An Interview with Karen Lee of EcoKaren

EcoKaren's bottle cap birds' nests

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Lee, Co-Team Leader of the EcoEtsy Street Team (a group of Etsy crafters who are dedicated to earth-friendly practices), and owner of EcoKaren, a company offering eco-friendly, green, and reusable products for you and your home.

Karen also writes a very thoughtful and timely blog on the green living, including environmental issues and eco-friendly products.

Please tell me about your company! What do you make? What types of materials do you use? And what is your focus/mission?

Ecokaren carries one-of-a-kind, handmade, eco-friendly items. No two items are exactly alike as I only use materials (resources) I already have. When I do buy any new supplies, I buy sustainable materials like organic fabric and yarn. I also use freecycle and thrift stores to repurpose items that people want to throw out. My latest project is handmade journals that incorporate leftover paper from my kids’ end-of-the-year notebooks. The journals are handmade using coptic stitching and Japanese binding methods.

Upcycled journal by EcoKaren

My mission is to use existing resources for functional and practical eco-creations instead of buying new materials. If I look around, I can always find things to make with them. So, my shop’s focus may not be “home decor” or “jewelry” or “fashion” but it’s whatever I find that’s available that I can make something with, at that moment. I have fun being spontaneous and coming up with things to make by looking at a heap of fabric scrap and notions. And to take it one step further, I try to make items that will help reduce waste, contribute to being green, and also save money… like reusable utensil holders that allow you to carry your own utensils instead of using disposable plastic ones. It cuts down on plastic usage, reduces waste and saves money since you don’t have to throw away utensils!

portable utensil holder by EcoKaren

What inspired you to start your company?

I am a “retired” chiropractor. I sold my practice to support my family full time. So, while waiting on the sidelines for my two active teenagers to finish their after school activities, I picked up knitting and crocheting again, after stopping for fifteen years. I gave away numerous finished goodies as Christmas and birthday gifts to family and friends and they suggested that I sell them. That’s when I found Etsy. I sold my organic knitted washcloths and repurposed plastic bottle cap birds nest magnets when I first opened my first shop, ‘ecogeneration’.

So you are a chiropractor! How has this background influenced your choices as a green mom/blogger and eco-crafter?

Chiropractic philosophy is very much in line with taking care of the planet – our mother Earth. The chiropractic tenet is based on the belief that power that made the body heals the body. If we screw up our body, only the body can heal itself. We can use external interventions to help the process sometimes but in the end, the body has to do the healing. The life force in our body has the power to heal itself. Well, I believe the earth is like the human body. Given a chance, the Earth has its own life force to heal itself too. However, we are constantly abusing the Earth that we are making it impossible to do that on its own. So, like the way our body needs external interventions, the Earth needs us to help it heal. I want it to have the best possible chances for it to do its magic and get better. Being a chiropractor, I see myself as a healer, or as a helper in its healing process, and not the destruction process.

Becoming a green mom, a blogger, and eco-crafter all stem from the same philosophy. I don’t consider myself an environmentalist by any means. But practically speaking, I have been living an environmentally responsible life because of my mother. She lived a very frugal life as an immigrant and she taught me how to save and reuse. She was being green even before it was a trend. So I learned from her how not to waste our valuable resources. In addition, as a Chiropractic Doctor (doctor means ‘to teach’ in Latin), I used to teach my patients on how to stay healthy. Actually, I used to talk about many of the issues I currently write about on my blog. I used to relate nutrition, industrial chemicals, farming practices, pesticides and herbicide to health. Environmental issues weren’t really labeled as such, but I was addressing them when I spoke to my patients about how their environment affects them. Now, I carry the same torch when I blog about these issues. Spreading the word and ‘teaching’ my readers on how to be green is my way of helping to heal the planet.

As co-leader of the EcoEtsy Team and an eco-crafter, what is your advice for new (and experienced) crafters who want to make their businesses more eco-friendly?

When I joined EcoEtsy team as a new seller on Etsy, I was so inspired by the members’ creativity and their passion on being eco-friendly. I learned so much from reading the team’s blog, forum discussions, and team events. I was humbled by so many great sellers who cared about their eco-friendly crafts, business practices and educating others how to be green. So when the opportunity came along to become a co-leader, I took the challenge. I knew I couldn’t do it alone but I also knew that the members will be very supportive so I dove in head first. And guess what? I was right. The team is full of energetic, smart, and earth-caring members. We have a new blog, we had our first Earth Day Auction and raised over $450 (after expenses) to donate to the World Wildlife Fund, and I am planning our Fall event (already!). Being a member of EcoEtsy (and becoming a co-leader to give back to the team) was the smartest decision I ever made. And that is best advice I can give crafters who want to be eco-friendly – surround yourself with others who have the same mission. You need the support of others who think like you. You need to ask questions on what is more green, bamboo or organic, paper or plastic, reuse or buy new, etc. There are so many resources available on being green now that it’s almost impossible NOT to be green. And what’s better. It saves you money!! Imagine, never having to buy shipping supplies and being green at the same time!

