Friday, December 31, 2010

Ragging on quinoa... again!

In my never-ending quest to find natural ways to manage my hair, I recently read a recipe for exfoliating one's scalp. The recipe called for mixing 1 TBSP of either quinoa or brown sugar with several tablespoons of conditioner, massaging that into your scalp, and rinsing it out, followed by washing your hair.

I have both quinoa and brown sugar in my pantry, but since I haven't yet made myself try the recipes recommendeded by readers of my "Why Quinoa Is Like Liver" post, I decided that I might as well use this healthy but (to me, anyway) foul-tasting grain for something.

I knew I'd made a big mistake as soon as I was finished. Quinoa, unlike brown sugar, doesn't dissolve in water. It was a bear trying to rinse the stuff out, and I'll probably be picking quinoa pellets out of my hair for days. Poor quinoa... it gets no love from Tacoma Green Mama!

On an upnote, I turned the job of combing out our daughter's hair to my husband several weeks ago, and he's become quite good at it, accomplishing the task with much more gentleness than I can achieve. And he graciously offered to comb out my hair tonight. Now that was a New Year's treat!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A love-hate relationship with public transportation

Loving it in Boston: For most of my adult life, I didn't have a car. Living in Boston, I didn't need one. Public transportation was inexpensive, plentiful and frequent, while crazy drivers, lack of parking and exhorbitantly high auto insurance rates made having a car in Boston a big pain.

When I needed a vehicle for travel, I rented one; to do grocery shopping, I usually hailed a gypsy cab. (Gypsy cabs were cars driven by retired men who picked up people in their own vehicles and charged less than regular cabs. Most folks in Boston ignored the illegality of the practice: merchants knew that they increased business, and regular cab companies knew they generally made shorter trips then the regular cabs wanted to make, and often into neighborhoods the regular cabs didn't want to frequent. The police, I think, didn't want to crack down on old men who were just trying to make a little more income).

I finally bought a car after getting married, but even then, I continued to use public transportation (or walking) to get around most of the time. I especially loved taking public transportation to and from work, because it always provided me a relaxed chance to read, think, write, or even sleep.

Liking it in Tacoma: One of my struggles in moving to Tacoma was that the public transportation system isn't as extensive or efficient. Still, during my first year, I found a job that allowed me to take public transportation to work, which I could catch a few blocks from my home.

In my second year, that changed: due to the economy, Pierce Transit had to reduce service. After that, the nearest bus stop was a 40-minute walk from my home, and the nearest stop to my job was a 15-minute walk away. Hubby would drop me at the bus stop, and I'd walk the final leg.

Hating it in Seatac: A few months ago, I got a new job in Seatac, a city between Tacoma and Seattle where the SeaTac (for Seattle-Tacoma) Airport is located. I started driving to work, which takes about 45 minutes. However, my conscience about using so much gas bothered me, and on a few occasions when I attended conferences in Seattle and took the bus instead of driving, I remembered how enjoyable taking public transportation could be.

Well, I got my chance to take public transpotation to work. My car broke down a few weeks ago, and it's taking some time to save the money needed for the repairs. Here's what I've had to do:

-- Hubby drives me to the nearest bus stop. Time: 10 minutes.
-- I take two buses to get to downtown Tacoma. Time: 40 minutes.
-- I tranfer to a bus to the SeaTac airport. Time: 45 minutes when the traffic is flowing; as much as 1-1/4 hour when it's not.
-- A coworker picks me up from the airport and drives us to work. Time: 5 minutes.

That's an hour and 40 minute commute each way, if the traffic is good.

Note the last step. If I were to take public transportation regularly, I couldn't always depend on a coworker. So I looked into what it would take for me to get from the airport to my job. I tried all the configurations possible on Sound Transit's trip planner: fastest way, fewest transfers, least walking.

The answer was the same each time: one train ride, followed by two buses, taking one hour. For what is, by car, a 5 minute drive. And if there are any delays? Forget it!

This would add two hours to my already 3-1/2 hour commute. Walking is not an option: the journey from the airport would probably take me about 30-40 minutes, and involves some steep hills. I have a bad knee, and after a few days, I'd barely be able to walk at all.

I also looked into van pools, of which there are several that go from Tacoma to Seatac. But most of those are TSA employees who work staggered shifts at the airport, so they depart Tacoma at times such as 6 am, 11 am, and 2 pm. Nothing is available for someone who works a 9-5 job.

So what does this mean? Well, it means I need to get my car fixed! Public transportation just isn't an option: I can't impose on my coworkers forever, and a daily 5+ hour commute would mean I'd never get to see my daughter. Not to mention, I sometimes have out-of-office meetings during the day that I need a car to get to.

I have heard the arguments against expanding public transportation. Jeff Jacoby, a columnist with the Boston Globe, made them regularly, arguing that Americans love their cars and hate public transportation. I agree with the first claim, not the second. I don't think most Americans would give up cars altogether, but I think many people hate the rush hour drive to and from work. If public transportation is efficient and convenient, I think many people would choose that option. But as my example shows, for many people it's either not available, or so unwieldy it might as well not be.*


* And please note that moving closer to one's job, or taking a job closer to one's home, is not always possible either.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dragging my family along on my green journey

OK, I admit it. I'm the big greenie in the family. But I love how my family comes along on the ride.

Not perfectly, of course. I have the hardest time getting my husband to remember to use reusable bags, even though I put them in his car. (Fortunately, I do most of the shopping in the family, so we don't collect many disposable bags).

But in other areas, my family has come a long way. For example, even though we keep a roll of recycled paper towels around the house (which lasts about 6 months), they've gotten used to using cloth towels and napkins.

But it's really cool when they start to love some of the green changes. My daughter loves helping me mix together my skin and hair care recipes. I never expected my husband to be more avid about gardening than I am. And he loves my homemade deodorant. As a big guy, it's been hard for him to find a deodorant that keeps him dry all day. My homemade stuff does the trick!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reusable bags and the barriers to going green

I recently got into a discussion on the blog of a company, which I won't name, that sells reusable bags. The company's blogger was responding to a news story about lead being found in the inks used in some reusable bags.* The blogger wrote about how this news story shows why people shouldn't buy those cheap $1 reusable bags now sold in almost every store, and should buy quality bags like theirs instead. Their bags sell for $13-16 each.

He or she added that it's embarrassing to be a walking advertisement for a company, since many reusable bags carry the logo of the store where they were purchased, and that it's even more embarrassing to use a reusable bag in one store that carries the logo of another store.

I responded in part because of the blogger's tone: it was snarky and critical of those who buy inexpensive bags, rather than simply positive about their product as a great alternative.

I wrote back that for many people, their bags are too expensive, and if it's a choice between buying their bag or none at all, they'll continue to use disposable plastic bags. I added that I personally feel no embarrassment about whatever label is on my bag, no matter what store I'm in. (Does anyone else? When you think of all the ways we advertise companies, from the labels on our jeans to the logos on our T-shirts, does anyone even care anymore?)

The blogger responded to my comment that it's better to buy one quality bag than a cheap one that people won't value and will likely discard. She or he then linked a photo of one reusable bag thrown into a pile of garbage, which consisted of several disposable plastic bags, and added a comment about it being silly to think we can save the planet for a buck.

The blogger then deleted my follow-up comment twice. But since this is my forum, I'll share it here. My points were:

1) Comments like that are the reason many people think environmentalists are out of touch with the needs of ordinary people. A family household probably needs an average of five bags to carry all the groceries they buy for the week--so to buy this company's bags, they'd need to spend $65-80. In this economy, many households don't have that kind of spare income--but more can afford to spend $5 for five reusable bags.

2) When you tell people that the efforts they're making aren't good enough, rather than encouraging their progress, the end result is that people often throw up their hands and say, "Forget it!"

3) It's important to acknowledge the barriers that people face, and offer "next best" alternatives if a reader can't, because of whatever circumstances, do the very best. I shared a quote I'd read recently by a doctor, who said that if people can't afford to adhere to the "12 things to always buy organic" list, they can still reduce the burden of pesticides they ingest by eating a wide variety of produce, and washing produce well before eating it. I suggested this company do the same (perhaps not on their company web site, but at least on their blog), saying something like, "For those who can afford it, please buy our bags for these reasons. But if you can't, please continue to do what you can to reduce the amount of disposable bags you use."


What do you think? I'd like to do the very best for my family in everything, but that's not always possible. I started this blog because I want people to know that even if you can't buy a homestead and live off the grid, or afford to purchase organic cotton clothing and a hybird vehicle, there are still ways to become more green inexpensively.

The blog Condo Blues also recently took up the topic of reusable bags. She writes,
I don’t support laws that ban plastic shopping bags because it ends up hurting people that cannot afford to buy reusable shopping bags. I’d rather a store or city offer incentives for using your own bag because I think you get more flies with honey than vinegar.

Condo Blues goes on to share some sweet honey: an interview with the "Green Bag Lady," a woman who sews reusable bags and gives them away for free.


* Note: The news story that reported on lead in reusable bags had some interesting readers' comments. One reader questioned the holes in the story. He pointed out that the story never reported how many bags were found to contain lead nor how much lead they contained. He asked whether or not ink in the lead on the outside of the bag can leach into food on the inside of the bag, as well as how much lead can be absorbed by food that generally remains in a reusable bag for less than an hour. Without this more specific information, he noted, the story sounds like propaganda by the makers of disposable plastic shopping bags who want to discourage people from using reusable bags.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Maybe I like to shop after all...

