Secondhand is Grand

Yesterday, my mother and her partner arrived in town for a visit: a Southern stop on their grand new RV adventure.  With them, they brought the gift of a dresser from their old life.  It’s a perfect fit to the baby’s new life.  The filling of the drawers has already begun!

For children’s clothing, Matt and I are big fans of secondhand goods in 100% cotton — so many great deals to be had!  Since we’re waiting until the birth to learn whether the baby is a boy or a girl, for now, unisex clothing is the name of the game.

We are actually thankful for this gender-neutral requirement!  In a world so full of beguiling baby goods, it keeps our preparatory spending in check, and ensures that much of what we buy can — with luck — be used again for baby #2 someday.

In our shopping, we’ve also been limiting ourselves to clothing for the very first weeks and months.  Some of the most frequent advice we’ve been given by other parents is not to stock up on too many baby clothes ourselves, as they are a gift that the baby is likely to receive in abundance!

When we were in upstate New York recently, we took advantage of two consignment shops there: this one, where you can peruse big bins of onesies priced at 3 for $1, and this one, which just expanded into a huge new retail space bursting with fantastic stuff.

Back in Williamsburg, I made a trip to this giant twice-yearly consignment sale and found some wonderful things.  (Next stops on the consignment shop list: Sugar and Spice in W’burg and the hip-hip Clover in Careytown in Richmond.)

And with that, the baby has the beginnings of a wardrobe!

My favorite item so far: a little onesie printed with dragonflies and honeybees and lines of text that include this one:

Let’s wander through the woods

A sentiment near and dear to my heart!

On Baby Gifts and Registries

The baby gifts have begun to arrive, and with them, a growing sense that yes, indeed, the little one will soon be here (as the size of the belly in this photo from our beach backpacking trip attests)!

Our mothers are graciously throwing us a baby shower in mid-October, and a few months ago, Matt and I set to the task of building a registry for the baby.  Our minds were boggled by the world of baby gear!  Quickly, we realized that choosing items for the registry was more than a matter of shopping — it was an exercise in deciding how we wanted to parent.  (And, we soon learned, every parenting approach seems to involve its own set of specialized equipment!)

For example, did we want to breastfeed exclusively, bottle-feed breastmilk, use formula, or a mix?  For nursing, did we want a Boppy, My Brest Friend, or organic nursing pillow?  Did we want to use a bassinet, Moses basket, crib, or floor bed?  Did we want to have a separate nursery, room-share, co-sleep with a co-sleeper, or co-sleep in a bed?  If co-sleeping in a bed, did we want a Tres Tria or a Humanity Family Sleeper?  Did we want to swaddle with blankets, or use a sleep sack, or use PJs, or a mix?  Did we want to babywear, use a stroller, rely mostly on a carseat/bucket, or a mix?  If babywearing, did we want an Ergo, Moby wrap, sling, or a mix?  Did we want to try baby signing or elimination communication?  Would we use disposable diapers, cloth diapers, or a mix?  (And let me tell you — if you have not already had reason to discover this in your own life — cloth diapers have changed dramatically in the last thirty years.  They are now an amazing, wonderful, complicated world of styles and materials unto themselves!  So much so that they will merit their own blog post later!)

Over time, we made our choices, knowing all the while that when the baby arrives and we put our choices into practice, we very well might be prompted to revise or even completely overhaul them.  The process took three months of reading and researching and thinking on both of our parts.  As an ecologist and evolutionary biologist, I let human ecology and evolutionary biology be my decision-making guides (as I do in the other areas of my life as well, to very happy result).

A great set of blog posts I discovered as I researched were these in Eco Child’s Play‘s “Baby Essentials That Aren’t” series.  They just may make you reconsider the need for some pretty standard-issue baby items, like cribs, infant car seats (note: they advocate using a convertible car seat, so that separate infant and toddler car seats are not needed — they are very pro-car seat!), strollers, diapers (thought-provoking!), baby bathtubs, baby brain boosters, and (this is the one I found most fascinating) baby food.

