Saturday, September 25, 2010

Store Review: The Key West Toy Factory, Key West, FL

What do you get when you cross the Rainforest Cafe with a sunken pirate ship, carrying a cargo hold full of eco-friendly and educational toys?  In our town, it's the Key West Toy Factory!

Right in the heart of Old Town is the newest family-friendly stop for tourists and locals.  Last weekend, after our awesome vegan lunch at Green Republic, my friend Yvonnie and I made our way down to Clinton Square Market; the home of the Key West Toy Factory. We didn't have the kids with us, but that didn't matter; there's something in this store for everybody!





Pictures can't describe the sights in this store.  This video comes close ;)  The time and effort put into the design of this store is phenomenal, right from the moment that you walk under a rope bridge and through the "jungle" to get inside the store.  There are water features and life-like creatures of all types; not to mention the giant sunken pirate ship.  Oh yes!  This happens to be a toy store.  The owner envisioned a place where kids and parents could come and hang out for a while.  There are play tables, a reading nook with comfy pillows, to settle in and read a story together, and the best part of all: the Imagineering Workshop.  Open to all customers, and even available to book for free (yes, free) for your next birthday party or gathering, this part of the store, with its benches and stools and art supplies, is the place to get creative, with coloring sheets and art projects for kids to do.  Don't worry about making a mess; the designers deliberately splattered leftover paint all over the place, so what's another splatter? ;)

Green Organic Girl and I went back together the following day.  I paid for two hours at the parking meter, and let me tell you, those two hours flew by fast!  We were sprinting back to the car!  We had such a great time, playing with stuffed animals, banging on drums and a steel pan, reading books, coloring pictures, and exploring all the educational toys the store had to offer.  We loved the atmosphere of this store, that encourages you to stay and play.  I was very pleased to see many eco-friendly options, like wooden toys from popular brands like our personal favorite: Melissa & Doug.  Despite the obviously huge investment that went into the design and opening of this store, the prices are all very reasonable; much more reasonable, I would say, than the other smaller traditional toy store we have across town. 

So what did we take home that day?  Green Organic Girl changed her mind a dozen times (like any kid), but finally settled on a "Doodle Sketch" by Etch-A-Sketch.  Hours of paperless, tree-free, drawing and stamping fun!  Sounds good to me ;)

Oh but that wasn't all!  That day we were there, the store staff were giving away free balloons, and with every purchase, a wooden token, good for a free kiddie cone of homemade ice cream, downstairs at the Sweets of Paradise shop, owned by our friends Walt and Lindsey.  Walt has figured out the magical formula, as to just how many chocolate chips a giant cookie can hold.  We were treated to one, fresh and warm out of the oven!  Oh boy!  A fun day at a new store, a new toy, a balloon, ice cream, and a giant cookie!  We can't wait until our next trip down to the Key West Toy Factory :)




Image courtesy of KeyWestHotLine.com.
YouTube Video courtesy of KeyWestToyFactory.com.
No promotional consideration was paid for this post.  This is a review of a personal shopping trip.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Restaurant Review: Green Republic Vegan Restaurant of Key West, FL

Many thanks to my friend Tracey for sharing a great new place for those of us wanting something other than the usual greasy fare.  

My friend Yvonnie of KeyWestBaby.com and I were in dire need of some "me" time.  Between work and our families, we barely had time to breathe, or a chance to say more than three words to each other on the phone, before being pulled away by some family member.  Nevertheless, we had set aside this past Saturday afternoon as an outing for just the two of us; no children, no husbands, and we could actually have an uninterrupted conversation (what a concept!) ;)  As Yvonnie is also into going green and organic, she was also eager to try Green Republic; a new vegan addition to Key West!  

We arrived at the restaurant, which is in the heart of downtown, and is just bright, clean, and inviting.  The menu items with all of their clever names were all neatly displayed on chalk boards along the walls.  There is a wide assortment of delicious options, and it was hard to make up our minds.  There are sandwiches, wraps, burgers (vegan, of course), soups, salads, and even rice bowls!  The prices are all very reasonable.  Yvonnie had a craving for brie, and had the portobello and brie wrap.  I decided to give the burgers a try, and went with the Bacon Cheddar.  Of course, I advised the gentleman at the counter of my dairy allergy.  "No problem," he said, and offered me vegan cheddar instead.  That was so nice to have that option.  I also chose one of their many fresh-made (i.e. NOT from a mix) smoothies, and enjoyed the mango/pineapple/banana/orange, known as the Maui Mango.  

We settled in on one of the platforms, with its comfy cushions, and enjoyed the calm atmosphere of the restaurant, and the quieter side street, while our orders were filled.  My smoothie came first, and it was delicious!  All of the Green Republic smoothies are dairy-free, and start with soy milk.  The smoothie was so refreshing, and just the perfect hint of sweetness.  No sugary concoctions added to these drinks.  Our food didn't take long, and our taste buds were in for a treat!  Everything on the menu is homemade, right down to my vegan burger, which we were told is made from lentils.  One bite into my burger, and it clearly did not come off an assembly line.  No mass-produced, flash-frozen food here!  We both polished off our entire plates, and we were comfortably full, satisfied, but didn't have that icky feeling from eating too much grease. 

Now, my friend Tracey had raved about Green Republic's fabulous  homemade, organic, vegan cupcakes, complete with vegan icing!  So, we weren't about to leave without sampling at least one.  There were several flavors to choose from, including Tracey's favorite of Carrot Cake, but we decided to split one chocolate cupcake.  We were not disappointed!  My first taste of vegan chocolate cake was the birthday cake we ordered for my daughter at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World.  That one was phenomenal, and in comparison, this cupcake did not disappoint!  It even had a fancy swirl of vegan chocolate icing on the top.  It was light, airy, and just the perfect touch.  

We can't wait to go back to Green Republic again!  It's just the perfect place to kick back, relax, and have something delicious and good for you, too!

Do check out Green Republic's website, and they'll even give you a dollar off your pickup/delivery order if you place your order online!  We were told to sign up for member-exclusive specials, too.

Hope to see you at Green Republic!  More locations are opening up across the U.S. :)




Image courtesy of GreenRepublic.com. No promotional consideration was paid for this post.
This review is based on personal purchases.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

We Are No Longer Members of Annie's Organic Buying Club of South Florida

Way back in March of 2009, our family made the healthy-eating decision of joining an organic produce buying club; sort of like a CSA, where our money was pooled together each week with other consumers like us, and our combined buying power allowed us great prices on a variety of farm-fresh organic produce. 

