Sunday, October 25, 2009

Final reflections on No Impact Week

I've already talked about setting a goal to generate less trash by making changes to my daughter's snacks. Here are a few more random thoughts, in no particular order:

On consumption: Hubby recently got a short-term subscription to the Tacoma News-Tribune (I know, not very green. He was responding to a sales call). As a result, I now am able to do something I used to do all the time: read through the Sunday circulars and coupons, trying to find good deals. In doing so, I realize just how far I have stepped away from the consumer culture, because the vast majority of things advertised, I have no interest or plan to buy.

We buy all our clothing, toys, appliances and electronics second-hand, except for my 6'7" hubby, who is only able to shop at Casual Male Big & Tall or Men's Wearhouse two to three times a year when they're having big sales. (Note: one of my challenges/ goals is to try to find something he can wear at a thrift shop). So I can immediately dismiss ads for all these things.

With a few exceptions (Alaffia Everyday Shea body lotion, Trader Joe's TeaTree Tingle conditioner, Tom's of Maine deodorant, and KissMyFace sunscreen), I make our skin and hair care products, and use resuable menstrual pads. So drugstores are now places where we only buy perscription drugs, unless someone gets sick and needs something OTC. Thus, the drugstore ads don't apply.

Although I do read the supermarket circulars to see what's on sale, even the Sunday coupons are mostly useless. A few items I clip for: bread, cereal, cooking oil, vitamins and cold medicine. But we have very little use for most of the items in the coupons, such as frozen meals, Hamburger Helper, Pantene Pro-V conditioner, and the like.

It was kind of nice to know I've really come a long way in this area.

Eating local: This is an area where we could grow a lot. Although we have made strides by growing some of our own veggies and connecting with farmers and urban gardens in the area, we make a lot of our food choices based on what we like plus what is cheapest. Until our finances improve, cost still has to take a priority over local. However, I'm sure I can do better by learning more about local food menus and availability.

Transporation: My daughter and I did a lot more walking this week. We walked to and from the park several times (30 minutes each way), and we drove to the town center and parked and walked to each of our errands, which probably amounted to about an hour's worth of walking. We were tired at the end of it--4r and of course, several times I had to carry my daughter on my back. But walking a lot is getting easier, especially taking the steep hills to and from the park. We'll keep at it.

Energy: The house we live in is very cold: it is large, drafty, built into the side of a hill with eaves over most of the windows (which means very little sunlight), except for the two windows overlooking the Puget Sound which are so huge they also have a huge cooling effect. Great during the summer, terrible the rest of the year. Nevertheless, we're determined to not turn on the central heat unless we absolutely have to. We're doing what we did in Boston: huddling in one room with the doors shut and using a space heater. That's good for family closeness, too!

Quick, cheap skin and hair care tips

Pimples and Blackheads

I saw a list of tips somewhere recently for dealing with adult acne. Despite having very dry skin, adult acne is a problem I occasionally have, and blackheads was a problem I regularly had before I started making my own skin care products. In addition to recommending commercial products and retinol (which you may need a prescription for), the list of tips told readers to avoid using any oil on your skin, since acne is aggravated by oil. From personal experience, I disagree.

Many thanks go out to the original web site (which I can't recall) that inspired me to make my own products. That site suggested using organic, cold-pressed cod liver oil to cleanse and moisturize skin. Due to the fact that I couldn't find cod liver oil anywhere that was both organic and cold-pressed, I went with shea butter instead, and started melting it and mixing it with an equal amount of extra virgin olive oil to make it creamier and easier to use.

The reason the cod liver oil recommendation impressed me was a test the blogger suggested. She wrote that it may seem counter-intuitive, but the truth is, oil attracts dirt and oil, and if you use a non-pore clogging oil on your skin, it can actually help rid your skin of excess dirt and oil, while cleansing and moisturizing your skin. (Consider this also: back in the days when people made their own soap, what did they usually make it out of? Lard. In other words, animal fat. And according to wikipedia, lard and other oils are still used to make soaps commercially).

The test was to put a little oil on a pimple or blackhead and wait for a while and see what happens. This is what I did: I put a little of my shea butter/olive oil mixture on the biggest, most stubborn blackhead on my nose, and covered it with a small bandaid. I waited 24 hours and removed the bandaid. Then I placed a hot washcloth over the spot, and the blackhead popped right out! This was a blackhead that I had never been able to rid myself of using commercial skin masques and products such as Biore nose strips. From that point on, I was a believer.

