Check out my new book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You, available from Amazon.

2012 Silver winner in the Health/Medicine/Nutrition Category of the Independent Publishers Book Awards

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Turkey post-mortem

Eat Local for Thanksgiving 2008With all this yackety-yacking about my pastured heritage turkey, there seemed to be some interested in doing a follow-up or, post-mortem, on what we all thought of the turkeys we chose.

This was the first time we got a heritage bird that was pasture raised. In the past we have gotten organic "free-range" turkeys that have always tasted a lot better than the standard commercial butterball style turkey. This year's turkey was just as moist and tasty as the basic organic bird, but its anatomy and flavor was totally different.

There was quite a bit of meat on the bird and it was more like pork than turkey. It wasn't flavorless like your average turkey and it had an amazingly thick layer of subcutaneous fat on it, which made it super-moist. I'm not sure if that's because of the breed or because it was pasture raised. Not too surprisingly it didn't have humongous breasts, but they weren't paltry either and it had a good bit of meat on the legs. The most striking thing was how sturdy the carcass was - probably because it spent all its days running around on a farm.

For those of you who tried out a turkey you hadn't had before (organic, heritage, wild, free-range, pastured, etc.), did you notice a difference? If you spent extra money getting a more high-falutin' bird, would you do it again?



Don't forget - you still have time to enter my Thanksgiving giveaway. It's too hard to pick just one of you so I think I'll do a random draw. So, if you've not entered because you didn't want to "compete", don't worry about it. You'll have an equal chance.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Green Beauty Guide

We've discussed a number of times on this blog alternatives to beauty care products that not only reduce your impact on the environment by using less packaging and less chemicals, but also on reducing your cost.

Well, in this new book, The Green Beauty Guide: Your Essential Resource to Organic and Natural Skin Care, Hair Care, Makeup, and Fragrances, author Julie Gabriel goes into great detail discussing not only the effects that synthetic products have on your body but she also shares with her readers organic alternatives that are affordable. She also details how to spot organic frauds and gimmicks since those are abounding like crazy with everyone jumping on the greenwashing bandwagon.

This book is chock-full of recipes for making your own cleansers, toners, facial scrubs, skin care, shampoos, conditioners, baby care and even sunscreen. Interspersed between the recipes is information on off-the-shelf products which lets you know the inside scoop on not only their ingredients but their effectiveness.

Now, normally, this is where I say that I'm doing a book giveaway, but I think this one's a keeper. Do not despair, however. If I find something I really like from the book you can be sure that I'll share it with you! Here's one to get you started:

Hand Rescue Cream

1/2 ounce beeswax
Juice of one freshly squeezed lemon
1 tablespoon sweet almond oil
5 drops lemon essential oil
2 drops lavender essential oil

1. Melt beeswax in pan. 2. Add lemon juice and oils and stir with a wooden spoon until blended. 3. Transfer to a jar. Shake occasionally until the cream is cooled and uniform.

Don't forget to sign up for my Thanksgiving giveaway for $75 from Amazon!

Related posts:
Sustainable hair removal
Coconut oil hair conditioner
Sustainable shampoo

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving thanks to my readers

Well, Thanksgiving is where I traditionally look around me and give thanks for the many things that I have to be thankful for. Of course, there are a lot of things that I can still count my blessings for: my family, a roof over my head, a good job, food to eat, etc.

But the old adage about health - well, that's where things are falling quite short lately and it's hard not to focus on it since the last year has been a complete and utter roller-coaster filled with crisis after crisis punctuated by stem cell transplants and scares that would reduce any mortal to a blubbering lump of flesh.

Maybe I'm being extra cynical because I've been in terrible pain since Sunday since my back decided to go south on me and I'm getting sick of the pain and inability to walk and pretty much do anything.

But, enough complaining. What I do have to be thankful for (besides my children, friends and family) are you dear readers for keeping me entertained and putting up with my constant stream of shenanigans and, sacre blue!, actually participating alongside me in this madness.

So, for Thanksgiving I'm giving away a $75 gift certificate to Amazon that will hopefully help out one lucky reader this holiday season.

This contest ends Sunday, November 30th, at 10:00 p.m. PST. If you would like to enter, add your name to the comments of this post. The drawing may or may not be random, it all depends on how entertaining your comments are!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Electric blanket giveaway winner #2

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008Congratulations to mnultraguy of The Quince Urban Homestead as he is the winner of the Sunbeam Luxurious Herringbone Heated Blanket (Full Size).

So, mnultraguy, email your mailing info to crunchychickenblog@gmail.com and I'll get that out to you dyrectly!

For those who didn't win this time around, stay tuned - tomorrow will be the mother of all giveaways!

The waste of toilet seat covers

Riding bareback!A friend asked me a while ago if I used those little paper toilet seat covers or if there were some ecological alternative that I knew about.

Depending on the restroom, I'll either use the paper seat cover, hover or go bareback. But it got me thinking, was there an industry for take-along handsewn fleece toilet seat covers made by SAHMs? I know you can buy disposable covers for your kids, so I went on a search.

I didn't find any for adults, but I did stumble across this complete waste of plastic: toilet tattoos. They are actually kind of cool, but what a useless product.

Anyway, in my search I also came across an article discussing the merits of even using the paper covers. They state that the seat covers really only mentally separate your backside from those that have visited before you and that you have more to fear from the door handles and faucets than from the toilet seat.

In spite of the vinyl products geared towards kids, I can't really find any suitable environmentally friendly alternative that isn't a pain in the ass to carry around and use. So, I can only suggest that you skip the paper seat covers and save some resources. If the seat is too disgusting, then work on your quadriceps muscles and hover.



