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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Freeze Yer Buns wrap-up

Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008I can't believe it's already the last day of the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge. I'm still using my cherry pit bed warmer on occasion and we're still experiencing some frigid days which is rather unusual for this time of year.

I honestly think we did better in last year's challenge. We kept our daytime temperatures higher this year, but we were home less so it probably evened out. We did drop the evening temperatures to our goal setting, so it was really only up higher for an hour in the morning and a few hours in the afternoon. We are totally acclimated to 58 (which means more like 55) at night and anything higher means we are up sweating in the middle of the night.

I'm still expecting to be burning some heating oil for a few more months (usually until around July in these here parts of the country), but only at night for those later months. And, with our lower night temperature settings, it probably won't be on all that much.

What's the weather like where you are for this time of year? Colder than normal, warmer than normal, or normal? How much longer will you be using your heat? How did the this year's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge go for you? Were you able to lower your thermostat as low as you wanted or did you go lower than you expected you would?

Monday, March 30, 2009

What does eating sustainably mean?

Sustainable Food Budget Challenge - April 2009The Sustainable Food Budget Challenge starts in a few days and I wanted to clarify a bit what I mean by eating sustainably for the month.

First off, one thing that people seem to be getting hung up on is the idea that you have to eat local only during the challenge. If you go back and look at the guidelines, I'm not requiring you buy your food during the challenge from a farmers market, and this is because most farmers markets aren't open for a lot of us or, if they are, the only things that are in season are storage foods like potatoes and root vegetables and for us in the Pacific Northwest, it's soon going to be all rhubarb and asparagus as far as fresh produce goes.

Not that I couldn't spend most of the month of April eating nothing but those items, but suffice it to say I'll want some other variety and that's where I'll choose certified organic or the like (I'll have a post later this week describing what all the different certifications mean). Some people have the issue in their area where farmers markets are far more expensive than getting other, sustainably grown foods, so they'll need to explore their grocery stores for more affordable options or choose wisely.

So, for most of us that don't have access to farmers markets at this time of year or you are still under a ton of snow, that means the next level is organic or sustainably farmed items that are shipped in from elsewhere, frozen or canned, and preferably family farmed. If some of that is local, great. Family farm produce/products might not be doable in your area, so you will need to rely mostly on certified organic (or similar) to know whether or not what you are buying is sustainably grown.

We are lucky where I live in that there are a lot of locally grown fresh fruits readily available in our grocery stores. They are mostly apples and pears, but that's what we've been eating all winter anyway. For supplemental fruits, I've been getting organic frozen fruits and vegetables from local farms that are sold in our grocery stores as well as organic frozen juice (concentrate).

Since we've been eating seasonally for the last year, limiting what we eat mostly to what's local and in season (except for a few splurge items here and there like avocados and tomatoes), I tell you I'm champing at the bit for asparagus season to start. Roasted asparagus, grilled asparagus, steamed asparagus. I have a much higher appreciation for these tasty treats since I refuse to buy them fresh out of season or imported from South America.

Anyway, if you want to participate in the challenge, don't feel like you have to buy your produce from a farmers market. In many areas you should be able to find organic or sustainably grown products in your grocery stores. I would, however, caution against purchasing organic food flown in from out of the country, if you can. Not all of us have easy access to sustainably grown foods in our regions, so you'll need to decide what works best for you and, I suspect, this challenge will be more difficult.

If you want to sign up for the challenge, add your name to the comments of this post.

Do you have any year-round farmers markets or ones that will be open in April where you live? If so, what local fruits and/or vegetables are available now?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Predictions for a low energy economy

As sources of petroleum energy peak and fall (oil and natural gas) over the next few decades, we'll see much higher costs for many of the things we take for granted, particularly transportation, heating fuel and shipping of goods.

Sure, we'll be replacing current sources of petroleum-based energy with coal (hopefully minimally or as cleanly as possible), some nuclear (although the time it will take to get nuclear up and running is long), more wind, etc. the overall effect is that we will have less total energy available. Or, at the very least, it won't be anywhere near as cheap as we've had it the last few decades.

So, what kind of future will we have and what kind of jobs will be considered valuable? I'm going to take a stab at a few predictions and explain why:

Transportation: Most of us won't be able to afford increased gas prices when we are sliding quickly down the oil slope, so alternative forms of transportation will be key. Many areas will have invested in public transportation such as alternative fuel buses, light rail or other forms of rail. But, I also bet there will be an increased interest in riding bikes to get around (particularly those modified for hauling like an Xtracycle). Being a bus driver will lose some of its stigma and there will be increased demand for people with bicycle maintenance skills.

