Monday, March 28, 2016

Working on the "Such a Pretty Face" speech

"Such a Pretty Face: how cosmetics impact your health and the environment," is the title of our speech for the AAUW Minnesota State Convention on April 30 in Duluth.

Rebecca takes notes as she re-reads "Not Just a Pretty Face"

"Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry" by Stacy Malkin

Anyone who uses soap, male or female is using what the FDA considers a cosmetic or beauty product. Most of us use several everyday. You most likely use a health and beauty product to be clean and presentable. You want to look good, but sometimes the use of the products can be unhealthy for both our bodies and the environment. 

Acne plagued me as a teenager, I used all kinds of special soaps and facial scrubs. Invented in the 1970s, I may have been an early microbead adopter using the special acne scrubs my dermatologist prescribed. It wasn’t until recently the microbeads became a popular product in many facial scrubs and toothpastes. Microbeads are extremely small spheres of plastic that act as exfoliating agents, they are so small — about the size of a grain of sand — that when they pass down the drain and onto the water treatment plant, the treatment plant is unable to filter them out and then the microbeads get dumped into our waterways and lakes. There are about 300,000 microbeads in a tube of facial scrub. Once in our lakes and rivers these little particles act like a sponge soaking up toxins, such as pesticides, heavy metals, and phthalates. Phthalates are hormone disrupters. Birds, fish and other marine animals mistake the plastic for food. And we in turn eat the fish. Microbeads have been found in tuna and swordfish.

In 2015, researchers estimated that more than 8 trillion microbeads entered our waters everyday. That’s enough to cover the surface of 300 tennis courts a day.  

Image by Sara M. Kross, from "Scientific Evidence Supports a Ban on Microbeads"
published in Environmental Science & Technology

In December 2015 Congress passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act. The use of microbeads in personal care products will be banned beginning June 2017. Now many companies are phasing out the use of microbeads. 

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Superior, including assistant professor of chemistry Lorena Rios-Mendoza, are credited for sparking the discussion of the prevalence of microbeads in the Great Lakes. She made headlines in the Duluth News Tribune in August 2013. And soon there was a buzz in the environmental world about these plastic beads. 

Rios-Mendoza is not only a researcher she is an advocate and is tackling the problem you could say one grain of sand at a time. According to the Duluth News Tribune during a press conference she reminded people of the three R’s of sustainability -- reduce, reuse and recycle -- when it comes to plastics.
"But I have a fourth one:” she said at a press conference. “Refuse.”
This is a story of hope. Environmental advocates have been concerned for years about these tiny spheres of plastic. The research and subsequent laws pertinent to the use of microbeads in health and beauty products can serve to inspire us that tackling environmental problems and big companies is not hopeless. Our voices matter and large companies listened. 

Many years ago lipstick contained lead and the ingredients in mascara blinded some women and led to the death of another. In our Such a Pretty Face speech, we are not here to alarm you. But we will make you aware of some harmful products you may be using every day.  

I don’t want to give away our whole speech on this blog, and you may have already heard of the microbeads issue. On April 30, you can expect to learn more about cosmetic safety and ways to reduce your exposure to dangerous chemicals.  

We are not out to strike fear or panic, you but to give useful advice so that you can make your own decisions.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Naomi recommends you read this great memoir revolving around sustainable, healthy eggs

Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm - from ScratchLocally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm - from Scratch by Lucie B. Amundsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lucie Amundsen’s Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm - from Scratch took me on a roller coaster of emotions. From frustration to happiness to sadness to pondering about what will be around the corner. I’ve “read’ it twice on Audible. Kate Reading narrates it and does an excellent job. The only glitch I noticed is that Kate Reading mispronounced Shakopee, but that doesn’t affect the story and only those familiar with the Minneapolis/St. Paul suburbs would notice.
Full disclosure: I am Lucie’s alley neighbor.
This book is memoir and a how-not-too. The writing style is casual, easy-to-read (listen) and interspersed with self-deprecating humor. Sandwiched in between humorous paragraphs and yarns of the struggles of her family, she gives a mini-education in economics, sustainable food and agricultural businesses. However, Amundsen teaches economics in a palatable manner. I eat a plant-based diet, so I don’t eat eggs, but that doesn’t stop me from supporting the Amundsen's for trying to make a difference in America’s food supply. The Amundsens ARE making a difference. And they caught the public’s attention by naming their business Locally Laid rather than Amundsen Farms.

The printed version includes footnotes to cite the information on economics, agriculture and food.