Here's a tip for those of you who hover and have terrible aim... lift the seat up (you won't be needing it anyway), do your business and put it back down. That way you won't leave a damp seat for the next person who may choose to ride it bareback.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The overzealous environmentalist

We all know them - they are the environmentalists who make everyone feel inadequate. The ones who push the issues so hard it turns off everyone else, even other environmentalists. They are the die-hards who set the bar so high that people don't even bother listening to what they have to say anymore because they accept no compromise and make you feel inferior to boot.

So, how does an environmentalist get their message across and educate others while at the same time seeming reasonable and open-minded? Well, for starters, leading by example is the best approach. You can lecture people all you want about any given issue, but the end result is generally raising people's hackles. Nobody likes to be attacked or criticized for their choices.

As we head into the holidays, it is likely that we'll be interacting with a lot more friends, family and co-workers and the topics of saving money and the environment are sure to come up. When they do, use it as an opportunity to educate people with some easy to digest facts and offer up what you do to mitigate your impact.

Wait for their lead to offer more information. You will find that if you throw out a few ideas or facts about a topic, people are generally interested in learning more and they get excited if they feel like they are part of the process, rather than approaching it with a series of "you shoulds" or some long-winded response.

When I'm in a mixed group, I'm oftentimes reluctant to spew too much information for fear of overwhelming people. In addition, the possible result of coming off as too stern is offense at one end and boredom at the other.

Once someone realizes that you have information about something they've heard about they are oftentimes interested in learning more. The goal is to offer the information in a non-accusative way. I find that people know a lot more than I think they do (from the news or TV), but they just don't know what to do with the information or where to go next. I've had people corner me for hours, picking my brain about various environmentally related things. People who I wouldn't in a million years expect to be interested in it.

We have a great opportunity these days, now that the door to environmental acceptance is wedged open just a little bit. If we take these opportunities as a way to hook people's interest, educate and show them easy ways to achieve some goals, then you have moved a little bit towards getting people to accept these ideas even more. However, if you come across as an overzealous environmentalist, lecturing and accusing people, they not only shut down, but it will be really difficult to budge that door open again.

I know we are all very passionate about many things, whether it be issues with energy, pollution, plastic, climate change or animal rights and the best way to get people to listen to new ideas is with an easy-going, open-minded approach that takes into consideration their ideas and values without incrimination.

How do you go about educating people on environmental issues?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Giveaway: Another heated blanket to warm you up

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008I know a lot of you are still freezing your buns and signed up for the last heated blanket giveaway. Well, now you get another chance at winning, this time with a bigger blanket!

Today's giveaway is a Sunbeam Luxurious Herringbone Heated Blanket (Full Size). This blanket includes a 10 hour auto-off back-lit digital control with multiple warming settings. It also features a preheat setting to warm up cold sheets before bedtime and a warming system that can sense and adjust to deliver consistent heat. You can machine wash and dry it as well and the color is dark blue. The list price on this product is $125.

Sunbeam claims that you can save up to 10% a year on your heating bill by turning on your heated blanket and setting your thermostat back 10% to 15% for 8 hours while you sleep. The benefit here is that you are heating locally rather than the whole house.

Caveats: this blanket is 70% polyester and 30% acrylic, so if you have issues with synthetic fibers, consider yourself warned, or, should I say, "warmed"? Also, some people have concerns with using electric blankets and EMF, but it is up to you to determine if the alleged risk is worth it. I suspect there's just as much a health risk burning oil heat in the house every night all winter, but that's up to you. There's also the pre-heat option if you don't want it going all night.

Okay, now that I've alerted you to the obvious, if you want to be entered in the giveaway, add your name to the comments of this post. This giveaway is open until Wednesday, November 26th, 6:00 pm PST. I'll be doing a random drawing and announcing a winner on Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 27th.

Good luck!

Related posts:
Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008
Bun warmin' bed warmers

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eco-living as fodder for ridicule

I don't mind so much when family members make fun of the choices I make in order to live a little greener and lighten my carbon footprint in person, but when I found out yesterday that my acting brother-in-law had decided to use our heritage turkey purchase as a source of material for his comedy performance last night, I was a little irritated. And I'm trying to figure out why.

As much as Colin suggests that we all wear our green on our sleeves, and make a spectacle of our green choices, there's a distinct reason why many of us hide our "alternative" choices. It's the fear of ridicule. Not everyone is open-minded and anything that goes against the status quo is definitely fodder for comedy. But why is that?

Partly because making fun of things that we don't do make us feel better about our choices. Partly because we are repulsed or don't understand other people's choices. And, partly because it helps assuage the guilt that maybe people are doing things that we all should be doing and aren't.

However, why is buying a heritage turkey humorous? The concept of writing letters to the bird being raised for eventual slaughter can be ascribed a bit of humor if done properly (and I have no doubts that it was). Yet, if buying a conventionally raised, possibly tortured turkey or even a free-range organic turkey is not at all funny, why is going just one step further considered worthy of a joke? Because it seems so extreme that someone would bother being concerned about the life of a turkey?

Maybe I'm being paranoid, but I'm wondering what else in my life was going to be ridiculed. I know there's plenty to choose from - I certainly make them public for your reading enjoyment. But mostly I feel safe because the audience is more or less accepting of new ideas.

So, if non-mainstream environmental ideas are to one day become mainstream behavior, how do we cross that barrier without losing ourselves in the process? I guess the best we can do is to wait it out until seemingly foreign ideas eventually turn into common-sense.

How much do you suffer at the hands of non-environmental friends and relatives?

Eco-Friendly Families winner

The winner of the Eco-Friendly Families book giveaway is:

Jason C from Scream to be Green.

Two guy winners in a row! It must be your manly luck, Jase, or else I've got more male readers than I realize.

Anyway, congratulations! Email your mailing info to crunchychickenblog@gmail.com and I'll ship it your way.

