You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2009.

May 31, 2009–Today’s Way: An essential ingredient of any green cleaning kit is our old friend, baking soda.  Sodium bicarbonate is a naturally ocurring salt (in its natural form it is called nahcolite), though for commercial use, it is formed by combining soda ash into a carbon dioxide solution, and the result is sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda.  The crystal powder is slightly alkaline, which makes baking soda an excellent neutralizer for acidic conditions.  It is its alkalinity that makes baking soda an effective leavening agent in baked goods; when baking soda is mixed with an acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar, they set about neutralizing each other and releasing carbon dioxide, in the form of bubbles.

But baking soda has so many more talents than simply baking!   Baking soda works wonderfully to neutralize acid-based stains in fabrics, as well as acidic odors.  Adding a cup of baking soda to your laundry boosts detergent’s cleaning power by stabilizing the pH.  Baking soda’s mild abrasiveness makes it an excellent gentle scrub—just add your favorite dish or laundry soap to enough baking soda to make a paste, scoop a bit onto a sponge and use the mixture to scrub toilets, tubs, tile and sinks (this mixture is a great way to clean a tub after using WoodSprite Organic Body salt glows and sugar scrubs).  For dishes with stubborn baked-on grease, place in hot soapy water and sprinkle baking soda over the soiled areas evenly, leave to soak overnight.  The baking soda should soften or dissolve the grease stains.  When you have oily dishes to clean, sprinkle first with baking soda, then wipe clean with a soapy sponge; the baking soda will help to absorb the oils and rinse them away.  For clogged drains, you can try pouring baking soda down the drain, then add a bit of vinegar; the intense foaming can dislodge minor obstructions.  Keep a bowl of baking soda in your fridge, sprinkle into hampers and cloth diaper pails for a natural deodorizer.  Baking soda can be used in place of some chemicals in pools to keep the water pH equalized and clear.  Baking soda makes a very effective tooth brushing powder (though you may want to add a touch of mint essential oil for a bit of flavor).  Just remember: whenever you mix vinegar or another acid with baking soda, they neutralize each other and will not be as effective.  If the problem is acidic, then baking soda will be able to help.  Alkaline problems will need to be neutralized with acid-based ingredients (such as vinegar).

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May 30, 2009–Today’s Way: The average blow dryer uses about 4.5 kilowatt hours per month, and that is based on only 5 minutes of drying time per day.  For someone with very long hair, like myself, that number goes up significantly.  A really easy way to save some money and some energy is to just let your hair dry naturally.  This time of year, it’s easy…with abundant sunshine and a natural bristle brush, my hair is dry in no time.  Of course, it’s not always feasible to let nature take its course—sometimes we’re in a hurry.  But all those days when we aren’t can really add up.  Just imagine if you didn’t use the hair dryer on weekends only, you could save about 1.2 kilowatt hours per month, or 14.4 (and remember, that’s the conservative estimate).  So, if you don’t have to be anywhere, or if your hair doesn’t require special blower styling, let it fly and save some greenhouse gases for us all.  Your hair will certainly thank you for it (heat damages hair shafts…drying naturally usually results in softer, healthier and shinier hair) and so will the planet.

May 29, 2009–Today’s Way: Although it has been established that most ordinary tap water in the United States is actually just as pure as bottled water a lot of folks, for various reasons, still like to filter their water.  The problem with this is that the carbon filter plastic cartridges that come with most of the popular systems must be disposed of every couple of months, and they are not recycled.  A greener option is to choose a water filtering system like our pal, the Big Berkey, that utilizes special ceramic filters made from natural diatomaceous earth, which has pores so small it is able to filter out 99.99% of particulates, including cysts, parasites and pathogenic bacteria (such as E. Coli, Cryptosporidium and Salmonella).  What’s more, the Berkey filters reduce chlorine, rust, sediment and organic chemicals—we have rather sulphury smelling well water, which oxidates into rust very quickly, but we run all of our water through these filters and it comes out only a little while later clean and pure and tasty as a clear mountain spring.  And these ceramic filters last for about 6,000 gallons of water (at 10 gallons per week, that’s over 11 years…we’ve had ours for 10), since all you have to do is clean them up with a scrubby sponge periodically.  The best part is, there are no changeable cartridges to replace or create a disposal problem—when our ceramic filters are spent, they’ll easily biodegrade into our garden.