While we still firmly believe in the power of buying clubs and CSAs, and we have truly enjoyed the bountiful harvest, it has come to our attention that perhaps the particular club we joined has potentially grown too big, too fast, and whatever small problems it may have had are still there, still unaddressed, and now magnified and exasperated by the exponential growth of the membership base.

As I had previously blogged about how much we were enjoying the club, I feel it is my duty to my readers to provide an update, now that our family’s position has changed.  I write this as a mom blogger, an organic consumer, and also as the holder of a business degree.

All businesses have their problems.  The ones who survive are the ones who acknowledge those problems, and work with their people to evolve and find ways to learn from, and deal with those issues, and to do so in a timely manner, before those issues become too big and too complex to handle.  Those successful businesses know their customers, and they take the time to listen to them.  Not just the good feedback; but the bad feedback too. They also understand that their staff are customers, too.  Complaints and concerns are acknowledged.  The causes for those concerns are explored, and solutions are found.  Messengers are not shot down, and those who don’t like the way things are done are not told to sit down and shut up, or worse, made to feel like outsiders.  Communication is key, and how much easier could it be, for a club such as this, where each and every member is already of your target market, and everyone is working toward the same goal?  Yet, it has become apparent that the ways of this particular club deviate from what I have just outlined above.    It’s easy to see what will soon become of this club, if its management continues to go on the defensive, turn a blind eye, and refuse to streamline processes.  Sadly, things went as far as turning away offers for help in reorganizing and restructuring from its own members who wanted to see the club succeed.  Those members became part of the outcasts.  It just goes to show that you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped in the first place. 

Below is a copy of my e-mail to Annie herself, detailing my concerns, and our request to withdraw from the club.  Annie did take the time to respond to me, however, I did not get the assurance that the root problems were going to be acknowledged and addressed.  Don’t get me wrong.  Annie is a wonderful person, who took a huge chance, and has a monstrosity of a job, keeping the flow of fresh produce coming.  However, as I told Annie, the ends don’t always justify the means.   Annie did graciously invite us back to the club at a future date; however the nail still has yet to be hit on the head.  Below is my e-mail:

Annie,

You know I've been with the group since almost the very beginning. We've e-mailed a lot, and (your husband) and I chatted in person a few times about the challenges with the club.  I even approached you and volunteered my services to help streamline some of your processes, re-do your spreadsheets, and I even pulled strings and tried to find you some other software that might take the place of the spreadsheets to make life easier for managing the club.

Every business has its problems.  It's up to the owner and management to acknowledge those problems and find ways deal with them.  I'm not going to be coy and pretend I don't know what's been going on between you and some of your coordinators, because they are my close friends, this is a small, tight-knit community, and we all talk.  Annie, I know you care about the club, and I hope you understand that the members and coordinators do as well.  If someone is bringing up a concern, it would be to your benefit to take a less defensive stance, and keep an open mind.  Nobody is trying to insult you or the way you do business.  If they didn't care, they wouldn't be upset, and they certainly wouldn't be fighting for change. 

Unfortunately for many, it would seem that change would have come too late.  No customer in any industry wants to hear "What? Why do you have a problem with what we're doing?", or "You are the only one who has complained about this."  Annie, most people with complaints do not take the time out to report those through the proper channels.  In business, it's called the Rule of Eleven.  One happy customer will tell one friend.  One unhappy customer will tell eleven, and those eleven will tell eleven more, and so on.  In (our town), our gossip line is lovingly nicknamed "The Coconut Telegraph", and many have succumbed to it.  Going forward, I hope you will bear in mind that if you do hear of a problem, it's most likely indicative of multiple people having similar issues. 


Annie, our family has greatly enjoyed being part of the club over this past year and a half.  However, just like with any product or service, I have to consider the bigger picture.   I always try to listen to both sides of a story.  When one friend has poured her heart and soul into helping the club, only to be met by delays of information, conflicting data, multiple last-minute revisions, constant surprises week after week, angry customers over issues that are beyond her control, and her concerns are largely ignored, that is disheartening.  When I hear of another friend telling me almost the exact same thing, Annie, that just blows my mind.  With the way these coordinators are being treated, the time commitment they are expected to put in, the stress, the aggravation, and the continued turnaround, do you know what phrase immediately popped into my mind?  "Sweat shop".  Annie, I have no qualms telling you that what you're doing week after week to these many volunteer coordinators of yours is borderline abuse.

Deep down inside, Annie, I know you are not a spiteful person, and you truly did want to bring healthy eating to our communities.  However, sometimes the ends don't justify the means.

Annie, at this time, our family will be discontinuing our club membership.  Healthy eating is one thing, but it's not worth the price of watching my friends suffer.

All the best to you, (your husband), and your family.

Faye

We are all blessed to live where we do, and to have the ability to use our consumer dollars to make a difference.  Our friends and family are looking forward to exploring other organic options, and we look forward to doing business with companies that take a holistic approach to ensure that not only are the products sound, but so are the business practices that get them there. 

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Software Review: The iPhone/iPod Touch Kindle App by Amazon.com

The Internet has really transformed how we work and play.  One thing I'm really grateful for is connecting with all sorts of like-minded people; especially other mom bloggers.  Recently, one mom blogger in particular, Karrie over at Mommatudes, posted questions to her followers about e-readers.   E-readers have really caught on, and more and more people are looking into investing in one.  Obviously, the choices can be a bit overwhelming.

Several months ago, I blogged about my favorite "Mom-friendly" apps for the iPhone/iPod Touch that I really love; ones in particular that helped me reduce my carbon footprint.  My top favorite back then and still to this day is the Kindle app from Amazon.com for my iPod Touch.  This amazing app turns your PC, iPod/iPhone/iPad, Blackberry, or Android device into an e-reader.   Did I mention that it's also free? ;)

Karrie posed a lot of great questions for current e-reader owners, and I took the time to answer them from the perspective of a user of an e-reader app for a multifunctional device.  Below is my reply to Karrie's post, along with a few more expanded details.