One of my favorite lines is, “Americans tend to be put off by evidence of where their food comes from.” Amundsen wrote this when explaining the egg washing process, something that is not done in Europe. Today so many americans don’t understand the origins of their food. They want it wrapped up and sanitized and whether a plant-eater or a meat-eater, Americans don’t want to know the nitty gritty details of food production, but they should because our health and economy depends on this knowledge.

I have many favorite parts, here are some of my favorite scenes:
-Their friends helping them build chicken coops during “freezing drizzle punctuated with the occasional driving hailstorm: this is springtime in the Northland.” The reader feels their cold physical struggle along with the warmth of their friends.
-The chickens’ arrival. Nine-hundred chickens sweltered in a semi-truck on the Interstate before reaching the farm. Lucie and the children were shocked at the treatment of the chickens. The chicken supplier grabbed the limp, the overheated, chickens and threw them into coops.
-Lucie’s trip to Maine for a class to dissect chickens, While there she learned about chicken anatomy and experienced an epiphany moment when she figured out why their chickens internal clocks were screwed up.
-The Amundsen’s mixing with cultures other than their own, like their visit to Amish famers; and the visit from glitzy California PR to the egg farm.
-I related to the scene where Lucie stood up for her own dream, which included living in town close to the children’s schools and her off farm employment, not out in the country. I could see myself in that scene. Mothers tend to become courageous when realizing the need to role model strong behavior for watching daughters.

There isn’t a chapter I didn’t enjoy. And I plan to listen again.
Anyone who likes to eat should read this book. It would be of particular interest to  locavores, the environmentally conscious, and those with a commitment to sustainability.

The book starts in 2012 and flashes back to 2010, the year we moved near the Amundsens. When we became neighbors the Amundsen’s had a chicken coop near an alley we share. We knew that Jason had lost a job and felt really bad for him. But I didn’t have much sympathy for him when he greeted me in the alley and told about some land he found to rent to raise chickens. He told me to be sure and tell my husband. (My husband was raised on a farm.) I figuratively threw cold water on him saying, “You know my husband could have been a farmer, but he chose not to. It’s hard work.” I thought Jason was crazy.
And this is how the book took me on a roller coaster ride. Lucie has a cheerful, fun personality and Jason is sincere. As I read, Lucie’s vivid writing showed gave a glimpse of hard they worked. Of course I already knew that farmers work damn hard, but yet reading the book I felt bad for not be more supportive of the family. I thought that they were romanticizing the farm life. Later as I read, I had an I told-you-so feeling. But by the middle of the book I was cheering this family’s passion and commitment to healthy food, local economy and animal welfare. I came to admire understand their tenacity.

  Locally Laid How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm - from Scratch by Lucie B. Amundsen

I am grateful for families like the Amundsens who work to bring us healthy, sustainable food. And for writers like Lucie who use their craft to explain its importance in an entertaining manner.
Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm - from Scratch

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Fresh blueberries for breakfast, and chipotle black bean and veggie burger for lunch

I was thrilled to see Hotel 340 include fresh blueberries and cantaloupe 
For three and one-half years I have eaten a plant-based diet.  I've taken vacations and attended conferences, and I have been able to navigate my way around cafes, restaurants and banquets.

My "hobby" while traveling is to see where I can get a good vegan meal and a nice pool to swim laps. 

It has been a fun challenge and goal for my travels to see if I can stick with my vegan and environmentally-conscious commitments. Most recently my husband and I traveled to Chicago via Amtrak. We live in Duluth, Minn. and boarded the train in St. Paul, Minn. after staying overnight at a hotel near the depot. I packed a bag with oranges, apples and peanut butter sandwiches for the trip to St. Paul.    

The real china dishes was a plus. I hate using disposable dishes. 
The first night my husband wanted to walk around downtown St. Paul to see what he could find to eat. He isn't vegan so it's a lot easier for him to find something to eat. I wanted to stay in at the hotel because it had an elegant Art Deco lap pool that I wanted to swim. I swam and then came back and ate the apple and one of the peanut butter sandwiches.

In the morning we tried the hotel's complimentary breakfast. It included fresh blueberries and cantaloupe.   

Eating in the dining car is fun. 

On the train the next day, I made sure to keep my bag of goodies near my side, but was curious if I could find something vegan on the dining car. Seating on the family car is "family or community style," meaning if there is empty space at your table you sometimes end up eating with people you don't know.  We joined two women from Chicago who had attended a "One Direction" band concert in St. Paul. This was a fun experience for us.

