Posts Tagged ‘community’

I <3 PHX: Bodega 420

Friday, March 21st, 2014

A couple weeks before Christmas I wanted to get a few jars of Peanut Butter Americano to give as gifts, but I missed the public market that weekend. Fortunately, the PB Americano website pointed me to Bodega 420 as one of the places I can get a PB fix any day of the week. One visit and I knew this was my kind of place.

Bodega 420 sits at the corner of Fifth Street and Roosevelt, in an old house right in the middle of an active community full of artists, students and young professionals. In 2012, owners Adrian & Mona Fontes and John Sagasta recognized the neighbors needed groceries and other basics but lacked easy access to those everyday essentials. They opened Bodega 420 with a small assortment of products and decided to see how it would go. The sign outside touts hardware, smokes and snacks but this little store offers something better than all of that – connection with the community.


The shop is eclectic with a wide variety of merchandise in a pretty small space. In the first room, there is the counter where you can buy basic convenience store things like cigarettes, candy, headache or upset stomach medicine, allergy remedies and condoms. Above the old fireplace behind the counter hangs a pegboard full of hardware and art supplies. When I asked Adrian about it he told me, “It’s back there so [customers] need help with it, which makes an interaction happen. It’s not just grab it, pay for it, and leave and keep your head down and don’t talk. You have to actually interact to get to that stuff, and that’s by design.” Customers can also ask for bulk grains, beans and pastas. Local musicians count on Bodgea 420 for a little stash of everyday music essentials like strings and drumsticks and can even special order instruments and supplies.


¿Wachoo Want?
On day one the owners painted a chalkboard on the front wall and christened it “The ¿Wachoo Want? Board.” Customers add products to this communal wish list and their neighbors come along and add a checkmark if they agree. When an item gets enough checkmarks it is added to the product assortment in the store. This is also how they’ve grown from a few shelves of hardware and household basics to include an expanded selection of grocery items, an impressive variety of fresh produce, music and art supplies, bulk foods and local specialties. Their newest endeavors include a weekly farmer’s market and new cold-pressed juices.


Fresh Produce in the Food Desert
Before Bodega 420 the neighborhood was a complete food desert which means there was no place to buy fresh, affordable, healthy food for miles in each direction. Now, local produce from Crooked Sky Farm on 16th St & Buckeye shares space with hyper-local fare that is grown on-site.

The garden is in its second year and going strong. Carrots, bok choy, spinach, arugula, lettuce, kale, parsley, fennel, sweet peas, beets, basil, heirloom tomatoes and sunflowers grow in the rich earth that master gardener Tim has coaxed and composted from desert tan to rich brown. The kale plants are so prolific that they look untouched the day after Mona and Adrian harvest them for juicing. Their parsley patch can’t be stopped. I can only hope the heirloom tomato starter I bought will do as well under my care as they’re doing in the bodega garden.


Local Favorites
One of the many things I love about Bodega 420 is the focus on local. The community needs a reliable source for Spaghetti-Os and ramen noodles and you’ll find those items on the bodega shelves. You’ll also find Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap right next to the Irish Spring because there is a demand for both products. Sometimes people are surprised that a place that carries so many fresh foods and local products would also carry Hunts ketchup or Fancy Feast cat food, but that’s what the community wants and needs so that’s what is on the shelves.

Still, there are many local treasures to be found. All of the ice cream, butter, farmer’s cheese and Greek yogurt they sell is from Udder Delights in Gilbert. The eggs come from Hickman’s Farm. I already mentioned the PB Americano – they carry all the flavors and the new almond butter, too. The peppers, pickles and relish are by Mrs. Klien’s and made over on 43rd avenue. They carry coffee beans from Jobot coffee just across the street. The Olive Leaf Tea Company just opened their first brick and mortar store but Bodega 420 was the first place to give them shelf space to sell their product. If you need seasonings you can find the locally mixed Slavo Salt or the most perfect chile powder and condiments ever from Santa Cruz Chile and Spice Company. When the demand for e-cigarettes increased, they found a local supplier who produces lab-grade product in a safe environment, so they rolled out a line of e-cigs and accessories just in time for First Friday this month.


Art and All the Rest
As if all of this wasn’t enough, Bodega 420 is a gallery. Adrian says, “Every month we put a new artist up. [This month’s artist is] a photographer and you can see her work all through the store…so that’s how we do our art shows. And it is really a function of sticking with the roots of the place. We’re in an arts community, so we want to have art on the walls.” In addition to the artists they nurture, Bodega 420 is something of a business incubator. There’s a jeweler who sells her work in the shop. The soap guy makes his product just a few blocks away and sells it at the market. Local artists were asking for more types of paint but it wouldn’t work well at the shop so Adrian urged a neighbor to create a paint shop on his property. A small children’s clothing shop called The Squid and The Monkey got its start at Bodega 420.


