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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.

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Everything You Need to Know About California’s Plastic Bag Ban

On Friday, August 30, 2014, the California state legislature enacted a ban on plastic grocery bags. If signed into law, the measure would become the first of its kind in America.

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A number of cities and counties in California, including Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach, have already passed their own ordinances against use of plastic bags by retailers. But at a state-wide level, this ban will be the first in the United States.

The bill, approved by the CA Senate, must still be signed into law by Sept. 30 by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.

The measure would ban grocery stores from handing out single-use grocery bags with customers’ purchases, but does allow retailers to charge 10 cents per bag for paper and reusable bags. The bill also includes $2 million in loans to help plastic bag manufacturers shift to the new model.

The ban prohibits the use of plastic bags in grocery stores and pharmacies beginning July 1, 2015, and goes into effect for convenience and liquor stores on that date a year later.

Although the ban is still not officially signed into law, the naysayers are already speaking up to offer criticism and complaints. Here are just a few that I’ve heard so far, along with a response to each…

It’s too hard to remember to bring my own bags.

If you are like most Californians, you spend a lot of your time in the car. Just stash your reusable bags in your trunk, so you will always have them with you when you are running errands. After unpacking your groceries at home, simply put the bags back in your car for your next use.

If that’s still not convenient enough for you, stash a couple of Chico Bags in your purse, backpack or bag. Small, reusable bags that shrink into a small pouch, Chico bags take up virtually no room and are always with you when you need them. They wash super easily too. They are literally one of my favorite inventions ever.

But, I still might forget my bags.

You may still purchase either paper or reusable bags for 10 cents each at the time of purchase. You will not be forced to carry all your items in your arms to the car, I promise.

I don’t think I should have to pay 10 cents for something that is now free.

If you think you aren’t already paying for plastic bags right now, think again. More than 10 billion plastic bags are used in California each year, according to an estimate by Californians Against Waste, an advocacy group that supported the bill. This group further estimates that California’s tax payers spend between $37 million to $107 million annually to manage plastic bag litter in our state.

Plastic bags are also an environmental nightmare, littering our roadways, rivers, oceans, mountains, and everything in between.

In California, there is particular concern that the bags, when swept out to sea, harm ocean life. When floating in the ocean, plastic bags look like jelly fish, and end up being consumed by loggerhead sea turtles and other marine life. If not consumed, the bags break down into micro-plastic particles, which are toxic to marine life – and to humans. Those small bits of toxic plastic end up in the guts of animals or wash up on shorelines, where we come into direct contact with the toxins.

Can’t we just recycle the plastic bags?

The reality is, plastic bags are rarely recycled. In fact, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) indicates that in 2012, the category of plastics which includes bags, sacks, and wraps was recycled at a rate of only about 12 percent. What’s more, the plastic recycling process is very labor and energy intensive – as compared to aluminum, glass and paper. There are also fewer applications for the resulting recycled material.

When plastics are recycled, it’s generally referred to as “downcycling”, which basically means that the incoming bottles, bags, etc. can only be recycled to make a lower-quality form of plastic. Plastic water bottles, for example, cannot be recycled into new plastic bottles. Instead, the resins from plastic bottles are used to make fibers, that can be used in pillows, insulating fill for jackets, etc. Common products that are made from recycled plastics (toys, car parts, plastic lumber, drainage pipes, clothing fibers, and trash receptacles) usually cannot be recycled – making plastics a “dead-end” waste stream.

While recycling plastic is still much better than throwing in the trash, reducing the overall use of plastics is the best possible scenario.

But I use my plastic bags to … (clean up dog messes, line my trash cans, carry home dirty clothes, etc.).

There are still plenty of plastic bags in the world – and most are used only once thrown in the trash. There are produce bags; bread bags; bags your to-go restaurant orders are packaged in; and many, many more.

If you think outside the box a little bit, you will see that you already have enough plastic bags for most purposes. For example, my favorite doggie waste bags are tortilla bags – yes, the bags that your tortillas are packaged in. They are great because they are a perfect size for dog waste cleanup, and have a ziplock-type closing at the top that seals in that unpleasant smell – keeping your outdoor trash can smelling like something other than dog poop when you open the lid.

Finally, whether measured by dollars and cents or in terms of our own health, we are all already paying the price for those free, cheap, ubiquitous plastic bags. It’s time to step up and do the right thing. This new ban may cause you to have to think (for ten seconds when you immediately get out of the car), “Oh wait, let me grab my bags from the trunk”, or pay a few extra cents at checkout, or save a few of the plastic bags that you normally toss to use again.

You have to ask yourself if this small inconvenience (that you will become accustomed to with just a little time) will be worth the long term gains for our environment, our health, and ultimately future generations.

As for me, I vote yes. I hope you will do the same.

My Twelve-Month Challenge: Eating Better Starts with Shopping

The most frequent question people ask me after finishing my Twelve Week Fitness Challenge is “What do you eat?”

A lot of people ask me for my meal plan or more specifics on what I ate during the challenge.