So here's my adult acne tip: cover the pimple or breakout area with a very hot damp washcloth, followed by a very cold damp washcloth. This will reduce the swelling. Apply witch hazel to a cotton ball and pat the pimple(s) very gently to cleanse. Then add a pure moisturizer to the spot several times a day: I alternate my shea butter/olive oil mixture with pure aloe vera gel. Using this method, any pimples I have disappear within a day, usually with no blemish. This process has also worked with other blemishes or itchy spots on my skin.

(And btw, I no longer get any blackheads!)


Itchy scalp

I have written before about how, alternating between baking soda washes/apple cider vinegar rinses, and "Curly Girl" recommended conditioner washes (using Trader Joe's TeaTree Tingle Conditioner) with apple cider vinegar rinses, I have cured my lifelong dandruff problem. However, being a curly girl, I wash my hair once a week and sometimes get itchy scalp in some spots between washes.

A quick way to ease that is to soak a cotton ball with vinegar and wipe the itchy spot with it, then apply pure aloe vera gel to the spot. The vinegar smell dissipates after a few minutes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Midweek reflections on the No Impact Experiment

I'm not sure I'm doing all that great at this, but it is making me think. First, I'm thinking about how many eco-choices I make based on convenience. I've addressed this before: no one can do everything they can/should do to live green, and every choice you make has a cost, whether it's of time, money, access, etc. Each of us personally has to decide what we can or can't do, and then just do the best we can.

That said, there's always room for improvement. Here is one specific area I've identified, from the "no trash" day experiment. I buy snacks for my daughter that she can easily obtain from the pantry on her own, such as snack puddings or 100 calorie cookie bags. I like these because my independence-seeking daughter wants to do for herself, and because it ensures a controlled portion size for her, so she doesn't overdo it on snacks. However, I am obviously creating waste, because these snacks are packaged in non-recyclable packages.

So what to do? I can make pudding from a box, but if I want her to be able to get her own, I need to buy some small (4-6 oz) reusable plastic containers with lids to put it in, and have a designated place in the fridge for them, so my daughter can reach them. I read on another blog about a mother who places a basket in her pantry with reusable snack bags filled with small snacks for her kids to grab. That's another idea.

A harder challenge has been eating locally. With all the veggies I picked this weekend, I made soup and also a pasta dish with veggies. The veggies and herbs were local, but the Imagine soup stock I used is manufactured in New York, and the beans in Michigan. I have no clue where the pasta is from, nor the peanut butter/soy sauce/rice vinegar I used to make the sauce. This week, unless I were to eat nothing but salad and veggies, I'm not sure what else I could have done.

I have made soup stocks before, but that only works if I have the time to make the stock and plan to use it right away. Otherwise, I have no place to store the stock for later use. I like the convenience of having a bunch of cartons of Imagine stocks in my pantry, so I can just open one up to make a soup whenever I want. And what local foods could I have substituted for the pasta? Potatos and lentils are grown locally, but as much as I love them, I can get sick of them very quickly. (I made a small batch of lentils last summer when my sister-in-law was here, and she and hubby told me they liked it and asked me to make some more. Then they didn't want any more, so I tried to eat the rest on my own. After three days, I never wanted to see another lentil!)

I haven't had much success at making yeast breads, although I'm pretty good at making quick breads. All this is to say that eating local, if I were to do it right, would take a lot more than just growing my own veggies or picking them at our friend's farm. It would take a real understanding of what's available locally, and how to cook a variety of meals using just that.

The thought is a little overwhelming. Even local recipes aren't 100% local, just the main or most distinctive ingredient (say, salmon or apples), while most of the other ingredients and spices in the recipe could be from anywhere. But I'll keep learning, and taking baby steps, and maybe as long as at least some of the ingredients in my meals are local, that's okay.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

No Impact Experiment prep

The No Impact Experiment is partnered with Huffington Post, and they have asked participants to either upload a video or write a short essay about why they have decided to participate. Here is what I wrote:

I started trying to become more environmentally aware when I was pregnant with my daughter, both to protect her from environmental toxins and because I was concerned about the world she would grow up in. I became a fan of the No Impact Man blog because like Colin Beavan, I am married with a daughter the same age, and until recently, I lived in the city. I have made a lot of changes in my life already, inspired by his example. No Impact Week is an opportunity to stretch myself beyond the environmental changes I have already started to make.