Tomorrow I'll be doing another giveaway. The fun just never ends around here!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Talking Turkey for T-Day

Eat Local for Thanksgiving 2008It's been getting around the parents at my son's school that I bought a $95 turkey for Thanksgiving this year. The consensus has run somewhere between general disbelieve and the statement that my turkey sure better be laying some golden eggs to justify the expense. So, let me back up and explain.

Late last spring I heard a local farmer discussing his pasture raised beef on our local NPR station. The farm, Thundering Hooves, also offers pasture-raised, heritage turkeys, but you'd better get your act together because they sell out as soon as they go on sale in July.

Who wants to think about Thanksgiving in July? Well, I for one, and it certainly appears that plenty of others do as well. So, we dutifully ordered our turkey as soon as we could and have been diligently waiting ever since. The turkeys were processed a few weeks ago and we picked ours up last weekend. We'll be roasting it rather simply since we want to be able to really taste the meat and see how it compares to the standard breeds.

How's it heritage?
This bird is a rare heirloom Unimproved Standard Bronze. Thundering Hooves keeps their own flock and so the eggs are produced and incubated on site (rather than chicks purchased from another grower). According to their website:

"... there are extremely limited numbers of breeding flock [of unimproved turkeys] left in the country. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy estimated that in 1987 there were 'less than 300 breeding hens' found in America with the possible exception of a limited number of turkeys used by hobbyists and show goers."

These birds are becoming endangered simply for the fact that turkey growers are breeding birds that have larger amounts of white meat. I'm sure you've heard of some commercially grown broad breasted birds that are so busty they can barely walk and are so far removed from nature that they don't know how to mate and must be artificially inseminated in order to breed. A more thorough examination of the issues with commercial turkeys is made in Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Out to pasture
Most commercially grown turkeys are raised in confined and cramped quarters, given little access to the outside (if at all) and are fed a limited and unnatural diet. This makes for a very low-quality life for the turkey and some argue that it results in a less flavorful and nutritional meat.

Pasture raising is a method of raising flocks that is more than just "free range", which generally means that the birds have access to a small outdoor area that they may or may not actually use. On the other hand, our pasture ranged turkey roamed freely in the fields, eating bugs, grasses, and vegetarian feed. The birds on the farm are free to roam about as they please and their roosts are periodically moved throughout the field. This is generally referred to as pasture rotation and it allows the birds access to new areas of grass and bugs for their dining enjoyment.

Eat Local for Thanksgiving
Not only was it important for us to purchase a turkey that is raised sustainably and preserves a heritage breed, but it was important for us to buy local. Each year I host an Eat Local campaign urging individuals and families to choose local foods for their Thanksgiving table. Not only does it help support local farmers, but the reduction in transportation of foods also results in lower carbon emissions, some say as much as 2.2 lbs of CO2 per plate of local foods chosen.

So, if you are interested in joining the movement to Eat Local for Thanksgiving, stop by and sign the pledge!

[Don't miss out! The book giveaway for Eco-Friendly Families is still going on until 6:00 pm tonight!]

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Giveaway: Eco-Friendly Families

Eco-Friendly FamiliesJust because the previous giveaway ended last night doesn't mean I'm going to leave you in the lurch. Fear not, frugal friends, today starts a new giveaway, one that would also make a great holiday gift.

Eco-Friendly Families, by Helen Coronato, is a guidebook for learning how to raise your kids in an environmentally friendly manner. This book is suitable for those just starting out trying to green their lives, but it also offers suggestions that are useful for the more seasoned veterans among us.

The author includes a monthly calendar of four things to do or change, loads of projects for kids and different ways to reuse or repurpose items. She also discusses different areas of your home that could stand some improvement, touches on environmental eating choices and wraps it all up with a list of links for finding out more information.

This would make a great gift for new parents or for those who need a little, ahem, nudge in reducing their impact on the Earth.

If you want to be entered in this book giveaway, add your name to the comments of this post. This giveaway is open until Friday, November 21st, 6:00 pm PST. I'll be doing a random drawing and announcing a winner on Saturday, November 22nd.

Related books:
The Green Parent: A Kid-Friendly Guide to Environmentally-Friendly Living
EcoKids: Raising Children Who Care for the Earth
Living Simply with Children: A Voluntary Simplicity Guide for Moms, Dads, and Kids Who Want to Reclaim the Bliss of Childhood and the Joy of Parenting
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fresh Food from Small Spaces book winner

The winner of the Fresh Food from Small Spaces giveaway is that lucky bastard, Rob Johnson, from Rob's World.

Congratulations! Email your contact info to crunchychickenblog@gmail.com. Unless you are afraid I'll stalk you or something in which case we can meet to do the book handover in a public area with witnesses around.

Tomorrow I'll be doing another giveaway, so stay tuned!

The future of fur

With all the animal rights activists protesting the selling of fur, the fashion industry waxing and waning on the subject and certain celebrities getting floured over their choice in outerwear, is there a future for fur?

I know you guys have pretty strong opinions about these sorts of things and I wanted to pose a question to you: Is there ever a good time and place for wearing fur in modern times? So, here's some food for thought...

What about re-purposed or resold furs that were raised and "harvested" years or even a lifetime ago? Is that okay to wear? What about people who sustainably and legally hunt animals for meat and use the fur for fashion purposes? I'm hard pressed to think of why someone would wear a deer or elk fur coat, but you never know - maybe it's really soft.

Perhaps a better example is for those people who raise rabbits for meat and use or sell the fur pelts for making coats. Is that okay? I would argue that since you are using the whole animal and creating less waste it's better than incinerating the "waste" or throwing it to the landfill. And, one could argue, it's even more respectful to the animal.

