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January Green Tip: How to Dispose of Hazardous Waste

For each month of 2016, I plan to highlight a simple, easy tip to help you to contribute to a better, cleaner, greener environment. All of the tips will be either little or no cost, easy to do, and help you generally be a better local and global citizen.

For my first post, I will cover how to dispose of hazardous waste. During this post-Christmas, pre-Spring-cleaning time of year, it’s the perfect time to cover this topic.

Hazardous waste includes items like household cleaners, paint, automotive products, pesticides, fluorescent light bulbs, batteries of any kind, and e-waste (computers, cell phones, or almost any other electronic device). These items should NEVER be placed in your curbside bin, flushed down the drain, or dumped in the storm drain. They are toxic to plants, animals and humans and must be disposed of properly.

Some items (rechargeable batteries, CFL’s) can easily be disposed of at your local home improvement store. For example, the Lowe’s in Rancho Santa Margarita has waste bins for these items conveniently located by the customer service area. I know, the photo is not great, but here is what the bin at that store looks like:

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Cell phones can generally be returned to your carrier or donated to charities, like Cell Phones for Soldiers.

Many local schools and organizations collect e-waste such as computers, monitors and digital cameras as a fundraising opportunity. Our local high school has a collection event next month.

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But other items like paint, motor oil, and pesticides may be a bit trickier. That’s where the hazardous waste services come into play. These free services are located in most counties. There are four here in Orange County – Irvine, Anaheim, Huntington Beach and San Juan Capistrano.

Maybe you think it takes too much time, or it’s a hassle, or “it won’t make a difference if I just throw these few batteries in the regular trash can.”

So to demonstrate just how quick and easy it is, here is a video I did a few years ago for my OC Family blog where I take you along on a trip to Orange County’s household hazardous waste collection center in Irvine.

The trip didn’t turn out exactly as I planned (or maybe didn’t plan) – take a look:

Needless to say, I do recommend you leave your iPhone safely stowed away, but I can’t stress enough how fast and simple it is to dispose of this stuff properly. Also, it’s completely FREE.

A complete list of items accepted at these locations can be found and downloaded here.

Instead of throwing out those old cleaning products, paints, batteries, fertilizer, pesticides, or e-waste, place them in a box in your garage, and make a quick trip once or twice a year to your local hazardous waste disposal facility.

Each location in Orange County is open from 9:00am to 3:00pm Tuesday through Saturday – swing by on your lunch break, or when you are out running errands on Saturday. It only takes a minute to make a difference.

Summer Activities for Kids: Cheap, Easy and OC Local

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Summer is finally here. Tomorrow is the last day of school! We are so excited!

Although we all can’t wait for summer now, I know that inevitably, about four days in I’ll hear those famous words, “Mom, I’m bored.”

When my kids were younger, and boredom led to creative play, artwork and playing outside, I didn’t mind so much. A little boredom was good for them. Now that they are older, and boredom leads to video games and YouTube, I like to keep them busy.

Here are some of my favorite summer activities for kids. Criteria for this list – they must be free or inexpensive (no Disneyland trips or tips on this post), they must be eco-friendly (i.e. no burning of fossil fuels or excessive use of plastic), they should be suitable to a wide variety of ages (I don’t specialize in babies or toddler activities anymore), and they must be local to Orange County.

This is also not an exhaustive 101-things-to-do-and-that-is-every-single-thing-I-can-think-of-and-you-are-exhausted-just-reading-it list. These are things we have actually done ourselves and found enjoyable for adults and kids alike:

Exploring OC Parks:

Hiking – The OC Parks have great hiking trails. Some of my favorite are back in the Whiting Ranch area. Of the 27 trails in Whiting, one in particular that is a great hike for kids is the Red Rock Trail. It’s not a really long or steep hike, you can do the round trip (from the park entrance in Foothill Ranch to the end and back) in under two hours – or less depending upon the age of your kids. The best part is at the end, you are rewarded with the Red Rock view. It feels like you have entered the desert of Arizona. So cool!

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OC Parks Summer Programs – OC Parks also have lots of great summer programs, including educational programs for kids, summer trail hikes, and free concerts during their summer concert series. For a complete list of events, check out the calendar of OC Parks Events.