One easy practical tip I want to share is to utilize your computer to the maximum. I save everything as pdf files and don’t keep any paper copy (saves paper). Do online banking and forget about paper statement (safer for identity theft too). Use e-mails and save them in a separate folder on your hard drive. Use internet shipping service and have the mailman pick up your goods to be shipped (no need to drive to the post office). There are so many things you can do online now that you don’t need to keep any physical files or papers or statements.

Once you realize the financial benefit of being eco-friendly, you’ll never go back to your old habits. Pretty soon, you will find yourself making the same changes at home too.

We recently celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day. What are your plans (both professional and personal) for the 50th Anniversary?

Professionally, I hope to continue to be blogging and sharing eco living tips, but also shouting about the discovery of smart alternative energy that does not involve destroying the environment. I hope we will be celebrating the discovery renewable and sustainable energy sources. I hope we won’t ever have to deal with the disaster that is going on in the Gulf again. I hope I’ll be blogging about that happy news.

Personally, I hope to be living off the land and getting off the grid. My hubby is not a farmer, but he’s so fed up with the current state of the environment that he’s willing and ready to learn to be one. We talk about moving up state NY and buying some land and not worrying about where our food is coming from or relying on unreliable utility companies for energy (we had two black outs this past winter). As I get older, I yearn for a simpler life. And in ten years, who knows? Maybe I will be able to.

Thank you, Karen! You can find Karen on Twitter, Facebook and Etsy. And I highly recommend you check out the EcoKaren blog.

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A Day at the Museums

Musée de Louvre

The following post was written by blogger Kia Guarino.

Chaque mois le premier dimanche, tous les musées à Paris sont gratuits! So, recently I went to The Musée de Louvre and The Musée D’Orsay and took advantage of this amazing offer. I love the Louvre – it houses some of my favorite paintings and statues in the world!

One thing that really strikes me as interesting is the fact that, not only does it house many of my favorite paintings, but the windows act as artwork in and of themselves. There are one or two windows near the French painters that have the most incredible views. At one point, I was able to look out and see I. M. Pei’s Louvre pyramid, the courtyard with the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triumph in the distance. I had never been to Musée D’Orsay before and despite a lot of construction work going on, it was amazing to see Monet and Van Gogh’s work up close. The crowds were definitely a little less bearable than the Louvre since Musée D’Orsay is a smaller museum. But again, it was still worth going since it was free!

For those two museums, the lines were not terrible since I was out early in the day. But as the day wore on, all the other museums that I passed had lines that wrapped around the buildings. I definitely recommend getting an early start. This was especially the case with Louvre, since it was extremely crowded around the Mona Lisa (it looked like rush hour downtown NYC!). There were some areas, though, that were pleasantly filled, including the French Renaissance painters, which I loved.

It was a perfect day for museums, especially for some of the best in the world!!

Miriam’s Kitchen – Where Everybody Knows Your Name

MK LogoThe following post was written by guest blogger, Julia Guarino.

Recently, we at Herban Lifestyle had the privilege of discovering an amazing place in one of DC’s upscale neighborhoods – Miriam’s Kitchen. Although the dining room is on a lower level, the space is bright, with fresh flowers on the tables, colorful art and poetry decorating the walls, and a coffee bar, where a delicious homemade breakfast (including delicacies such as freshly baked muffins, smoked salmon and fresh fruit) is served Monday through Friday, and lunch on Wednesdays – all for free.

You could call Miriam’s Kitchen a soup kitchen, but it is much more than that. Every day after breakfast is served, the guests are invited to participate in the “after breakfast program,” where they can receive traditional services such as clothing, medical care, free legal counseling, professional case management, see a licensed psychiatrist once a week, and set up a P.O. Box and personal voicemail box. However, Miriam’s additionally offers a variety of therapeutic workshops that go beyond the traditional; guests can participate in art-therapy, creative writing groups, knitting, pottery, yoga, geography classes, a guest-led advocacy group and more. And once a month, guests can get manicures and facials on “spa day”!