But, what message does this send out? Some fur is okay and some isn't? How is a consumer able to discern which one is "right" and which is "wrong"? And how is an animal rights activist able to tell who they should be throwing fake blood on?

There are also issues to be considered with alternatives to fur outerwear. Fake fur generally uses a plastic or acrylic material and synthetic coats (nylon, Gortex, etc.) all most likely use a high amount of energy and water in their processing and creation. Leather and wool coats just affect a whole different group of animals. Can it be considered lower impact to raise and harvest animals for both meat and fur rather than promoting an industry of synthetics?

Does there need to be the fur equivalent of the Forest Stewardship Council for furriers to create sustainable products? Or should it just be across the board "no fur" even though there are some good reasons for using pelts from animals used for other purposes? So, instead of eschewing fur, should it be promoted as a more sustainable product than some of the alternatives?

Finally, is it hypocritical to be against fur but turn a blind eye to leather or should both be pursued equally or both let well enough alone?

Phew! That's a whole lot of questions. What do you think?

Related posts:
Down the rabbit hole
Save a horse, eat a cowboy
The other white meat

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Eco-dishwashing detergent that actually works

Catch the Wave!I know I said I'd have a book discussion post for you, but I didn't finish reading the chapters I was supposed to post about so it will have to wait. I should know better.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you all about some magical eco dishwashing detergent that doesn't suck ass. Now, I say this with impunity because we've tried a number of them and every single time we've been horribly disappointed. Not only do you get your environmental hopes up, but then you end up having to wash the dishes twice once you realize that the crappy eco dishwashing detergent you were trying out left your dishes all greasy, powdery or just plain dirty.

Let me first point out that we have a cheapo dishwasher. When we bought this house 2 years ago the previous owners just slapped in a "new" dishwasher. I'm figuring they bought the cheapest thing they could find. It doesn't exactly clean very well and you have to do a bit o' scrubbing of the dishes before you run the thing. Even still you need to apply a dollop of Cascade or Electrasol to actually get the dishes clean.

Now, I'm sure that the other eco dishwashing detergents out there work fine if you have one of those fancy Swedish dishwashers that will also clean the floors while it's at it, but for the rest of us with a less than effective dishwasher, they just don't work (this probably includes most apartment dishwashers).

We've been using the newly updated Wave Gel Dishwashing Detergent HP from Earth Friendly Products for a few weeks now. I have to say that, hands down, it is every bit as effective at washing the dishes in our overstuffed dishwasher than any of the more commercial detergents. Apparently, they have (Earth Friendly Products) some independent lab report on their site comparing this Wave stuff to Cascade and I'd have to agree.

My only complaint is with the consistency. You have to shake it up each time you use it as it tends to separate. If you don't, it seems to appear similar to a, how shall I say this, particular human male body effluent. Albeit with a delightful lavender scent. Probably not a good marketing hook, however.

How earth friendly is this Earth Friendly Products' product? From the manufacturer: "Wave is phosphates free, chlorine free, caustic free. It works beautifully on your dishes, silverware, and glasses. Wave is neutral ph, all plant based and totally biodegradable."

So, if you have been heartily searching for an environmentally friendly dishwashing detergent that works under most circumstances, I suggest you give this product a try.

[Don't miss out! The book giveaway for Fresh Food in Small Spaces is still going on until Wednesday...]

Related posts:
The deal with dishwashers
Green clean

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Giveaway: Fresh Food from Small Spaces

Fresh Food from Small SpacesTis the season for giving thanks and for, well, giving. So, from now until Christmas, I'll be reviewing and giving away 8 books and a bunch of stuff for the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge. This means that I'll be holding giveaways at least once and sometimes twice a week.

Today's giveaway is for the fantastic book, Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener's Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting.

If you don't live on a farm, have any acreage or, heck, even a backyard, this book will show you how to maximize growing your own food even if you only have a spare closet and a windowsill to work with. Of course, if you have a backyard there's a lot more you can do, but even if you have a shared space (condo or apartment), it's possible to squeeze in chickens and beekeeping if you pull a few strings.

In addition to teaching you the basics of gardening and composting, this book tells you which fruit trees work well in containers, how to sprout grains, beans, wheatgrass and sprouts in your kitchen, and how to cultivate mushrooms. There's also a chapter on making your own yogurt (the author even mentions my Euro Cuisine yogurt maker) and other fermented foods.

Finally, this book wraps it up with a section on how to survive during resource shortages that takes a well balanced look at a possible future living with less without going overboard. He even offers some tips on how to help build a sustainable future.

So, if you are short on space but long on dreams of self-sufficiency, this book is an excellent starting point to get you going. The only draw-back is that it will get you so excited to start some of these projects, you'll wish it weren't November.

If you want to be entered in this book giveaway, add your name to the comments of this post. This giveaway is open until Wednesday, November 19th, 6:00 pm PST. I'll be doing a random drawing and announcing a winner on Thursday, November 20th.

Related books:
All New Square Foot Gardening
Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long
Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Electric blankie giveaway winner

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008Hooray for TMC of Return to Rural - she is the winner of the Sunbeam Luxurious Herringbone Heated Blanket (Twin Size).

Congratulations! I hope this blankie keeps you toasty and makes your sleeping cap optional!

For those of you who signed up for the giveaway, do not fear, I will be giving away another blankie in a couple weeks as well as some other goodies to keep you warm this winter.

Finally, if you have nothing better to do this weekend, my bio is up on Mother Earth News if you want to check it out.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Eat Local for Thanksgiving 2008

Eat Local for Thanksgiving 2008It's that time of year again and it's not too late to start thinking about your Thanksgiving meal and how to make it as sustainable as possible. The most effective thing to do is to focus on providing foods that are in season, local and organic.

