Sunday, March 2, 2008


Hi there...yes every thing's fine.
Right after I wrote that last post me and the entire fam came down with the plague! 3 weeks of misery.
It was during that time, while I was too sick to care about the computer, I realized how much time I HAD been spending on computer. So, since then, I've seriously cut down on my blog time.

I'm pretty sure this will be at least a long term, if not permanent, change... and felt like you all deserved at least a quick explanation.

Back into the sunshine....

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gone to the Squirrels...

Hi...long time no post, no?

Well...the squirrels have outsmarted Comcast (apparently not difficult to do) and managed to leave me internet free for over a week! While it has been enlightening, to say the least, realizing how much I depend on my internets....I have had enough! Comcast may finally be winning the battle of the minds with the squirrel as I've had a connection (on and off) for the last couple hours.

Can you just not wait for my "Dear Comcast" letter?!


Monday, January 21, 2008

Food Solutions - grow our own?

The other morning, while contemplating our food budget and creating a shopping list (these activities always go hand in hand, no?) I, once again, seriously considered growing considerably more of our own food. We have a little garden every summer where we grow herbs, squash, tomatoes, and peppers...but what about seriously scaling this operation up? Would it be cost effective? Can I handle the time and labor demands?

I started with the money component first, since I really haven't the foggiest what the labor demands would be. Right now we receive nearly all of our produce from an Organic Farm's CSA box. This costs us $105 per quarter (we split 2 veggie boxes between 4 families of various sizes). That breaks down to roughly $9.60 per week for veggies, herbs and occasional fruit + the good feeling associated with supporting a family farm. We don't have a huge fruit demand in the winter as we have a very prolific Clementine tree. After breaking down my produce costs I was ready to figure out the costs of growing an equivalent or, ideally, greater amount of food. And, can you guess how far I got with those calculations? Yeah...not so far.

Then I started thinking...because I was at a bit of a standstill here, information wise....
Would it be more cost effective to offer up some of our admittedly limited yard space (1/3 acre including our 1900 Sq ft house) to friends in exchange for funds and physical labor to get the garden going and keep it going. Essentially a community garden in our back yard. This way we could pool our resources, various schedules, knowledge and enthusiasm for healthy food while all benefiting from the sense of community, responsibility, learning, and of course the good food itself.

I started to get really excited about this angle.

With this idea of group or community farming in mind I went on a little stroll through's what I found. SPIN Farming.

While it's not exactly the small scale farming for my family I had set out to is an incredibly interesting idea! Take small suburban backyards, rent them out to farmers and then acheive a mutualy beneficialy relationship. The land owners receive compensation in the form of money and food, while the farmer may be a first generation farmer, because it removes the two big barriers to entry - land and capital - or an established farmer who wants to diversify or downsize, or even a part-time hobby farmer. This entire idea completely changes how I think about 'farming'!

I poked around a bit more and found and example farm in Phillidelphia...
From Somerton Tanks Farm: (a demonstration urban spin farm)
"In its fourth year of operation, using the
SPIN Farming method, we produced over $68,000 in gross sales growing high value vegetables on a half-acre—in Philadelphia, the fifth largest city in the U.S. By pushing the physical and philosophical boundaries of agriculture, it is achieving a level of productivity and financial success that many thought impossible." I am pumped...ready to start gardening like gangbusters.

Then I found this...(it's a it to read a funny, yet enlightening article)

"An experiment in Brooklyn-style subsistence farming, starring smelly chickens, an angry rabbit, a freak tornado, a vegetable garden to die for, two psyched kids, and a marriage in the weeds."

Hmmm....I may have to think this out a bit more.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Product Wednesday-Replacements

sea buckthorn soap
Originally uploaded by mwri

Over the past year many of the brands I have been faithful to for ages were bought out by large corporations. Corporations who's business practices I don't particularly agree with.

Toms of Main bought by Colgate-Polmolive

Burts Bees bought by Clorox
The Body Shop bought by L'oreal-Nestle

So, I am once again on the hunt for products made by companies who's practices I feel comfortable with....and that really deliver. A tough combo to come by in my experience. Here's what I've found so far..........