Tonight is Third Friday. If you’re in the ‘burbs like me, consider a trip downtown tonight and be sure to stop by the store. Grab yourself an old-fashioned Faygo Root Beer, sit down on the porch and chat with a new friend. Listen to live music. Watch the people go by. Be part of a community and appreciate all that Bodega 420 has to offer. I hope to see you there!

Eat More Veggies: Smart Shopping

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Earlier this week, I wrote a post highlighting the amount of food – especially produce – that we waste, despite both good intentions and the fact that we are healthier when we eat more plant-based foods. In Monday’s post, Eat More Veggies: Waste Not Want Not, I shared my top tips for reducing waste: First In First Out, Don’t Throw Away Good Stuff and Shop Smart. Today is all about how to put the Shop Smart part into action.

Shopping Smart means looking beyond the traditional grocery store for ways to buy fresh, healthy food. The grocery store is not a bad option and you can score good deals if you shop the sales, but it is important to have some alternatives. More Choices = More Savings. My favorite ways to save on produce are farmer’s markets, food rescue and co-op buying. To learn more about the treasures you might find at the farmer’s market, check out my post, The Downtown Phoenix Farmer’s Market.


Food Rescue: Market on the Move
There are groups in some communities that rescue surplus produce that would otherwise get wasted and provide that produce at a low cost to families. In Phoenix and Tucson, Market on the Move is a weekly event where surplus produce from farming communities is trucked into the city. Generally there are 8-12 varieties of produce and with a $10 donation participants can take all the food they want. That’s right – there’s no limit. Some families fill reusable shopping bags and others come with wagons or rolling coolers. The idea is that you take what you can use and a little extra to share with friends and neighbors because the food would have otherwise been wasted.

The first time I participated in Market on the Move, I was a little weirded out. I wasn’t sure if the program was more like a food bank than a co-op and I didn’t want to take food that was meant for people with fewer resources than I have. On top of that, I wasn’t sure about “rescued” food. Sounds kind of dubious, right? Was it going to be all rotten or go bad in a day? Was it going to be oddball stuff nobody would want?

I decided to see for myself and I was pleasantly surprised. One Saturday morning I showed up at a church near my home to find a huge line of (really friendly) people. I was pretty far back so I had about 40 minutes to wait and used the time to get to know my “line neighbors.” There were people from all walks of life and they had various reasons for participating. Some of the folks I chatted with were looking to add healthy veggies to their diets, some were participating because it stretched their food budget, and others were excited to participate in a program that prevents waste. My concern that I was taking food from others who might need it more was unfounded because there is more than enough to go around and the process only works if there are enough participants contributing. Another important thing is to note is that Market on the Move is not year-round. The service is suspended during the hottest months of summer so it’s always a good idea to double check the website before you head out.

So, what do you get? Most of the food is conventionally grown, but I have seen a few organics mixed it. The selection varies every week and you never know until you arrive and read the whiteboard, but last time I went there were eggplants, red bell peppers, tomatoes, four varieties of squash, green beans and cucumbers. I took some of everything except eggplant (yuck!). I used some food right away because grilled squash is a big hit at my house. I made a few loaves of zucchini quickbread which were devoured in a flash. Homemade tomato sauce? You can bet your baked ziti I made a batch! Cucumber sandwich with dill and cream cheese? Don’t mind if I do. After the first wave of my cooking frenzy quieted, I sliced and shredded portions for the freezer so I have quick side dishes for future dinners and ingredients ready for more quickbread. My daughter’s day care provider was thrilled to have a bounty of grape tomatoes for the kiddos and my coworkers were not shy about taking the rest. Not a single veg was wasted and many, many mouths were fed with a single $10 bill. Granted, I had to put in some effort and it’s not something I have time for every weekend, but it made a big difference and it was well worth my investment.


Food Co-Op: Bountiful Baskets
I remember back in 2008 when a colleague at work told me about her friend who got a big laundry basket full of fresh produce from Bountiful Baskets for only fifteen dollars. I remember thinking she was probably messing with me or there had to be some kind of a catch. We gathered around the website reading every detail and trying to figure out how to do it and whether there were strings attached. It sounded too good to be true. In the end we decided to gamble the fifteen bucks and give it a try. Fortunately for us it was NOT a scam and I was so pleasantly surprised that I began participating every other week. For a while, I even volunteered and helped to establish a new pick-up site in a local park. Now, I’m very fortunate to work for a company that participates in Bountiful Baskets Corporate Sites so my veggies and fruits get delivered right to work every other Thursday.

Bountiful Baskets is a food co-op, which means that people from all over the community contribute money online to the bulk-purchase of hundreds of pallets of food direct from the distributor. The organizers work with the produce house to get the best deals possible and arrange for trucks to deliver the produce to local parks, churches or other pre-designated meeting places. From there, neighborhood volunteers work together to distribute the produce into equal shares. Volunteer Site Coordinators then check participants off of the list as they come to pick up their shares of the bulk purchase. Over the years, the process has become much smoother. In the past, food always had to be distributed into baskets onsite but now some sites enjoy pre-packed boxes. The organization has grown significantly, too. There used to only be sites in Maricopa County, AZ but now several states have Bountiful Baskets.