Also, a note for those of you about to begin compiling registries for your own babies (or, really, registries of any sort — for weddings, bridal showers, Christmas, or just because): there are a number of online sites that allow you to register for items from any store on the internet.

We went with a password-protected registry at and have had a good experience so far.  Another popular site is — friends of our have used and liked that site, as well.  Check them out if you’re in the market!

[Update 10/25/2010: now has a Universal Registry option, which allows you to add anything on the web to a registry or wish list at -- if we'd known about this option when we were building our baby registry, we likely would have chosen it -- it's great!]

Of Fruit and Soup

Two food thoughts for this Friday afternoon:

1.  Finally, the time has arrived for organic peaches, nectarines, and cherries to abound at our favorite grocery store.  We are in a blissful state.

2.  I do believe that grilled cheese and tomato soup is one of the great food/flavor pairings in the known universe.  When we make canned tomato soup, we like to mix this one (which is widely available, organic, and light in sodium. Though the can lining does contain BPA — all but Eden Organic‘s cans do — I say: pick your battles.  Canned soup once a week is not a health crime!) with a can of milk for added creaminess.  Mmmmmmm…..

Wishing you a weekend filled with happiness and good things to eat!

Oh, How I Love My Novophone

When a new season of Mad Men — the AMC drama set in a Manhattan advertising agency in the early 1960s — is released, we Netflix it.  Because, well, really, who can resist the allure of Don Draper or the curves of Joan Holloway?

The many secretaries on the show are continually lifting old-school telephone receivers to their shapely ears as they transcribe shorthand at their typewriters.  Seeing that lifting action repeated again and again made me realize how much, in this cell phone age, I have missed a real telephone: a full-size receiver with good sound quality and a nice heft.  The kind you can prop between your ear and your shoulder and still be clearly heard.  (Since 2005, Matt and I have had no landline — only cell phones.)

“I want a retro handset,” I said to Matt as Mad Men played in the background.

“Well, they do make them for cell phones,” Matt said.


“Really.”  And he sent me to this site.

The folks at Novophone — and soon, I imagine, other companies — do indeed make the very object of my desire, but for $27.95 — a price steep enough that I hemmed and hawed for several weeks over the decision to drop so much cash on what is essentially a mound of molded plastic with a cord.

But then I happened across the third act of this episode of This American Life (which begins at minute 45:55): an interview with journalist Christopher Ketcham, who wrote this article for GQ on the biological effects of cell phone radiation.  (As a sidenote, there is also this recent article on the subject in Harper’s Magazine.)

On the surface, the results of research into the matter seem to be a toss-up, with half of the studies showing negative health effects (i.e., increased brain cancer risk), and half not.  But when the research is divided by who funded it (the cell phone industry, or independent funding agencies), an interesting pattern emerges: while only 25% of studies funded by the industry show biological effects, 75% of the independently-funded studies do.  The risks appear to be greatest for individuals who begin using cell phones under the age of 20, as their brains are still developing and their skulls are thinner than adult skulls, and therefore do not provide as much of a radiation barrier.  But young’uns aren’t the only ones at risk.

There was the nudge I needed to get my cell away from my ear.  I ordered my Novophone that very afternoon.  The handset comes in two colors (red or black) and two styles (with or without a button on the handset that allows you to answer the phone without touching your cell).

I opted for black and buttonless, since various reviewers at (where I ordered the phone with free shipping) commented that it was easy to accidentally hit the button and hang up in the middle of a call.  (If you’re interested, check here to see if your cell is compatible with the Novophone, or if you’d need an adapter.)

I have to say: I LOVE this phone handset.  The feel of it in my hand, and the quality of the sound, are exactly what I had hoped for.  And it has the added bonus of cutting down my daily EMF exposure!  I’d had a hands-free headset for my cell, but never liked it much — and the people on the other end of the line had complained that I sounded like I was talking from a tunnel.  Not so with the Novophone!