I've recently begun using Giovanni hair products, a brand I can find at my local Natural Foods Co-Op. I have been VERY pleasantly surprised. I actually like this better than my old Burt's Shampoo/Conditioner.
I tried the lighter Spray detangler first, thinking the actual cream leave-in conditioner would be to heavy, and wasn't as enamored. Although, I do think it may work well as a mid day smoother/dampener for a quick blow dry touch-up. Instead I use Giovanni's leave in conditioner on my fine, straight hair and it's never heavy or greasy...just shiny and happy. Also, bonus (and something I hadn't even thought of), using a leave in conditioner which I apply after my shower shortens the length of my showers, which in turn saves water and money.

Areas where I haven't been quite so successful are the kids bath soap and my make-up.
I have seen other bath soap products for the kids that meet my 'responsibly produced' requirements...but they fall short in other areas.

Initially we tried to just use our Dr. Bronner's...the same stuff that Chris and I use every day in the shower. There were a couple problems here. First, no real suds to speak of. This was a big problem for our 2 and 3 year olds...they weren't impressed with the slightly foggy bubble-free bath water.
Second, it's definitely not 'tear free', especially the peppermint variety. The latter is pretty much a deal breaker at this point. We can't be burning the children's eyes out to save the planet. I know in a few years neither one of these things will be much of an issue, but what to do in the mean time?

After that not so successful trial I went out in search of a more acceptable replacement to our beloved Burt's and found products that seemed as if they would meet all of our criteria, except for one crucial element....the price! I cannot pay $7-10 for a small bottle (1/2 the size of a Burt's bottle of the same price) of soap who's only purpose is to wash kids.

So, here we are, down to the final squirts of our last bottle of Burt's body wash. I hope I find something soon or it could get smelly over here. I am really at a loss here. I need to find just a few things...lip gloss/tint, concealer, mascara, and blush. I am finishing up the last of my Body Shop gloss and then I'll have to replace it with something. If I don't figure out what that will be soon, I fear I'll break down in a moment of desperation and get some lead infested junk that was rubbed in kitten's eyeballs. I have a bit more time with the other 3 products as I don't use them every day and they tend to last for quite a while.

I know an obvious solution for my make-up dilemma is to simply stop wearing it. This would save me the headache and eliminate that much more plastic waste from our lives. But, in reality, I know I won't do that...I know that sometimes I will want to wear make-up...and that I really love my lip tint every day.

I found no replacements at my Natural Foods Co-op, so I'm going to have to branch out. Next up, Whole Foods and then the wild and crazy internet. Buying make-up online is so much more challenging than in person because I can't smell or touch stuff., but it's where the most viable options are to be, I'll keep you posted.

Monday, January 14, 2008


A few months ago I started baking all of our bread rather than purchasing it. I really wanted to eliminate the constant stream of plastic bags, to increase the quality of the bread we were eating and, of course, to cut down on cost. A loaf of bread that I feel comfortable feeding my family... meaning one without high fructose corn syrup and preservatives but with assorted whole grains...costs around $5.00 a loaf. We eat at least 3 loaves per week, usually more. A homemade loaf made with fresh, mostly organic ingredients comes to about $2.50 per loaf. Yeah...big difference.

Originally I was baking it all from scratch without the aid of a bread machine...then I came to my senses. Bread making is a very simple yet time consuming process, friends. I am now leaving the grunt work to my faithful kitchen helper...the bread maker. I generally don't like kitchen gizmo's and tend to prefer to do things by hand...But, the bread machine is genius.

Step 1: Dump in delish bread ingredients
Step 2: Come back in 3 hours for insanely good, warm bread
Step 3: Enjoy the fact that your house smells like fresh baked bread for hours

In addition to not being rocket science, it's one of those small things that makes a big difference. I highly recommend!

So with all of my bread success I decided to take on Graham Crackers. Yes, those standard childhood treats from a little cardboard box. Well, just as with bread, it is much simpler that I thought it would be and they taste infinitely better than their retail counterparts.

Here's the recipe for the Graham Crackers...

Homemade Graham Crackers
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoon molasses
1/4 cup cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a food processor, mix together the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the cold butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 30 seconds or so. Add the honey, molasses, water, and vanilla. Mix until the dough starts to come together in a ball, another 30 seconds. Scrape dough out of the mixer. Place it in the fridge for at least an hour, until firm.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Retrieve dough and roll until it's 1/8-inch thick. With a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut into 2-inch squares, or with cookie cutters for fun shapes.
Arrange the crackers on greased or parchment lined baking sheets.

