Saturday, May 22, 2010

We have a winner!

The Winner:

We went to a wedding today at which Hershey's kisses were the favors. I took a few, only to discover that I accidently sat on one on the way home and stained the back of my dress with chocolate. Since the drive home was more than an hour, the chocolate stain was pretty set by the time we arrived. Thus, I had a chance to test out my homemade laundry pretreatment spray, using this recipe*. It worked like a charm: I sprayed the stain, rubbed it and rinsed it, and it was gone within seconds. Buh-bye, Resolve! (formerly Spray and Wash).

The Jury Is Still Out...

On this year's garden. As with last year, we planted seeds and a few starts indoors back in April, and moved them outside the second week of May. But May in Tacoma has been rough, alternating between hot sunny days and cold, stormy, windy ones, and these poor young plants have been battered. I keep reminding myself that last year my lettuce looked wilted and battered, and then suddenly revived in early June to produce a fantastic crop. So I'm crossing my fingers that our veggies and herbs can come back this year also.


* If you follow this recipe, be sure to read the tips and warnings at the end (under the ad links).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Small changes again

I was overwhelmed a few days ago, but I decided I need to keep making small changes. One is with laundry pretreatment. I use eco-friendly detergent, wash in cold water, hang most things to dry (unless it's heavy stuff like blankets, or I need something right away), and when I do use a dryer, I reuse squares of aluminum foil instead of dryer sheets to reduce static cling.

However, I still use Resolve (formerly Spray and Wash) to pretreat stains. That's partly due to the fact that I can buy a huge bottle of the stuff at Costco, and because it seemed to be the easy thing to do with a young child who gets a lot of stains on her clothing.

So a few days ago I decided to check out Resolve's ingredients list on the company's web site, and then google some of the ingredients to see whether/how toxic they are. And yikes!, several of them are, such as the first ingredient listed after water, ALCOHOL C-12 C-16 POLY (1-6) ETHOXYLATE. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this compound is "A major threat to the environment in case of a spill. Immediate steps should be taken to limit spread. Can easily penetrate the soil and contaminate ground water and nearby streams. Very toxic to aquatic organisms."

So I found a recipe online for making homemade laundry pretreatment spray from water, glycerin, castile soap and borax*. I've made it and will try it. One logistical advantage is that you can spray clothing and let the stuff sit, whereas the instructions for using Resolve say that you must launder clothes right away after spraying it. (Or else what? Will it burn a hole in the clothing?) This recipe will save me the half-hour or more before doing laundry of endlessly spraying stains, plus I can treat stains right away, instead of waiting until laundry day.

Another small thing I'm trying to do is buy gas at someplace else besides Arco (which is part of BP). I found a Chevron station recently with gas just as cheap. I know that Chevron's environmental record isn't that great either (is there any oil/gas company that is?), but I think the current goal is to send a message to BP so that they take their responsibility for the Gulf spill and cleanup.


* Borax is toxic if ingested, so keep out of children's reach. Also, if you follow this recipe, be sure to read the tips and warnings at the end (under the ad links).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What do you do when you're overwhelmed?

I'm feeling overwhelmed by a few things environment-related. The first is, of course, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which is appearing more and more each day to be an environmental catastrophe the scope of which the world has never before seen. Even my daughter seems to realize it. She had heard about it from radio news stories in the car and was asking questions, so I showed her some photos of the oil spill on the Internet. Her response was, "Mama, we have to do something. What can we do to help?"

But so far, I have done nothing. It can be so easy to get (choose one: busy, lazy, apathetic) about these things. But I also feel overwhelmed because I realize that my efforts alone aren't enough, that we as a society have to drastically change.

I am also feeling this way because I recently watched the No Impact Man movie, after waiting for it for months at the library. It's incredible just how radical the Beavan family was in their decision to live one year with as little environmental impact as possible. And it's a reminder just how many things I have yet to change.