A conversation with a coworker about my love of thrift shopping got me thinking.

When I was younger, I thought I didn't like shopping. My mom loves to shop, and used to take us out every weekend when we were kids to try on new clothes, jewelry, whatever. She often didn't buy things, especially if they were out of her price range. The fun was in the experience.

Well, I always hated that. So when I became an adult, I would only go shopping when I needed something in particular. I always had specific features in mind (but I didn't care about brand), and a maximum price I planned to spend. For example, "I need a pair of boots with a low heel that are warm and waterproof and stylish enough to wear to work, and I don't want to spend more than $60 on them." Then I'd go shopping for just that, and when I found it, I'd go home. None of this browsing around my mom used to do.

However, since I started thrift shopping in earnest (which really happened when I moved to Washington, since the thrift shops tend to be better here than the ones I left behind in Massachusetts), I have grown to love browsing, shopping for no other reason that "just because."

When I discussed this with my co-worker, I realized why. I always hated the feeling of seeing things I wanted to buy but couldn't afford. My mom doesn't care--for her, it's fun to see what's out there, whether or not she can actually buy it. But that frustration for me meant that shopping wasn't fun.

Thrift shopping is a very different experience. If I see something I like in a thrift store, I can almost always afford to buy it. I don't always indulge--either because I know the item is something I really wouldn't use, or because I've already spent enough (even second-hand shopping can add up after a while!). But I never feel that frustration of things being priced out of my budget, so browsing around is fun for me.

It's interesting to realize this about myself. I never thought about myself as much of a consumer, but maybe I am--just in a different way, or maybe even moreso than my mom.

What does this mean for being green? I'm not sure. Yes, thrift shopping is a green practice. But is being a big consumer while thrift shopping green or not? Something to ponder.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Update on deodorant

I now apply Alaffia Everyday Shea lotion to my underarms before applying my homemade deodorant. Itchy underarm problem solved!

Black Friday/Saturday, thrift store style

Ok, I admit it. I didn't join the "Buy Nothing" boycott, and instead I went after-Thanksgiving shopping on both Friday and Saturday.

A couple of my stops were to big box stores. I spent $43 at Walmart (yeah, I know) for two toys, one of which will be my daughter's Christmas present from Santa, and another for a toy drive for needy children I'm participating in. I also went to Casual Male Big & Tall to buy my 6'7" hubby much-needed socks, gloves and slippers.

But most of our shopping was done at Goodwill and Value Village, and the deals were awesome! I bought several things for the kitchen, including a dish drainer, a wooden snack tray, a pizza tray, a cookie sheet, a vegetable peeler, a gravy boat, and a mini loaf pan, all in "like new" condition. We bought seven picture frames to frame my daughter's school photos to give as presents to relatives. My daughter bought a butterfly blanket and a cute set of toy animals. And at Goodwill, where everything was 50% off, we bought at least a dozen learning and art activities for my daughter, including magnetic wooden letters, math, phonics and rhyming flash cards, gel markers, a "make your own journal" craft kit, a wooden tic-tac-toe board, and more. Total spent: $47 for 43 items. What other Black Friday deals could possibly be this good?

Monday, November 8, 2010

If birds can't find your feeder, does it exist?

A while ago, I wrote about getting a bird feeder so my daughter could watch the birds, and then about having to get rid of the bird feeder, after a raccoon tried to abscond with it.

A year and a half later, we are trying again. My daughter saw an episode of Curious George in which he made a bird feeder (and had to fight off a pesky squirrel), after which some real kids gave instructions about making your own homemade bird feeder. She really wanted to try, so we cleaned out an empty 64-oz Epsom salt carton, cut a hole for an opening, filled it with bird seed, taped the top shut, and stuck a pencil through it for a perch.

Hubby had wired one of those big stakes for hanging tomato plants to the deck, and I thought this was the solution to our raccoon problem--the advice I've seen is that if it hangs higher than eight feet, the raccoon can't get to it. None of our trees are that tall, but the deck certainly is. Second, the stake allowed us to point the feeder outward, which would prevent bird droppings on the deck (hubby's concern).

So I bound the feeder to the stake and waited. And waited. And waited. I even added the shelled sunflower seeds that were so popular with the birds in the last feeder--and nothing.

Is it the weather? We've had some crappy windy rainy days, but also some beautiful sunny days, and on the latter, I still see birds around. (And amazingly, the stake seems to be strong--the feeder is just as secure as when I first mounted it).

Or is it that the birds don't know it's there? In our effort to post the feeder somewhere the raccoons can't get to it, did we put it someplace where the birds can't even fathom there's food?

Friday, October 22, 2010

My deodorant's not working so well...

Sorry I haven't blogged lately. I started a new job at the beginning of October, one with a long commute, so my free time is much more limited.

So, the homemade deodorant I raved about a few months ago? Not working out so well.

Not because it's not effective. On the contrary, it still works better in preventing wetness and odor than most deodorants I've ever tried, natural or otherwise, and almost as well as most antiperspirants. (Antiperspirants are typically stronger than deodorants, because they stop you from sweating).

However, I started breaking out in a red, itchy rash under my arms a few weeks ago. After googling, "rash from homemade deodorant," I learned that it is a fairly common problem. The major culprit is the baking soda, which, as I discovered when I used to wash my hair with it,§ can be very drying to scalp and skin.

Here are the changes I've made, which have helped the problem, but not completely eliminated it yet:

Revised homemade deodorant recipe:

* Place 2 T of unrefined coconut oil and 2 T of unrefined shea butter in a pot and liquify over low-medium heat. This happens fairly quickly.

* Remove from heat and add other ingredients:

-- 5 T of corn starch (CHANGE: more corn starch)
-- Slightly less than 1 T of baking soda (CHANGE: much less baking soda)
-- 1 T of witch hazel
-- 1 T of pure aloe vera gel (CHANGE: added to improve moisture)
-- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon peppermint oil. (CHANGE: peppermint instead of orange, because citrus oils can irritate. Note: you can choose a different type of essential oil, based on whatever scent you prefer.)

* Stir continuously until smooth

* Pour into a 4 oz canning jar.

*Leave lid off until cool. Re-stir once cooled, as essential oils sometimes float to the top. Can refrigerate for a couple days to solidify.

The other change I've made is that after showering, I apply some of my olive oil/shea butter facial moisturizer to my underarms before applying the deodorant. It has definitely helped--the rash and itch are much better, but not completely gone. I'll update again about this in a couple of months.


§ This post describes how I currently wash and condition my hair, although now I generally wash with apple cider vinegar & water, and condition with olive oil/vodka/water.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Little things that make life easier, second-hand

One thing I love about thrift store and yard sale shopping is that I can find so many little things--things that I might never pay full price for, but that make life easier. Here are some recent example:

--A key case for 25 cents. I was tired of my keys piercing holes in my pockets and purses.

--A large bucket with a secure lid (this was the key feature) for $2.50, for soaking such things as my reusable menstrual pads without exposing them to others.

--Eight handkerchiefs for $4. This came in handy when I had a recent cold--I could use them with the five or so I already had, and wash them out each night. It was the first time I didn't need to rely on paper tissue when I was sick.

--My daughter's Halloween costume for $6. She wants to go as a doctor this year. At Goodwill, I found a plain women's white blouse with snaps down the front for $4 that, on my child, looks just like a doctor's jacket. Then I found both a real set and a toy set of a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. Both sets were $2 each. Knowing my daughter (who wants to be a doctor when she grows up), she'd want the real set to actually hear heartbeats and be able to puff up the blood pressure cuff on someone's arm, so that's what I bought. (FYI, I'm to go as her patient this year. She will cover me in bandages).

--A stainless steel covered cake plate (round) and an oblong covered casserole/cake pan, $5 each. Now I no longer have to cover cakes and other dishes with foil and hope the icing or food doesn't get stuck to it.

--Two little silicone trays for $1, each with 12 small pumpkin molds in them. I think these were to either create pumpkin-shaped candies or pumpkin-shaped pieces of ice. Nevertheless, I have my own use for them: so that my daughter can mix paint colors together. If I allowed my daughter unrestricted access to her Crayola paints, we'd end up with 10 jars of muddy brown color. Instead, I pour a little of each color paint into different pumpkin holes, and she can mix them together to her heart's content.

--A beautiful, small but sturdy covered picnic basket for $3. I start a new job on Monday, and I will use it to carry a lunch plate, glass, mug, utensils, place mat and cloth napkins for easy and discreet storage under or near my desk.

--A large glass casserole dish lid for $1.50, which we are now using to cover food in the microwave. Our previous options were a plastic microwave cover (which deteriorates over time), or using plates (not the best, since they smash your food and can get too hot to easily remove), cloth napkins (messy) or paper towels (wasteful). This lid is a better alternative than all of the above. It sits high enough not to touch the food, and has a handle for easy lifting.

Bonus yard sale discovery: I wrote a while ago about being frustrated that I couldn't find anyone who could repair my leather purses. I buy them used (usually for $4-6) and have several now sitting in my closet because I always break the strap. Otherwise, these bags are all in great condition, and it seems a waste to have them sitting there gathering dust.

At a recent yard sale I visited, I noticed a "Tailoring and Clothes Repair" sign in the window of the home. I asked the woman about it, and she told me to step inside and talk to her husband, who is the tailor. I described my purses and asked if he could repair leather--and he can! I'll post again after I've had a bag repaired (provided the price is reasonable!).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cheap green tip: toilet cleaning

I have mentioned before that one of the drawbacks to the "yellow, let it mellow" method of saving water (in other words, not flushing after #1, unless the bowl is filling up with paper or we have guests) is that your toilet bowl gets dirty pretty quickly and needs to be cleaned every couple of days.