As Ashley, the Volunteer and Development Coordinator explained, Miriam’s Kitchen is a safe place – where guests are treated as equals, and are expected to do so for one another and the volunteers as well. Miriam’s tries to have a “Starbucks feel,” she explains; warm and welcoming, and a little bit of a treat. This is the only safe place many of the guests have, after all; the only place they have been able to relax in years. And although Miriam’s Kitchen’s ultimate goal for their guests is to get them into housing, they celebrate every little accomplishment. As Ashley explained, from offering an indoor a meal for the first time perhaps in years, to helping them finally find an apartment, Miriam’s supports its guests through every step, and meets them where they are right now.

On a recent visit to Miriam’s Kitchen, that basic respect for each individual was palpable in the homey atmosphere. Not only were the guests enjoying themselves, but the entire staff, mostly volunteer, were too. It is a truly unique place, successful in myriad measurable as well as immeasurable ways.

If you are interested in learning more about Miriam’s kitchen, visit them on the web at: http://www.miriamskitchen.org, follow them on Twitter: @miriamskitchen, or view a short video. Miriam’s Kitchen is always looking for donations and volunteers!

Go Green with the Etsy Twitter Team

GGETT_Globe1Please join the EtsyTwitter Team for our first ever green event! From July 21 through July 27, members of the EtsyTwitter Team will be featuring items that are green: upcycled, recycled, organic, sustainable, repurposed, earth-friendly, eco-friendly, etc. etc.

During this time, participating shops will be offering a wide array of sustainable products, discounts and/or free shipping, and there will be daily giveaways.

Team leaders Vickie Porter (of In My Head Studios) and Kristen Evans (of FireBirdHouse Designs) are spearheading this event. The impetus behind this event, in Vickie’s words, comes from the fact that “The handmade lifestyle is an important piece of the eco-puzzle and we want to be sure and share that with the rest of the world, on Twitter and off.”

Coco Watkin (owner of By Coco) has also written wonderful article on this event, and others being held by the Etsy Twitter Team, by  in Handmade News.

For more information about this event, including updates regarding which stores are participating, and what types of deals they are offering, please check out the teamblog. You can also find details about the Going Green with the Etsy Twitter Team event by following us on Twitter or by visiting our Facebook page.

St. Patrick’s Day Scavenger Hunt Contest

Find the leprechaun

Find the leprechaun

The Etsy Twitter Team is hosting a St. Patrick’s Day Scavenger Hunt Contest. For more details, please visit the Etsy Twitter Team Blog.

Ten leprechauns pictures (like the one above) are hidden in the item listings in the shops below. Click through the shops to find the leprechauns. When you find one, send an email to etsytwitterteam@gmail.com with the URL of the item displaying a leprechaun in the pictures. You may enter more than once as long as you have a different URL for each entry.

No purchase necessary to enter or win. Entries must be received by midnight EST on March 16th. Five winners will be chosen by random on March 17th!

The Fine Print: Etsy Twitter Team members and their immediate family members are not allowed to enter. Etsy.com is in no way affiliated with this blog or contest. Must be at least 18 years old to enter.

Here is a list of the participating shops:

Threepeats
Art by Betty Refour
In My Head Studios
Sandi’s Ts
Liv’nGood Jewelry
Firebird House
Rhodes Annals Designs
Jenco13
Emily Claire Creations
Fat Daddy Sweets
Joslin Jewels
Herban Lifestyle
Peanut and Tommy
Nikky Lee Designs
Linda B’s Creations
Sox and Patches
Angel Kisses Jewelry
Imogen’s Garden
Ambient Lights
Soap Rehab
Huayruro Peru
Bugs ‘n Bees
Pretty Cheap
Aquarian Bath
Scrap With Style
Bella Tu Jewelry
Tamdoll

O-BALM-A in Ottawa

obama_ottawa1Yesterday I received a Tweet from M Chen of M Chen Wears in Ottowa, Canada. She wanted to let me know that she had included my O-BALM-A lip balm in her blog post on fun Obama schwag on Etsy. She had put the collection together in honor of Obama’s visit to that city yesterday. Check out her blog, M on the Side — it’s beautifully designed, visually stunning and a fun read, too.

Here’s what she said, “Downtown Ottawa is awhir… the manholes have been welded shut, mailboxes and garbage cans have been removed, and streets will be shut down tomorrow morning. All in preparation for Barack Obama’s visit to the nation’s capital. People have been buzzing about this for weeks, and the visit itself will last all of six hours. As a tribute to tomorrow, here are a few of my favourite à-propos etsy items.”