You've already heard me blathering on (and on) about the reasons for eating locally, but here's a reminder: On average, for each plate of food obtained locally, 2.2 pounds of CO2 emissions are prevented. (This is from a University of WA study, so I'm not sure how it extrapolates out to other areas of the country.)

So, in another effort to encourage you to do more, you can pledge to Eat Local for Thanksgiving by adding a comment to this post. In your pledge you can state what you are planning to do, whether that be acquiring a local turkey to getting all your vegetables at a farmer's market, etc. It's totally up to you. The point is to think about where each food source comes from and buy it locally or don't serve it if it's out of season or has to travel miles to get to your plate.

Now, we all have our family favorites, and I'm sure Aunt Agnes might be upset when she doesn't see her favorite green bean casserole because the season is over in your neck of the woods and you neglected to can or freeze any. So, for those of you who want to take the opportunity during your Thanksgiving meal to discuss the issues surrounding food and where it comes from, the Puget Sound Fresh website has some printable discussion cards for your Thanksgiving table that may help you explain why certain things are missing.

Between now and Thanksgiving, I'll keep a running counter in the sidebar for the amount of CO2 emissions prevented based on the number of people pledging to eat local.*

What are we doing? Well, we are getting a local, pasture ranged heritage turkey from Thundering Hooves that we ordered way back in July. In addition, I'm sure we'll be serving all sorts of local potatoes, greens and apple pie, plus pumpkin pie from my pumpkins.

How are you choosing local for Thanksgiving this year?

*This won't be extremely scientific, but I'll just assume one plate worth of savings for each pledge, unless you specify otherwise. In other words, if you know you'll be serving all local food to 10 people, I'll count that as 10 plates worth.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Giveaway: Heated blanket for your frozen buns

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008Are you starting to feel the freeze with your participation in the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge? Are you wishing you had more than a hot water bottle to keep you warm at night because you turned off the heat?

Well, I'm going to be doing a series of giveaways to help you stay warm while keeping your energy costs miserly.

Today's giveaway is a Sunbeam Luxurious Herringbone Heated Blanket (Twin Size). This blanket includes a 10 hour auto-off back-lit digital control with multiple warming settings. It also features a preheat setting to warm up cold sheets before bedtime and a warming system that can sense and adjust to deliver consistent heat. You can machine wash and dry it as well and the color is "seashell". The list price on this product is $99.

Sunbeam claims that you can save up to 10% a year on your heating bill by turning on your heated blanket and setting your thermostat back 10% to 15% for 8 hours while you sleep. The benefit here is that you are heating locally rather than the whole house.

Caveats: this blanket is 70% polyester and 30% acrylic, so if you have issues with synthetic fibers, consider yourself warned, or, should I say, "warmed"? Also, some people have concerns with using electric blankets and EMF, but it is up to you to determine if the alleged risk is worth it. I suspect there's just as much a health risk burning oil heat in the house every night all winter, but that's up to you. There's also the pre-heat option if you don't want it going all night.

Okay, now that I've alerted you to the obvious, if you want to be entered in the giveaway, add your name to the comments of this post. This giveaway is open until Friday, November 14th, 6:00 pm PST. I'll be doing a random drawing and announcing a winner Saturday, November 15th.

Good luck!

Related posts:
Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008
Bun warmin' bed warmers

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Depletion & Abundance discussion post - Part Two

Sorry for the delay, but here's the second discussion post for the Depletion and Abundance book club.

Chapter 4: Meet the Real Economy. Sharon argues in this chapter that the real economy is not the one that we are used to hearing and reading about. The idea is that the "real", or informal, economy is the one that is uncounted for. Some examples of this includes all the work that is done at home by stay-at-home moms, wealth that is created through bartering, even under-the-table transactions (babysitting) and criminal activity. These are all part of the informal economy.

The wealth generated by some of these activities are easier to calculate (illicit drug sales, housecleaning) than others (tending to a sick elder). But all of this input is not represented in what is considered the formal "economy". Her argument is that this unrepresented labor, this informal economy, is what really runs things.

Furthermore, she points out that the idea that this informal, or subsistence, economy is subsidizing the formal economy is inaccurate. In fact, it is often the other way around. Her examples of this are generally related to third world countries and those in economic turmoil and this makes sense.

[The rest of these chapter comments are my own, just to be clear...]

I do take issue with the concept of Peasant Economics in that all one needs to do (and I'm assuming that the majority of the readers of this book are middle class Americans and not sub-Saharan Africans) is to slowly slide outside of the formal economy. The benefits of this I'm still somewhat unclear or dubious about, although she states at the end of the chapter that "we should reduce our participation in the formal economy because it is the right thing to do".

I know very few, in fact, pretty much nobody that participates in the informal economy. We all work for the "man", hire legitimate child care, educate our children through public schools, pay our taxes and buy most of our food from someone else. So, aside from cooking at home and the occasional toilet cleaning, there is little in the way of supporting the informal economy.

So, if we decide to take a few steps toward self-sufficiency, what exactly is that gaining us? Maybe I can trade a few pumpkins with a neighbor for apples or sell some rosemary to the guy down the street, but it's really not going to keep me from relying completely on the formal economy. For very few of us will the formal economy be a supplement to a subsistence economy, even if we find the time or interest to spend on making that transition.

The problem with this has to do more with the assumption that people actually want to do these things that lead us to be more self-sufficient (growing their own food, making things by hand, repairing items). The idea that families will gather around to pitch in and do these tasks with relish and wonder what they've been missing all this time is misconstrued.

The reason why people stopped doing all these things and why convenience appliances and services are the norm is because most of these tasks, for many people, are a huge pain in the ass and they don't like doing them. Some people prefer to work at their career than struggle with teaching their children at home. There's a reason why there's specialization - it's because it's not only more effective (higher productivity), it's also because some people just don't have the interest to learn how to do everything and do it well. Bartering for services just isn't a reasonable way to obtain them in modern society where goods and services are based on a monetary value.