Bake for 15 minutes, until lightly browned at the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan.

Yield: 48 crackers

*This is a cross post from ,y other blog that some of you may have seen before.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Dear AT&T...

Dear AT&T,

I recently signed up for my very own convenient online account on your very fancy website. While I was logged in one of my goals was to finally sign up for paperless billing. I have managed to convert most of my bills to paperless, but for some reason just hadn't gotten to yours yet.
So, with a few clicks and more than a few boxes filled in with personal information, it was settled...No more paper bills for me. I walked away from my laptop with that good feeling of having saved at least a few trees and streamlined my life all at the same time. Thanks for that.

Imagine my surprise when, just a few days later, I received 4! pieces of correspondence from your fine mega corporation. I thought immediately..."maybe I clicked the wrong link. Did I mistakenly request MORE paper?!"

You sent me 3 months worth of paper in one day. Two days after I requested to go paperless.
Paperless. To save the trees. To cut down on emissions and waste associated with the production and transfer of paper. To streamline my life...remember?

Anyway...One letter was an offer to sign up for your services. As flattering as this is, um, it's a bit awkward. It gives me the distinct impression that you don't know who I am. That you don't realize that I ALREADY AM signed up for your services. Kinda hurts my feelings, honestly. And the tree's feelings that you cut down for no reason to send me that redundant little gem.

The other three were separate letters documenting, individually, each slight change I had made to my account during my last (only) login. While flipping through the stack I see that one piece of your low grade AT&T letterhead paper is there to confirm my desire to go paperless.

Ironic, no?

Maybe you don't understand? Paperless = No more paper.

The other giant corporations have been kind enough to send me a friendly (paperless) email to confirm my enrollment in their very convenient paperless programs. That seems to be working quite well. Maybe you could try that? You are a communications company, no?

You should know that I am a bit afraid to ever log into my account again for fear of receiving a mailbox full of paper chronicling every click of my mouse.

Thanks for your understanding....and paper.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Product Wednesday - Dishwasher Dilemma

Originally uploaded by anamoly23

In my quest to change my family's impact on the environment I've been systematically eliminating any cleanser/cleaning product with harmful sulfates, bleach, dyes and/or perfumes. As I posted last week we've eliminated conventional laundry soap from our up, Dishwasher Detergent.

This one is a bit tougher as there are quite few prerequisites for an automatic dish washing soap.

It cannot suds up during the rather intense dish washing process.
It cannot break down the components of the machine.
It must break the surface tension of the water...or make the water "wetter".
It must be able to dissolve food particles while not being to harsh on dishes.
Finally, it must rinse away relatively easily not leaving a residue on the dishes.

After some pretty intense (for a person who has 2 & 3 year old boys in her work environment) research online I kept encountering variations on the same recipe for an alternative to store bought detergents. Aside from the fact that the recipe is more environmentally friendly than what we had been using, it's also MUCH less expensive.

The Recipe:

* 1 tablespoon Borax (I buy mine in the laundry area of my store)
* 1 tablespoon baking soda (we buy this in bulk as it is used for so many things around here)
* A dash of salt

Add white vinegar to the rinse receptacle (where you would put jet dry)

Another key component to this recipe seems to be that your hot water must be set to 130* or higher to effectively clean/rinse the dishes. Any lower and a white film and lingering food particles have been reported.

Some folks have said that this mix, the borax specifically, have been reported to be bad for the hoses of your dishwasher and should not be used. My first instinct is to question this. I use Borax as a Laundry additive because it is an antiseptic/white booster/odor eliminator and have never heard any concerns about it being harmful to my washing machine or it's hoses. I've heard/read many testimonials from folks that have been using this homemade detergent for years with no adverse effects. But, since I am not an expert on the inner workings of a dishwasher, don't take my word for it.

My plan...I will do a load of dishes using all of the many variations of the recipe I was able to collect and then report back my findings, and the best recipe variation.

If any of you have any experience with Automatic dishwasher alternatives I'd love to hear about your experiences.

Stay tuned...