Discovery Science Center – It’s Orange County’s leading destination for hands-on, interactive science fun. I especially like the Eco-Challenge interactive exhibit, where kids can learn how to become an eco-friendly shopper in the Discovery Market, discover the importance of identifying and properly disposing of household hazardous waste in the Eco Garage, and learn how to be wise about sorting trash and recyclables in the Race to Recycle. It’s specifically designed to meet the science content standards for 3rd to 6th grades, so perfect for that age group.

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Volunteering and Donating – Volunteering is a great way to get your kids to think outside of their own little bubble (always a challenge), and to give back to your local community. In addition to volunteering, we will be cleaning out closets to donate to Goodwill, gathering old blankets and towels to donate to our local animal shelter, and gathering food and clothing donations for the Orange County Rescue Mission. To match your interests and location to the right volunteer opportunities, visit volunteermatch.org.

Classes at Local Community Colleges – Your local community colleges offer lots of great classes over the summer – classes specific to hobbies, interests, and sports. From swimming, to cooking, to chess, to art and theater, there are classes for virtually every interest.

There are also some academic class offerings, including the College for Kids series at Saddleback College, where students between 7 to 17 years old have an opportunity to experience college life and develop their own individualized class schedules from a wide range of offerings, including: acting, archeology, art, chess, computers, film and animation, history, languages, manners, math, modeling, music, reading, science, sports, study skills, theater, writing, and more. New to the program this summer is an offering of a College For Kids Junior program for 3 to 5-year-olds.

All classes are offered in two-week blocks, Monday through Thursday, June 22nd through August 6th. Click here for more information and to register.

The Sawdust Festival –  The Sawdust Art Festival is a tradition for us each summer. This year, the festival runs from Friday, June 26th to Sunday, August 30th. It’s not only a great activity to do with the kids, it supports local artists in Orange County. The Sawdust Art Festival is a non-profit group educating the public and promoting the art created in Laguna Beach.

It’s open from 10-10 daily. Admission is $8.50 for adults, $4.00 for kids 6-12 and free for kids under 5. There are also discount tickets available – for more information, click here.

There is plenty to entertain the kids, including a kids art center, reserved just for young artists to make their own creations – at no charge. There are also free live art demonstrations and art workshops (additional fee for workshops). My kids enjoy the “throw-down experience” where they get to create their own pottery on the potter’s wheel – with some guidance from experts to help them. You can get their creation fired and painted for an additional $8.00.

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OC Beaches – A good day at the beach is hard to beat – it’s one of the reasons many of us live here. There are no shortage of great beaches in Orange County. Some of our favorites are Crescent, Thousand Steps, and Victoria in Laguna and Huntington Main Beach for riding our cruiser bikes. Even the dogs enjoy a good ride along the beach, with a quick stop at Dog Beach, of course.

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For a good list of beaches in Orange County, check out visittheoc.com.

When you go, don’t forget your safer, all-natural sunscreen. You can find a complete list of better sunscreens over at the Environmental Working Group. Which works out well when you have young kids and you are supervising the sunscreen application. When you have teenagers however, they will pretty much refuse to wear anything other than spray-on, brand-name, chemically-laden sunscreens. If you don’t have those at home, they will just borrow their friends at the beach. Eventually, after a few summers of this, you decide you’re not going to die on that hill – that summer is short and they will probably survive the application and inhalation of chemical sunscreen fumes – just as you will survive parenting during the teen years. Just keeping it real here folks. But if you have young kids, by all means take a look at that list and find some safer sunscreens for you and your family.

Taking Public Transportation – Public transportation is alive and well in Orange County. You don’t have to drive everywhere this summer! Taking public transportation is easier than you think. Two of our favorite summer destinations in Orange County are Angels Stadium and the OC Fair. The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) makes it easy (and saves you money) when traveling to both.

Here is a previous post I wrote here at OC Family about traveling to the Orange County Fair on OCTA. You can also travel to Angels Stadium on the Angels Express – and even get 50% of game tickets when you do. For more details about the Angels Express, click here.

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Here’s hoping you get out and enjoy some of the many fun, cheap, and sustainable summer activities in Orange County. Happy almost summer!

 

Why Pope Francis and the Encyclical Matter

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If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I am beyond thrilled about Pope Francis’s papal encyclical, released today. As stated in this New York Times article, “The new papal encyclical on the environment is a ringing call to action, a critique of consumerism and a prophetic warning about the dangers of ignoring what Pope Francis calls “the ecological crisis.”’