It’s a complex answer, involving determining your basal metabolic rate (the amount of calories you burn per day at rest), logging your food intake and exercise burn, and tracking macro nutrients. There isn’t one right answer for everyone.

But there are some underlying truths that work for everyone (tracking calories, eating clean, increasing protein, reducing sugar, etc). I learned so many of these during my challenge, that I want to start sharing – including the details about what I buy, prepare and eat.

Because healthy eating begins with better shopping, I thought in my first post, I would highlight some of the products that I could not have lived without – both during the challenge and now to maintain my results. For this particular post, I’m going to focus only I products found at Costco.

This post is not sponsored, but I admit that I do have a Costco bias. My first job out of college was at Costco and I’ve been in love ever since. The quality of the organization – from the way they pay/treat their employees to their liberal return policies, it’s just a really good, solid company. Plus their quality standards for the items they sell is top-notch.

I also shop at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Mother’s Market, Sprouts and local Farmers’ Markets (I pretty much avoid any traditional grocery stores unless I absolutely have to for convenience sake) – but for the staple, go-to items, you can’t beat the price and quality of Costco. They have so many more organic products these days. Their produce is the very best of any store – IMHO. Combined with the fact that it’s the absolute best price per pound (yes, you usually do buy more pounds of it), you can’t go wrong.

Here are my top Costco items that I can not live without –

Organic Produce – The organic produce varies from store to store and season to season, but on my most recent shopping trip, I found organic apples, organic strawberries, and organic bananas all in one trip. Score! Plus, these organic strawberries were so good. Like 1000 times better than the ones I purchased at another store the week before.

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Yes, it’s quite a bit of strawberries, but you can make them last. As soon as you get them home, wash strawberries (or any berries) in a solution of one-part white vinegar to ten parts water. You won’t even need to rinse them. The vinegar smell subsides quickly. Your berries will resist molding and last twice as long – I promise.

Earthbound Farm Organic Power Greens – I eat a salad almost every day, and almost every salad starts with this base. It’s quick and easy, organic and healthy – plus the baby kale is much easier to eat straight out of the bag, without any further cooking, rubbing with oil, etc. I even throw this mix in my smoothies. It is a must-have.

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Healthy Grains – Here are three of my favorite Costco items. Coaches Oats (the best oatmeal ever), Qia (an organic cereal that is a mixture of the power foods chia, buckwheat and hemp) and Hemp Hearts (the most nutritious part of the hemp seed. I sprinkle on cereal, salads and yogurt).

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Organic Chicken – You can not beat organic chicken breasts for $5.99 per pound. You can purchase this fresh or frozen (in individual packets so you can pull out one chicken breast at a time for defrosting). You can also purchase organic drumsticks and whole organic chickens for roasting.

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Organic Eggs – I’ve written about this before – egg whites are my new BFF. Quick, easy, packed with protein, and very low in calories. I cook up a batch every week and grab them when I need a quick snack, or add them to my salads. Costco’s eggs are certified organic, cage-free, and now (hallelujah) come in a recyclable plastic container that is made from recycled water bottles. What more can you ask for?

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Sustainable Seafood – Costco is one of the largest suppliers of sustainable seafood in the country. They took great strides a few years ago to ensure that all the fish in their stores is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, the most recognized independent group certifying sustainable fisheries. Fish is a dinner staple. I buy Wild Alaskan Salmon, Wild Halibut, and my kids’ favorite, the very mild tasting Wild Alaskan Pacific Cod.

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Although the inventory can vary from time to time, you can also find all kinds of additional healthy, organic products. Here are just a few that I ran across on my recent shopping trip. From a vast selection of frozen organic veggies, to organic acai, to raw honey and almond butter. Also, there is the greatest condiment of all time – Cholula. It has the power to turn almost anything (but especially scrambled egg whites) into a gourmet meal – yes, I’m a little obsessed.

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Your local Costco is serving up all kinds of organic fare – in bulk of course, but if you have the storage space (or hungry teenagers) you can not beat the quality and price.

One final note about packaging. My only issue with some of the Costco products is that there is too much packaging. So, I purchase selectively and am hyper-vigilant about reusing and recycling. We reuse bags, cartons, rubber bands, virtually anything that we can find another use for. Cardboard and plastic all gets recycled so very little (primarily just shrink wrap) ends up in the trash.

Coming up in future posts, examples of what to eat, from breakfast to lunch to dinner. Also, recipes that are family-friendly and challenge-friendly.

If there are any questions you have or things you want me to cover, let me know in the comments below or just send me an email.

Ecofession: Episode 2 – I Used a Plastic Bag

While shopping at Sprouts today, I stumbled into the next episode of my Ecofession series. (Random note: they are having their gluten-free jubilee right now so if you or someone you love is going gf, stock up now while everything is 25% off.)

Here is Episode 2, including my I-totally-embarrased-myself-in-the-middle-of-Sprouts moment:

Related Posts:

Ecofessions: Episode One – To Color or Not to Color