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June 11, 2009 — Today’s Way: It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I really feel sad for the mop in those commercials when it gets kicked out in favor of a new shiny Swiffer.  Poor little guy, left out in the cold, while that nasty Swiffer sits all cozy like in the warm closet indoors.  Okay, it also makes me cringe to think of how many “disposable” Swiffer sheets are being used once and then tossed into the landfill (for a more eco-friendly approach, you can make your own reusable sheets).  To tell the truth, nothing new or shiny can take away my love for our good old cotton mop.  It just plain works better.  Yes, it does mean that—Ewwwwww!—I may have to actually touch the mophead every now and then to take it off and wash it in the laundry, but it has proven itself to be an indomitable foe for just about every kind of scuff and spill and stain that it encounters, and with some of the clever built-in twisting models, or if you have one of those nice squeezers for your mop bucket, you don’t even have to ever touch the yucky mophead (except to launder it).  But best of all, it’s also not contributing to the mountains of trash that are piling up across our great land, filled with “disposable” swiffing sheets or sponge cartridges.

June 10, 2009–Today’s Way: I just posted yesterday about opening up our homes to let the cool breeze in, and today I’m going to contradict myself.  Sort of.  When the weather turns really hot, you can keep your home cooler by closing doors and windows and shutting blinds or curtains during the heat of the day.  Then, at night when the air cools down, open up all of your windows.  When we practice this technique, along with employing our ceiling and window fans, we’re able to avoid using the air conditioner most of the summer.  At the same time, we use far less energy and save quite a bit on our electric bills.

June 9, 2009–Today’s Way: It just seems like common sense to me, but I’m a bit surprised at how many people never open their windows to let a cooling breeze waft through their house.  Instead, we’ve become hermetically sealed up, as if we’re on an airship and an open window will result in being sucked out into the void.  Instead of keeping the house closed up, and having to maintain temperatures through artificial heating or cooling, opening the windows and doors to create a cross breeze on a warm day will allow nature to do your cooling for you, and for free.  It’ll also help to bring in fresh air and help to push out dangerous low-grade offgassing from volatile organic compounds inherent in paints, finishes and even rugs or carpet.  So throw caution to the wind, and invite it in today.

June 8, 2009–Today’s Way: As you contemplate where to spend your vacation time this summer, you might consider a little change of pace by becoming a voluntourist.  An increasing trend, voluntourism connects caring people with causes in interesting and even exotic places.  Instead of swatting flies in an overcrowded tourist trap, or being packed like a sardine on a tourbus with a guide squawking monotone facts into a microphone, you would instead be part of something far more meaningful, challenging and rewarding.  Like studying bottlenosed dolphins in Greece, or counting hatching sea turtles as they make their epic sweep to the ocean’s edge, helping collect core samples in the glacial ice of Alaska or, even studying the urban wildlife of New York City.  There is a need for everyone everywhere, depending on any special interests or skills you can offer;  our niece, for instance, obtained her diving certification and spent several weeks diving everyday on a coral study off the beautiful coast of Mexico.

To learn more about voluntourism and find out about available programs and expeditions, visit Voluntourism.org or the highly reputable Earthwatch Institute.

June 7, 2009–Today’s Way: I find it a curiosity whenever I walk into a building from the heat of summer and the temperatures inside are set to Antarctic.  Or likewise, when you come in from the deep freeze of winter and need to strip down into Bermuda shorts because the thermostat is turned up to 85 degrees.  Our bodies are highly adaptive, and it only takes a moment for our core temps to adjust with fluctuating temperatures, so while that first blast of cold air does feel good when we come in from the blazing sun, it takes only minutes before our bodies adjust and then even feel cold.  In the winter, we probably don’t need the office or house to be so hot you could grow bananas inside.  And in the summer, we shouldn’t need to don a fur coat and fingerless gloves just to be able to be able to sit at our desks responding to e-mails.

In fact, scaling back the thermostat in winter and increasing accordingly in the summer can save you about 1% of your overall energy bills for every degree Fahrenheit in either direction.  For instance, in winter, if you were to bump the setting down from 74 degrees to 68, you would save about 6% off of your heating bill.  That’s a drastic and immediate difference which will save you cash as well as energy.

June 6, 2009–Today’s Way: Every house, no matter how great or small, contains a plethora of of pipes, traveling from our hot water heater out to our faucets, sometimes quite far away, and usually in a cool basement or crawl space.  However, by insulating your hot water pipes, you’ll reduce heat loss and even raise water temperatures by 2ºF–4ºF over that of uninsulated pipes.  Also, insulating pipes will mean that you won’t have to wait as long for hot water at the faucet or showerhead, whick will help to conserve water at the same time.

For step-by-step instructions on how to insulate your pipes, see this site from diy.

June 5, 2009–Today’s Way: One easy way to conserve water is to not to constantly run the water while rinsing when you’re hand-washing dishes.  You’ll save a lot more water by filling one sink (or basin) with wash water and the other with rinse water.