As I talk on it, I invariably think of the Mad Men secretaries, and of the inventions that each generation creates and brings into widespread use, insisting on their innocuousness until faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary (the type of evidence that takes decades to build and great effort to bring to light).  The Mad Men era had asbestos, leaded gasoline and paint, and widespread cigarette use.  My best guesses for our era’s follies?  To name a few: widespread use of pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors like flame retardants (which we’ve applied to just about every upholstered, electronic, and synthetic-furniture item in the U.S.), and phthalates and parabens (which we’ve managed to mix into just about every personal care product Americans use).

And, of course, cell phones.  Only time will tell.

Honeybee Deaths, Pesticides, and Why Choosing Organic is Important

Honeybees are essential to modern agriculture.  Pollination by honeybees is a required step in the production of one of every three bites of food we take!  When honeybees began dying in droves several winters ago (a phenomenon termed Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD), a flurry of research into the reasons for their decline began.  The fruits of those research efforts are now beginning to appear.  And folks, the news ain’t good.

A number of factors behind CCD have been identified, including infection of honeybees by viruses and pathogens, as well as immune-system stress and malnutrition due to modern migratory beekeeping practices.

One additional standout factor, pesticide exposure, was also widely suspected, and a recent study by university and government researchers provides new support for that hypothesis.

In their paper, the researchers present the results of a broad survey of agricultural chemical levels (miticides, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) from all parts of bee hives (honey, pollen, honeycomb, foundation wax, and the bees themselves) in both healthy and CCD-affected bee colonies across 23 states and one Canadian provence.

The researchers found unprecedented levels (and diverse combinations) of these chemicals, particularly in pollen (the food of both baby and adult bees) and beeswax (the bees’ housing material).  The researchers conclude:

The widespread occurrence of multiple residues, some at toxic levels [for bees] for single compounds, and the lack of any scientific literature on the biological consequences of combinations of pesticides, argues strongly for urgent changes in regulatory policies regarding pesticide registration and monitoring procedures as they relate to pollinator safety.  This further calls for emergency funding to address the myriad holes in our scientific understanding of pesticide consequences for pollinators.  The relegation of bee toxicity for registered compounds to impact only label warnings, and the underestimation of systemic pesticide hazards to bees in the registration process may well have contributed to widespread pesticide contamination of pollen, the primary food source of our major pollinator.  Is risking the $14 billion contribution of pollinators to our food system really worth lack of action?

In short: our current agricultural practices are likely poisoning our bees, and if we don’t change our approach, we will lose both bees (honeybees AND wild bees) and their pollination services.  Already, each winter since 2006, we have lost 1/3 of our country’s standing population of honeybees, with no end in sight without widespread changes to our chemical use.

Overhauling our country’s agricultural practices to be bee-friendly is an enormous task.  But supporting our nation’s bees by buying organically-grown produce is a simple, immediate, and effective action that we as individuals can take!  Research shows that bees — both honeybees and wild bees — who pollinate at organic farms thrive!

Buying organic can be expensive, it is true.  Maybe you can’t afford to buy all organic all the time.  That’s okay — remember, some organic is better than no organic!

I am still searching for a list of the most chemical-intensive bee-pollinated crops (if you know of such a list, please let me know!), but in the meantime, I’m prioritizing my organic shopping using this handy pocket guide to The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen — the fruits and vegetables that possess the highest and lowest levels of pesticide residues, respectively.  These lists will help you identify which foods are best to buy organic (The Dirty Dozen) and which can be bought conventional if needed (The Clean Fifteen).