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The Pope’s message on this issue is important. Scientific studies and facts do not appear to be making a meaningful impact. I am hopeful that this is the game changer the movement needs. This quote from the New York Times article states it better than I can – “The hard lesson scientists have learned in recent years, Dr. Schellnhuber said, is that presenting the facts and data about global warming and other environmental problems has not been enough to move the public to action. The issues have become so serious that only a broad moral awakening can offer hope of solving them, he said.”

My enthusiasm at this news was quickly met by comments and messages from friends, criticizing the contents of the encyclical and my enthusiasm for this Pope. I have been called misguided and ill informed of the facts.

There are few things in life I feel more strongly about than my belief that the Pope, 95% of the scientific community, and the majority of Americans are on the right side of history on this one. The sooner we all get on board, the sooner we can become better stewards of our planet. How taking better care of our collective planet is up for argument is something I will never understand.

Some say the Pope has no business getting involved in this issue. I could not disagree more. I don’t see how the Pope’s role is not to look out for God’s creatures and God’s creation. Nothing threatens both more than the environmental degradation we are inflicting on our planet.

Even IF you do not agree with the facts about climate change, we are damaging our planet in many ways that go beyond climate change – pollution, pesticides, rainforest destruction, and the incredible damage that we are doing to our oceans has to scare you. These things are all real. This photo right here. This is a photo of a landfill in India. This is happening. This is happening right now.

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One last note on climate change. The science is settled on this. It is happening, and the result of human activity. Lots of smart people have spent their entire lives studying this problem, dissecting it from every angle, and offering solutions. The Pope is listening to them. We should too. Science is “bought and paid for” say the conspiracy theorists. Here’s the thing – of course scientific study is funded, but that is not the same as being bought and paid for. There is no “scientific conspiracy” on this issue. There’s a quote by Benjamin Franklin I like that says “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” The science is settled. There is no “cover up” or “conspiracy”. It’s time to listen to smart people who know much more than we do, as armchair critics and observers.

Thank you Pope Francis, for shining a bright light on this issue and bringing it to worldwide attention. Thank you for lighting a fire under me to get back to my blog and my message. You give me hope. Hope for the church, hope for change, hope for the future, and hope for our planet. God bless you on this journey. You have my full support and overwhelming gratitude.

When School Shopping Goes Bad

(This post originally appeared on OC Family on August 29, 2013)

I recently went back-to-school shopping with my kids, who will both be in Jr. High this year. Hold me.

How can my kids be that old? How am I going to handle two with the raging tween/teen hormones? When did this happen? How did this happen? (wait, don’t answer that)

Don’t get me wrong, I actually love the ages they are right now. They are funny, and interesting, and opinionated and smart, and finally laugh at my jokes – well, not all of them but at least a few. Also, I can leave them home for short periods of time. I don’t have to drag two kids around with me everywhere I go this summer. Freedom!

Except when I take them back-to-school shopping. For that, they need to come along to offer their opinions – and boy, they have no shortage of those.

I remember fondly the days of grade school.

Those days they would sit together in that over-sized shopping cart – the one that sort of feels like you are pushing a Zamboni around the store – while I loaded the cart with all the items I picked out for them (organic cotton shirts – fine, recycled paper – great, organic shampoo and hand sanitizer – no problem) and our shopping trip went more like this,

“Put that down.”

“Stop touching your sister.”

“No you can’t unbuckle and run around the store…Wait, come back here!”

And while those days were challenging for many reasons, I appreciate that when shopping, I was free to choose and purchase any items that I wanted. They pretty much went with the flow.

Now, it’s all changed. Back-to-school shopping has become an endless series of negotiations.

My daughter Emma asks, “Mom, can I have this notebook?” I answer, “How about this one, it’s made from recycled paper?” She responds, “Yes, but this one is turquoise.”

Over in the makeup aisle, Emma says “Mom can I have this Revlon lipstick?” I respond (not even looking at it) “No.”

She finds another brand I’ve never heard of, “How about this one?” She hands it over and I read the label, “The first ingredient is petroleum. Put it back.”

Not one to give up easily, Emma finds a third and says “What about this EOS lip gloss? You said it was okay last time.” Giving in, I say “Okay, that one.”