I had heard about the method of using baking soda and vinegar to clean a toilet bowl. As anyone who has ever made a "volcano" in fourth grade science class knows, mixing these two items together produces quite a reaction.

I was skeptical, however, because I have found the mix of these two to be less than effective in another often-recommended green household tip: freeing clogged drains. The idea is to add one cup of vinegar and one cup of baking soda to the drain, wait 15 minutes, and then pour in a kettle of boiling water. When I've tried this, water may begin to trickle down what had been impassable pipes, but the drain never completely clears. This method might be good as a way to regularly maintain your drains and prevent clogs, but clearing already existing ones? Not so much.

So, how to clean my toilet? I've tried several homemade tricks: using baking soda alone, using vinegar alone, and using a baking soda and hydrogen peroxide mix. None of these works very well. I read a list of the best "green" toilet cleaners, and Clorox Greenworks was recommended. I've tried it, and it does work. However, with every other day cleaning, you can go through a bottle very quickly, so it's not very cost effective.

This week, I found myself out of Clorox Greenworks toilet bowl cleaner and a dirty bowl, so I thought, why not try the baking soda and vinegar method? It couldn't be any worse than anything else I'd tried. Here's the method: add 1/2 cup of vinegar and 1/2 cup of baking soda to your toilet bowl. Wait about 10 minutes until the two stop reacting, and then scrub your bowl with a toilet brush.

It worked! My toilet bowl was sparkling afterward. My guess is that the chemical reaction between the two helps scrub the stains, in a way that vinegar alone or baking soda alone can't do. Best of all, this method is cheap!

Update: The baking soda and vinegar method even cleaned the ring around the toilet bowl in our second bathroom. This ring had been there since before we lived there, I think because my in-laws rarely used that toilet. And now it's gone! The natural method strikes again!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gourd watch and garden update

Nada. Yup, that's what my experiment in growing squash plants has produced.

This year, we kept all of our plants in pots on the deck, except for the few that like to spread long and wide: the mints, the cucumbers, pumpkin, zucchini and butternut squash.

As I had noted in an earlier post, for some reason the deer had left our yard alone this year. Until my birthday in late August, that is. We were celebrating on the deck when a deer decided to visit. Hubby scared it off, and I then told him he needed to make his "deer-be-gone" again (a mixture of urine, garlic and cayenne).

It was too late, however. The next morning, everything except the mints and the pumpkin were gone. The rest of the vines were completely stripped of all leaves, bulbs and flowers.

Why the deer left the pumpkin alone, I don't know. And now I know that if we try to plant pumpkin again next year, I do need to hand-pollinate (here is a handy set of instructions, complete with photos), since the pumpkin plants produced flowers but no fruits.

Nevertheless, I think we still had a pretty good year for the garden. We successfully grew spearmint and peppermint in the yard (not hard at all--mints grow like weeds), and in pots on the deck, we've grown tomatoes, green beans, lettuce, basil, collard greens, and for a short while, Swiss chard. Surprisingly, we've even picked a few cucumbers from the yard--apparently the deer missed a few. As a result, fresh salads have been a favorite meal for us this summer.

We did fail at growing a few other random herbs and once again, spinach. However, on a visit a month ago to an otherwise verdant urban community farm, I noticed that their withered spinach patch looked much like my poor spinach pot. A farm staffer informed me that spinach is very tough to grow, so I don't feel so bad about it.

Add to this the joy of discovering fresh blueberries, blackberries and plums growing in our yard this year. The plums, sadly, were ripe for only about two weeks and then withered into prunes right on the branches. The blackberry bush, I have also learned, is considered an extremely invasive plant that can easily choke out other plants growing around it, so we may at some point have to try to get rid of it. Still, eating freshly picked fruit all summer has been wonderful.

I know we have a long way to go in being gardeners--for example, we have yet to grow enough to not only feed our family but to share with neighbors or food pantries; grow a winter crop; or learn how to preserve/can foods and save seeds. Still, for year 2, after being afraid I couldn't grow anything during year 1, I'm pretty satisfied.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

When going green is a pain in the *@%&

Let's face it--one of the challenges to going green is that some of the things you must do are a pain in the *@%&. It seems selfish to admit this; after all, compared to many of the daily living tasks our grandparents did all the time, or that many people in less developed nations still do, the stuff I want to complain about is nothing. However, I don't think much good will come from not admitting my annoyance, and maybe by talking about it, I will be able to think of ways to overcome the frustration. So here goes:

Green living takes forethought and preparation. Unfortunately, I'm not always as prepared as I would like. On Saturday, we went to Puyallup to get some work done on our car. Originally my husband was going to go alone, while I remained with my daughter taking care of our various Saturday tasks. For a variety of reasons we realized on Saturday morning that we all needed to go (the money to fix the car was in my account, but I needed the card, so I couldn't just give it to hubby; and we still needed some form of transportation once the car was in the shop).

Thus, we set off on Saturday morning rather quickly, without having prepared for the day. Normally, I'd make breakfast for the family in the morning, and we'd carry lunch with us. Yesterday, however, we dropped off the car and hadn't had breakfast, so we went to a nearby McDonalds. Then we decided to visit the Puyallup farmer's market, one of the biggest in Pierce County, while we waited.

In many ways, that was great--we bought lots of fresh produce, at much cheaper prices than at the farmer's markets in Tacoma. I also bought some natural fragrances--gardenia in jojoba oil--at a great price from a vendor, who discounted her products because this is the last farmer's market booth she plans to do for the year.

However, we then needed lunch, which we bought from food vendors at the market, and it was all packed in styrofoam. And we were there so long waiting for our car to be ready that we had to rush to a birthday party that afternoon, for two sisters who are friends of our daughter's. There was no time to carefully shop for presents, so we hurried into Walmart for heavily plastic-wrapped dolls. (There were some really cute handmade items at the market, such as tie-dyed sundresses for little girls, but they were too pricey for our budget, especially since we had to buy for two children).

Thus, we generated a lot more garbage than we might otherwise have done had we been more prepared. (Although I tried to make up for it by collecting the bottles and cans to recycle at both the birthday party and a church picnic today!).

Green living sometimes just takes more work. The watermelon rinds and corn cobs and husks collected at my birthday party two weeks ago have been decomposing in a plastic bag on the deck. I started to add them to the compost pile today. Before I could do that, I had to chop up the rinds and cobs and cut up the husks. And yeah, it got tiring after a while, which is why I started thinking it would be easier to just throw it all away (I didn't).

While I love all my handmade personal care products (hair conditioner and detangler, facial moisturizer, deodorant, toothpaste), it can be a pain in the *@%& to make them. Not that any of them are complicated to make, but the fact that I have to make them, instead of just buying a pre-made product at the store, can sometimes be annoying, especially if I'm tired or I'm in a hurry when I suddenly discover that I'm out of what I need.

And my reusable menstrual pads? Yes, I love them, as I wrote about a few days ago. But I'll admit, there is a bit of an "ick" factor when I'm rinsing out the pads that have been soaking.

So what to do? Well, sometimes you just gotta vent. After that, I think it's like anything that's a pain in the *@%& to do (taxes, say)--remember why it's important. And remember the benefits. It's easier with things for which the benefit is immediate and obvious, such as my personal care products. But "saving the planet" is a long way off from my small efforts. But perhaps I can focus more on the intermediate term. With my compost, for example, I can remember that next spring, my plants will love me!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cheap green tip: substitute flax seed for eggs in baking

By now, I'm sure you've heard about the massive egg recall taking place in at least 14 states due to salmonella contamination. If you're an egg eater in an affected area, you currently have to forego eggs for a while or pay the much higher prices for uncontaminated organic, free range eggs.

Well, I have a cheap green tip for you! It won't help if you like eggs for breakfast, but it will certainly help if you love to bake like I do.

Purchase a bag or jar of milled flax seed, milled meaning pre-ground. (If you purchase whole flax seeds, you'll have to grind them yourself in a coffee grinder). For each egg you want to replace in a baking recipe, add 1 tablespoon of milled flax seed and 3 tablespoons of water to a blender. Blend about one minute until smooth. Use immediately, or store in the refrigerator for up to three days.

You'll notice no difference in the taste or texture of your final product, you'll have added some excellent fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids to your recipe, and as an added bonus, you can give the spoon or beaters to your kids to lick without worrying about making them deathly ill.

Is this really a cheap green tip? I did some calculations, and yes, it is. I buy 12 ounce bags of milled flax seed for $2.99 from Grocery Outlet. According to the serving size information, the bag contains 48 tablespoons, or the equivalent (when blended with water) of 48 eggs. That's an average price of 6.2 cents per (substitute) egg.

Regular, non-organic large eggs range in price across the country from $1.39-3.99 a dozen. That's an average of 11.5 to 33.3 cents an egg. So the milled flax seed egg substitute is much cheaper than regular eggs.

OK, you may not have a Grocery Outlet around. Where else could you buy milled (or possibly whole) flax seeds? I'm pretty sure any store that sells natural foods, such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Fred Meyer, will carry it. I've never checked, but it's possible that ordinary grocery stores might have it as well. If you still can't find it, you can always purchase it online (see below).

Will it be as cheap as at a discount store such as Grocery Outlet? I think so, or at least comparable to regular eggs. This is a list of flax seed products sold on Here are my calculations for just the first two:

Hodgson Mill Milled Flax Seed, 12-Ounce Boxes (Pack of 8), for $15.20. That's $1.90 for each 12 oz box, or about 4 cents per tablespoon (and remember, each tablespoon makes one egg).