She makes a huge value judgement in that staying home to work on the "home economy" has way more value to society. This "good and honorable work" for one person is drudgery in chains to another. The woman's movement into the workforce speaks a great deal to this and it's not all because of finances - it's a way to escape. Would I rather employ my time doing something challenging, using my intellect and doing work that I know serves a great deal of people in a positive way or stay home chained to household chores with its never ending litany of laundry, dishes, ironing and cooking?

Being a part of the formal economy affords me the time to do many of these self-sufficient things with pleasure only because I know that I have conveniences available to me if I don't have the time or energy to do them. In other words, these tasks have become pleasant hobbies, but if they were all I did all day long, they wouldn't give me the same sort of satisfaction.

[One other thing I wanted to point out in this chapter is that I believe Sharon's analysis of 11th century serfs is inaccurate in the amount of time they spent working. The estimate of labor is under-represented and her calculation on the number of days put in during harvest time is wrong. Unless harvest time lasted only one week.]

Chapter 5: Making Ends Meet. Rather than buying our way out of our problems (either though retail therapy or the misconception that buying things will make you a better, happier, sexier person), "the goal is to reduce our costs by extreme frugality." Additionally, all that purchasing produces climate changing and oil-depleting gasses, so we are better off limiting consumption.

Purchasing goods is the root problem, even if you are buying greener products. So, the end result is that we need to be buying a lot less items. Sharon advises using what you have rather than buying more of things you don't need.

The next item towards gaining self-sufficiency after reducing spending is to reduce your debt. Because of interest, debt makes you poorer so focus on reducing your spending and putting that saved money towards paying off your debt. The other adage is to use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

Finally, do what you can to stay in your home. If that is not feasible then cut your losses and move on before investing a ton more in paying down a mortgage you will end up forfeiting anyway. This makes the assumption that the housing market will never recover or, at the very least, it will take a longer time to recover than you have or can afford to wait. So, before taking this advice you should really weigh that one - I'd hate to see people sell their "underwater" homes at a huge loss when, if they had hung onto it for 5 or 10 years, they would have regained that loss.

In any case, paying down your mortgage is a good way to reduce your financial exposure. Sharon advocates doing whatever you can to reduce your other debt even if that means cancelling all your other services (like cable) and selling the financed car or items that you are no longer using or need. Basically, reduce your costs and consumption in other areas.

If you are truly cash strapped you may not have the funds to spend building the garden that Sharon recommends, but you'll have to do your own cost-benefit analysis on whether or not the monetary input is affordable enough to try growing your own food. I know from personal experience that just because you plant a fruit tree doesn't mean that you'll actually get anything edible off of that fruit tree and maybe that $35 would have been better spent on beans and rice this year.

Related posts:
Depletion & Abundance discussion post - Part One
Depletion & Abundance - the book club

Related books:
Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front
The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience
Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Homework: help or hassle?

Some random kid doing homeworkThe school district where my son goes to school has guidelines for how much homework students should have at night. For grades K-2, it's 10 minutes a day. His math homework alone is at least that (some days it's 3 pages of math drills).

Add in daily spelling plus phonics exercises or a book report and it's at least 20 minutes. On top of that, they are supposed to do 15 minutes of reading.

Needless to say, doing homework can be quite a struggle, particularly after school when there are other activities (mostly medical appointments) that push homework off until after dinner. And then we are looking at roughly 45 minutes of homework, including complaints, stalling and tantrums. I'm sure there is great benefit in doing the extra practice, drills and reading, but at what cost?

Some argue that homework only hinders the joy of learning and it has been found that homework in the elementary years does not actually make a difference in the child's achievement. On the contrary, homework tends to squash the child's natural interest in learning and it is recommended that extra reading be assigned only to pursue the child's other interests.

I really can't complain too much. But, when Emma starts school too, I don't know where I'll find the time to help them both out with their combined homework needs.

For those parents out there, what do you think about homework? How does it fare in your house? Do you feel that the extra work is helpful, or does it just end up putting extra stress on the family?

Related posts:
Back-to-school blues
What kids want

Related books:
The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Children and What Parents Can Do About It
The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing
Closing the Book on Homework: Enhancing Public Education and Freeing Family Time (Teaching/Learning Social Justice)
The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning
The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents

Monday, November 10, 2008

Energy, economy and climate change

Solar panelThe issues of energy, the economy and climate change, when looked at face value, seem like discrete problems facing not only the United States, but the rest of the world as well. These are the three biggest challenges we will (hopefully) face in our lifetime. But, when looked at a little closer, each of these issues represent a leg on a three legged stool.

If one leg is wobbly or can't hold its weight, then the balance is off and we risk tipping over permanently. Without a solid energy plan, the economy can spiral into ruin and, if we choose a deleterious energy plan (coal, oil, etc.), then climate change is exacerbated beyond potential repair. This is certainly a frightening prospect and this triad of issues can seem horribly insurmountable.

However, if we pursue a green energy plan, then the other issues, by default, have the potential to be resolved. This is the type of resolution that the next administration should focus on.

You see, if we invest in green energy, this creates jobs, not just in the development of new technologies that can be used for the benefits of U.S. citizens, but also can be sold to other nations or shared with developing countries to help reduce their emissions. This clearly helps our economy and the environment.

Additionally, an investment in energy also assumes an investment in energy infrastructure. This means shoring up the electrical grid which, in turn, creates a tremendous number of jobs and industry. Think of it as the Green New Deal. This also means development of more energy conservative products such as appliances as well as cars and transportation alternatives. This is not only good for the economy, but for the environment as well.