Today we visited the lot where our friends Johnny and Michelle planted veggies using permaculture methods, working with youth from the nonprofit I work with as well as a local high school. They've grown tomatoes, lettuces, a variety of other greens such as kale and collards, a variety of herbs, strawberries, and edible flowers. They're going to send us photos soon and I'll upload some of them. They said it's been great watching skeptical teens get excited about growing food, and seeing neighbors who've observed the activity stop by to pick their own.

We gathered a bunch of plants today, which along with the squash we got from our friend the farmer, I will make some soup. This should help us eat locally (one of the No Impact challenges) for several days!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The "No Impact" Experiment

I've been hemming and hawing about signing up for Colin Beavan AKA "No Impact Man"'s No Impact Experiment, and finally did so. After defending the man and his efforts on this blog, how could I not?

The No Impact Experiment is an invitation to anyone out there to attempt to drastically reduce your impact for one week, using some of the ideas generated by Beavan during his one-year no impact experiment. Each day of the week (beginning Sunday, October 18), you are asked to focus on reducing your impact in one area, and continue that reduction each day while adding a new area, as follows:

Sunday: reducing consumption.
Monday: reducing the trash you generate.
Tuesday: transporation. Attempting to get around by your own efforts (e.g., walking or biking) or public transporation.
Wednesday: food. Attempting to eat more sustainably and locally.
Thursday: reducing your energy usage.
Friday: reducing your water consumption.
Saturday: giving back. Finding ways to contribute to your community.

The No Impact project provides a downloadable (PDF) guide with ideas on how to help you each day, and you can sign up for their social networking site to talk with other folks about their efforts. I signed up for the Washington group, and because I was the first person to do so, I also signed up for Massachusetts, since several others are already members of that group.

As I look through this list, there are many things I have already begun doing, and several areas for improvement. Since the bus routes in my town changed, I have been trying to do more walking. I have been taking my daughter to the park in her stroller. It's a half hour walk in each direction, up and down several hills. But it is getting easier to do, so I hope to soon tackle the one-hour walk to the shopping mall, which is where the nearest everything else is for me: stores, gas, pharmacy, etc. and the once-every-15-minutes bus. (There is a once-an-hour bus right by the park, but to catch it, I have to time my walks very carefully). Next week, I'll take on that one hour walk challenge.

Another area to reduce is energy usage. One of the big areas I can work on is doing more things with my daughter, rather than parking her in front of the TV. I already do a lot with her (she helps me cook and clean, and we play together), but if she had her druthers, she would spend all her time at home with Mommy. A friend of mine with two school-aged sons, one quiet and one social, says she noticed this difference between her boys. The quiet one has no problem playing on his own. The social one always wants to be doing something with someone else. It drove her crazy for a while, until she realized that if she didn't try to stay close to her outgoing son, he would look elsewhere for all his social needs, and she'd find herself regretting it when he becomes a teenager and wants nothing to do with Mom and Dad.

I believe the same is true of my very gregarious daughter. But that means I need to be engaged with her in an ongoing manner, not sitting her in front of the TV when I want some quiet.

The hardest part for me (and one I may not do) is eating locally. We are already doing more by growing our own, but our budget isn't such that we can afford to buy locally all the foods we need to buy.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cheap green tip: use oil + liquid soap to shave

Caveat: I am writing as a woman who shaves her underarms and legs. I have no clue if this applies to men, especially black men whose faces can be really sensitive to razor bumps.

I blogged a while ago about switching to Preserve razors, because they're recycled, and they accept certain items for recycling that my local municipality doesn't (#5 plastics and Brita filters). I've also made other changes to my shaving routine to make it more green: soaking the razor in a small cup of water after use to clean all the hair out (and make the razor blade last longer), and no longer using shaving cream, just liquid soap.

I've heard some people tout using olive oil in place of shaving cream, and decided to try it. Actually, I used grapeseed oil instead, because I already use olive oil for so many other beauty uses, and my grapeseed oil is used solely for removing makeup (which I wear only on special occasions!).

I tried it, and it didn't work at first. Then I applied a little liquid soap on top of the grapeseed oil on my underarm, and it worked like a charm! I couldn't believe how smoothly and easily I was able to shave. Even better, all I had to do was dip the razor in a little water, and the hairs in the razor just fell out, leaving the razor wonderfully clean.

So a very cheap green tip: use a little oil plus a little liquid soap in place of shaving cream. You'll not only save on the cost of buying shaving cream, your razor will last longer.