Great post, and good questions.  My husband and I used "e-readers" long before the phrase even existed.  We've carried smart phones for years, and there have always been various text readers that would integrate on those devices.  Hubby and I read a lot, and just like we enjoy having the convenience of only needing to carry one device to manage all of our communications needs, it's worked out perfectly, being able to tote along "books" in the same way.

1. Do you own an eReader.  If so, what brand?

My husband carries around an Android-based Google Nexus One phone, and uses one of the Android-based readers.

I don't use my cell phone as much as I used to, so I carry around one of the "free" flip phones, and do my e-reading (and Facebooking, e-mailing, Twittering, checking my calendar, compiling my grocery list, battling vampires, farming zombies, etc) on my iPod Touch.  I downloaded the Kindle app from Amazon for the iPod Touch, and that is truly my absolute favorite app!  It's also free, and available for PCs, Blackberries, iPhone, iPad, and Android phones as well.

2. If you do not own an eReader, would you like to purchase one in the near future?  If so, what brand?  If not, why not?

Just like my favorite Food Network star, Alton Brown, we don't believe in "uni-taskers".  First, e-readers are not small, and certainly don't fit in my purse or pocket.  Second, you are then "married" to the store where you bought that e-reader (If you have a Kindle, you can only buy from Amazon; a Nook, from B&N, etc.)  With my iPod Touch, I can download other e-reader apps, including B&N’s Nook app, and Apple iBooks, and not be locked into one provider, and I can take advantage of the best e-book prices.  At the end of the day, my iPod Touch does so much more than show me the text of books, and price-wise, I think it's a better bang for your buck.

Still, if I had to choose a standalone e-reader, it would be a Kindle, because I have so many Kindle books already.  However, the Kindle is NOT backlit, and I do most of my reading in bed, right before falling asleep. I’m also not sold on the “e-ink” technology, that it would justify buying a standalone device that does nothing but show me text, albeit crisper text.  I’ve been a computer geek since age 13, and reading from a screen is second-nature.  I'm very happy with the display output on my second-generation iPod Touch, and I'm sure if and when I upgrade to my next iPhone or iPad with the new retina-display technology, my e-books will look even better.

Also, FYI: I recently tried to purchase e-books at B&N for the iPod Touch Nook app.  What an absolutely frustrating experience.  If you don't believe me, try out the Kindle e-books site first, and then browse around on B&N's.  There is absolutely no comparison between how well Amazon has their Kindle store laid out, versus B&N's, which is clumsy, lacks the same at-a-glance reviews and details, and doesn't have the same categorization.  After selecting a few titles at B&N, I actually got so frustrated that I abandoned my cart in the middle of the checkout process.   Did I mention that I have a bachelor's degree in IT management, and minored in e-business? The Internet is my life.  With that being the case, I can confidently say that in the e-book world, Amazon leaves B&N eating their dust.

3. What features are most important to you in an eReader?

Portability, ease of use, text quality, wide range of selection of books at reasonable prices.

4. If you have an eReader, are you going to upgrade to another brand or a newer eReader soon?

As the Kindle apps all "talk" to your Amazon account, you can start reading one book on one device (say, your PC), and then pick up your Kindle, or iPod, or Blackberry, and continue right where you left off. 

With that being the case, sometimes I would like to have a larger screen to read on, like when I'm lounging outside on my deck.  I will most likely invest in an iPad down the road, when the prices come down, and my Kindle books will easily sync between my iPod and iPad, and know exactly where I left off, without a hitch.  Many of my favorite magazines are now available on Kindle, and having a larger screen to enjoy those would be great (and would save more trees).  The iPad will have the same multipurpose functionality like my iPod Touch.  Eventually, my iPod Touch will be replaced with an iPhone, if and when T-Mobile has them on their network.

5. What do you love most about your eReader? (Pls mention brand)

I love my iPod Touch Kindle app, as I buy so much from Amazon already.  All of my e-books are tied to the same, already-established account.  I also love that I don't need any wires or special software to transfer e-books to and from my iPod.  In fact, I can sit here at my PC, browse Amazon for some new books (and there are TONS of free ones, and very cheap ones), and with a couple clicks, they are ready for my iPod.  Then the next time I turn on my iPod and start the Kindle app, it automatically (and wirelessly) checks my Kindle account for anything new, and within minutes, my new books are ready to go!  Deleting old books is easy, with a couple taps, and they still remain tied to my Kindle account, should I ever want to read them again.

I'm also the GreenOrganicMama, so how could I not love that no trees were harmed in the production of my books ;)  No shipping/freight/emissions were involved either; save for the running of the computers involved. 

6. What do you most dislike about your eReader? (Pls mention brand)

I admit it; I'm a member of the spelling/grammar police.  There are the occasional typos in e-books that make me nuts.  LOL! 

I'm a HUGE Sookie Stackhouse fan, and I'm a little irked that I had to pay $12.99 for the latest and greatest installment, and it was very late coming out on Kindle.  Apparently, that was something to do with the fee structure that Amazon pays to the publisher.  So, the most you'll pay for a Kindle book is no longer $9.99, though there are still plenty of books to be had for less than $4, including recent bestsellers.  I also enjoy that Amazon lets you “Send a Sample”, which sends the entire first chapter of that e-book to your device for free!  
Amazon is also very good about updating their special deals frequently.  I noticed the Apple iBooks app doesn’t seem to keep up as such.

One final beef would be that J. K. Rowling, the amazing author of the beloved Harry Potter books, flat out refuses to bring Harry Potter into the e-book world.  I know she’s made her oodles of money already, and anything else she might make from e-book sales would be just a drop in the bucket, but she is losing out.  Amazon just announced that Kindle book sales have surpassed hardback copy sales.  Muggles don’t enjoy books in the same way they used to.  The Hogwarts Express needs to leave the station. 

7. How much are you willing to spend on an eReader? Or how much have you spent on an eReader?

My second-generation iPod Touch was $183, and the Kindle app is free, as are many of the other e-reader apps.  If I could do it all over again, I'd still choose the iPod Touch, over a Kindle.  Price-wise, they are almost the same.  Functionally, they are worlds apart.  While e-books are here to stay, sadly, just like many cell phones have taken the place of the standalone GPS, the standalone e-reader will soon be a thing of the past, too.  With my iPod Touch, I couldn't be happier with having this little multifunctional "mini computer", complete with my library of books in my pocket, at my disposal :) 

Karrie, hope you find the e-reader/app that suits you best :)




No promotional consideration was paid for this post. 
eReader questions were posed by Mommatudes.com. Responses are based on my personal purchases.
Image courtesy of Amazon.com.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Book Review: The Global Forest by Diana Beresford-Kroeger

The Global Forest
Thank you to Penguin Group USA for another fantastic eye-opening book.  The Global Forest by Diana Beresford-Kroeger is a must-read; a collection of short essays, as can only be written by someone with a true passion for life and the Earth we all share.  