We keep a copy in the notebook in which we make our weekly grocery lists.  It is surely a help!  Here’s the rundown of The Dirty Dozen, some of which are bee-pollinated, and some of which are not:

1.  Peaches
2.  Apples
3.  Bell Peppers
4.  Celery
5.  Nectarines
6.  Strawberries
7.  Cherries
8.  Kale
9.  Lettuce
10.  Grapes (imported)
11.  Carrots
12.  Pears

Put organic versions of these fruits and veggies into your shopping cart whenever you can, and know that you are being good to yourself, to the environment, and to bees!

Additionally, if you farm on any scale and are interested in adopting bee-friendly practices, check out these general agricultural guidelines and these organic farm guidelines from The Xerces Society, a truly wonderful nonprofit invertebrate conservation organization.

New Scarf

New scarf!  I love a good sale.  I am also still in love with my new earrings from this Etsy shop.

Off to watch the next disc in the National Parks: America’s Best Idea series with our friends Neal and Anna, who are thankfully as enthusiastic about Ken Burns documentaries as we are.  (That is, VERY enthusiastic.)

Yep, my hope is that we all fall in the “Geek” swath of this Venn diagram, which may be the best Venn diagram ever constructed!

Happy Saturday!

Spring Gifts

Yesterday, spring gifts arrived in the mail from my mom-in-law, and oh, how wonderful they are, and how thankful I am!

Not long ago, a cousin of Matt’s married a wonderful and talented woman from Cyprus, Yianna Georgiadou, who creates gorgeous — may I just reiterate?  gorgeous — jewelry in silver, copper, and gold.

Ever since her Etsy shop, Cherry Tree Metals, opened last year, I’d been regularly perusing her collection (which updates frequently), unable to decide between all the beautiful pieces.

But when recently she added the Seven Leaves Necklace and Hammered Leaf Earrings to her offerings, I knew they were the ones for me!  And Matt’s mom, bless her, decided to add them to my Easter basket.  Thank you, M.!

The necklace photo above was snapped by Matt and shown on me, but this photo of the earrings (The earrings!  I will be wearing them every day!) is from Yianna’ shop, taken by Laura Wolfe of White Lotus Photography in Lawrence, Kansas:

So very, very pretty!

Lunchskins Eco-Baggies

I wish these baggies were named “Lunchkins” instead of “Lunchskins” because I just don’t feel that “lunch” and “skin” are words that belong together.  “Lunchkins” is cute and sweet; “lunchskins” rings a little too loudly of Silence of the Lambs for my taste…  (What a difference one little “s” makes, eh!?)

But I forgive the originator of the name, because the product is fantastic.  These reusable, dishwasher-safe, velcro-close baggies come in several sizes (snack, sandwich, and sub) and are made of thick cotton coated with a grease-proof, moisture-proof, food-safe polyurethane lining that is certified as lead-free, Bisphenol-A (BPA)-free, and phthalate-free.

And the fabric passes a favorite litmus test of over-educated, environmentally-conscious folks like me: it’s manufactured in Europe!  And as a bonus, the manufacturer is a family-run business!  (I’m thinking maybe these baggies belong somewhere on the list of Stuff White People Like.)

Lunchskins come in many lovely colors and patterns.  They are not particularly cheap, but so far we think they’re worth the price.

In our house, we’ve decided to eschew their true name and call them Lunchkins henceforth.

And we have high hopes that by using them, we will finally eliminate from our kitchen that pile of Ziploc bags that we mean to wash and reuse, but somehow just… don’t, because it’s so much easier just to grab new, clean ones!

I’ll report back!

[Update: Many folks debate the relative safety of polyurethane and nylon linings, particularly if hot foods are involved.  The jury is out.  If you want to go totally green, check out Plum Creek Mercantile, which offers 100% organic cotton natural-color snack bags -- they have no waterproof linings, but claim to contain even gooey PB&J just fine.  If the idea of nylon lining appeals to you more than that of polyurethane lining, check out WasteNot Saks on Etsy.  (Thanks, Suzanne, for the tip!)  A nice little summary of different eco-baggies and their specs can be found here.]


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