This endless series of negotiations lasted through pencils (they want the mechanical ones with the plastic outsides instead of regular biodegradable wood ones), pens (the giant pack of colored ones we don’t really need), binders (do those have PVC in them or not? I can’t tell).

I was at the point of exhaustion when this exchange happened:

Emma: “You know, Ellis (my son) is going to need deodorant for his PE locker. We need to get an extra one for him.”

Ellis: “Mom, can I please, please have some regular deodorant? I promise I’ll still wear the natural one at home, but I don’t want the other boys to make fun of me at school.”

So right there, in the middle of Target, I had an I-really-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing mom moment.

Balancing on the one hand, wanting to protect my kids from chemicals and do the best I can to raise them in a healthy environment. On the other hand, concern about my son, off to a new school where very few of his friends are going – off to the world of Jr. High, and changing for P.E. and tall boys who look closer to men than to anything resembling my son.

Ultimately I said “Yes, let’s pick out some regular deodorant to put in your locker.” I cringed and he smiled.

At the end of our shopping trip, Emma said “Mom, we’ll load everything on the check-out counter. Don’t worry. We got this.” And Ellis smiled. And I got suspicious.

As I glanced over, I saw that they had conspired to hide a big bottle of Dr. Pepper under our items when I wasn’t looking. I picked it up and handed it right back to them. They knew it wasn’t going to happen. But they got a good laugh out of it and so did I.

So I admit, sometimes I’m not a very good “green mom”. I let them get the turquoise binder, and the regular deodorant, and the giant container of colored pens that they really don’t need. But I do know that I am a good mom – and Jr. High will require some balance and compromise on both sides. Peer pressure will be powerful, but I hope that I’ve said things enough times in enough different ways, that they will remember my words later, in the key moments when they need to make good decisions.

Well, that and I made them put back the Dr. Pepper.

Teeth Whitening at Newport Center Smile Design

(This post was originally published on OC Family on November 18, 2014)

I recently looked in the mirror and noticed that my teeth are not quite the shade of white that I remember or want them to be. And I show my teeth – a lot. I’ve been called “horse teeth” on more than one occasion. I don’t even mind anymore. I embrace my huge smile, but the yellowing of my teeth over time (thank you coffee and red wine) – I do not love so much.

I have been thinking about whitening my teeth for some time now, but was a little unsure about the process – “is it safe? will it work?”. I didn’t know what to do – over the counter strips, in office procedures, the “au-natural” solutions (activated charcoal anyone?).

After a bit of research, I found that the safest, most-effective way to whiten your teeth is to have it done by a professional dentist. In-office whitening takes place under carefully monitored conditions which allow for the safe, controlled, pain-free use of a relatively high concentration of bleaching gel – yielding results that are visible immediately. Additionally, gum and tooth sensitivity (formerly drawbacks to in-office bleaching) are more controllable today due to thicker peroxide gels (that don’t soak into the teeth as much as previous gels) and the use of desensitizers such as potassium nitrate and fluoride.

With that information in-hand, I recently visited the offices of K. Douglas Barker, DMD of Newport Center Smile Design for the Philips Zoom teeth whitening procedure.

On the day of the procedure, I was still a little nervous and unsure about what to expect. I was quickly put at ease when I met Dr. Barker. He has a wonderful “chair-side” manner. He let me know exactly what to expect and how long the procedure would take.

Dr. Barker and staff quickly got to work on my smile. The first step was to apply a barrier to protect my gums. Next, the teeth whitening gel is applied. It remained on my teeth for 20 minutes.

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That gel is then removed and another is applied along with the light. This takes another 20 minutes.

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After that, just rinse and you are done. The whole procedure takes under an hour. Your teeth continue to whiten over the next 48 hours. In addition to the office whitening, Dr. Barker sent me home with some whitening trays to use the following day. There is an upper and lower tray. The at-home procedure only took about 15 minutes.

So, in just over an hour, I had significantly whiter teeth.

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The results are even more pronounced in person. I am very happy with my brighter, whiter smile.

Dr. Barker doesn’t just offer teeth whitening. His practice, Newport Center Smile Design, is a true full-service dental facility. A family practice that treats patients of all ages, their services include:  general and restorative dentistry, cosmetic dentistry, Opalescence and Zoom teeth whitening, Invisalign, full implants and implant restorations, endodontic treatment and periodontal care.