Flax Usa Cold Milled Flax, 40-Ounce Canister (Pack of 2), for $25. That's 80 ounces of milled flax seed, or about 320 tablespoons. So the price is about 7.8 cents per tablespoon/replacement egg. In both cases, it's still much cheaper than buying regular eggs.

Another added benefit: while you have to use the flax seed/water mix within three days, the unmixed flax seeds themselves can be stored in your refrigerator for a couple of months, or your freezer for even longer (and yes, you must refrigerate or freeze the bag or container once it's been opened. Milled flax seed will go rancid otherwise). Try doing that with a dozen eggs!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A party and plums and an almost non-existent utility bill

Hubby threw a birthday cookout for me this weekend, and we used the same things as for my daughter's bubble party in July: reusable plastic plates and cups and cloth napkins. We also gathered all the leftover corn husks and cobs for composting.

Even better, as snacks, I set out plums and blackberries from the yard. Alas, the blueberries are all gone for the season, but the plums are now ripe and sweet! I realize the mistake I made earlier: I was trying to eat the plums when they turned purple. I need to wait until they're so dark they're almost black. That's when they're perfect!

We received our latest bimonthly utility bill (water and electric). You may remember that our April bill was twice as high as February's, and we discovered in June that they had overcharged us. The credit to our account was enough to wipe out the June bill and give us an additional credit of $91.

This bill was just as amazing. We had successfully brought down the bill from $600 every two months, to $400, to about $250. This bill was $118. In other words, it breaks down to an average cost of usage of only $29 per month, per utility. We're definitely doing something right. Each bill shows a comparison chart to the same billing period the previous year. Our water and energy usage is less than half of what we were using at this time last year -- which was less than half of what we had used the year before. Best of all, given that we still have the $91 credit, we only have to pay $27 of that $118!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's amazing what you discover in your own yard

Sometimes I wonder if I'm so much of a city kid that it takes a long time for me to notice natural things. Or maybe, just maybe, my yard is changing before my eyes.

Last summer, our friends Johnnie and Michele came over when we were planting our garden in the yard, and pointed out that the two bushes near the garden spot were blueberry bushes. I couldn't figure out how I had missed that the year before, since I love blueberries.

Last year most of the blueberries that grew were eaten by the deer as soon as they started to ripen, and those that weren't eaten by deer were rather bitter in taste. It's possible the deer had eaten them all the year before, so we hadn't noticed.

This year, the deer have oddly left the berries alone (and we've seen them running around the neighborhood, so they're still here). Not only that, but the berries that ripened have been nice and sweet. I've already speculated that the deer dislike the smell of the coffee grounds we used to fertilize the garden--which also may be the reason for the improved berry crop. My daughter found a bush in another part of the yard that still bears a tag reading, "blueberry plant." The latter grew no berries, so I definitely think our cultivation of the general area of the two fruitful bushes has had an effect.

My daughter found something else this year: a tree in our year bearing what my neighbor informs me are Italian plums. Again, how did I miss this the past two years? Unpicked fruit trees usually results in rotten fruit on the ground, and I certainly have done my share of raking and yard work! So far, the plums are hard and bitter, even the purple ones, so we'll see if they improve as fall approaches.

And best of all, my husband discovered a blackberry bush when he was mowing the lawn! It's growing up among the shrubs that border our yard, so he's pretty sure they're wild berries that weren't intentionally planted. He used his garden gloves to pull a bunch of braches out of the shrubs and into the yard. Daughter and I collected enough to make two dozen blackberry tarts!

Discovering all this fruit growing in our yard has been a delight. I think of the words from the movie Jurassic Park (used in an entirely different context, of course, but they can apply here): "Nature always finds a way."

Monday, August 9, 2010

Weekend news and basil-mint pesto

Besides swimming, we had other outdoor experiences this weekend. Our good friends Johnnie and Michele are living on Vashon Island this summer and caretaking at a cottage there. It's a pretty rustic cabin right on the water. We joined them for dinner on Sunday evening.

The last time we were there, on July 4th, my daughter and I picked up seashells off the beach (which the kids painted at my daughter's bubble party). This time, the tide was high and there was no beach.

However, there is a long, thick rope hanging from one of the trees in the yard. Michele said it was once a swing, but the seat broke off at some point. No matter: my daughter used the rope to play Tarzan and swing all over the yard.

They also have wild blackberries growing in the yard. I spent some time picking them (mmm, I love blackberries), and I have scratches all over my arm to prove it!

Johnnie and Michele's dinners are usually open potlucks for their friends. My contribution this time was a basil-mint pesto, made from the basil, spearmint and peppermint growing in our garden. It was a big hit with everyone, "addictive," as one woman called it. Here is the recipe I made (modified from this one at Post Punk Kitchen):



-1/4 cup each almonds and pine nuts

-2 c. basil and mint leaves (I cut off two tall stalks each of basil and spearmint, and five or six short stalks of peppermint, and pulled the leaves off the stems)

- juice of one lemon (tip: firmly roll the lemon around on a hard surface for about 10-20 seconds, and the juice will squeeze out much more easily)

- 3 T olive oil

- 2 garlic cloves, chopped

- 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese

- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt.


- Using my Magic Bullet blender, I chopped up the almonds and pine nuts until they they resembled coarse crumbs and set them aside.

- I added the basil and mint leaves to the blender, along with 1 T of the olive oil, the lemon juice and the garlic, and blended until smooth.

- I added the chopped nuts, the rest of the oil, the parmesan cheese and salt to the basil-mint mixture and blended. The resulting mixture is lumpy.

- I served with whole wheat crackers.

For a vegan variety, you can replace the parmesan cheese with 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast flakes.

Learning to swim

My kid loves the water. She is taking lessons at Tacoma's Eastside Pool, the only pool in the area with Saturday lessons for children her age, as well as the one with the cheapest rates. She took their tot class last summer, and is now in their Level 1 swim class.

We attended a birthday pool party for one of her friends on Sunday. My daughter turned down eating lunch so she could stay in the water, came out of the pool long enough to sing happy birthday to her friend, and then jumped right back in.

I really want her to learn how to swim, in part because I can't. You may have heard about the six teens who drowned in Shreveport, LA last week when they jumped into a river to cool off from the oppressive heat. This article about the tragedy is one of many that notes that nearly 70% of black children in the U.S. can't swim, compared to only 42% of white children, and that African-Americans drown at much higher rates than do whites.

There are many reasons for the racial disparity in swimming ability, including historical segregation and current poverty which made and make it difficult or impossible to have access to pools and opportunities to learn to swim. Add to that the fear factor: when adults never had the chance to learn to swim, they are more likely to be fearful of the water and thus not allow their children to go near it.

My first opportunity in the water occurred when I was seven and my mother signed me up for lessons at the YMCA. There had to be at least fifty children in the class, so the instructors had no time to give individual attention to anyone. Instead, they demonstrated and explained certain techniques, and you either got it or you didn't. I learned to hold my breath under water in that class. (Even in my daughter's class, which only has ten kids, there is little time for individual attention. The instructor works with each child for about three or four minutes, while the rest of the kids play in the water).

My next chance occurred in seventh grade, when I took a semester of swimming as part of gym class. However, the swim teacher was a diabetic who was going through some serious complications, and he missed most of the semester. The substitute who replaced him declared each class "open swim," so we were never taught anything. A friend of mine taught me how to float in that class.

In tenth grade, I also had a chance to take a semester of swimming as part of gym. The swim teacher was well-known as an excellent instructor. But early in the semester, a kid lit up a cigarette in the gym, tossed it on a mat and set the place on fire. The gym, a separate building from the school, had so much smoke damage that they had to close it down for the remainder of the year. We spent the rest of our gym periods doing calisthenics in the basement of the school until it was warm enough to play a few sports outside. I never again had room in my school schedule (high school or college) to take gym.

The rest of my family can swim, but they all learned as adults. After her children were grown and out of the house, my mother signed up for swimming lessons and kept taking them until she learned. My dad and brother both learned to swim in the military. My sister learned to swim in college. Lucky woman, she could take swimming as a credit elective at her university. I didn't have that option.

As an adult, I never took independent swim classes because, I hate to admit, I was worried about my hair. When relaxed hair gets wet it tends to frizz up, which doesn't look so hot when you're a working professional. Straightening it out again requires several hours involving dryers, flat irons and curling irons. As such, swimming lessons seemed like more trouble than they were worth.

During the few times over the years I had the chance to get into a pool, I taught myself how to kick while floating, and I can make it across the shallow end of the pool that way. Still, that's hardly competent swimming. My husband, on the other hand, used to be a lifeguard.

So here's hoping that my daughter's love of the water will continue, and that she will become an expert swimmer. And perhaps her mother will, too. Learning to swim is not a hair challenge anymore, since I no longer relax my hair and don't care if it gets wets, but it is a time and schedule challenge. I would love nothing more, however, than being able to join my daughter in the water.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I visited Alaffia!

I had a meeting in Olympia Wednesday, and since Lacey, WA, the location of the headquarters of Alaffia, is between Tacoma and Olympia, I decided to visit. Their offices are beautifully decorated with African art and large photographs of the women's cooperative in Togo that produces the shea butter and other ingredients for their products, and of the women and children assisted by Alaffia's donations for maternal health and education in Africa.