The online contribution form has the choice of conventionally grown produce for $15 or a slightly smaller box of organically grown fruits and vegetables for $25. Participants can add extras like breads, tortillas, granola, cookies or specialty packs of extra veggies for a small additional fee.

My experience with Bountiful Baskets has always been more good than bad. I’ve found mixed reviews online and generally those fall into two groups: people who don’t like not being able to pick out their own veggies and concerns about the quality of the food. I see not being able to choose my own veggies as an adventure and I like that it pushes me to try new stuff or share something I don’t want with others (for example, eggplant lovers) who will use it. Occasionally I’ll get a box that’s kind of boring to me, but I feel like more often than not I get a good variety. For Arizonans, the things you find in your basket usually correspond pretty closely to what’s on the front of the Sprouts sale flyer. As for the quality complaints, sometimes I get a few items that are over or underripe but I just use them in the order they’re going to ripen and I chalk it up to being a natural part of the co-operative buying thing.

What’s your experience with alternative food buying? Have you ever participated in a co-op or food rescue operation? Do you think you might like to try it? Continue the conversation in the comments below. We always love to hear what you think!

Come for the drinks, stay for the life lesson.

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

A few weeks ago, Rachael and I were fortunate to be invited to the home of my friends Adele and Chris for a lesson on creating booze infusions. My plan was to write a single post, with recipes and tips on the process. Once we arrived, and started taste testing, I realized there was so much more to share, as the experience itself was a great reminder that sometimes it’s good to slow down. So, today I will tell you about our experience, and in a follow-up post, I will provide you with the recipes we made and some basic tips on infusion so you can create an experience like this for yourself and your friends.


Adele, Chris and their daughter are the kind of people you cannot believe you have the privilege to know. They are all incredibly creative, thoughtful and gracious people. They share my passion for food, and we have had a lot of fun over the years trying out new restaurants in Phoenix, or experimenting with cooking (like the time a group of us went to Adele’s house to make ricotta and goat cheese).

Over the past few years Chris has experimented with infusing different flavors into alcohol to create flavored liqueurs. Booze infusion is simple in nature – you soak a variety of ingredients in the liquor of your choice, and then let it sit until you like the taste. One of the most basic infusions that a lot of people are familiar with is limoncello — lemon zest soaked in vodka for a few weeks and then mixed equal parts with simple syrup.

Before we got started our lesson, we viewed Chris’ entire collection of infusions – contained in dozens of bottles and mason jars covering an entire wall in their pantry. Chris jokes that he is sort of a “mad scientist” when it comes to trying out new combinations but he’s an artist, too. He takes risks, imagines outcomes and tries new things just to see what happens.


We grabbed a dozen bottles of varying flavors and sat down at their kitchen table to sample Chris’ creations. Some of our favorites were limoncello, vin-de-orange (red wine, rum, bitter & sweet oranges, grapefruit and spices – a combo Rachel described as tasting like “a library, tobacco and Christmas.”), chai liquor, and tequila that was infused with lime and salt (a margarita in a shot).


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As we sipped, Chris explained that many medicines actually started out as infusions. Some of the first forms of aspirin were actually the bark of a willow tree infused in alcohol. Another early infusion purpose was preserving fruit. People would combine fruit, sugar and alcohol in order to keep fruit fresh throughout the year.

We asked Chris how they normally drank the infusions – did they have them as after dinner drinks? Did they enjoy them with friends as we were doing that very day? Or did they use them in recipes?

Chris explained that his favorite thing to do was what we got to experience – having a group of friends around a table, and sampling a variety of his creations. “These infusions take such time to make,” Chris explained “But they arrest the moment. What I mean by that is that it helps to stop time. By taking time to enjoy these, you will remember this moment. You will remember the laughter and conversation that you had because we all sat down at a table together and enjoyed the experience, and each other.”

We went there to learn how to make delicious infusions, and as often happens when I get together with Adele and Chris, I came away with a life lesson. We live in a society where speed is king – we have fast food, overnight shipping, movies on demand – and because of this, we often forget to slow down and enjoy life.

I challenge all of you to have an “arresting moment” experience. Get together with friends for dinner at home, make something beautiful for the people you care about, turn off the technology, and enjoy time with the people you love.

Don’t forget to check out my follow-up post on basic tips for booze infusion, as well as the recipes for our three creations – Ginger Vodka, Raspberry Vodka and Cin-Van-Sky (a cinnamon/vanilla/star anise infused whiskey).


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink, Resolve

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014


A few years ago I looked in my kitchen pantry and found New Year’s Resolution inspiration. Our pantry was chock full of plastic bags even though I took reusable bags to the store every time. I did take them to the grocery store every time but the problem was that I forgot them every single other place I went. Headed to Target? No bag. The drugstore? Nope. The mall? Not a chance.

