re holding in your other hand?

I built this all by myself!

You can easily make a cornhole game or buy one premade. The store bought boards are called something insipid like Bean Bag Toss Game or Baggo. However part of the whole Cornhole thing is to make the boards or to buy homemade boards from someone else.

I made a set for Mother and Father in-law for our big Family Reunion Weekend because because Father in-law loves nothing more than a reason to get his family together. Cornhole is a game kids and adults can play with each other a little more safely than say, horseshoes.

I also wanted to build the boards because Father in-law gets a kick that I'm the only one in the family that likes DIY as much as he does. He calls me his ToolBelt Diva. *blush*

Making a Cornhole game is simple construction and is a good beginner woodworking project. It’s also a good project if you’re someone like me who’s last project of building something from scratch was 7th grade wood shop.

I used the plans for regulation boards I found on Cornhole Game Players and sewed relegation size and weight bean bags with fabric from my fabric stash I filled them with dried pinto beans instead of the traditional dried feed corn which is still allowed. Oh yes, apparently there is a whole Official Cornhole Association and Tournaments and whatnot. If any of the kids get hooked on Cornhole want to be professional Cornhole players they are good to go courtesy of Aunt Lisa.

Here are a  few tips and helpful hints if you make a Cornhole game.

1. Use two layers of fabric for your beanbags as the directions recommend because they will take a pounding! Instead of using muslin for the liner, I used fabric from an old heavy cotton curtain panel. Make sure that you use the same weight of fabric for all of your beanbags.

I made a paper template to ensure that all of my beanbags are the same size.

2. I don’t have a table saw (pity I know.) However I was able to have the wood cut for me for free when I bought it at Lowes. I think Home Depot also cuts wood if you buy it there. I don’t know if or what they charge for this service.

3. I used stainless steel screws for this project. I did this so the screws wouldn’t rust in case the boards were accidentally left outside in the rain (even though I know this will never happen. I know everyone will treat them like gold instead of treating them like a toy that you throw things at.)

4. Hold the long screws into place using needle nose pliers while you are drilling them into the pilot holes in your boards to ensure you screw them straight down into the boards.

You can use this technique for nails too.

Guess how I know?

I didn't use pilers as a guide and accidently screwed a screw in at an angle.

This screw wouldn’t back out because it uses a star shaped head (a special bit that came with the screws.) I fixed it by cutting the end of the screw off with a Dremel and filling the hole with a dab of wood putty. Which my in-laws didn’t find out about my blunder until I blabbed about it on the Internet. Let’s hear it for full disclosure! (Do I have to disclose that FTC? Because I think I just did.)

5. Older kids may be able to help you with parts of this project but please take all safety precautions for yourself and your kids. If you’re not comfortable doing something please seek out advice from an expert or get a pro because it’s easy to have an accident and get hurt.

I’m showing you this photo again for sympathy.

In fact, I was being Miss Safety First and still accidentally countersunk my thumb when Mommy’s Little Helper (my drill) slipped off a screw head and into my thumb. Fortunately it bled worse than it actually was but it’s a good reminder about safety.

It’s also a good thing to hold over my in-laws heads. I bled for you – be grateful! Even if the construction is a little off :)

6. I recommend using the belt sander the plans call for to sand the edges of the board. I tried using my palm sander and it was slow going. I gave up, bought a belt sander, and sweet baby Jane! It did the job in a short amount of time.

Sweet Baby Jane? Sounds like a good name for my new belt sander.
Hey, they name boats. Why not tools?

7. The plans had very complicated directions what to use and not use to draw and cut the hole in the boards. I grabbed a 6-inch plastic lid from the kitchen and traced around it with a pencil – problem solved.

A regulation cornhole is 6 inches wide.

8. The plans also had a very complicated directions on how make make the rounded legs. Instead I traced around a small paint can and cut along the line with a jigsaw. Why do guys have to make everything sound so complicated in the workshop?

It’s not brain surgery dude.

9. I painted the boards with outdoor paint I had leftover from my porch chair revamp. I built the boards and legs first. Then I painted them and let them dry before I bolted the legs to the boards, which made life a lot easier.

I  took the game to my in-laws farm and it was big hit with everyone in attendance. I’m sure we’ll get a lot of use out of it for years to come.

Hey FTC: The stores and brands I mentioned in this post didn’t pay me to mention them because they don’t even know I exist at the corporate level (tragic, considering my local stores know me very well. I spend lots of my money there.) I bought everything with my own money with the exception of the Dremel and the Mouse because I got those as Christmas gifts. Exactly how do it report that?

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Using Recycled Toiled Paper Take One

July’s One Small Green Change is one place I thought I’d never go – switching to a toilet paper made from recycled fiber. Now before you get all grossed out let me clarify a common misconception about recycled toilet paper. They make recycled toilet paper from the type of paper and fiber you normally put into your household recycling bin. They do not make it from used toilet paper because:

  1. Ugh! Gross!
  2. Think about it, how would they reclaim the paper once you’ve flushed it and it broke down in your city’s sewer system?
  3. Ugh! Gross!

Moving on.

Why buy toilet paper with recycled content? According to Time magazine, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) “estimates that if every household in the U.S. replaced just one 500-sheet roll of virgin-fiber TP a year with a roll made from 100% recycled paper, nearly 425,000 trees would be saved annually.”

That’s a lot of trees!