Unfortunately, the staff was very busy that day and could not give me a tour of their production facilities, but I did get a chance to buy one of their new Beautiful Curls products, their Nourishing Shea Butter Leave-In & De-Tangler (for babies and up). It was $12 for a 12 oz bottle, so a pretty reasonable deal.

After trying it, I still need something stronger--my hair, like my skin, is a desert that sucks moisture up and begs for more--but it worked beautifully to soften and condition my daughter's hair. The best part about it is the heavenly smell, NOT created by synthetic (and often toxic) 'fragrance'! Instead, the product is scented with vanilla flower extract and mango extract. Orders have just started coming in for their Beautiful Curls line of hair care products, so they are not yet in the stores, but the woman who sold me the bottle encouraged me to tell my local stores (in my case, Marlene's and Super Supplements) to carry it. So Bravo, Alaffia!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Safe Cosmetics Act: where do you stand?

On July 21, three Congressional Reps introduced the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 (H.R.5786), "which gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to ensure that personal care products are free of harmful ingredients." In many ways, this bill is very necessary and overdue, as "The Story of Cosmetics" video (created by the same makers of "The Story of Stuff") reveals. The Safe Cosmetics Campaign provides information about how the act will protect consumers going forward.

However... The Indie Beauty Network, a coalition of small businesses that create and sell personal care products, opposes the bill, citing the following reasons:

-- Small cosmetic businesses have a history of producing safe cosmetics.

-- The requirements of the law, including scientific testing of all their ingredients and reporting of trace elements found even in natural ingredients, would be onerous to small businesses. They give the example of having to identify and label everything in water, if that is an ingredient of the given cosmetic, noting that water "contains a number of chemicals, including nickel, lead, copper, silver and dozens more — depending on the water source."

-- The law allows individual states to add requirements to the federal law, compounding the burden to small businesses.

The Indie Beauty Network adds that this law would decimate the small cosmetics industry at one of the worst times possible, when we are trying to rebuild the American economy.

Here, however, seems to be the crux of all the above concerns:

H.R. 5786 does not contain an exemption for small business owners. Many laws in this country exempt small companies because compliance would put them out of business without any real benefit to society. The same is true in this case. H.R. 5786 treats the smallest company making 50 products a day the same way it treats our nation’s multi-million dollar companies. While there is an exemption from the annual payment of fees, the testing and paperwork requirements in this bill place burdens on very small businesses that are unfair, overreaching, unnecessary, offensive and intrusive.

What are your thoughts? I definitely think a Safe Cosmetics law is long overdue. However, wouldn't it make more sense to amend the bill to include an exemption for small businesses, than to fight against the bill altogether?

My husband could have worse vices...

... than a fondness for sunflower seeds. He loves them so much, he probably munches on a complete 16 oz bag every two days.

You know the old saying, "Pick your battles"? This is one battle I've chosen not to pick. Yes, it drives me nuts that despite carrying around a cup or bag to spit the shells into, he inevitably leaves a few shells around on the floor, on counters, and under seat cushions, and I hate the way it makes his breath smell. However, I remind myself that of the many vices he could have but doesn't, this one is relative minor.

But one thing I am proud of: he has found a way to put the used shells to good use. He has begun scattering them around the garden as part of our mulch. I have to admit that they don't look bad at all in a natural setting, and it's one more way to help keep the slugs away.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Pumpkins, zuchinni and squash, oh my!

This year, my daughter planted pumpkin seeds as part of a kids' project led by the Master Gardeners program at the Puyallup spring fair. Given the size they grow to, they were the first of our plants to be transferred to the yard this year.

About a month ago, I bought some zuchinni and butternut squash starts and planted them outside also, because these are my two favorite vegetables.

When each of her two pumpkin planted sprouted one flower about two weeks ago, I proudly told my daughter that the spots with the flowers would turn into pumpkins. Then I read this post by Crunchy Chicken. Pumpkin plants need male and female flowers? (And how do you know which one is which?) The male and female flowers need to pollinate to actually produce a pumpkin? Sometimes the gardener needs to help the pollination process along by hand? (And how in the world do you do that??!) Huh??!!

So when the two little flowers died, I despaired the possibility of my daughter's pumpkins ever growing.

But not so fast. I was listening to "Gardening in the Northwest" on radio station KPTK-Seattle on Saturday, and someone aked about squash plants and pollination. Scott Conner, who leads that show, answered that pumpkins, squashes, zuchinnis, etc. tend to produce a few early flowers that die, and then produce a boatload of flowers again during the hottest month of summer, August. The second batch, he assured, will most likely pollinate and produce fruit. He added that zuchinni, in fact, can go from nothing to fruit in a matter of hours.

When I woke up this morning, my zuchinni plants, which had NO flowers yesterday, had about a dozen flowers on them this morning, and the pumpkin plants have re-flowered. (Nothing yet on the butternut squash). So I still have reason for hope! I'll keep you posted as "gourd watch" develops.

Praising Alaffia yet again

Earlier this year, I blogged about discovering that my daughter has the same dry, sensitive skin, especially on the face, that I have. My homemade shea butter and olive oil moisturizer caused her to break out in little pimples, and plain aloe vera didn't provide enough moisture to keep her skin from becoming dry, red and itchy.

At Super Supplements, a clerk recommended and I purchased Earth's Best Organics' Calendula Extra Rich Therapy Cream, designed for babies' skin. It worked for a while, but after about a month (as was always the case with me, using commercial moisturizers), my daughter started reacting to the product, breaking out in rashes.

Well, my resourceful child has come up with her own solution. She started applying Alaffia's Everyday Shea Body Lotion to her face. It has been working beautifully for months now, keeping her skin soft and smooth with no reactions or breakouts.

I encourage my readers to support Alaffia*, including their Everyday Shea products and their upline skin and hair care products. They're an awesome company, not only for the quality of their products**, but also for the values and principles they espouse and practice. Alaffia products are available at Whole Foods, Super Supplements, Marlene's (for those of you in Tacoma), and other natural food and personal care stores, as well as online.


* I have no relationship with Alaffia other than being a satisfied customer, and I receive nothing from them for my endorsement.

** Something else I love about Alaffia are the 2-oz glass jars they sell their pure shea butter in. I reuse these jars to make my homemade moisturizers, deodorant and (my latest experiment) toothpaste. They're the perfect size in which to make and store small batches.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Was this an especially bad allergy season?

Was this an especially bad allergy season? It was for me. The important question, however, is why.

Some background: I learned that I have seasonal allergies during the first and only time I attended summer day camp at age 6, when my eyes swelled up so badly I couldn't see. Needless to say, my parents never let me return to camp.

My allergies continued to worsen each year. As a young adult in 1995, I decided to begin allergy shots after meeting a woman whose sinuses had collapsed due to allergy problems. When I first began the shots (four of them, weekly, for trees, grass, mold and dust mites, respectively), I was told that I needed to continue the weekly shots for six months, switch to monthly shots for another six months, and then I'd be done.

It never happened that way. First, I was never able to have shots as infrequently as once a month; rather, I was reduced to every other week. Second, after a year I was told that I needed to receive the shots for five years. At five years, I was told that I needed the shots for 7 years. At seven years, I was told that now the science was recommending that people receive allergy shots for 10 to 15 years, or else one's allergies would return.

At that point, I couldn't stand the thought of continuing to receive four shots every other week for another three to eight years (and always having to miss some work in the process). In addition, my allergies had drastically improved until they were practically non-existent.

It's now been 15 years since I first started the shots, and eight years since I ended them. During my first summer in Washington, 2008, I had no allergy symptoms. Last summer, I had very mild symptoms. This year, however, my allergies fiercely returned. The question is why. Here are some possible reasons:

1) Geography. I moved in 2008 from Boston to Washington. The shots I received were created to help build my tolerance to local pollens in Boston. There are no doubt pollinating plants here in Washington that I never received shots for. This may help explain why my allergies returned only moderately last year--the local clime has taken time to affect me. In addition, during my basically allergy-free years, I took a few trips home to Ohio in June (usually to attend a relative's graduation), and there I would experience symptoms that I didn't have in Boston.

2) The allergist was right. In other words, I needed 15 years of allergy shots to ensure my immunity. Either 15 years was indeed the length that the shots would last, or the eight years that I've been off the shots now override the seven years I was on.

3) Global warming/climate change. One of the likely consequences of climate change is that we will have much longer growing seasons. Longer growing seasons = longer periods of time for plants to pollinate. Prior to my allergy shots, my allergies primarily affected me during May and June. This year, for the first time ever, my allergies started in April and only this week, the last of July, have they subsided. If climate change is the culprit, this doesn't bode well for the future for the many of us who suffer from allergies.

What do you think? Obviously, I'm one person, and my anecdotes are not data. I'd like to hear from others. If you are an allergy sufferer, were your allergies worse this year? If so, do you have any thoughts about why?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Awesome nature in the city moment

My favorite nature in the city moment occurred about a decade ago, when I was taking a walk on the Esplanade, the long stretch of park that runs along the banks of the Charles River in Boston. I spotted a mama duck and about five or six ducklings standing beside the shore. Several people gathered to watch the sight when suddenly a St. Bernard appeared, barking furiously and running toward the ducks. The mother duck started quacking loudly and jumped into the water, with her babies right behind her.

Although his owners were calling for his return, the dog ignored them and jumped into the river after the ducks. The ducks swam as fast as they could behind a rock. Once her ducklings were safe, the mama duck turned and let out what can only be described as a primal scream. She then took off like a low-flying missile aimed right at the dog!