A side benefit of a strong green energy plan and investment also necessitates that we no longer are dependant on foreign sources of energy whether that be oil or even natural gas. With that comes increased national security. This is just good all around.

If all this were to be developed, a decrease in carbon and other climate affecting emissions would be lowered rapidly and considerably, hopefully reducing the world's risk of increased issues resulting from advanced climate change. In other words, less flooding, less hurricanes, less polar ice melting.

So, I urge you to consider writing to the president-elect and asking that his focus be on investing in green and renewable energy, the accompanying jobs that would be created and the resulting impact on climate change, air quality and environmental health. It's a one-two-three punch that is low-hanging fruit to some really tough problems.

Related posts:
Clean coal or dirty politics?
Stop drilling the American public
Fool sell

Related books:
The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems
Freedom From Oil: How the Next President Can End the United States' Oil Addiction
Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots
A Declaration of Energy Independence: How Freedom from Foreign Oil Can Improve National Security, Our Economy, and the Environment

Saturday, November 8, 2008

More News from Mother Earth

Homemade peanut butterI've gotten a few new posts up on Mother Earth News that I forgot to mention to you:

Supereasy Homemade Cream Cheese and Sour Cream

Nuts for Peanut Butter (how to make homemade peanut butter)

Feel free to go check 'em out!

For all my posts over there, check them out here.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pioneer Week update and a car accident

Pioneer Week: November 3 - 10, 2008How's Pioneer Week going for you all? It's been a mixed bag around the Crunchy house. Monday started off particularly crazy since I ended up sitting in traffic for an hour longer than normal since someone decided to jump off of a bridge on my route to work.

But, we've been eating homemade meals. I made a fantabulous stuffed manicotti made with homemade ricotta, handmade pasta and sauce. We also are working our way through some soups I made a few weeks ago and froze, one made with home grown pumpkin puree and one made with a carcass and meat from a chicken I roasted plus a bunch of random things we had in the fridge and cabinet.

My husband has been baking like crazy (he's a tad bored at home) and made a bright blue pound cake for election night. I also made some homemade sour cream and we are still working our way through the pumpkin muffins and pumpkin pie my husband baked late last week.

For the energy business, I've been chasing the kids around turning off the lights and keeping the space heater on low. It's been a little balmier around the house lately, so I haven't really been cold, plus I've been bundled up like crazy. My husband's ability to moderate his own body temperature was screwed up during his last stem cell transplant, so he's been colder than normal. I'm trying not to freeze him out, but mostly he's got the heat cranked so I'm sweating my buns off.

Water conservation is going okay. I can't say I'm taking shorter showers - somehow I step onto the event horizon of a black hole when I go in there, because I swear I'm not in there as long as my watch tells me I am. I really need to set an alarm.

The transportation element isn't going great, mostly because I have to drive to work, we have so many medical appointments to go to, and traffic to sit in. But, that said, I have taken no extra car trips this week beyond the "necessary" ones.

Entertainment. I watched TV during election night but the rest of the week it's been games and reading with the kids. Of course, you could count my Internet usage as entertainment, but I've been so tired, I've been going to bed really early and not even getting much personal reading time in. I swear the pile of books by my bedside is going to smother me in my sleep if I don't start giving it some of my attention.

Buy nothing: I haven't purchased anything this week except for food items. But that's usually how it goes around here.

Hopefully the rest of Pioneer Week shapes up nicely!

How 'bout you guys?

[Update: My son and I were in a car accident last night. I think the car will be totalled, so there will be a whole lot less driving going on around here. We are okay, but the dingbat that caused the accident was uninsured. Nice. Like we need more crap going on, financially and otherwise. My poor little high gas mileage Civic...]

Related posts:
Old fashioned activities for Pioneer Week
Getting outfitted for Pioneer Week
Living like Little House on the Prairie

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Eco-friendly moss and algae removal

Roof mossI'm surprised that, after living in wet and rainy Seattle for so many years, we've never had a problem with roof moss before. I recently started noticing that a portion of our roof was getting a little green, even though it was in an exposed area that gets lots of daylight and no shade. Well, our roof is about 10 years old, so I guess it's time for the embedded shingle chemicals to stop doing their moss fighting duty.

So, what's a green homeowner to do about the green? Well, the classic method of treating moss and algae, whether on roofs or sidewalks, is good old-fashioned bleach. But, this is an environmental quandary since bleach presents all sorts of problems in general and, when used outside, causes even more issues specifically dealing with runoff into storm water drains and groundwater.

I've read that 1/4 vinegar to 3/4 water solution will kill the algae. Has anyone had any success with this or does it just come right back? Or is some sort of allegedly eco-friendly commercial product the way to go?

What about oxygen bleach? Is that just as harmful as chlorine bleach? What about zinc sulfate or zinc/copper strips installed on the roof line? Or do I need to just scrub the bejeezus out of the shingles?

Do any of you have any suggestions for an eco-friendly method of removing roof moss that someone can easily do themselves? Or is it just better to hire someone with the chemicals, the skills and a roof pressure washer to take care of business?

Related posts:
Natural rust cleaner
Green cleaning favorites

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A mandate

The results of this election have been so astounding on a number of different levels. Not only am I pleased with the results, but I am, frankly, proud of America.

I never thought that Americans would get over their prejudices to elect an African American into office, at least not in my lifetime. Of course, it was my hope that that would be the case, but I believe we've gotten to the point where we look beyond race and can actually focus on more concrete things that matter. This wasn't just an election for president, this was a turning of the tide for so many things for Americans and for the world.

Since we're all going to be reading about the election, I want to keep this brief. But, here's to four years of removing the damage that has occurred over the last eight. Here's to four years of repairing the standing that the United States has in the global eye and here's to four years of actually having an intellectual in the White House. Someone who actually understands and respects Constitutional law in the White House? Go figure.