To my surprise a chipotle black bean and veggie burger was on the menu. I ordered this as did the two women from Chicago, though they weren't vegan. They said they just liked these burgers. My husband ordered the cheeseburger. (The waitress asked him if he wanted bacon on it, "Geez, are you trying to give him a heart attack," I wondered.)

I was also pleased to see the vegetarian entree, but since it included feta cheese, I didn't order it.
And though I eat vegan for my health, I ordered a Pepsi and chips instead of salad, which I know is a lot of extra sugar, oil and salt that I don't need, but I figured we were on vacation and I could splurge. I know some vegans who don't follow their vegan diets when they vacation, but I do.

This is my chipotle black bean and veggie burger. I garnished it with ketchup and mustard.
This is hubby's cheeseburger. He ordered iced-tea for a drink. 
Water was offered free of charge.
Note Amtrak's environmental logo.

While I was pleased with the service of our Amtrak waitress and with the quality of the food, I was disappointed that the Amtrak uses plastic plates. I asked the waitress if they washed the plates and reused them, but she said the plates are disposable and thrown out after one use. When hubby and I took the train a few years ago ceramic/china dishes were used on the dining car.  If you look at the logo on the water glass and the coffee sleeve, Amtrak uses a leaf and the tagline or motto, "Rail consumes less energy than cars or air travel." Our waitress said the switch to plastic, disposable plates happened two years ago and there was a big discussion about it. "I don't like it," she said, "It's wasteful." 

Following the National River & Recreation Area Minnesota by train

Standing along the platform of the depot in St. Paul, an Amtrak official directed us to a car with seats reserved for us. As we had attempted to travel light, my husband had his backpack and I had a small suitcase that we put in the luggage compartment on one end the first floor of the car. The opposite end of the car contained four or five small bathrooms. Then we climbed stairs that round a corner and open up on the second floor of the car.

The train creaked and gently rolled back and forth as we sat in our coach seats. I say tried to travel lightly because I brought a small tote bag with food, books, maps and notebooks and a tote bag containing  my 17 inch Macbook Pro which isn't really heavy, but can be if traveling.  I brought the two totes along with me to our coach seats.

Soon, I decided I needed a cup of coffee. The club car has a snack bar on the first level and an observation deck on the top. Tables to play cards and/or visit, large windows all along the walls and up the the ceilings along with lounge like chairs and coffee tables with rails to hold cups are the main feature of the this car.  

An attendant sells snacks and drinks from the first floor. I stood in line to order my coffee and went back to coach to invite my husband to join me in the observation car so we could drink coffee and enjoy the scenery. 

The train whistle sounds soft and low as we see bluffs out our big windows. As our track follows the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a National Park Service volunteer sits at a table in the front of the car holding a microphone. He narrates our trip by pointing out interesting pieces of geology and history.  
In Minnesota our trained followed the Great River Road.
The Great River Road is any road that follows the Mississippi River.
(Image from

The volunteer, Arlan, walks up and down the aisle holding a shell with a perfectly round hole in it. 
He says that the shell is a mussel shell from the river and could anyone guess why it has a perfectly round hole in it? Some people guessed an animal or worm or something made it. I guessed that a Native American had made the hole. Thirty million mussel shells from the the Mississippi, he says, were used in the manufacturing of buttons between the 1850's and 1930's. 

National Park Service volunteer Arlan gave a nice narration of the scenery.
(Photo by Naomi Yaeger)

Now about 60 miles south of St. Paul, we follow Lake Pepin which is a lake on the Mississippi about 35 miles long . We see boaters, pontoons and houseboats. "This has been a transportation corridor for thousands of years," Arlan says. I'm thinking about the Native Americans who used canoes on the rivers and Arlan adds that many birds follow the river during migration. I see an eagle outside swooping outside of the window landing in the swamp. From the 1850s to the 1930s steamboats cruised the area, but in the 1930s the railroads put the steamboats out of business. 
We see barges. Arlan tells us they are full of grain or sand.  The sand is used in the oil industry to frack. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

A vegan traveler rides the Amtrak to Chicago

Sleeve for a coffee cup.

I eat a plant based diet and I try to tread lightly on the earth. Recently my hubby and I traveled from our home in Duluth, Minnesota to Chicago via Amtrak.

I ate very well on my trip and certainly didn't lose any weight because the food was so good.

We had friends who, when they heard we were going to Chicago, told us about deals that we could get on various airlines, but they didn't get the point. The point was to take the train.