The funniest part was the expression that appeared on the dog's face. You could tell he was thinking, "Oh no, I'm in trouble now!" As if he had just become aware of his owners' calls, he turned and hightailed it back to them as quickly as possible!

By this time, the dozens of people who saw this scene were rolling with laughter and speculating about what would have happened had the duck actually caught the dog. Despite the massive size difference (this was a St. Bernard!), she meant business. As one person pointed out, "This was a wild duck protecting her babies, vs. somebody's pet."

Yesterday I experienced another awesome nature in the city moment, and my daughter was there to see it as well! We attended Tacoma's annual Ethnic Fest held in Wright Park. As we walked along the duck pond in the park, a guy who passed us pointed to an area of the pond where hundreds of half-foot long goldfish were swimming. Just as we arrived at the area with the fish, we heard a whistling sound and saw something drop from the sky so fast we couldn't tell what it was. It landed with an explosive splash in the water. A few seconds later, we saw wet wings emerge and a bird lifted into the air. Not just any bird, either--this was a hawk who had caught a nice, juicy goldfish for lunch!

I remember watching a story on TV a few years ago about a family of hawks nesting on the eaves of a tall building near Central Park in New York City. People came out daily with binoculars to watch as the parents fed their babies, and as the fledglings began to learn to fly. It was an amazing sight, and highly unusual, according to the announcer, to have a family of hawks make its home in the city. Well, it seems that Tacoma has at least one hawk living here! And perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. We seem to have plenty of deer around here, even in the central city, not just the outskirts.

Friday, July 23, 2010

My favorite homemade cleaning products

I've blogged a lot about homemade products I use on my hair and skin, but very little about homemade cleaning products. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that finding commercial products that worked for my hair and skin without causing reactions was such a challenge, and so homemade, natural personal care products have been a godsend to me. I just can't get as excited about stuff for cleaning. Plus, there are plenty of natural cleaning products on the market that work well and are reasonably priced, so I don't feel as much of a need to make my own. Planet dish detergent, Trader Joe's laundry powder, and Seventh Generation all-purpose cleaner are some that I use, just to name a few.

Nevertheless, I do make a few of my own cleaning products, and here are some that I like the best:

Bathtub scrub: in a bowl, stir together a lot of baking soda, a little liquid soap and a little more hydrogen peroxide until the mixture reaches a Soft Scrub or toothpaste-like consistency. Spread all over your tub and let it sit for a half hour. For tough stains, cover with a towel (hydrogen peroxide's power breaks down in light). Scrub with a scrub brush and rinse well. Your tub will be shining without any leftover grit. This formula also works well with stains on your kitchen sink.

Carpet and shoe freshener: I've been using this one since my daughter was a crawling baby. Mix together equal parts baking soda and corn starch (say, 1/2 cup each), and add about 15-20 drops essential oil. I add about 10 drops each of my favorites, sweet orange oil and peppermint oil. Stir well, add to a jar (ideally one that has a shaker top, but any jar will do), and cover. This last point is very important! Let the mixture sit for about 24 hours before use. If you use it too soon before the essential oils are dry, the stuff will stick to your socks, feet, or carpet and you'll end up with white dust footprints all over your house.

Once the mixture has dried, sprinkle on your carpet or in your shoes as needed. After about a half hour on the carpet, you can vacuum it up easily. When the smell in your shoes is gone, shake out the excess. How long it takes depends on the stinkiness of your shoes. :)

Deodorizer: Vinegar, vinegar, and more vinegar! I have found that nothing works quite like white vinegar to get rid of strong odors. I just love the stuff. I used to boil bathroom and kitchen sponges (laundering didn't work very well, since I wash in cold water), add baking soda, etc., and they still smelled like mildew. Now I soak them in white vinegar and pop them in the microwave for two minutes and the smell is gone! Add vinegar to a spray bottle and spray your smelly garbage can. Put vinegar in a bowl in your car overnight to get rid of musty smells in your car. The uses are endless.

You might object that vinegar itself has a strong, and to some people, unpleasant odor. Yes, it does. But here is the miracle of vinegar: once it dries or dissipates (usually after about a half hour), you can't smell the vinegar anymore and it takes the stinky odors with it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Making my own deodorant

Here's another reason why small steps are a good thing: each time one small step results in success, it encourages me to take another.

My latest is making my own deodorant. A few years ago, learning about the toxins in many antipersperants, I switched to natural deordorants. Most I tried didn't work well at all, leaving me wet and a little stinky at the end of eat day. Finally, I tried Tom's of Maine's long-lasting deodorant. It worked very well, except on very hot days. Thus, I began carrying a deodorant stick with me during the summer in case I needed to reapply it.

Last week, I read an article about unhealthy substances in deodorants that fingered many "natural" deodorants as culprits. One of the bad ingredients listed was propylene glycol--which turns out to be the first ingredient of my Tom's of Maine deodorant. Wikipedia states that propylene glycol is not harmful to humans in small amounts, but that it can be a skin irritant, and I wonder if that was the case with me. My underarms have had red, itchy patches on them lately.

It was time to try making my own. After googling and looking at several recipes on the web, I decided to try this one, found at the blog Cheap Like Me:

* Place 5 tablespoons of coconut oil (unrefined from natural food store) in a pot and liquify over low-medium heat. This happens very quickly.

[Amy's note: I used 2 T of coconut oil and 3 T of shea butter, since I love shea so much! Shea takes a little longer to melt.]

* Remove from heat and add other ingredients.

* Add 1/4 cup of corn starch

* Add 1/4 cup of baking soda

[Amy's note: I added 1 T of witch hazel to the mix, which the first article (on toxins in deodorants) recommended as a good ingredient. So I also added an extra tablespoon each of corn starch and baking soda, to retain the mixture's consistency.]

* Stir continuously until smooth

* Add essential oils drop by drop until desired scent is reached

[Amy's note: the blogger used lavender and tea tree oil. I used sweet orange oil.]

* Pour into a 4 oz canning jar.

*Leave lid off until cool. Re-stir once cooled, as essential oils sometimes float to the top. Can refrigerate for a couple days to solidify.

Once more, the results have been awesome! The homemade deodorant has kept me dry and smelling good all day. I've carried a small amount with me in case I need to reapply it, and I haven't had to. And the red, itchy patches have gone away!

So many natural products I make myself work just as well, and usually better than the commercial varieties, without the toxins or (for my sensitive skin) the side effects. Other than the time factor of making them, why would I ever go back?

Why quinoa is like liver

Did your parents ever serve you liver as a kid, "because it's good for you"? Whether it is or not is debatable, but what isn't debatable is that liver is one of the foulest tasting things you can eat. My siblings and I learned, however, that if you smothered liver with enough bacon and onions, it became edible.

Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wa") is one of the healthiest grains you can eat. I learned about it during pregnancy, reading something or other about the best foods to eat for your baby. So I bought it, cooked it, ate it--and promptly upchucked all of it. Like liver, quinoa was one of the foulest tasting things I'd ever tried. (Although quinoa's health benefits are much more certain!).

I couldn't stomach the thought of eating quinoa again during pregnancy, nor a year later when it was served at a luncheon I attended. But my daughter is now five and morning sickness is a distant memory, so I decided it was time to try it again. (Because it's good for me, of course!). No, I didn't throw up this time. But I decided that as with liver, you need to smother quinoa to make it edible. In this case, I used curried tofu and vegetables. As long as each bite had enough tofu and veggies to overpower the taste of the quinoa, I was fine. But without it, blecch!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cheap green tip: visit your local Starbucks for coffee...

... grounds, that is!

Starbucks coffee shops are saving their used coffee grounds in bags and making them available for free to anyone who wants to add them to their gardens.

We've been having slug problems again, and the beer in a small pot trick just wasn't working. (Maybe because the beer is old and stale? We're not beer drinkers, so what we have was left over from a party last summer).

I did some internet searching, and found some sites that recommended mulching used coffee grounds around your veggies to ward off slugs, as well as to help nourish your plants. Because coffee grounds are so fine, you have to mix them with something rougher such as broken-up eggs shells or dead leaves or bark mulch, so the grounds don't become impacted and prevent water from penetrating to your plants. The slugs don't like the feel of the rough stuff and they don't like the smell of the coffee, so they stay away.

Since we don't eat enough eggs for the quantity we'd need and our dead leaves went in the local yard waste disposal months ago, we chose organic bark mulch. Because organic bark mulch is more expensive than non-organic, another benefit to free Starbucks used coffee grounds is that it makes the bark mulch go further. So far, so good--no slugs!

And I have to wonder if the coffee smell is distasteful to deer as well. I spread some of the coffee/bark mulch around our blueberry plants. Last year, the deer devoured all our blueberries, and this year, they haven't touched them--and my husband hasn't even made his "deer off" pee-garlic-cayenne mix yet!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cheap green tip: use (a lot!) less laundry detergent

I've been hanging my clothing to dry for about a year now, indoors when it's cold and wet, and outdoors during those glorious few Northwest months of summer. But I still occasionally dry laundry when some item is needed right away, or we have a big load of towels or jeans.

One of the challenges of air-drying heavy items such as towels and jeans is that they end up hard and stiff. I usually add a half cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle and shake these items out a few times while they're drying, and that helps. However, they still end up a little stiff.

One recommendation I've read is to add less detergent, because part of the stiffness is due to all the soap not completely rinsing out. I was skeptical about that because I already use half the recommended laundry soap detergent whenever I wash.