The up-front cost of a Big Berkey is rather high, but the savings are really worth it over the duration.  You should definitely do a little comparison shopping because we have seen huge differences in pricing from merchant to merchant.  To learn more about the Big Berkey, check out this site.

May 28, 2009–Today’s Way: A simple idea, and not a new one for you organized types is to pre-plan your route when running errands so that all of your stops are grouped along a loop, so that you aren’t driving back and forth across town all willy-nilly.  Also, if you can, plan your route to maximize right turns so that you spend less time idling and waiting at lights to turn.  Overall, you’ll save yourself more time, more money and more fuel, and reduce the amount of unnecessary carbon emissions being pumped out into our atmosphere.

May 27, 2009–Today’s Way: Okay, I know I’m a little fixated on the mosquitoes this week, but that’s because there are just so darned many of them this year!  A snowy winter and a wet, rainy spring has brought lots of happy flowers, plants and trees, but it’s also deposited a lot of little vernal ponds of standing water everywhere, the ideal breeding grounds for massive mosquito egg-laying orgies.  But what to do if you don’t want to use chemicals to combat the whining clouds of bloodthirsty critters?  First, eliminate as many of the standing water traps as possible; used tires, fallow bird baths, ditches with poor drainage, gutters and abandoned children’s pools are some of the most common offenders.  Also, try to keep your grass trimmed.  And if you’re willing or able to build a bat house, that can help, too.  Best of all, you can use Bacillus thuringiensis israeliensis (aka Bti) pellets or dunks in your pond or other areas where standing water cannot be drained.  These little naturally-occuring bacteria are harmless to wildlife, plants, pets and humans, but deadly to mosquito larvae where they hatch.  You can find products containing Bti online, at hardware stores, feed stores and increasingly, in larger superstores.

May 26, 2009–Today’s Way: Okay, this seems like it shouldn’t have to be said, but if you do smoke, please don’t throw your butts out your car window!  It’s not only a terrible danger for causing forest fires, all those butts scattered along the roadsides can attract wildlife who try to eat them and can choke on the filters.  Not to mention, it just looks awful littering our roadways, sidewalks and trails.  Even if you don’t smoke, encourage the smokers you know to not be a butthead and keep their butts where they belong—properly extinguished and disposed of in the garbage.

May 25, 2009–Today’s Way: There are few things more blood curdling than the whine of an unseen mosquito hovering in the darkness above your bed.  Okay, so maybe there are many things, but that still doesn’t make mosquitoes any less annoying or unwelcome.  And as much as I’d like to gas the little suckers, I’ve found that violence only begets violence.  And DEET may be effective as a repellent, but it has a high cost in the way of environmental disturbance as well as being highly hazardous to humans and animals.  Instead, I formulated a very effective blend of pure essential oils which really fends off the little fiends, as well as their kin; gnats, flies and those little biting no seeums.  Essential oils are usually steam-distilled extracts of herbs, and contain the powerful volatile (meaning, evaporative) oils that makes a particular herb so beneficial, but in an extremely concentrated form.  The herbs/plants chosen in this recipe are known to be a natural repellent to mosquitoes and other flying insects.

You’ll need:

  • 25 Drops Citronella Essential Oil
  • 25 Drops Eucalyptus or Lemon-Eucalyptus Essential Oil
  • 15 Drops Cedarwood Virginia Essential Oil
  • 5 Drops Clove Bud Essential Oil
  • 5 Drops Geranium Essential Oil
  • 5 Drops Peppermint Essential Oil
  • 1/2 Cup Distilled Water and either 1/2 Cup Witch Hazel or 80 Proof Vodka
  • A Small Clean Sprayer Bottle

Directions:  Fill your spray bottle about three quarters full with the water and witch hazel/or vodka combination.  Then, measure your essential oils into the sprayer. Screw on the sprayer, shake vigorously.  Spray as needed.

TIPS:

  • The mixture will probably be cloudy, and will likely separate into oil and water when settled.  Just shake well before each use.
  • Always perform a patch test to make sure the spray does not stain fabrics or carpets.
  • You can use just the essential oils in an aromatherapy diffuser, but the oils should never be used undiluted on the skin.
  • Be smart—don’t spray in your eyes and don’t drink the bug repellent!