But from reading the book, I know that Colin Beavan wanted to be so radical because he no longer wanted to sit on the sidelines with causes he cares about, because he wanted to see what was possible in terms of reducing one's impact, and because he wanted to become a credible spokesperson for environmental issues by walking the talk. He found that some things were too onerous to continue after the year was up (such as doing laundry by hand), but other things made his and his family's lives better.

I think I have to remember that. To give a (very) small example of better, I have seasonal allergies and year-round allergies to dust mites, so I have a runny nose pretty much all the time. I used to carry tissue with me constantly, and no matter how carefully I thought I checked my pockets, invariably I'd overlook a tissue in some item of clothing. This meant that whenever I did my laundry, I'd find small pieces of tissue on all the clothes in the load when the wash was done.

I no longer use tissue but handkerchiefs instead, and guess what? Even if I leave one in a pocket, no tissue scraps on the rest of my laundry! OK, small victory, but maybe it's remembering those things that will help me not feel overwhelmed. And maybe also motivate me to do something about the BP oil spill.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ten Ways to Help the Gulf Coast

I'm pretty sickened as well as frightened by the recent oil spill. US News & World Report published this list and the Daily Green has published this one, of things you can do to help clean up the spill.

I have to admit that the idea of boycotting BP is very challenging to me. BP owns Arco, which has the cheapest gas around in my community. Because we live far from public transportation, we have to drive. Because our finances are tight, Arco is where we go to buy gas at Arco. I'll write more as this story (and my conscience) develops.

Am I a consumer? Say it isn't so!

I recently discovered The Non-Consumer Advocate blog. The blogger had a recent post in which she included a Top Ten Ways You Know You’re a Non-Consumer quiz. I took the quiz and scored 8 out of 10. The two I didn't line up on were having a growing bank account (too many life difficulties for that to happen), and turning down free stuff.

I almost never turn down free stuff. I will if it's really cheap or badly damaged, or really have no use for it, but if it's free and I can think of a way to use it, I'll snap it up.

The quiz got me thinking: am I more of a consumer than I generally admit to being? Two recent incidents have made me pause.

One of the ways my consumerism comes out is with my daughter. I enjoy shopping for her far more than I ever enjoyed shopping for myself. It helps that she loves dressing up--much more than I did as a child--and that clothing and other items made for little girls are so cute.

Her fifth birthday is this week. Last Friday I took her to the Build-A-Bear Workshop at the Tacoma Mall. We first visited the place right after Christmas when we were completely broke and I promised her we'd come back around her birthday. We bought the cheapest bear they have ($10). However, once she had clothed her bear and added hair and accessories, the final cost was about $44.

I also went to Value Village today and bought clothes for her. This was for two reasons: because she already has the bear, I wanted another gift to give her on her actual birthday; and because she is growing so fast, she is unlikely to fit any of her clothes from last summer. For about $13, I bought her a dress, four outfits (top/shorts or top/skirt combos), two additional skirts and one additional pair of shorts.

It's much easier to justify the Value Village purchase than the bear. The former included items she needs, the price was right, the quality was good, and buying from a second-hand store is an environmentally smart choice. Furthermore, clothing is something she will naturally use again and again.

On the other hand, while my daughter loved the building a bear process, she hasn't shown much interest in the bear since we brought it home, preferring the dolls and stuffed animals she had before. So did I spend more money than I wanted to spend on something which she may not enjoy or play with much?

The second event is the closing of a local QFC store. They're selling their remaining inventory at drastically reduced prices, and they carry many natural and eco-friendly products. Well, I went in and spent about $100, which was far more than I wanted to spend. I got some very good deals which will save me money in the long run, such as Preserve razor refills for about 60 cents for a four-pack (I bought five) and Tom's of Maine deodorant sticks for about $1.59. But I'm still trying to figure out how I managed to spend so much.

My conclusion is that I can be a spender, if the price is really cheap or there is a sentimental value attached to the purchase (such as making a promise to my kid about returning to Build-a-Bear...). But I need to be more thoughtful about my shopping and spending, or I will end up with purchases I regret or buying more than I intend to.