After my daughter's bubble party, we had all these wet towels that the kids had used to dry off after running through the sprinklers. My original plan was to wash them at home and dry them at the laundromat, but when the day turned out to be gloriously sunny, I switched tactics.

I washed the towels, not with half the scooper cup of detergent, but less than one-fourth, figuring that since the towels had only been used once, they weren't that dirty. I added vinegar to the rinse cycle, and then hung them over chairs on our deck to dry. They didn't end up quite as fluffy as towels dried in the dryer, but still, no stiffness! Once more, I'm a new believer!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A few inexpensive items for going green

Inexpensive, in my thinking, is around $10, or less!

Thinking about the plastic straws at my daughter's party prompted me to do a little internet research. I found these compostable straws at, for $5-11 for 250-400 straws (depending on the length of the straw).*

I wandered around that site and found these refillable wooden pens, from $3.75-9.95, depending on the style of pen. Refills are $3.75.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have been doing some shopping on Etsy, an online store for vendors of handmade items. I've already purchased a reusable sandwich wrap and reusable snack bag from a vendor there for about $11, including shipping, and I couldn't be happier with the results. The items were bigger than I anticipated, they seal very nicely, and the quality is excellent. My next order will be for reusable covers for my Swiffer mop.

All of the above are small investments, but they will both save money in the long run and do a little more to help our environment. Just remember, small steps count!


* You can buy reusable glass straws instead of biodegradable ones, but at $6.50-8.50 each they're a pricier (and more fragile) investment, and I certainly couldn't afford the quantity needed for a kids' party!

UPDATE: if you're like me and lose pens easily, then paying $4-10 for a refillable wooden pen you'll probably lose might seem like too much. Another option might be pens made from recycled materials. I saw packs of a dozen Bic stick pens made from 80% recycled materials for $1.99 at Office Depot. Retractable Bic pens made from 70% recycled materials are also available, but they're more expensive, about $16 for a dozen. Office Depot also carries Ticonderoga pencils made from recycled materials at a very low price.

Friday, July 9, 2010

How to have a (mostly) waste-free children's party

A few weeks ago, my daughter came up with a great idea: have a start-of-summer bubble party! We began planning a day in which her friends would gather at our house to blow bubbles, run through sprinklers, and drink bubbly milkshakes. The date we set is tomorrow (July 10th). When we first started planning, I wasn't sure it would work out, since the temps were about 60 degrees and we were wondering when summer would ever get here. Now that the mercury has hit 90, a party like this is an excellent suggestion. According to my daughter's daycare teacher, the kids there are so excited that the party is all they can talk about.

I started thinking about how I could make the party relatively waste-free, and here is what I came up with:

-- I purchased some durable, reusable plastic plates at Value Village (my favorite thrift store!) and durable, reusable plastic cups at a yard sale, to supplement the ones we already have that we use with my daughter. Cost: $2.50 for five plates and $2 for 8 cups.

-- Since we don't have a hand towel rack in our bathroom, we usually just dry our hands on our bath towels, and put out a roll of recycled paper towels when we have guests. So at Value Village, I bought a stand-alone twin hand towel rack and two sets of hand towels: a plain set for the kids, and a fancier set for when we have adult guests. Cost: $3.50 for the hand towel rack, and $3 for two sets of hand towels (so really, $1.50 for the set we'll use at the party).

-- We currently have a plain set of cloth napkins for everyday use, and a couple of fancier sets for guests. Because these are children (who tend to be messy), I needed some more plain napkins. I bought eight cloth napkins at Value Village for $4.

-- We bought a "bubble toy bonanza" kit that comes with all kinds of bubble wands and pipes. Because the kids are going to be putting their mouths on the pipes, I decided to have two bowls available outside: one filled with soapy dish water, and one with clean water with a little vinegar in it. The kids can swish their pipes in the sudsy bowl and rinse in the other bowl before passing a bubble pipe on to another child. No need for things like disposable wipes! Cost: $6 for the bubble toys, and to clean them: free.

-- I bought two durable, reusable vinyl tablecloths at yard sales. Cost: $1 for both.

-- As take-homes, the kids are going to get two things: a jar of bubbles, and a seashell they paint themselves. We spent July 4th at a cookout on Vashon Island and my daughter and I collected a bunch of large sun-bleached clam shells, which look gorgeous when painted. My daughter already has paint and brushes. Cost: $8 for 16 bottles of bubbles, and painted seashells: free.

Now, I did say this party would be mostly waste-free. Here are the areas where we'll still generate waste:

-- The various bags and containers for food and drinks, including hotdogs and buns, fruit, chips, juice, ice cream and milk (including non-dairy varieties for a few kids who are lactose-intolerant). I'm not yet at the place where I purchase all my food from farmer's markets and have milk delivered in glass bottles. However, I'll try to buy the largest sizes I can, recycle those containers or bags that are recyclable, and of course, use my reusable bags for shopping.

-- The plastic wrap around the packs of bubbles and bubble toys.

-- Plastic straws. It would be pretty tough to have young kids drinking milkshakes neatly and easily without them. Plus, it will help prevent brain freeze.

-- Invitations. We made really cute paper invitations with a clip art cat blowing bubbles. I know the "green" recommendation is e-vites, but c'mon, we're talking about 4-6 year olds here, the parents of whom, in some cases, I don't know very well. Thus, paper was the way to go.

So, for not much more than it would have cost to buy disposable napkins, plates, cups, paper towels, tablecloths and wipes, and with the added benefit of having these items available for future use, we will have a (mostly) waste-free kids' party. And I hope the kids' parents appreciate the take-home bubbles and pretty seashells rather than gift bags filled with cheap plastic toys!


Update: The party was a hit! The one thing that didn't last long was the sprinkler--the kids started complaining they were cold after a few minutes (it wasn't quite as hot today as yesterday). But they loved blowing bubbles, painting the seashells, and drinking milkshakes! Interestingly, one of the parents gathered all the used straws and put them in a large container of soapy water. So that's one less area of waste for this party! And one parent commented that it was nice not to have their kids sent home with gift bags full of junk.

Cheap green tip: use cereal box liners instead of zippable plastic storage bags

Since I stopped getting plastic bags at the grocery store, I started saving the plastic bags I obtain from other things, such as loaves of bread, bags of produce, etc. I find that if I need to throw trash away or have a plastic bag available for say, packing shoes or carrying a child's wet clothes, these work just as well as plastic grocery bags.

However, one of my favorite (plastic? wax?) bags to save and reuse are the ones inside boxes of cereal. These make awesome substitutes for zippable plastic storage bags. They're strong and waterproof, and usually can be reused longer than plastic storage bags, which tend to break down after two washings. I use them for such things as storing leftover pizza, pancakes, and chicken. Smaller cereal inserts can be used for such things as sandwiches. These bags do well in the freezer, too. To use, remove the bag after finishing a box of cereal, shake out the crumbs, and seal with a chip clip, twist tie or rubber band. Because they're waterproof, damp foods store well without leakage. Of course, since they don't seal completely, you can't use them for anything completely liquid. Otherwise, however, they're an excellent alternative to plastic storage bags.

Monday, July 5, 2010

In praise of small steps

Grist, an online environmental magazine, has a regular column, "Ask Umbra," which answers green living and environmental questions for its readers. Most recently, a reader named Patty asked the following of Umbra:

But right now with the oil spill taking over the Gulf and ruining so many ecosystems, I just don't know if anything I do really makes a difference. ...

I live in southern Louisiana and remember feeling the same way after Katrina. ... Why even bother? What can the little things I do matter when compared to one big horrible thing like this?

I hope you disagree with me and tell me why I should care.

As I've shared before, I can relate to Patty's feelings of being overwhelmed. Here's what Umbra shared in response (emphasis added):

Being overwhelmed by a big crisis may cause us to think that our personal actions are meaningless. But this is where we’re wrong, dear Patty.

Just this week New York Magazine noted that, "recent neuroscience and behavioral-economics research suggest that changing people's individual behavior may be the best way to grow a movement."

Furthermore, an analysis from the Garrison Institute’s Climate Mind Behavior Project (CMB) and the Natural Resources Defense Council, found that "Americans can reduce U.S. carbon pollution by 15 percent -- or one billion tons of global warming pollution -- through collective personal actions that require little to no cost."

So go ahead and sweat the small stuff! The "little things" we all do are not futile. In fact, little things add up fast. Especially if you do them, and then talk to your friends and family so that they start doing them too. That’s the magic of the multiplier effect.

Grist put it best: "Practiced consistently, small steps facilitate both gradual evolution and rapid revolution for positive lasting change. Of course institutional and policy change is crucial, but it doesn't happen on its own; it happens when people fight for it, motivated by their values."

Umbra ends with a few famous quotes about doing small things with great love (Mother Teresa), about how small groups of committed citizens are the only thing that can change the world (Margaret Meade), and one of my favorites, from Dr. Seuss' The Lorax:
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Another reason to go natural

A blog I follow, The Black Snob, posted this story today about supermodel Naomi Campbell losing her hair. The blogger, Danielle Campbell, writes that Naomi Campbell is only a very visible example of a common phenomenon:

I know too many black women who have receding hairlines, severe hair breakage or who have gone bald as they got older due to alopecia. Usually these things are caused by harsh chemical relaxers or too-tight cornrows or heavy hair extensions.

Like the blogger, I had always had very thick hair, and it had been thinning and receding after years of using chemical relaxers. My main reasons for choosing to go natural were because of my concerns about what the harsh chemicals and toxins in relaxers were doing to my body and the environment, and to set an example for my daughter so she would know that her natural hair is beautiful.