What's your wish for the next four years?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Reefer madness

Welcome inside!I know you all are busy voting today (or at least should be), or preoccupied with how to live more like a pioneer (or at least should be), but I thought I'd ask a question that we haven't discussed in a while.

And, no it doesn't involve marijuana. I'm talking about refrigerator usage and the willingness to give it up. You see, not too long ago, the best thing going was an icebox. The energy expenditure for making and delivering ice was not inconsequential, particularly since the main mode of energy and transportation was coal driven, so we certainly can't look back on those days with any environmental romanticism. Although I'm sure some still do.

Others will look back to the days when no refrigeration was even possible and either think it's totally doable today or that only people totally off their rockers will attempt to go sans refrigeration. I think that it's a doable project if you are extremely organized or don't eat anything (or little amounts) of food that require refrigeration.

In spite of the energy costs and related environmental impacts (production, packaging, distribution, chemical components, disposal), refrigerators seem to be the last holdout that environmentalists are willing to give up. Who can resist the welcoming arms of a refrigerator, wide-open, beckoning you inside to sample its refreshingly cool contents?

Ask any environmentalist to give up their clothes dryer? Piece of cake. Ditch the heating and air conditioning? No problem. No toilet paper? Sure thing! No refrigerator? Back up slowly and don't make eye contact lest you lose a limb.

We've seen fridge-less experiments come and go. Green as a Thistle gave it a whirl during her year long foray into reducing her impact. No Impact Man also tried giving it up. Yet, when their low-energy experiments were over, both went back to the cold, steely grip of refrigeration. It definitely has its hold on us, doesn't it?

What do you think about your fridge? Would you be willing to give it up? Have you already given it up and, if so, what's been your experience living "warm"?

Related posts:
Appliance freedom
Produce preservation products
Extreme Eco Throwdown

Monday, November 3, 2008

Environmental impact of outdoor cats

Here, kitty, kitty!Since we were discussing pet poop yesterday, I thought I'd follow it up with another pet oriented post today.

Because there is quite a distinct impact of free-roaming cats by way of them urinating and defecating in neighbor's yards, vegetable gardens, and planter boxes, this begs the question: what is the solution to kitty poop terrorism?

This is a different issue than with dogs, for the most part, because in most urban and suburban areas, off leash dogs aren't running through your backyard, pooping in your vegetable gardens. And, in most heavily populated areas, there are poop scooping laws to protect you from having to contend with big steamy piles. This is not the case with cats.

On one hand, the cat litter from America's 90 million pet cats results in around 2 million tons of cat litter being sent to landfills each year. So, is it better to let them poop outside? No, not really. Cat poop can be a danger to other animals in that they carry diseases that impact other wildlife, other cats and can spread disease to native cat populations.

Cats can carry all sorts of human transmittable diseases too such as rabies, round worm, hook worm, and ring worm. As was discussed in the comments of yesterday's post, cat poop can cause additional issues since they can carry toxoplasma gondii (about 50% of them do), which can cause illness in immune compromised humans and pregnant women. The end result of roaming cats is that their feces and urine can contaminate soil and water, endangering fish, wildlife and people.

Cats also have a big impact on wildlife as a predator (although I'm certainly not complaining about their effectiveness against our local mouse population). Outdoor cats kill a staggering number of lizards, songbirds and small mammals every year.

In urban areas, dogs aren't allowed to roam free, why should cats? Twenty years ago, dogs were allowed to wander off leash throughout most urban and suburban neighborhoods. That has certainly changed and now there are laws enforcing responsible dog ownership.

What are your thoughts? Should there be a ban on outdoor cats?

Related posts:
Pet poop disposal
Down the rabbit hole
Save a horse, eat a cowboy

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pet poop disposal

Poop scoopinI asked this question a long time ago and wanted to see if people's answers have changed much regarding how they dispose of their dog poop.

When we had a dog, we always flushed his poop, thinking that it was better sending it to the wastewater treatment plant rather than it living forever in a plastic bag in the landfill somewhere, never to decompose.

I'm really not sure which is better, although since our wastewater is treated and composted it's probably better than going into the landfill. This won't work so well if you have a septic system.

I assume you could also dispose of cat poop in a similar manner (flushing rather than putting in the trash). And I know you can compost your pet poop in a pet poop composter.

Which leads me to Sunday's poll:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Freeze Yer Buns 2008 begins!

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008Hey fellow frigidy chickens, it's time to freeze yer buns! Not that some of us haven't been freezing them already, of course.

So far, we've got a ton of participants and I expect to see more and more people sign up as the bun freezing season wears on. A lot of you don't yet have cold temperatures and will put off joining until winter approaches in your area so I expect to see some late stragglers.

We've already been freezing here, but haven't turned on our oil heat for the year. How are we avoiding that? Well, I bought a few space heaters to just warm the area where we are in, instead of the whole house. Since our electricity is green and cheaper than oil, this ends up being a good solution for us. We'll see when we get the electrical bill and I might rethink my heating strategy.

I've also been baking a lot so that's been helping heat up the kitchen and other areas of the house where we tend to spend most of our time. In addition, my husband has been on a pastry baking spree. Throw in an almost constant use of our bed warmers and there you go!

I've also got some exciting news for you, too! I'll be doing some really fun giveaways this freezin' season to help you keep warm. So stay tuned for those posts!

If you want to sign up for the challenge, just leave your name and your temperatures (if you know them) in the comments of this post.

Are you freezing yet? What things are you doing to stay warm?

Related posts:
Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008
Bun warmin' bed warmers
Freeze Yer Buns 2007 wrap-up
All of last year's FYB posts

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