Monday, January 7, 2008

Fabulous News...

(Photo by Ruth Lozano via Flickr)

Because I am a Californian this story is of particular interest to me...although I feel it should be on everyone's radar.
CNN reports that California (Schwarzenegger) intends to sue our Federal Government over it's recent decision against permitting California to require lower emissions at a more aggressive rate than that required by the Bush Admin.'s recently adopted plan.

Under the Clean Air Act, the state needed a federal waiver to implement the more aggressive rules.

The article states that -
"Schwarzenegger wants to cut emissions by nearly 30 percent by 2016, raising fuel efficiency standards in the state to 43.7 miles per gallon for passenger cars and some SUVs and trucks, while larger vehicles would need to reach 26.9 mpg by that year.

The Federal Government, on the other hand, aims to increase fuel efficiency standards by 40 percent by 2020, requiring automakers to bring their fleets to an average of 35 miles per gallon."

According to this earlier article:

"It is disappointing that the federal government is standing in our way and ignoring the will of tens of millions of people across the nation," said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "California sued to compel the agency to act on our waiver, and now we will sue to overturn today's decision and allow Californians to protect our environment."

'Twelve other states -- Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington -- have adopted the California emissions standards, and the governors of Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Utah have said they also plan to adopt them. The rules were also under consideration in Iowa.'

Does anyone else think the Bush admin. and the EPA are acting absurdly here? Why not have their guidelines be the Minimum requirement...but allow States to pursue more environmentally friendly practices individually? Why prevent nearly a third of the states from cutting emissions more dramatically and at a faster rate?

I fear most or all of the answers to my questions would have something to do with the government's relationship with big business...specifically the US auto industry.

Edited to Add:
An interesting tidbit on this over at the GristMill

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Powered Down...

So, we live in Northern California and have been dealing with some exciting weather over the last couple days. According to a local news source the winds approached 70mph at times. It was amazing...and a bit unsettling... to observe. Along with the amazing display came a few not so surprising side effects. Many trees were toppled, streets were flooded, big rigs overturned and of course, power lines downed...

Because of this I was thrust (very temporarily) into an electricity free life. I realized immediately that I have not yet parented without the luxury of electricity...I'll admit that at first I was a touch nervous in those first moments but then a sense of adventure took over. What fun we could have, and how lucky we are to have this state of inconvenience be such a novelty. I am very aware that there are many folks on this planet who don't find a lack of heat and electricity so exciting.

Quickly the flashlights were gathered, food figured out, sweaters put on (electric central heat,=no central heat), lack of a manual can opener noted (I have arthritis and can't use one anyway)...and we generally got the lay of the lights-free land.

Much of what I had scheduled for the day had to be abandoned as I was unable to release my car from the garage (automatic garage door opener...couldn't release it on my own). Also, no internet, so that post I had been planning would have to wait. I am not a very patient person much of the time so complete departure from my ideas of what the day would hold was tough at first. I had no control though...instead, all I had was time...

Many of the first moments of all that time were filled with tedious explanations of what was going on and why we shouldn't keep opening the fridge. After a lot of that the kids, as kids often do, accepted their new reality as normal and carried on business as usual. There was playing to do and this new development would only enhance things! They built caves and used their flashlights...played dress up and made lego houses. And seeing that the darkness was full of potential...I gave in. I let go of hoping the lights would just come on already and found that there were many things I wanted to do. I crocheted a new hat, drank cold morning coffee, read a bit and felt deeply that with my little family around me any moment had the potential to be special.

The power outage was like a little reset for my mind...everything was turned off, and when it came back on I had a different outlook.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Product Wednesdays....Dr Bronners

This is the first of what I hope will be an ongoing series of posts I'll call
'Product Wednesday'...

We've been using the fabulous Dr. Bronner's soap for a while now...and it's just occurred to me to try it in yet another capacity.


So far it's our dish soap, general cleanser for counters and floors, shower and tile cleaner, bathing soap, face soap, and carpet freshener.

If vinegar and baking soda won't do , we grab the Dr. B's.

Why not laundry?
I read around on the internet and found mainly good reviews of the peppermint soap as a laundry soap...a few folks mentioned oil like stains on their clothes.