There is no passenger train to Duluth, the closest location for us to catch the train was St. Paul. We rode the Skyline Shuttle from Duluth to St. Paul.  The Skyline Shuttle is a privately owned business which has several vans traveling daily from Duluth to the Twin Cities. Many people are catching an airplane.
Since our train was scheduled to leave at 8:05 a.m., we decided to book a hotel in downtown St. Paul the night before and relax and then walk to the depot in the morning to catch the train.We boarded the shuttle at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center at 3:20 p.m. The driver let us off near the state capital, which just few blocks from our hotel and the train depot at about 6 p.m.  

Riding the train is very relaxing.
Here my hubby is gazing out the window at the Mississippi River

We stayed at Hotel 340, which is located at 340 Cedar Street. Since my day-job is as the editor of a weekly newspaper, the Duluth Budgeteer, it was interesting to me that the hotel is across the street from the Pioneer Press and two blocks from Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media. Also the Metro Green Line light rail station is right behind the hotel.
When I booked the Hotel 340 I read that as a guest would have access to the St. Paul Athletic Club. This turned out to be a real treat for me as I am a swimmer and my goal is to swim laps everyday.
When I asked about access to the fitness club, I was told it was a $10 extra fee. In my head I was a little miffed, I didn't think I should have to pay extra for this, but soon my hubby and I visited the fitness club and I was in awe. The fitness club is contained within 340 Cedar Street on the third through ninth floors. It's very upscale.

The Saint Paul Athletic Club's athletic facilities are located on floors three through nine.

An elegant, sunlit swan-motif terrazzo pool on the 8th floor.
(Photo from the SPAC website)
The pool is titled in Art Deco motif, and the water felt wonderful. The website described it as: elegant, sunlit swan-motif terrazzo pool on the 8th floor. I felt like the queen of Sheba as I glided in the water with the evening light pouring through the large west facing windows. After my swim I asked the staff how much chlorine they put in the water and she said none. There is a special filtration process.
That's all for tonight folks. I  will post more tomorrow. 
There were a couple of vegan choices.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

A solar powered backpack

This summer I subscribed to soniastravels she has some great ideas on how to pack, what to see and where to stay. Today I was surprised when she talked about a solar powered backpack.The backpack appears at 1:22 in this video. And here is a link to the manufacturer: Birksun 

Saturday, December 06, 2014

One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint

For me one of the easiest ways to reduce my carbon footprint is to adopt a plant-based diet. 
When we first moved to our new town (Duluth, MN) we lived close to my husband's work and he could walk, ride the bus or bike. And we felt we were doing our part to be sustainable. But later we purchased a house where the bus only comes by once an hour. That's not as convenient and I'm not organized enough to get out the door on time, sometimes I miss the bus and I don't want to wait for it. I have a car, so I end of using the car. Also I have a job as a journalist where I have to be out an about. So that's just easier if I use the car. Soon I am using the car much of the time.

About 9 years ago I learned that eating meat uses a lot more of the earth's resources. But I never crunched the numbers. This past week Rebecca and I attended a movie at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. The name of the movie was Cowspiracy.  By watching this movie I renewed my commitment that eating a plant-based diet is one of the best ways to lower my carbon footprint.

Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

WorldWatch, November/December 2009. Worldwatch Institute, Washington, DC, USA. Pp. 10–19.

One hamburger requires 660 gallons of water to produce – the equivalent of 2 months’ worth of showers. [iii]

Catanese, Christina. “Virtual Water, Real Impacts.” Greenversations: Official Blog of the U.S. EPA. 2012.
“50 Ways to Save Your River.” Friends of the River.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Staying green while interviewing for a new job

I've made a pledge not use Styrofoam or bottled water.  
Staying green while interviewing for a new job can be kind of tricky when interviewers are trying to be polite and offer you food or drink. So if you are green, think ahead on how you are going to react to have the proper interview etiquette   

When I interviewed for my day job, my prospective supervisors and employers offered me bottled water. We were in a fancy conference room and I could see a little kitchen off to one side. I could see a sink and cupboards, so I told them that if they had tap water,  I would prefer that to bottled water.  But I didn't tell them I had taken a pledge not to drink bottled water. I didn't think my job interview would be the best time to bring that up. 

Also when I'm interviewing and offered a cup a coffee, I will quickly scan the area to see if it will be served in a Styrofoam or a ceramic cup.  If it is a Styrofoam cup I will politely decline, but I don't say why. 

So, if you are environmentally minded, made a commitment to staying green and also job hunting, think ahead to what small curiosities might be made to you during an interview and practice how you will react. Remember to stay polite and keep a smile on your face.