My very first environmental resolution was born. From then on I’ve tried, with varying degrees of success, to set an environmental goal for myself every year in addition to my other resolutions. If you are making resolutions this year, consider adding a green resolution. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

Bring your own bags, every store, every time – Reusables aren’t just for the grocery store. Put some extras in your purse or trunk for use anywhere you would usually get a bag. Just don’t forget to keep ‘em clean!

Use a travel mug for coffee refills – Most of the big coffee shops welcome reusable mugs and many give discounts. For example, Dunkin’ Donuts offers a “refill” price of 99 cents for any size reusable mug and if you dine in that refill price is for a bottomless cup.

Don’t idle your engine – In modern cars, the break-even point between idling and the gas required to restart is only ten seconds. Any time you are parked and waiting for something, kill the engine to save money, gas and carbon emissions.

Try a new fair trade product – Coffee and chocolate are the easiest switches because, well, they’re delicious and easy to find high quality product in fair trade versions. Your favorite coffee shop brew is probably already fairly traded but if you’re not sure just ask when you order your next (reusable) cuppa joe.

Pass by the drive thru – Reducing your fast food trips by as little as one per week can make an impact. Fast food is easy and cheap in the short term but when we rely on it too heavily the costs to health, environment and social justice start to add up quickly.

My green resolution this year is to try out some new eco-conscious iPhone apps that will give me more info to make good decisions and remind me to make better choices. What kinds of changes are you looking to make? Do you have any favorite apps or tips for making more conscious choices? Please share them in the comments below.

Happy Boxing Day! Wait…What’s Boxing Day?

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

It is December 26th and my calendar says Boxing Day.

What in the world is Boxing Day and what is it doing on my calendar?

Boxing Day isn’t a holiday we celebrate in the US, but I had some ideas of what it might be about from TV. First, I remembered the old M*A*S*H episode where Colonel Potter made the officers and enlisted men swap roles for a day because that was the tradition of some British officers that happened to be staying with them at Christmas. (There are a lot of valuable life lessons to be learned from the Fighting 4077th, but that’s another post for another time.) Digging back a little further into the memory banks, I vaguely recalled something about taking boxes and giving alms to the poor on that day. This was promising. A day dedicated to forcing “The Man” to break a sweat for a change and taking time to care for people in need? Now this is my kind of holiday!

Enthusiastically I started to gather my thoughts for this post. I wanted to be sure to get everything about this day just right. Some internet research and a peep at Wikipedia soon revealed that I am not the only one who doesn’t fully understand Boxing Day. In fact, some of the people who observe Boxing Day can’t really say why it is a holiday. There are several origin myths but it is unequivocally NOT about making The Man do manual labor — in fact it is a bank holiday, so generally speaking, The Man probably has paid time off. And the part about making up care packages for those in need? burst my bubble by confirming that the holiday isn’t for boxing up all the stuff in the house you don’t need after a busy holiday season, either. In the countries where Boxing Day is celebrated it is mostly an extension of Christmas where people watch sports (Soccer! Not even boxing!?!) and go shopping at the after-Christmas sales.

Initially I was bummed by these discoveries, but then I realized that I’m the Mom and I can make up whatever traditions I want. That’s the awesome thing about parenting — Jacob and I are now the Family Tradition Masters. If we say Boxing Day is for serving others and giving forward from the bounty of the holidays then that’s that.

I hope each of you and your families are having a happy, healthy and blessed Christmas season. Did you forge any new traditions as you celebrated this year? Do you have any favorites you would like to share? The Wilderness Girls would love to hear all about the unique traditions your family shares. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some donations to gather.

Holiday Gift Guide: Fair Trade

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

It’s about time to do a bit of holiday shopping, and if you are anything like me, you have a few tough-to-buy-for folks on your list. Many of us are blessed to be able to buy ourselves the things we want, when we want them. That’s why finding a great gift at holiday time can be such a challenge. If starting a tradition of charitable giving was vetoed at your last family meeting, try fair trade products for this year’s holiday gifts.

Why fair trade? When you purchase fair trade products you ensure that the artisan or worker who produced the product earns a fair, living wage. Fair trade combats some of the cruelty of this world, protecting children from unhealthy and unsafe child labor abuses, and helping women recover and restore their self-worth after escaping from sex trafficking. Buying fair trade means investing in the kind of entrepreneurship that transforms communities and lifts people out of extreme poverty. Fair trade is good for the environment, too. Coffee, cacao, sugar and other crops that are traded fairly are grown by farmers who have a stake in their future and who work to create a high quality product and a bright future for their families.

So, does this mean fair trade is more expensive? Well, sometimes it is, but not always, and not by much. Most often the quality is higher, yet the prices on fairly traded goods are comparable to those products that may be unethically sourced and produced. Fairly traded products tend to be unique and crafted with pride.