Trees and plants are all around us, and sadly, the first of many things we take for granted.  However, as Diana Beresford-Kroeger's beautifully composed essays tell us, life as we know it would be changed forever without them.  This is a truly unique book; part history lesson, part biology class, and all woven together seamlessly like a walk through nature.  How many of our modern-day medicines come from the healing herbal secrets, uncovered by aboriginal peoples?  Animals have even evolved to seek out certain species of plant life; from the bucks rubbing their itchy, shedding antlers on the trees with natural antiseptic growing right in their bark, to the hippos feasting on a steady diet of favorite plants, to help them sweat out their own natural form of sunscreen.  It's amazing how in-tune animal species are with nature's ability to heal, grow, and protect; a lesson we all could stand to re-learn.  Plants provide so much more than just the air we breathe, and a little greenery in our landscapes.  Without them, our entire planet's survival would be in jeopardy.  By taking care of our forests, we take care of ourselves.

The Global Forest is easily one of our new favorite must-reads to be added to our green library.  We certainly have a whole new appreciation and respect for nature, and hope others will also.




No promotional consideration was paid for this post.  One copy of "The Global Forest" was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

The Winner of Our Yoreganics Organic Soap Nuts Trio Giveaway!!

Thank you to all of our green, organic readers, and to Yoreganics for another wonderful giveaway!

As promised, one reader has been chosen via Random.org, and will enjoy the Yoreganics Organic Soap Nuts laundry trio, and bonus SuperMint organic lip balm!  Our laundry came out fresh, and all naturally clean, thanks to these amazing dried fruits from the Soapberry tree!  

Here are the results of our Random.org drawing:

Random Integer Generator

Here are your random numbers:

20
Timestamp: 2010-07-18 19:57:20 UTC

Congratulations to Eco-Friendly and Frugal!!  Please check your e-mail, and we'll make arrangements to get your prize pack out to you!! :)

Thank you again to all of your entries!  Soap nuts really are the way to go for an all-natural clean, and what better way to sample these for yourself than with this wonderful trio & bonus lip balm from Yoreganics!  

Happy washing!!

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Winner of our $25 Franklin Goose Organic Baby and Family Store Gift Certificate Giveaway!

Thank you to everyone for the enthusiastic response to our Franklin Goose $25 Gift Certificate Giveaway!!  I'm glad you got to see for yourselves the huge selection of  organic and all-natural products at this wonderful online organic baby and family store.

My apologies for the delay in choosing our winner today.  There were technical issues with Blogger, that have since been resolved.  So, without further ado, here is the result of our Random.org drawing:


Random Integer Generator

Here are your random numbers:

26
Timestamp: 2010-07-06 01:32:45 UTC

Our winner is Justine M!  Congratulations, Justine!  Please check your e-mail, and we'll make arrangements to get your $25 Franklin Goose gift certificate delivered, for you and your beautiful babies to enjoy :)

Thank you again to Franklin Goose for generously allowing us to review the totally awesome Way Basics Spin Cubes; our new favorite shelving solution, made from recycled paper, and for this great gift certificate giveaway. 

Hope everyone had a fantastic 4th of July weekend!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Green Product Review and Giveaway: Organic Soap Nuts Laundry Trio by Yoreganics!

Would you believe me, if I told you that laundry soap grows on trees?  It does in Asia!  It's even USDA-certified organic ;)  Welcome to the wonderful world of soap nuts! 

Sharing our dirty laundry with you today, is the Green Organic family.  We had the pleasure of trying out a sample of soap nuts from Yoreganics; one of the few companies specializing in organically-sourced soap nuts.  But what is a soap nut?  The soap nut is actually not a nut; but the dried fruit from the Soapberry tree.  Yoreganics chooses the fruit from the Sapindus mukorossi species of Soapberry tree, as this variety produces the most of its key cleansing component: saponin.  When agitated in water, five soap nuts, tied in a little muslin bag, are plenty enough to get through four to six loads of laundry!  Soap nuts do all this, while being non-toxic, chemical-free, allergy-friendly (they're berries; not nuts), and as Mother Nature  herself designed them, they're good for the Earth, too.

I've actually had quite a bit of fun doing load after load today, and my dryer just beeped, signaling the end of the fourth load that we've washed with soap nuts today.  I have to say, I am really impressed by cleaning power packed in these little cherry-sized dried berries.  They have a hard shell, and are hollow on the inside.  The shell is actually where the saponin lies.  While the soap nuts have a sort of tangy, dried fruit smell (it kind of reminds me of the dried fruit my California relatives send us as gifts), they actually leave no smell at the end of the wash cycle!  They also do an amazing job of cleaning, all without suds!  The corporate conglomerates have misled us over the years, that you have to have bubbles (and lots of them) to get clean.  Not true!  The bubbles are a visual indicator; and if you ask me, I think they're a trick to try to get you to use more  (and eventually buy more) of the product to create more suds.  Since moving into our new home, I finally have the high-efficiency washer and dryer I've been salivating over for years.  HE washers don't like suds anyway.  Suds in a front-loader are a BAD thing (unless you want the sudsing action to continue onto your laundry room floor) ;)

So, the first load up for the day: the lights , whites, and pastels, including Green Organic Girl's wardrobe, adorned with their weekly carnage of food stains and miscellaneous preschool-age stuff.  The challenger: five very brave, dried soap nuts, tied securely in their accompanying muslin bag.  I also added a 1/2 tbsp of the "Brightens & Whitens" laundry enhancer; Yoreganics' own special weapon, free of chlorine, artificial fragrances, phosphates, and enzymes, yet powerful enough to tackle all sorts of stains.  The "Brightens & Whitens" went in my powder dispenser, and the cloth bag with the soap nuts went in with the clothes.  And away we went!