Dr.B's also sells a 'Sal Suds' which is meant more for this use, but I really don't want to have any more cleaning products in my home than Absolutely necessary. The thought of only needing ONE for everything sounds Amazing!

If you've not heard of Dr. Bronner's...It's a counterculture Classic.

t's a castille soap which is vegan, biodegradable, organic, packaged in 100% post consumer recycled plastic bottles, scented with essential oils, and not tested on animals. The crazy labels are printed with organic hemp seed ink.

There is even a documentary about the man himself and the story of how the soap came to be..called Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox. The proprietor, Dr. Bronner, apparently created the soap after escaping from a mental institution and seemed to care more about the soap than his own family.

Interesting stuff.

So...I did it. I washed 3 loads of clothes in Dr. Bronner's soap. I used about 1/8-1/4 cup per full load on warm water wash/cold rinse.

I tested it on one load of lights, one of darks, and one with towels/linens. It worked SO well. It not only worked, It was SO much better than the laundry soap I had been using. I had no trouble with 'oil' spots as I had read I might.

Until now I was using a 'green' brand that's biodegradable and free of perfumes and dyes. My clothes were getting adequately clean, but didn't smell so great and were a bit 'scratchy'.

The clothes and my laundry room now have a great clean smell (I used the peppermint scent). The laundry is also softer than it was with the detergent I had been using. This was a huge (and unexpected) bonus as I had stopped using fabric softener/dryer sheets quite a while ago when I found out that they contained some of the most dangerous chemicals in my home!

From the EPA:

Principal chemicals found in Fabric Softeners/Dryer Sheets are:

Symptoms of exposure are taken from industry-generated Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

Causes CNS (central nervous system) disorders... "highly irritating to mucous membranes" ..."Aspiration into the lungs can produce pneumonitis or even fatal edema." Can also cause "excitement, ataxia (loss of muscular coordination), hypothermia, CNS and respiratory depression, and headache." "Prevent repeated or prolonged skin contact."
Carconigenic (linked to pancreatic cancer). "From vapors: irritating to eyes and respiratory passages, exciting cough." "In mice: hyperanemia of the lungs." "Can be absorbed through the skin causing systemic effects." "Do not flush to sewer."
Causes CNS disorders ..."irritating to the upper respiratory tract" ..."headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drop in blood pressure, CNS depression, and death in severe cases due to respiratory failure."
Causes CNS disorders. On EPA's Hazardous Waste list. Symptoms: "local irritant and CNS stimulant" ..."readily absorbed through body tissues" ..."irritation of eyes, nose, and throat" ..."dizziness, confusion, nausea, twitching muscles and convulsions". "Avoid inhalation of vapors."
Neurotoxic. Anesthetic. Carcinogenic. on EPA's Hazardous Waste list. "Avoid contact with eyes, skin, clothing. Do not breathe vapors ...Inhalation of vapors may cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation of respiratory tract and loss of consciousness." "Inhalation can be fatal." "Chronic effects of overexposure may include kidney and/or liver damage." "Medical conditions generally aggravated by exposure: kidney disorders, liver disorders, heart disorders, skin disorders." "Conditions to avoid: Heat..." Listed on California's Proposition 65.
Narcotic. On EPA's Hazardous Waste list. "...Irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract" ..."may cause headache and narcosis (stupor)" ..."may cause anemia with leukocytosis and damage to liver and kidneys". "Wash thoroughly after handling."
Carcinogenic. "Prevent its contact with skin or eyes because it is an irritant and sensitizer." "Always wash thoroughly after using this material and before eating, drinking ...applying cosmetics. Do not inhale limonene vapor."
Narcotic. Causes CNS disorders. ..."respiratory disturbances" ..."Attracts bees." "In animal tests: ataxic gait, reduced spontaneous motor activity and depression ...depressed heart activity ...development of respiratory disturbances leading to death."
"Danger - Harmful if inhaled ...Avoid breathing vapor." "Inhalation of vapors may cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, irritation of respiratory tract and loss of consciousness. Repeated inhalation of vapors may cause CNS depression. Contact can cause eye irritation. Prolonged exposure may cause dermatitis (skin rash)."

So, to get a better than expected result from a product that I not only feel safe using, but that I actually feel good about using, made my day!

(This is a cross post from my other blog)

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