Here are some of my favorite fair trade gifts for this holiday season:

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1. A Mighty Morning Coffee (Peru): Grown by a cooperative of farmers, who have used the proceeds from fairly traded products to learn sustainable and organic farming, and reinvest earnings into their cooperative and their community.
2. Feather Weave Scarf (India): This scarf, like many from fair trade retailer Ten Thousand Villages, helps support business education and training for ethnically and socially disadvantaged artisans in India.
3. Create World Peace Jute Tote (India): Perfect as a market bag or everyday tote, this piece is handcrafted by women who have escaped sex trafficking and are learning literacy and life skills while earning a living wage.
4. Hand Painted Candle (South Africa): The women of a small South African village, where unemployment levels can be up to 50%, work together to create these hand painted candles using traditional designs.
5. Milk Chocolate with Sea Salt and Toffee: Chocolate and coffee are great places to start adding fair trade purchases to your life. Cacao and coffee farmers are some of the hardest hit workers when it comes to the unfair labor practices of plantation style farming. Every time you choose fair trade chocolate you make life a little sweeter for farmers.
6. A Little Bird Told Me Note Cards (Bangladesh): Isn’t it a thrill to get a piece of “real” mail? I always get so excited to see a handwritten note in my mailbox. The only thing better is knowing these note cards are made by women who are receiving education, health care and access to loans.
7. Steel Drum Metal Art (Haiti): This is one of my favorites because it wins the trifecta: it supports industry in still-struggling Port-au-Prince, Haiti, it is made from recycled materials, and it is absolutely beautiful.
8. Luscious Lips Organic Vegan Lip Balm (USA): Made in the USA out of certified fair trade, organic and vegan materials this lip balm is perfect for keeping stockings stuffed, and lips moist and mistletoe ready.
9. Aqua Blue Flower Alligator Hair Clip (Malawi): This beauty was imagined by an American designer who fell in love with African textiles while living in Malawi and now sells accessories and handbags made by Malawi women. These women earn a living wage and are breaking free from the cycle of poverty.
10. One World 2009 Chenin Blanc (South Africa): Check labels carefully when buying wine and you’re likely to find a fairly traded treasure like this South African Chenin Blanc. What’s better than a little vino? A vino that helps farmers recover from economic disadvantage and care for sustainable vineyards, that’s what!
11. Hand Stamped Owl Leather Wallet (India): To be honest I was surprised to discover Worldstock Fair Trade when browsing one day. They’ve collected thousands of beautiful items, including this cheery little wallet, from all over the world and sell them at fair prices with 60-70% of the proceeds going directly to the artisan. As an environmental bonus, all Worldstock items ship carbon neutral.
12. Handcrafted Acacia Wood Divided Serving Bowl (Philippines): Hand carved from sustainably collected acacia wood in the Philippines, this bowl would be a perfect gift for the entertainer in your life. Who hosts the best parties? The friend who serves snacks in this beauty!

For more information about fair trade, there is a comprehensive and accurate Wikipedia entry on Fair Trade,that can explain the basics. More info is available through the certification organization, Fair Trade USA. Online retailers Ten Thousand Villages, Novica, Dsenyo and others featured in the gift guide have web pages that explain their mission and values. As with most things, not everyone agrees that fair trade is the right thing to do but if you do a bit of research and buy from reputable suppliers, you can be confident that your purchase is helping individuals and families worldwide. What sustainable, ethically sourced or fairly traded gifts will you exchange this year?

Christmas Cookie Swap

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

I love Christmas baking. I love the new recipes and the tried and true recipes. I love everything about the sweet aromas and time-honored family traditions. That is until I’m three batches into the fifth recipe and I hit the wall, cracked-out on sugar and surrounded by spilled flour and soiled Kitchen Aid parts. I want to provide Santa a bountiful arrangement but I don’t have the patience to create so many different varieties of cookies. What is a Wilderness Girl to do?



Enter the Cookie Swap. The cookie swap is a brilliant event for which each participant bakes several dozens of one type of cookie to exchange with other bakers. You choose your favorite recipe and mass-produce one type, and at the swap, you receive a wide selection of cookies in return. All the variety with none of the hassle of testing and buying ingredients for a bunch of different recipes. The beauty of a Cookie Swap is that it can be as relaxed or as fancy as you want it to be. It can be a small swap between just a few friends, or it can be a bigger group with friends of friends who you’re meeting for the first time. You can do a ballot for cookie superlatives such as best cookie, easiest recipe and most unique, or you can just appreciate each cookie on its own. Whatever you choose will be fun. After all, it’s your party, you can swap how you want to. Regardless of how simple or detailed your party will be, there are a few steps that are crucial to the success of your Cookie Swap:

You must get your Cookie Swap on the calendar early because aint no’body got time for that during the weekend before Christmas. Don’t worry about having the party too early because most cookies freeze really well and you will be grateful for your frozen stash when unexpected guests pop over and you’re able to whip up a cookie tray and hot cocoa bar on short notice.