After one normal cycle, I was very pleasantly surprised!  No smell whatsoever; except that of clean fabric!  As the soap nuts remain in the machine through the whole cycle, the saponin they released in the rinse cycle acts as a fabric softener.  Our clothes were fresh, bright, clean, and soft.  No odors, and no residue.  Just simply clean.

I continued on with three more very large loads, taking advantage of our wash drum's 4.4 cubic-foot capacity.  The soap nuts worked great on everything from bath mats, a queen-size comforter, towels, sheets, and finally, reusable mop pads.  Everything came out fresh and clean.  I then did some further research into soap nuts, and you can actually boil a batch for 20 minutes, strain the liquid, and have your own multipurpose cleaner.  A few soap nuts tossed in the utensil basket of your dishwasher will also get your dishes clean.  Now that is impressive!  When they're all used up, soap nuts don't get mushy, but the shells do get a visible waterlogged appearance.  That's when it's time to put them in the compost, where they will readily biodegrade.  Laundry soap that falls off a tree.  You can't get any simpler and more natural than that.

We really have to extend a big thank you to Yoreganics.  We thoroughly enjoyed their Laundry Trio, which includes not just the soap nuts and "Brightens & Whitens" enhancer, but also an all-natural coconut-based stain remover!  It's perfectly sized to carry around on-the-go, and I love that it's a great bleach-free alternative to some of the pocket-sized stain removers on the market.  Yoreganics has also won over this die-hard lip balm fanatic with their Simplemint certified organic lip balm; a bonus gift that comes with every Laundry Trio.  It goes on smooth and has staying power, thanks to the balanced blend of organic palm oil, beeswax, and extra virgin olive oil.  Then it leaves a refreshing tingle from the added essential oils of peppermint and spearmint.  It smells great, and feels great :)

Now, here is your chance to win a Yoreganics Soap Nuts Laundry Trio & Lip Balm all to yourself!!  One lucky GreenOrganicMama.com reader will win one of these awesome trios :)


Thank you to everyone who entered! This giveaway has come to a close. Please click here to see the results of our Random.org drawing and to congratulate our winner!


Please be sure to read the complete rules:

To enter this contest, first visit the Yoreganics Soap Nuts FAQ and see what they have to say about these amazing berries. Then, come back here and please leave a comment below, letting our readers know one fun fact you learned about Soap Nuts. Please be sure to leave your e-mail address, so I may contact you if you're the lucky winner.

Want extra chances to win?

For additional entries, please first leave a comment with one Soap Nuts fact from the Yoreganics FAQ, and then do any of the following, for a maximum of 9 (nine) total entries in this giveaway contest [please be sure to come back and leave a follow-up comment for each of these completed tasks, in order to be counted as an additional entry]:
  • Like Yoreganics on Facebook
  • Follow @Yoreganics on Twitter
  • Like this giveaway on Facebook by clicking the Like button at the bottom of this post
  • Follow GreenOrganicMama.com with either our RSS feed, or with Google Friend Connect
  • Follow GreenOrganicMama.com on FaceBook with NetworkedBlogs
  • Follow me on Twitter @greenorganicmom 
  • Tweet this giveaway: I just entered to win Organic Soap Nuts with @GreenOrganicMom 
  • Display our GreenOrganicMama.com badge on your blog
By entering this contest, you have read and understand the rules and fine print of this contest:
  1. Contest ends Sunday, July 18th, 2010 at 3:00PM EST
  2. Contest open to U.S. and Canadian residents
  3. Giveaway prize pack of one Yoreganics Laundry Trio sampler consists of: soap nuts, cloth bag, "Brightens & Whitens" laundry powder, stain remover spray, and Simplemint lip balm, to be awarded to one (1) randomly selected winner.
  4. One (1) winner shall be chosen from the pool of valid comment entries, using Random.org
  5. Winner will be contacted via e-mail, and will provide a valid U.S. or Canadian mailing address, for the purpose of directly mailing one giveaway prize to the winner.
  6. If Winner does not respond via e-mail within 48 hours of the prize drawing, another winner will be selected via Random.org, and new winner will be awarded the prize.
  7. Approximate retail value of the prize pack: $9.98 USD.
  8. Giveaway sponsor reserves the right to modify the prize package and quantities.
  9. Winner will be announced here on this blog, on Twitter, and on FaceBook.
Good luck to everyone!! :)





Photos copyright GreenOrganicMama.com.
No promotional consideration was paid for this post.
One Yoreganics Laundry Trio was provided for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Green Product Review and Giveaway: Way Basics Spin Cubes Recycled Furniture & $25 Franklin Goose Gift Certificate Giveaway!

Welcome to the Green Organic Family's eco-friendly new home!  As we blogged about in Part 1 and Part 2, our family has been busy making green transformations and settling into our new house.  It's still taking time to find the right places for all of our stuff, but thankfully, the great people at Franklin Goose came to our rescue with a fabulous eco-friendly storage solution: Spin Cubes by Way Basics!

Green Organic Girl's new bedroom is now twice as large as her old one, with plenty of room to stretch out and play.  The first thing we did was to take her to the Home Depot, where she picked out her favorite choice of FreshAire brand no-VOC paint, in Pink Reef.  It's a lovely, soft, pale pink that's perfect for a little girl, yet soothing enough for a bedroom color.  We love it!  

To match the pink theme in Green Organic Girl's bedroom, we turned to the green-minded team of experts at Franklin Goose, a great online store with "Everything for your organic baby & family".  This site is a definite must-see for all parents, looking for eco-friendly choices.  Franklin Goose has put together an amazing array of products, for children right from birth and up.  Everything from diapers, to furniture, to cleaning products can be found, and everything is backed by Franklin Goose's Safe Baby Promise: that everything is hand-picked, and carefully selected for being the best natural, organic, and/or recycled option, free of harmful chemicals, and chosen with your family (and their own) in mind.  