Originally from Florida, attending dental school in NYC, Dr. Barker recently relocated to Southern California with his wife Heather, and is here to stay. His office in Newport Beach was occupied by the previous dentist (who recently retired) for 30 years. Dr. Barker wants to do the same in that location! He is here to stay and serve his patients in the Orange County area.

I like the fact that Dr. Barker sees only one patient at a time, so each person can get the attention he or she deserves. His office uses digital radiography, which reduces the amount of radiation exposure, and an intraoral camera, which allows for improve diagnostics and shows patients exactly what is going on in their mouth. Plus, Dr. Barker wears the cutest bow ties ever!

If you are looking for a family dentist who is knowledgeable, personable, and conveniently located in Orange County for the long-run, Dr. Barker would be an excellent choice.

Dr. Barker can help you and your family take care of those pearly whites, and make them even whiter – safely, effectively, and in under an hour. Thank you Dr. Barker for making these horse teeth shine again!

 

The Best Mashed Potatoes Ever

With Turkey Day coming this week, I thought I’d repost my recipe for the best mashed potatoes ever – seriously, ever. And the best part is that not only do they taste good, but by making them in the morning you save yourself a ton of stress during the last-minute, rushing around, get-the-dinner-on-the-table time.

I stumbled across this recipe in my “Fix it and Forget it” slow cooker cookbook a few years ago. Not only are these potatoes delicious, they make my life so much easier because I prep them in the morning and they just cook all day. They are always hot, creamy and ready to go whenever dinner is ready.

First start with organic potatoes. The problem with conventionally-grown potatoes is that they are treated with fungicides during the growing season and sprayed with herbicides both before harvesting and after they’re dug up to prevent them from sprouting. Potatoes, being a root vegetable, absorb all the chemicals that wind up in soil. Washing and peeling is not enough – all those herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides are absorbed into the entire vegetable.

I read an article a few years ago called “7 Foods that Should Never Cross your Lips”. One of those seven of course… non-organic potatoes.

Organic potatoes are around $1-$2 a pound, just slightly more expensive than conventional spuds. It’s worth the few extra dollars. They aren’t hard to find. I just picked up mine at Trader Joe’s.

Extra Good Mashed Potatoes
: (makes 12 servings)

5 lbs. of potatoes, peeled cooked and mashed

8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened

1 ½ cups sour cream

3 tsp. onion or garlic salt

½ tsp pepper

2 tbsp butter, melted

Peel and cook the potatoes. I like to leave a little bit of the skin on to give the potatoes some texture – and since they are organic, I’m not worried about chemicals on the potatoes’ skin getting into our meal. Also, they don’t have to be mashed completely as they soften up in the slow cooker and you can stir them every couple of hours to creamy perfection.

Combine potatoes and all the ingredients in your slow cooker. Cook on low for about six hours, stirring occassionally. That’s it!

You can also add shredded cheese, chopped garlic, paprika, organic chives or other spices to the mix. Experiment and see what works for you.

Seriously, these mashed potatoes are so easy, so delicious, and make meal preparation much less hectic.  I promise you’ll love them.

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Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy, and wonderful Thanksgiving.

Farmers’ Market Report: Laguna Hills

The Laguna Hills Farmers’ Market is open every Friday from 9am-1pm, rain or shine. Vendors set up in the Laguna Hills mall parking lot, close to Sears. The market can be accessed via Avenida De La Carlota, which runs parallel to the 5 freeway.

This market is a certified farmers’ market, sponsored by the Orange County Farm Bureau. Every farmer who sells at a certified market is inspected by the county agricultural commissioner to make sure he/she actually grows the commodity being sold. California certified farmers’ markets give you peace of mind that you are buying from genuine farmers, selling produce, nuts and meats directly to the public.

I visited for the first time recently, and was really impressed by the selection of organic produce, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish and more. There are not a lot of non-food items at this market (crafts, snacks, candles, etc.). There is far more quality food than filler, making it an ideal stop for loading up on healthy ingredients for weekend meals.

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Orange Coast magazine calls this “One of the very best real cook’s markets in Orange County”. I totally agree

The merchants are friendly, the organic produce selection is first rate, and parking is a breeze. This is one of my favorite farmers markets in Orange County. Pack up your reusable bags and head out there the next Friday you are free. You will not be disappointed.