June 4, 2009–Today’s Way: More than 60% of the foods sold in American grocery stores are Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs.  And not one of them has to be labeled as such. The three biggest GMO crops grown in the United States are Soybeans, Wheat and Corn, and just try to find a processed food that doesn’t contain one, all or the other—they’re in your cereal, your tacos, your tortilla chips, your ice cream, your soda (high fructose corn syrup), your sauces, your mac ‘n cheese, your tofu, your bread, your cookies, your crackers and heck, they’re even in your energy shakes. The reasons that this franken-food has been allowed to infiltrate our food culture without sufficient research, public comment or even labeling laws are many, and far too involved for my little blog, but suffice it to say that the GMO corporate machine is big, it’s powerful, and its political influence is awesome.  Likewise, the arguments against GMOs are plentiful, but beyond the scope of this entry.  And though there are some great consumer watchdog groups fighting for labeling and other restrictions on these foods, as of now, we are bereft of meaningful change.

The one thing consumers can do is to buy organic foods.  Organic crops are grown from seeds which have not been genetically modified; in fact, they’re usually heirloom vegetables which have been adored and handed down from generation to generation, and can be saved from harvest for the next year’s crops—unlike GMOs, which have been genetically programmed to “terminate”, requiring them to be purchased each year by farmers.  Organic crops are also grown with fewer or no pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides.  The single biggest threat to organic crops are GMOs, which have already escaped into the world, mingling with natural crops despite all the claims made by the GMO corporations that they could contain them.  In turn, organics are the single biggest threat to GMOs, because the corporations cannot patent, restrict or otherwise control their growth, sale or consumption, and therefore, they cannot make money off of them.  The only way that we can preserve our right to grow and eat our own foods, and protect the biodiversity of our planet, is to vote with our dollars by buying organic foods, or better yet, growing organic gardens from organic seeds.

To learn a great deal more about GMOs, or to add your voice to the millions who want to see proper labeling and disclosure of GMOs in our foods, visit organicconsumers.org or Seeds of Deception.  Also, there’s a very interesting review on a recent paper on “The Failure of Science” from Ethicurian.

June 3, 2009–Today’s Way: Did you know that the common house plant not only transforms CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) into oxygen in your home, it can also improve the air quality by actually absorbing  harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and fumes of benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene?  According to a NASA study (they were searching for efficient ways to purify the air on space stations), the following plants provide the most purifying power:

  • English Ivy (Hedera helix)
  • Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
  • Golden pothos or Devil’s ivy (Scindapsus aures or Epipremnum aureum)
  • Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
  • Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
  • Bamboo palm or reed palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii)
  • Snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’)
  • Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium, syn. Philodendron cordatum)
  • Selloum philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum, syn. Philodendron selloum)
  • Elephant ear philodendron (Philodendron domesticum)
  • Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
  • Cornstalk dracaena (Dracaena fragans ‘Massangeana’)
  • Janet Craig dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’)
  • Warneck dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’)
  • Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
  • Gerbera Daisy or Barberton daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
  • Pot Mum or Florist’s Chrysanthemum (Chrysantheium morifolium)
  • Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)

You can read more in the book, “How to Grow Fresh Air” by B.C. Wolverton;  based on 25 years of NASA research, the author explores how more than 50 common house plants naturally detoxify our environment, indoors and out.

June 2, 2009–Today’s Way: If you’re considering planting some new trees in your own yard, or looking to expand your gardens, you can save yourself a great deal of money (and likely watering, fertilizing, tending, etc…) by planting natives from your own region.  Native shrubs, plants and trees have evolved over time to withstand the conditions of your area, and as such require little or no care at all from humans.  They are naturally disease resistant, and will be uniquely predisposed to thrive in your climate and soil—such as being drought tolerant, or being able to withstand heavy rains and hard winters.  And natives are beautiful as well as diverse; offering of themselves beautiful flowers and nuts and fruits for humans as well as wildlife to enjoy.  Most importantly, by planting natives, you’ll be helping to preserve and protect ecological diversity among developed areas.  You can obtain low-cost native plants and trees as well as get plenty of information on how to plant and care for them through your local conservation district.

June 1, 2009–Today’s Way: If you have a hot water heater, it’s most likely installed in your basement (if you have a basement, that is), which is typically the coldest place in the house.  So, you’ve got a huge tank of water fighting to stay hot in the one place where it’s coolest, and losing a great deal of heat in the process.  A simple and inexpensive solution is to insulate the water heater tank to help it retain its heat, and thereby saving 25–45% of standby heat loss energy at the same time.  There are special hot water heater jackets, which are pre-shaped insulated blankets that you can purchase for under $35 at your local hardware or home improvement store.  Over the course of a year, the blanket can pay for itself on your water heating bills.  Also, you may want to check with your utility company for any available installation programs, discounts or credits—you may be able to have an energy auditor install the jacket for you, or even receive a credit for improving your energy usage.

To learn more about installing water heater jackets yourself, visit this helpful tutorial from energysavers.gov.

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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