May 24, 2009 –Today’s Way: Okay, all you lawn people.  Listen up.  I know you know we’ve all been sold a bill of goods by the grass seed and weed chemical industry, but we’re intelligent individuals with the ability to think critically and independently, right?  We know that the commercials for weed & feed products showing perfect, exquisitely trim and seductively luscious green carpets, sprawling before us and lit with a brilliant sunset is an impossible dream.  They’re just setting us up for failure, with these unattainable ideas.  I mean, those lawns are not real.  We know better.  And still, there we are, every other day from thaw to frost, going over our lawns with a fine tooth comb, nit-picking and assessing, armed with hazardous chemical spray guns, shooting anything resembling a dandelion and taking names later.  We mow it.  A lot.  We water it.  A lot.  We fret over it.  We fertilize it.  We cover it with pesticides and herbicides, we trim it, we edge it and we look at it.  But how much time do we actually spend enjoying it?  We certainly can’t let the kids play on it, what with all the chemical heat it’s packing.  Nevermind that there are no birds or natural wildlife to speak of, because they’re probably dead.  But by-gum, there’s a lawn out there, and it’s green.  And, um.  Straight.  And…green?

My question is, why are we Americans striving for a perfect lawn in the first place?  Where in nature do we see anything resembling the ideal that we so mindlessly chase?  Why, especially, are people who live in the desert, mind you, spending hundreds of dollars and wasting thousands of gallons of fresh drinking water just to have a perfect patch of green surrounding them?  It’s silly, when you really sit down and think about it.  And it’s also a big environmental problem.  The mowers and all their polluting emissions, not to mention the constant noise.  The chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides which, yes, kill grubs but they also indiscriminately kill the beneficial butterflies and bees and birds as well.  All of those chemicals have to go somewhere, and that’s directly into our ground water, our lakes, streams, rivers and, eventually, into the oceans.  And for what?  Where in the world did we get this impossible ideal in the first place?

It is believed that short grasses first came to be favored by early settlers due to their ability to see potential enemies from afar.  Others believe it was the influence of the great British estates and their manicured lawns and gardens which well-to-do early Americans were attempting to mimic, and then the idea spread to the middle class and the working class and so on…and soon the sprawling green carpet of the estate was shrunk down and applied to every little postage stamp sized patch in the country.  For whatever reason, we Americans have embraced the lawn, and all of the laborious maintenance that comes with it.

Well, I’m here to stand up and declare my freedom from the lawn.  We’ve begun eliminating our grass, one island of garden at a time.  We have the wildflower meadow area (which is just what popped up naturally when we stopped mowing on the Northern side of our property and it’s quite pretty), we have the woodland gardens with delicate native wild geranium, periwinkle and lily of the valley mingling with mushrooms, ferns and wild leeks.  We have the shade garden, where columbines and bleeding hearts glow their brillant colors out from under the cool shelter of trees.  We have the herb garden.  We have the vegetable garden.  And soon we’ll have more.  Our goal is to eliminate as much lawn from our nearly two acres as possible, so that mowing will be a cinch (instead of a day-long project requiring a lawn tractor and several tall glasses of mint iced tea a couple of times per week).  And instead of a lawn—which, let’s face it, is a greedy mistress who just takes and takes—we are surrounding ourselves with beauty and reaping the bounty, in the form of fresh cut flowers, cheerful color, brilliant butterflies, singing birds, leaping bunnies and graceful deer, not to mention fragrant herbs and the juiciest of fresh vegetables.  Most importantly, we’ll no longer be slaves to the call of the machines—the buzz and roar of all those lawn mowers and trimmers and blowers that begins at dawn every weekend, and carried out by the weekend warriors.  And my yard will be one less polluting patch in a greener (not grassier) world.

Care to come along?

May 23, 2009–Today’s Way: Water is our most precious resource, yet so few of us stop to consider where it comes from when it flows so easily from our faucets, or where it goes when it swirls out of our lives through the drain.  For so many people on the planet, fresh water doesn’t come easily, and it is not taken for granted.  For those who grow up with indoor plumbing and abundant, fresh water is freely flowing just about everywhere, it’s easy to overlook it, but it’s important to overcome our wasteful ways.  It’s just so simple: when you turn on a faucet, don’t leave water running unnecessarily.  Use whatever water you need, then turn the faucet off if you need to go get the lettuce out of the fridge, or while you’re brushing your teeth, or even as you’re soaping up your hands.  Just being a bit more mindful of your daily water usage will save you both money and precious fresh water.