Going natural seems to be spreading, at least in my circles. My sister, my college roommate, and the mother of the only other black child in my daughter's daycare, are all people I know who have gone natural in the last few years. And as the Black Snob notes, it's not really a political statement. It's about embracing our natural beauty, saving our bodies, saving the environment, and yes, saving our hair.

It's yard sale season!

I've posted a lot about my love for thrift shopping, but often as good--and sometimes better, in terms of deals--are yard sales. Folks here in Tacoma love to have yard sales. In Boston, it seemed like most of the yard sales were held by people who were moving or a group of families who combined to have one big sale, but here it seems like many folks have a regular yard sale every year after doing spring cleaning. This means, of course, that many sales don't have a large variety of items. However, it also means there are a lot of yard sales going on every weekend from May through October, and you can find many treasures if you hop around.

This past weekend, my daughter and I were able to hit four yard sales in the three miles we drove between home, the park and the library. One of the sales was to raise funds for a woman who is about to do the three-day breast cancer walk.

At the sales, I purchased a really nice four-slot, big-enough-for-bagels toaster in great working condtion for a dollar. My daughter found four cute summer tops in sizes 6 and 7 for a quarter each. A minor item I bought came in really handy already. For fifty cents, I got one of those squeegee and sponge things to clean your car windshield with, and needed it yesterday morning when I woke up to discover my car windshield covered with pollen, and my car out of windshield wiper fluid. I had to bypass a beautiful set of matching bookcases because I didn't have enough cash on me. But I know that as the summer goes on, there is more to come!


* In terms of furnishing our future home, we're getting close. With a queen size bed and dresser given to us by a friend, a dining room table from Freecycle, and numerous items purchased from thrift shops and yard sales (toddler bed, dining room chairs, a sofa, recliner, dresser and matching night stands, end tables, lamps, microwave, toaster, toaster oven, pots and pans, set of dishes, set of flatware, cooking utensils, bakeware, casserole dishes, tablecloths and napkins, computer desk, bookshelves, TV), our future home will be pretty well furnished. The most expensive of any of the above items was the sofa, purchased at Value Village for $25. The vast majority of these items cost less than $10, and many were less than $3. All total, I've probably spent less than $250 over the last two years on these things.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Is boycotting BP/Arco a good idea?

I stopped in a 76 station today and asked the clerk if she knew why gas prices were going up everywhere in the area except Arco, when news reports indicate that gas prices are going down nationwide. We discussed it for a while, but she had no idea either, and said I should call corporate headquarters. And once more, I gritted my teeth and paid for gas that was 24 cents more a gallon than at Arco.

Later, I read this comment on a blog I follow, Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic, and it made me rethink what I was doing:

I would just add, not buying gasoline from BP really does nothing to hurt them. Oil is a fungible product, so as long as you're buying from someone else, the price stays the same. Contra popular belief, the vast majority of gas stations are not company-owned, so you may put the franchise owner out of business, but the oil companies are collecting their revenues on the liquid, diffuse wholesale market, which sure as hell isn't going to boycott BP.

Only by using less oil do you hurt oil companies. That's how fungible commodities are different from everything else--BP's oil goes in the same pipelines as everybody else's.

Crunchy Chicken made a similar point on her blog tonight, as did the blog Fake Plastic Fish. The latter includes links to a number of articles about how all of us are contributing to the problem, by driving and the use of so many plastics in our lives. Here's a good one, among many: 23 Ways to Use Less Oil.

There is so much to change, which can feel overwhelming again, so I repeat my mantras: Small Steps. Do the Best You Can. On an upnote, a recent article about Pierce County Transit noted that the overwhelming response of people in our county has been to ask them not to make any more cuts in bus service, even if taxes have to be raised to maintain them. Breaking our oil addiction will only work if we keep pushing for alternatives to driving!

On a personal upnote about using less energy, we received our latest bimonthly Tacoma Public Utility bill today (which covers electricity, including heat, and water). Our April bill was twice that of February's, and equal to that of April last year. I had lamented the fact that our track record of reducing our energy usage had been broken (although the bill seemed too high for what I'd thought we'd used; c'mon, we used more energy in April than in February?!). Turns out, the bill was too high, and TPU corrected it. The resulting bill for June is a negative $91!

I will end this post with a challenge from Beth, the blogger at Fake Plastic Fish. This challenge is more for me than for anyone who might be reading. I don't want to start thinking, "Whew! I can buy the cheaper gas at Arco again!" This whole issue is so much bigger. Here's Beth:

The point is not whether we drive some or buy some plastic or eat some meat or carry a reusable bag. Those things won’t matter if we don’t change our basic mindset of entitlement. As far as I’m concerned, we’re entitled to have a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and clothing on our backs. We’re entitled to healthcare and fair treatment and the opportunity for self-actualization. We are not entitled to a new car or prime rib or an iPod or expensive shoes. We’re not entitled to a latte wherever and whenever we want one or even a hamburger. We’re simply not entitled to destroy the planet, its animals, and the 85% of the world’s population who earn less than $2,500/year so we can have these things. We’re just not.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The confusing, the good and the even better

The confusing: a news story on the radio yesterday reported that gas prices have decreased an average of 15 cents a gallon over the last three weeks, and now average $2.72 a gallon across the nation. Now the cheapest price around here is Arco/BP, at $2.75 a gallon. That's not that surprising; averages are averages, and different regions will have different prices.

But there is no way gas prices have declined here in Tacoma. I've been watching the gas prices very carefully and they've all been going up at stations other than Arco/BP, from $2.79-$2.85 a gallon a few weeks ago, to now $2.86-$2.99 a gallon. It makes sense that our prices might be higher than other regions, but not that they are going up when others are going down. Can anyone explain this?

The good: Thanks to Aimee for her suggestion of the eco-friendly Rome's Old-Fashioned Cast Iron waffle iron, available at Amazon for only $19.99! Check out the informative Amazon reviews, too--this iron makes better waffles, but it takes a little more care to do it well, especially pre-seasoning it.

Even better: Our veggies are reviving! Despite the chilly springtime, our collards, kale, lettuce, rasishes and herbs have strengthened and are just about ready to pick! My spinach is still pathetic, though. I can't seem to get spinach right. My daughter is also excited because the seed she planted this year--a pumpkin--had outgrown its pot and is now flourishing in the yard.


Update, 24 hours later: Gas at my local Arco/BP station is down again, to $2.69 a gallon for regular. The other stations around me? Haven't gone down a cent.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Anyone know of an eco-friendly waffle iron?

One of my fondest memories of childhood was my dad making pancakes for us on the weekends, and it's a tradition I've continued with my daughter, only I make them from scratch (so I can add good stuff like whole wheat flour and milled flax seed) instead of a pancake mix.

I've added waffles to this tradition because I love waffles. We left a fairly nice waffle iron back in Boston, and so, given our tight finances here in Washington, I bought a cheapo $9.99 waffle iron at the drugstore.

Bad move. It's teflon and the teflon is starting to wear off. The waffle iron we had in Boston was also teflon, but because it was of higher quality, it hadn't experienced the visible wear and tear. I've read a lot about the dangers of teflon and other non-stick coatings (made worse if it's wearing off) and so I no longer use any such pots and pans, switching to stainless steel and cast iron instead... except for said waffle iron.

But it seems to me that all the waffle irons I've seen for many years have only had non-stick coating. Does anyone make them without non-stick coating anymore? And if not, are any waffle irons more eco-friendly than others? If so, please let me know! I may not be able to afford it right now, but it can join the wish list (along with a bicycle, rain barrel and compost tumbler)!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Green Bike Project

Ask and you shall receive... I wrote a few days ago about my transportation challenges. I have been boycotting BP by not buying gas at Arco, but that's getting mighty tough since in the past week or so, Arco's prices per gallon have gone down, and all their competitors, higher than BP for the most part anyway, have gone up such that now, many are 15 or 20 cents more per gallon than Arco, rather than 2 or 3 cents more. With finances tight, I grit my teeth and add 2-3 gallons of more expensive gas, crossing my fingers and praying that I'll see some cheaper prices tomorrow.

I also wrote about why cycling isn't an option for me: no bike, fear of traffic, leg problems. Well, there are possible solutions to the first two! A Seattle-based organization, Cascade Bicycle Club, offers a number of classes to help people learn bicycle safety and skills for commuting via bike, as well as the Green Bike Project, which provides free bikes to people who keep a pledge to reduce their ride-alone car rides by 60%. It's not home free for me just yet: given that I currently have to use my car on the job a lot (not just for commuting), I'm not sure I could pledge a 60% reduction at this time. But it's always exciting to know there are options!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gotta praise Alaffia again!

If you've followed my blog at all, you know I've written a lot about hair. Hair care is a big deal for most black women (see Chris Rock's Good Hair documentary for more). I've written about my decision to stop using chemical relaxers and my attempts to make my own hair care products from natural ingredients because existing products on the market for black hair are so laden with toxic chemicals. I have noted that I like the feel of my hair, as well as the fact that my dandruff problem is gone, due to using my own hair care products, but I haven't been as successful using my own mixtures for styling. I've also blogged about wanting to be able to be successful in styling my daughter's hair naturally.

Well, Alaffia, a company whose motto is, "Advancing Gender Equality and Alleviating Poverty through the Fair Trade of Handcrafted Shea Butter," has just introduced a line of reasonably-priced natural hair care products for wavy, curly and kinky hair. It also includes a line of products for children's hair. I can't wait to try them! So once more, thanks to Alaffia.