The team at Franklin Goose generously shipped us a set of  awesome Spin Cube storage shelves by Way Basics.  This you have to see to believe!  There is absolutely no wood in the construction at all.  Green Organic Dad was blown away when I handed him a piece of this unique "zBoard" material, and told him he was holding 99% recycled paper!  That's right!  These sturdy, yet light-weight storage cubes are made with post-consumer recycled paper.  How strong are they?  Here's a YouTube video of the founder of Way Basics, and all 200 pounds of him, standing on a cube.   Now that is strong!  At the end of their useful life, these cubes can be recycled again!  The outside paper veneer is also free of toxins, as it's actually printed with ink!  These cubes are free of VOCs, and free of formaldehyde!  They are also amazingly easy to put together, and require absolutely no tools!  That's right... you heard me!  Put those tools away ;)

When our Spin Cubes arrived, I was amazed at how little packaging was involved!  Each was carefully folded inside a corrugated cardboard box, with no foam, and no plastic baggies.  I was very impressed, as I'm sure we've all received online orders from other websites, with more wasteful packing material than product.  Those other companies could learn a lesson here from Franklin Goose and Way Basics.  They use minimal packing material, and it's all recyclable.  I took the pictures below, of how the products looked when I opened the boxes.  See how neatly everything is packed, and how there's no wasted air space?  No foam, no peanuts, no bags of air, and yet everything arrived undamaged!  It goes to show how a little pre-planning can save a lot of resources!




These Spin Cubes are amazing easy to put together.  There are very clear, "dummy-proof" instructions included, and Way Basics even has several videos on YouTube, showing how to put these together in no time!  The pieces already have adhesive strips applied in all the right places, and it's just a matter of following the instructions, and adhering each piece. Green Organic Girl and I took our project outside on our deck, to enjoy some fresh air, and this is how easily our Spin Cubes came together:

First, the base.  The back of the unit faces you.


Then what will be the right side (remember, you put this together from the back).


The other side.

Now the top.


Then lay the unit on its front, and apply the backing.  Then voila!


We finished off the other two cubes in the same manner, and then stacked them on top of the included turntables.  

Dino-approved.


These Spin Cubes are amazing, as are all of the other Way Basics storage solutions. They come in an array of colors, to match almost any decor.  I would have loved something like this in college, and I think these super-portable, easy-to-assemble shelves would be fantastic for any student going away for school.  The packages are easy and lightweight for transport, they're simple to put together without tools, and their simple design makes it easy to configure multiple cubes almost anywhere.

Now, here is your chance to enjoy a $25 gift certificate from Franklin Goose, good toward your purchase of any of their wonderful eco-friendly products, including Way Basics Spin Cubes!  One reader of this blog will be the lucky winner of this $25 gift certificate!  



Thank you to everyone who entered! This giveaway has come to a close. Please click here to see the results of our Random.org drawing and to congratulate our winner!


Please be sure to read the complete rules:

To enter this contest, first visit FranklinGoose.com and check out their wonderful array of products. Then, come back here and please leave a comment below, letting our readers know what product you would like to try. Please be sure to leave your e-mail address, so I may contact you if you're the lucky winner.

Want extra chances to win?

For additional entries, please first leave a comment about a product you'd like to try from Franklin Goose, and then do any of the following, for a maximum of 7 (seven) total entries in this giveaway contest [please be sure to come back and leave a follow-up comment for each of these completed tasks, in order to be counted as an additional entry]:
  • Like Franklin Goose on Facebook
  • Follow @FranklinGoose on Twitter
  • Follow GreenOrganicMama.com with either our RSS feed, or with Google Friend Connect
  • Follow GreenOrganicMama.com on FaceBook with NetworkedBlogs
  • Follow me on Twitter @greenorganicmom
  • Display our GreenOrganicMama.com badge on your blog
By entering this contest, you have read and understand the rules and fine print of this contest:
  1. Contest ends Monday, July 5th, 2010 at 3:00PM EST
  2. Contest open to U.S. residents
  3. Giveaway prize consists of one $25.00 USD gift certificate to the FranklinGoose.com online store, to be awarded to one (1) randomly selected winner.
  4. One (1) winner shall be chosen from the pool of valid comment entries, using Random.org
  5. Winner will be contacted via e-mail, and will provide a U.S. mailing address, for the purpose of directly mailing one giveaway prize to the winner.
  6. If Winner does not respond via e-mail within 48 hours of the prize drawing, another winner will be selected via Random.org, and new winner will be awarded the prize.
  7. $25 Gift Certificate good toward the online purchase of merchandise at FranklinGoose.com only, subject to terms of sale as specified by FranklinGoose.com.
  8. Winner will be announced here on this blog, and on Twitter, and on FaceBook.
Good luck to everyone!! :)




Top image of Spin Cubes courtesy of FranklinGoose.com.
Subsequent product images copyright GreenOrganicMama.com.
No promotional consideration was paid for this post.  One set of Spin Cubes was provided for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Green Organic Family’s New Eco-Friendly Home – Part 2- Switching to a Tankless Hot Water Heater (And Manufacturer’s Giveaway!)

It’s a gorgeous, sunny morning, and I’m enjoying a hot cup of tea, while watching the sunrise through the glass French doors of our patio.  It’s great to be home in our new place.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of our story of settling into our new home, we made lots of changes around our new house to make it green, and to make it ours.  After the kitchen, the next biggest project was switching to a tankless hot water heater.

In our old rental, we were at the mercy of a very old, very small, conventional electric hot water heater.  No amount of begging or pleading with the landlord could convince him to change that out, with something bigger and more efficient.  So, that meant that every evening turned into a carefully orchestrated plan, as to who was going to bathe first, and when.  What time do the dishes have to be done, to allow for the 30 minutes for the hot water to recover?  Nope, can’t do laundry right now… Green Organic Girl has to take her bath.  Then when you finally got into the shower, it was a mad rush to get finished, before the hot water suddenly ran out.  It was totally unnecessary, daily aggravation, and wasted energy spent on that aging hot water heater.  So, along with plans for a functional, modern kitchen, another must-have for our new home included a tankless hot water heater. 

Tankless hot water heaters are exactly what they sound like: there is no holding tank, and instead, the water is heated to a preset temperature as it passes through the unit.  These units pass on tremendous energy savings, as they don’t sit there, warming water all day long, while everyone is at work/school, or asleep.  When the computer inside the heater senses that a hot water faucet has been switched on, it sends a signal to the heating element.  In the short trip the water takes through the unit, it instantly goes from cold to hot.  Once running, the supply of hot water is virtually endless.  Depending on the size of the unit, various other things can share in the hot water at the same time, without interrupting each other (i.e. run a sink, while someone showers, at the same time).