Take the time to do “real” paper invitations because an invitation sets the tone for your party and it gives your guests all the important details of your swap. There are so many adorable options available online at every price point (including free), that I curated a little collection for you to peruse on Pinterest. The invitation is where you tell your guests the when and where, and how many treats to bring (along with whether to package them separately or bring them all in one big container to be divvied up during the event). If you want them to hold out a dozen for sampling at the party let ‘em know on the invitation. If you have anyone in the group with food allergies, the invitation is the perfect place to spread the word. It is also OK to specify “homemade” on the invite if you suspect someone might go with store bought. After all, the whole point is to swap treats with your friends, not those little guys who bake cookies in the hollow tree, right?

Pre-plan how you want your guests to share their recipes with each other. You can provide blank cards with your invitation or ask your guests to create a recipe card to share. Perhaps you’re collecting all the recipes to include in a little booklet as a party favor. For a more sustainable option exchange recipes via email.

Here’s your opportunity to get creative and reduce the amount of packaging each person uses. Ask your guests to please bring all of their cookies in one large container instead of individual zippie bags. Then, provide cookie tins to each of your guests to take their swapped cookies home in. You’ll still need parchment or freezer paper on hand to wrap up particularly sticky or fragrant cookies that don’t store well with others, but the majority of the packaging can be done with tins which last for ages, can be reused year after year and are recyclable at the end of their useful life.

The Wilderness Girls did a little Cookie Swapping last weekend, and here are our recipes:

Christie’s Recipe: Nigella’s Christmas Chocolate Biscuits


Christina’s Recipe: KISSES Macaroon Cookies Recipe


Jenny’s Recipe: Betty Crocker’s Cream Wafers


Why this cookie is special to Jenny: These were my Aunt Eileen’s favorite cookies, and I remember many a year that my mom and I would go to her house to make them. They are a great kid-helping recipe too. You can have the kids in your family help cut them out, poke the holes in them with a fork, or ice them. We always did the traditional pink, green and yellow icings, but nowadays the icing color possibilities are endless!

Rachael’s Recipe: Mamaw’s Nut Cups


Why this cookie is special to Rachael: When I was a girl, my Mamaw, my Mom and I would sit in Mamaw’s tiny yellow kitchen making nut cups for hours and hours because she never just made one batch. All the time we thought we were making cookies we were really making memories and our own family tradition. This will be Elizabeth’s first year in the kitchen making Nut Cups with Mom and Grandma and the tradition continues.

We had a great time hanging out together and visiting over warm cups of cocoa and more than a few cookies. It was such fun to hear the stories and traditions behind each selection and share some of our favorite treats with some of our favorite girls. Will you try a cookie swap this year? What recipe would you take if you were invited to one?

Love Your Library

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library.
The only entrance requirement is interest. — Lady Bird Johnson

When was the last time you went to the public library? Maybe it has been a while.  Maybe you haven’t been since before you heard your last commencement address. If that is the case, it is time to rethink the library.

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Burton Barr Central Library
Source: Phoenix Public Library, Photo Credit: Bill Timmerman

A couple months back I shared a post on Sustainable Home Economics and one of our lovely readers, Laura M, commented with a tip about baking her own fresh bread daily. She recommended a book with her recipe and I was immediately intrigued so I popped on over to where I learned that an available copy was on the shelf at a branch near my office. I picked it up over my lunch hour — easy as pie.

Why the library?
Why didn’t I just buy it from or download an electronic version to one of my many devices? I have a couple reasons. First, baking my own fresh bread sounded like a pretty cool idea but I wasn’t ready to make a commitment. I’m a busy Mama and while I like baking I’m not sure it could happen on a daily basis in my home. Second, I’m about making sustainable choices and saving money wherever I can. This means borrowing beats buying in almost every matchup. Finally, I believe in the power and importance of the public library and using their services shows my support.

You will find so much more than just books at your library; CDs DVDs, books on tape, toys and more are available at every branch. There are art exhibits and opportunities to learn about local art and history. The library supports the community by offering computers with internet service for those who don’t have access to these tools at home. Library patrons can even take free computer classes so they are better able to use the technology.

Is it convenient?
Some will argue that the library isn’t as convenient as buying/downloading your own copy. I’d say sometimes that is true, but not most of the time. Let’s look back to the bread book example I gave a moment ago. What if there hadn’t been a copy available at a branch near my office? No problem! If the library branch you use does not have the material you need you can join a waiting list or have the book transferred from another library. Intra-library transfer is an awesome and underutilized service. The library will move a book from a faraway branch to the one in your ‘hood with other transfers.  You remember those 4R’s of Sustainability we talk about – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink. This is Reduce at its finest. Instead of fifteen people criss-crossing the city on fifteen trips to get the books and materials they want, the library consolidates shipments through their inventory management systems and patrons stop by their nearby branch to collect their items. Another advantage to using holds/transfers is that the book is waiting for you on the hold shelf, arranged alphabetically with your name on it. I’m all for the Dewy Decimal System but finding your name alphabetically on a shelf is easier any day.