May 22, 2009–Today’s Way: Of the total number of trees cut in the United States each year, about half of them are ultimately destined to become paper, or the equivalent of 12,000 square MILES of trees cut every year.  While some of those trees are planted specifically for that purpose, many are not, and old growth forests are clearcut in managed national and state forests around our country.  Clearcutting is a disruptive, devastating practice of indiscriminate leveling of every tree in a woodland, taking with it crucial wildlife habitat and destabilizing hillsides and wetlands, not to mention annihilating trees which help to keep our air and water clean as well as combating the effects of global warming.  And while recycling of paper has never been more popular, there is still a high environmental cost for every finished leaf of paper, whether consisting of recycled or virgin content.

After all, a tree takes years to become useful for paper or other purposes, so while it can be argued as a renewable resource, the amount of time and energy required as well as other factors from harvest to processing are not truly sustainable.

The better answer is tree-free paper.  Actually, papers throughout human history were always made from other fibers—linen, papyrus, straw and hemp were the common materials used in the creation of paper.  It was not until the mid 1800’s that trees became the new answer in papermaking.  For many reasons, and most of them political, trees became the norm in paper milling, and the fibers which had so long been the norm fell out of fashion.  This, despite the fact that “alternative” fibers just make better sense from seed to ream.  Hemp, linen, papyrus—these have all become “art” paper materials, and are very expensive to purchase because they’re often made by hand and intended for special use.  Yet if we were to use these fibers for our everyday newsprint, copier and office papers, the overall price of the paper would be cheaper than that made by trees.  Why?  Simply because of the turnaround time.  Alternative fibers can be planted and harvested multiple times in one year, rather than after several years as required for trees, and fibers made from hemp require very little pest management or fertilizers because of their naturally hardy characteristics.  The environmental implications of growing plants versus trees are simply all around better.

And the environmental benefits become outstanding when paper is made from recovered “waste” fibers as the result of other industries, such as sugar, corn, bananas, mangoes, coffee and many other crops grown for a different purpose.  When the leftover plant fibers are diverted into making paper, we have a win-win situation.

You can find tree-free papers in a broad array of colors and textures available online, and for more information about going tree-free, visit this site.

May 21, 2009–Today’s Way: Instead of pouring the water collected from your dehumidifier down the drain, use it to water your plants or gardens!  During the average Michigan summer, this can mean two full gallons of water a day collected from our basement, or up to 250 gallons over the course of just one season.

May 20, 2009–Today’s Way: Most people are not aware that the eggs we buy at the supermarket (even organic ones) are already a month old by the time they reach the store.  For the freshest of fresh eggs, it’s hard to top raising your own chickens, plus, they’re just so darned cute.  Yes.  Chickens.  Cute.  Really.

Racquella, Our Barred Plymouth Rock

Racquella, Our Barred Plymouth Rock

Unlike the deplorable conditions on industrial egg farms—noisy, polluting operations which house thousands and thousands of birds in shamefully tight quarters feeding them antibiotics and hormones to keep them producing—small backyard chicken flocks make good sense for the health of the planet. Chickens make excellent, gentle family pets with lots of personality, are surprisingly easy and inexpensive to maintain, and require less space than you think.  They’re also quite quiet (as long as you don’t have a rooster).

Chickens come with other environmental benefits as well.  Aside from the obvious fresh eggs, chicken droppings are a fantastic natural fertilizer for your lawn, gardens and houseplants.  Furthermore, chickens make for great chemical-free bug and weed control because they love to scratch around and eat grubs, insects and seeds.  Happy, healthy, free roaming chickens with access to quality organic food, sunshine and the outdoors produce the healthiest, most nutrient-dense form of protein available in the way of their organic eggs.  By the way: you don’t need a rooster in order to have daily fresh eggs; roosters are only necessary if you want fertilized eggs for hatching.

You’ll need to check your local regulations regarding keeping chickens, but you may be surprised to find out that most suburban and even urban areas do allow them.

To learn more about keeping your own chickens, visit these sites from Back Yard Chickens or My Pet Chicken.

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