We absolutely love our tankless hot water heater, and we’re happy to report no issues with it.  The water comes out at a steady temperature, and at a steady pressure.  It’s only on when we need it, and that works out great for our busy family.  It’s one of those things you wish you had done a long time ago, and we’re sure glad we did.  We did have some hiccups with our installation, but that was mostly due to atypical factors, like rules set out by the HOA governing our neighborhood.  This is what we had to go through…

During the whole time we were house-hunting, our plan was always to upgrade the electrical service, to accommodate an electric tankless hot water heater.  In our area, most of the homes we were looking at, were built with 100 amps of service coming in.  For the size of tankless hot water heater we were looking for, one that could accommodate two faucets running at the same time, we would definitely need to upgrade to at least 200 amps of service, in order to power one of these heaters.  While these units do save on electricity, because they’re not running all day long when not needed, when they do run, they draw a lot of power.  That’s a must, when the water needs to be heated an extra 60 to 70 degrees in an instant.

It was shortly after we closed, when we were finalizing renovation plans with our contractor and electrician, that we were told just how much an electrical upgrade would cost: somewhere in the ballpark of $5,000.  That’s just for the electrical upgrade; not including the heater and plumbing work (about another $1,000).  Thankfully, that’s when our team of professionals suggested the slightly more affordable Plan B: going with gas. 

After coordinating a new plan with our contractor, electrician, plumber, and now the gas company, we were set!  Well, not exactly.  Welcome to the HOA.  According to the HOA, we weren’t even allowed to install an outside vent for my over-the-range microwave hood, let alone run a gas pipe up the side of the house.  It took a little brainstorming by our professionals, but eventually, a workable plan was formed: A brand new Rinnai tankless gas hot water heater would be installed up in our attic, taking place of the old electric tank already up there.  As the heater would be up in the attic, it would simply require a vent through the roof for the exhaust, and the gas could be fed through a pipe, running up through the middle of the house.  Looking good so far…

The gas company showed up, drilled a hole, and started feeding a pipe up to the attic.  It got up there.  Well… almost.  I guess it’s good to know that we have a firewall between our upstairs and the attic.  The pipe couldn’t make it through the firewall.  Thank goodness for our ingenious contractor. Our two bathrooms are perfectly positioned, one on top of the other, and built in the same layout in our house.  Our contractor then came up with the brilliant idea of drilling holes right through our bathroom floors, and tucking the pipe in the back corners of the bathrooms, and later covering it up with drywall and paint.  It worked out perfectly!  It even softened up the look of those corners in those two rooms.  Extra bonus ;)

All in all, it took a lot of coordination and labor, on the parts of the electrician, plumber, and gas company, but everyone worked well together, and the rest of the install went on, without a hitch.  When the gas was fed through, and the heater switched on, it was like magic.  All that time and effort was worth it.  We’ve been enjoying endless, instant hot water since ;)  Green Organic Dad even went as far as hooking up a UPS to the water heater.  Even though it’s gas-powered,  the computer inside still runs on a teeny bit of electricity.  In this way, when we lose power, either during a typical regular power outage, which happens frequently down here, or during a hurricane, the water heater will still have enough power to click on and off, as needed.  Smart thinking, hubby ;)

We are extremely happy with our decision to go tankless.  We now have steady, on-demand hot water, and the added energy savings of not cooking a whole tank of hot water 24/7.  Hubby did do a lot of research, and spoke to a lot of professionals, before deciding on our Rinnai brand of tankless water heater.  It’s one of the better ones out there, with a smart regulating computer inside, that knows just how many of its burners to fire up, depending on the water flow.  That gives us peace of mind that not all the jets are burning, if a certain little one has just a trickle of water going, to wash her hands.  We can also precisely set the temperature, using digital controls, so we know it definitely won’t come out scalding hot.  Rinnai is Japanese-made, and it’s also the brand featured on HGTV.  We love ours, and highly recommend it to our friends considering going tankless. 

As an added bonus, Rinnai is just about to wrap up a giveaway, where you can win one of these wonderful tankless heaters for yourself!  Click here to go to their site for more info. ( ~ Giveaway ended 6/4/10 ~ )

Also, don't forget about the Federal Tax Credits running through December 31, 2010.  We're taking advantage of 30% back on the installation of our tankless gas hot water heater.  Click here to go to EnergyStar.gov for more info.

When it comes time to replace your water heater, I hope you and your family will consider going tankless, too :)

No promotional consideration was paid for this post.  This is a review of a personal purchase.
Image courtesy of Rinnai.us

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Green Organic Family's New Eco-Friendly Home - Part 1 - Our Green Kitchen Renovation

Happy Memorial Day long weekend, everybody!

It's been a while since my last blog entry, because we've been quite happily busy, settling into our very own new home.  

While the real estate market crash turned many of our friends upside down, it was a good thing for a lot of first-time home-buyers, like us.  Thankfully, we had a month-to-month lease, that gave us the freedom to take our time shopping around, and after several months and many showings, we finally put an offer in on a short sale.  That was an adventure in itself; enough to fill a whole book (which I may eventually write... Haha) ;) Short sales are notorious for being anything but short.  From start to finish, ours took over four months to close.  That's quick in the Land of Short Sales, but I can tell you, I had to rely tremendously on my prior experience as a mortgage loan analyst, and my current experience as a licensed insurance CSR to keep things on track.  For anyone even remotely considering entering a short sale contract, be sure you have some type of experience in some part of the real estate industry, or have a close friend or relative who does.  It's a bumpy road, and you really need to know the terrain, if you want to stay on track.  Most short sales do not have a happy ending (at least, not with the first few offers), but we're happy to report a happy ending to our short sale  adventure.  We now have a lovely home of our own, that's very close to work and school, and in a wonderful, family-friendly cul-de-sac.  We absolutely love our new home.