I’ve found two inconveniences to using the library. First, the hours aren’t the same every day due to funding cuts and budget constraints. Second, you have to remember to take their stuff back to them on time or you will incur fines. Granted it’s only $0.20/item/day ($0.10/item/day for Children’s materials), it’s better not to be in hock with the library. Fortunately, a smartphone can solve both of these little inconveniences. The library’s mobile website gives each local branch’s hours so you will never arrive to locked doors. In addition, you will receive email reminders when your materials are coming due. You can even renew online if a trip to the library doesn’t fit your schedule that day. If you happen to drive by during closed hours you can slip those literary treasures in the book return where they’ll be safe and sound until the librarians pick them up in the morning.

What other services do they offer?
The library is truly a community institution offering a wide variety of services. There are sixteen branches in Phoenix and each one offers a place for neighbors to gather, kids to learn, students to research and families to explore culture and the arts. The library branches are full of free public art exhibits. Some are permanent pieces and others travel between branches or are featured for a short time.

Classes and programs at the library are a huge advantage to the community. They offer everything from infants story and play time to homework help for grade school age kids, to teen poetry slams and basic computer skills classes for all ages. Library programs help adults build resumes and advance job searches. They have community programs, special bilingual family story time to help break down language barriers and even English as a Second Language classes free for anyone who has the interest.

One of my favorite library features is the Culture Pass. Each library has a set of cards that can be checked out in exchange for free admission for up to 2 people at a local museum, zoo, park or art exhibit. There is no cost and there is no catch. The only thing you have to do is go to the library and choose from the available options OR decide where you want to explore for free and go to the branch that has an available Culture Pass. Culture passes are one of the few items that can’t be reserved or transferred to a local branch but most often the special trip is worthwhile when you don’t have to pay at the museum’s admission desk.

What about e-books and digital materials?
As if books, movies, meeting places, homework help, Culture Passes and story hours aren’t enough, the good folks at the library know how much we love our digital devices. That’s why there is a whole section of their website devoted to digital services. A little exploration here will lead you to e-books, audio books, apps and more that you can download for a pre-set borrowing period. You never have to leave the house and late returns are a thing of the past because the transaction is 100% digital. We live in the future and the future is pretty stinkin’ cool.

I’ve given a lot of love to the Phoenix Public Library here but the same story is true everywhere. No matter where you live or how small your town is, chances are you have a quality library that offers many of these valuable gifts. The bottom line: Go to the library. Take your kids. Take your friends. Take your time. Discover all of the treasures within and share them with the ones you love. There are bountiful resources out there so make sure to enjoy them. When you do, please be sure to share your favorite finds and the ways you love your local library.


Thursday, October 24th, 2013

One week from today the streets will crawl with over 41 million little ghouls and goblins, trick-or-treat pails in hand, seeking confectionary fortune and nougat-glory.

Forty one million trick-or-treaters equals a heck of a lot of these guys:

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Jack-o-lantern treat bucket
Photo credit:

With a price tag of $1 this really is a single-use item. In the ten to twelve year span that your children will trick-or-treat, you will spend at least that many dollars but likely more on single use pumpkin pails that will inevitably become lost/broken/un-cool and end up in landfill before the next year. Instead of buying one of these jovial plastic fellows each year, why not create a lasting Halloween Trick-or-Treat bag? It will be a special part of your Halloween tradition that will also hold up to years of treasure hunting for golden caramel goodness in fun size packs.

The Trick-or-Treat bag is a simple project. Novice sewers could consider this as a first project and a low-risk way to build skill. Those with basic skills will find that it is easy to put together in just about a half hour. Advanced sewers can customize and get fancy with linings, notions and appliqués.

Successful Sewing Projects Start Here
Thinking back to my post You Can Sew Your Own Way I shared my top five tips for successful sewing which you will want to use with this and every sewing project.

1. Success begins at the fabric shop
2. You must pre wash
3. Prep your gear
4. Iron out the wrinkles
5. Measure twice, cut once

Shopping List

1/2 yard Halloween fabric
1 yard lightweight iron-on interfacing, enough to cover the whole piece of fabric. (I used Pellon ® single sided fusible sheerweight interfacing)
Multi-purpose thread in a coordinating color

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Sewing Instructions

Prep the Fabric
* Wash & dry your fabric.
* Trim any loose strings from the edges.
* Iron interfacing to the back of the fabric. Really this is optional but I strongly recommend it because I feel like it reinforces the fabric and makes it a little stiffer. Use interfacing to create a finished product that opens nicely and isn’t too floppy.

