Condo Blues

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.