We're also very happy that we could finally make those green changes we've wanted for so long. that we couldn't do while we were still renting.  The rental we came from was quite old, had aging appliances, no insulation, leaky Jalousie-style windows, along with inefficient window air conditioner units, and we were just helpless to watch all that money gone down the drain (literally), when the utility bills came each month.  We had to get out of that vicious cycle, and now we have, with the greening efforts in our new home.  Already, we've seen a 40% reduction in our energy consumption; a massive difference on our energy bill.  For that, we have to thank the central air conditioning with its programmable thermostat, better insulation, and newer single-hung windows already in place when we bought the house, along with some of the additional energy-saving changes we made, like installing a tankless gas hot water heater, putting in LED lighting around the home, and choosing greener options for appliances, like our new Whirlpool Duet HE washer and dryer.  I love that my new washing machine saves on energy, water, and even on our soap, too!  We've been using BioKleen Premium Plus laundry powder for years; buying a case about once a year.  Now, with our new Whirlpool washer only needing one tablespoon per load, and my doubled-up wash loads in its giant 4.4 cubic-foot drum, my current supply of laundry powder should take us right through 2012!  LOL ;)

Our favorite part of the new house has to be our new kitchen.  My friends and family know how much I love to cook, and I couldn't wait to have a functional space of my own.  The existing kitchen in this home had only one counter and one row of cabinets above it.  The other side of the kitchen had barely enough space for even a bistro table.  We needed to change things up, and this was my tentative plan, guesstimating measurements, and making use of the Mark On Call app for my iPod Touch:
In reality, we ended up having more open space behind the bar stools, so my contractor had the great idea of carrying over the wall cabinetry above the window, and putting in a small pantry on the other side.  That really completed the look of the kitchen.  This is the finished product, making use of the existing sustainable bamboo flooring, stripping the existing wallpaper and painting the walls in "Rhythm of Red" by FreshAire; a No-VOC eco-friendly paint from The Home Depot, installing custom cabinetry and a 30% recycled content, solid-surface counter top (Encore from Samsung's Staron), adding a beautiful and durable Kohler cast-iron double sink, made from 93% recycled content, and mounting new super-energy efficient LED light fixtures under the cabinets, and over the peninsula.  Top it all off with some shiny, new, stainless steel appliances, like my new over-the-range convection microwave, and convection double-oven range, and this is truly our new favorite hang out :)








We couldn't be happier with our new kitchen.  We love having this new central hub for the whole family to convene.  The peninsula's huge counter top gives me plenty of room to prep meals and snacks, and Green Organic Girl loves hanging out with mom, with ample room on her side to paint, draw, do puzzles, and roll out her homemade play dough.   I love being able to look across the counter to see what she's up to, and the easy-to-clean solid-surface counter top makes life a breeze.  Green Organic Dad loves to come in and pull up a chair, and catch up on the day's events.  We love having this great space to eat and play, and be a family :)

More to come on our adventures in our new home!

Click here to go to Part 2 - Installing a Tankless Hot Water Heater.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Product Review: Late July Organic Snacks - Cookies & Sandwich Crackers

Late July Organic Mini White Chocolate Sandwich Cookies, 5-Ounce Boxes (Pack of 6) 

If Sesame Street were to ever have a cookie-eating showdown, I think my daughter, the Green Organic Girl, would give Cookie Monster a run for his money (or his cookies).  I have to have my daily dose of chocolate, and she has to have her daily dose of cookies ;)

Cape Cod Sea Salt and Vinegar Chips 8.5oz - 12 PackAs with all of our food choices, we do try to choose organic options, whenever possible.  One such company that understands the importance of organic choices for our families is Late July, founded by the same family that brought us the delectable line of Cape Cod Chips!  Daughter, Nicole Bernard Dawes, was craving organic saltines, while pregnant with her first child, but couldn't find any.  That's when she started making her own, and Late July was born.
Late July Organic Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers, 1.3-Ounce Pouches in 12-Count Boxes (Pack of 4)Our family were already huge fans of Late July, and their organic mini sandwich crackers.  We were very pleased to find these all-natural, organic alternatives to the chemical-laden versions found on our grocery store shelves.  Most importantly, they taste great!  So, when Late July offered to send us their new organic mini sandwich cookies to try, we couldn't wait :)

To our surprise, when the shipment arrived, we were treated with a box full of an assortment of goodies!  There were the mini sandwich crackers, which we already love, along with bite-size cheddar cheese crackers, and larger versions of the sandwich crackers.  I find I like the texture of the larger sandwich crackers even more, as it's flakier :)  Green Organic Girl gobbled up the large-size cheese sandwich crackers, and didn't even offer to share.  Hmph!  Well that's okay... mommy can't eat dairy anyway ;)  

Late July Organic Vanilla Bean With Green Tea Sandwich Cookies Lunch Pack, 6 Count 10.2-Ounce Packages (Pack of 6)To my delight, there were also two packs of large Classic Sandwich Cookies, and they are made with no milk!!  Yippee!!  Finally, a dairy-free cream-filled cookie!  The Dark Chocolate was immensely satisfying, taking care of my chocolate craving, but my absolute new favorite cookie of all time, has to be the Vanilla Bean with Green Tea.  Before my onset of a milk allergy, I used to love vanilla bean ice cream.  And I'm an Asian girl; I love anything with green tea!  This cookie brings together these flavors wonderfully.  How much do I love these? I have a 36-pack case of these, coming to my office from Amazon .com ;) 

However, the real stars of the show are the new, adorable Mini Bite-Size Sandwich Cookies.  These are Green Organic Girl's new favorites.  Just like all of the Late July line of products, these are free of pesticides, no trans fats, no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial flavors, nor colors, nor preservatives.  Just 100% USDA organic deliciousness.  What's even more special about these cute little cookies are the images of several species of endangered animals, on each cookie.  Not only is this a great educational tool; teaching children about Leatherback Sea Turtles, to Pygmy Rabbits, but 10% of the profits of these mini sandwich cookies will go to the Jane Goodall Roots and Shoots program, to bring awareness to endangered species. 

Late July Organic Mini Milk Chocolate Sandwich Cookies, 5-Ounce Boxes (Pack of 6)Late July Organic Mini White Chocolate Sandwich Cookies, 5-Ounce Boxes (Pack of 6)

While we sat down and Green Organic Girl sampled her mini cookies, her eyes lit up as she recognized the animals on each one.  We then sat together and Googled images of each of those animals (but be forewarned: parents may wish to pre-screen the image search results, as some of them may be *ahem* not age-appropriate).  We had fun matching up cookies to images on the screen :)

A huge thank you to Late July and the Bernard-Dawes family for making tasty organic , all-natural snacking possible, and understanding the importance of preserving the world we share. 



No promotional consideration was paid for this post. Free samples of cookies and cracker snacks were provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of this review. Images courtesy of Amazon.com

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