Body of Bag
* Fold your fabric over 16 inches, making sure the corners are clean 90 degree angles.
* Cut a 16” x 18” rectangle for the body of the bag.
* With the “right” (pretty) sides of fabric together sew a 1/2” seam around the sides and bottom of the bag, leaving the top unfinished.
* Press open the side seams so they’re flat for a few inches. This is just to make it easy to sew your top hem.
* The top hem is a two-part fold. First, fold the ragged edge down 1/2”, secure with a few pins and press into place. Remove the pins and fold the top edge down again, this time by 1”. This hides the ragged edge and makes the top hem more substantial. Press into place and secure by pins.
* Sew around the top hem of the bag being careful to hold the bag open so you don’t snag a part you didn’t intend to sew together. (I’ve done it before and it is no fun.)

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From the remaining fabric, cut two strips 3 1/2” wide x 18” long for the handles.
* Fold the handles lengthwise with “right” (pretty) sides of fabric together and lightly press so they’re easy to sew.
* At the sewing machine, re-open the pressed handles and lay them flat. Turn under the short end by 1/2”. Stitch across to finish short edge then re-fold lengthwise and stitch long side of each handle piece using a 1/2” seam allowance.
* Turn handles right side out and set aside.
* Back at the ironing board press your handle pieces so that they lay flat.
* To attach the handles turn the main part of the bag inside out and fold it in half lengthwise. From the center fold measure 2 1/2”and secure the handle using two straight pins. Turn the folded bag over and secure the other end of the handle in the same way. Follow with the other side of the bag.
* With right side facing down, sew the handle to the inside hem. Ever the optimist, I expect this baby will have to bear the weight of a mighty Halloween stash so I opted to reinforce by sewing across the top edge where the handle meets the hem and creating a rectangle by sewing up the sides of the strap as well.

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Congratulations! You are now the proud owner and creator of a trick-or-treat treasure bag that will last for years as part of your kiddo’s Halloween costumes and live forever in her memory as something special you made just for her or him. Do you have crafty ideas for Trick-or-Treat bags or other spooky Halloween crafts? If so, The Wilderness Girls want to hear about them. Please share in the comments below or on Pinterest.

White Cane Safety Day: 10/15/13

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Before last year, I never heard of White Cane Safety Day. I knew blind people walk with long white canes because I saw it in the movies. I figured if you went blind it was lights out and you saw nothing but darkness. I’m ashamed to say it but I imagined Ray Charles and Helen Keller because they were the only context I had for understanding visual impairment. That is, until my mother went blind.

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Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic. On rare occasion someone goes to bed sighted and wakes up blind but for most people the process is gradual and individual. The experience is as unique as the person but if you want to get a glimpse of what the world is like through the eyes of the visually impaired, check out the vision loss simulation site online. Mom actually lost her sight over the course of six years to a combination of diabetic retinopathy (tiny ruptured blood vessels of the retina aggravated by diabetes) and glaucoma (damage of the optic nerve). She had seven eye surgeries and countless very scary injections in her eyeballs trying to preserve what sight she had left. Her eyes continued to deteriorate and she didn’t have any resources to compensate for the vision that was already gone forever. Then she found Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ACBVI). This meant interaction with the blind community. It meant spending time with people who really could understand how she felt. It meant learning to navigate life without vision but most importantly it meant independence and a renewed sense of self-esteem.

There are a lot of things that sighted people take for granted. When a sighted person walks through a parking lot and there’s a speed bump, they don’t fall down. Sighted people look at the height of a curb and know how high to step without ever thinking about it. Sighted people reach for the doorknob and find it instead of misjudging and jamming their finger tips on the door. Once they open that door they pass through without clipping their shoulder on the jamb. Coffee tables and other low furniture are not dangerous to sighted people. For the blind and visually impaired these are a few of the thousands of obstacles they navigate in a day with the help of their white cane.

Regardless of how or to what extent someone experiences vision loss, learning to get around independently makes such an impact to the life of a visually impaired person. Still, when she first got her cane Mom felt self-conscious. She told me, “So many people were like me and didn’t want to use the cane at first because they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves. When you don’t use it you draw more attention to yourself and look even more blind because you’re groping along and watching each step. Your cane gives you the confidence to walk with your head up and move along at a normal pace.” Now Mom has fancy computer programs, talking e-readers, a high contrast large print clock, a template to help her fill out bank checks and even a talking crock pot. All of these assistive technologies are enormously helpful but none are more important than the white cane.

President Johnson recognized the importance of the white cane to the safety, independence and mobility of people who are blind and visually impaired. In 1964 he set forth a presidential proclamation designating October 15 as White Cane Safety Day and it has been celebrated across the US every year since.

I believe White cane Safety day is worth celebrating. I’m not the only one who thinks so – check out this visually impaired pedestrian crafted from rice krispy treats I found on Pinterest. While I probably won’t go the food crafting route, I really do love the creativity and the thought behind it. I will celebrate White Cane Safety Day by taking time to consider the achievements and challenges of the blind community and remembering to be thankful for the many rich blessings I sometimes take for granted. How will you celebrate? What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced and overcome with the right tools and support from people who care? Please share your experiences and opinions in the comments.