Food: The benefits of fast food (i.e. cheap, subsidized food) will be a thing of the past as the true costs of growing and transporting food is revealed. A stronger focus on locally grown food, with its cheaper transportation costs, will be in effect and people will more likely be eating seasonally because of reduced costs. Having skills and knowledge of growing food in suburban and/or urban settings will be valuable as more people will return to backyard food growing to save money. Inexpensive meat (cheap, corn and grain fed animals) will go away and people will return to eating meat less as the focus of a meal, but as a small constituent of it.

Goods and services: When cheap oil prices disappear, cheap goods (toys, clothes, electronics) from overseas will all but cease to exist. There will be a higher demand for quality products that are well made and actually have replacement parts. More people will rely on second-hand items over buying new because of increased costs and a return to trading or bartering or just plain sharing skills with neighbors will increase. Supporting local businesses will be key in keeping a strong local economy and ensuring that interruptions in supply are minimal. Knowing how to repair large and small appliances, sewing clothes, wood working and other crafts will be valuable skills to have.

Rural-style medicine: The cost of health care and pharmaceuticals will increase and access to services and their plastic-dependent goods will be harder to come by (think IV bags, tubing, etc.). There will be a higher value placed on knowing basic techniques and we'll most likely see quite a drop in elective surgery (cosmetic and otherwise). I think we'll probably see a return to more general practice family doctors and a higher emphasis will be placed on nurses and nurse practitioners for primary care.

Education: I don't see dramatic changes in the way we educate elementary and secondary students. Most likely the biggest changes will be less options for transportation, limited school choices and a decrease in special education services. If energy costs are truly an issue a compact school week may be instituted to reduce the number of days the building is heated and extracurricular type classes (art, music, library, PE) will be eliminated to focus on core subjects.

This may be more important where winters are very cold, but a shifting of school schedules to spring, summer and fall to eliminate heating costs may be considered. With a decrease in standard of living, we may see a decrease in population rates, so less students may be going through the system and schools will close in some areas if that is the case. Few people will be able to afford an advanced education and we may see a shift more towards trade schools, akin to the school system in Britain. Being an educator will still be highly valued, we'll just need less of them, or in different fields.

Travel and entertainment: The costs to travel will increase exorbitantly unless some miraculous energy source is discovered. Only the wealthy will be able to afford air travel and the rest of us will rely on rail for extended vacations. The majority will take vacations within the region where they live and staycations will be more of the norm. I think there will be less travel and tourism overall, but local economies will still benefit from local travelers.

Mainstream entertainment will change in that the days of the big budget blockbusters may become so unaffordable that we'll see a majority of small, budget films. And a lot less of them. I think the demand for entertainment will still remain high, but the outlets will more likely turn to cheaper forms like socializing or going to community events. I don't see a huge decrease in demand for organized sports however today's high paid athletes will be a thing of the past.

How do you see life in a low energy economy, where oil resources are less available and those that do exist are extremely expensive? Do you think alternative forms of energy (wind, solar, hydro, etc.) will "save" us or will they only slightly slow down our collision course with a low energy economy?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Plant therapy aka fruit tree splurge

After Monday night's edible landscaping action at Sustainable Ballard, coupled with a conversation on gardens over at One Green Generation, I got a little excited and decided to head over to my local nursery to check out fruit trees. I have some money burning a hole in my pocket that I got from a writing project so what better to do than reinvest in sustainable, edible plants?

Arbequina olivesWell, from there I enlisted myself in a little plant therapy and stocked up for the season. I've been wanting to get these trees for over a year now and, well, there's no time like the present.

I ended up getting an Arbequina Olive tree that I'll keep potted to control how big it gets. While it takes 200 olive trees to make a decent amount of olive oil, you only need one to cure your own olives. I probably won't be harvesting enough olives in the next few years to produce any amount of significance, but I have plans to cure them myself. They are quite bitter without curing, but curing gives them a mild, smoky flavor.

I also got a tea plant, or Camellia sinensis, as I was inspired by Ingela and her tea plant at the meeting. I'll prune it to keep it at 4 feet tall and about as wide since I don't want a gigantic tea shrub. My husband loves tea and even though I doubt what I make will end up being anywhere near his favorite Earl Grey, at least his source of caffeine will be extremely local. I might try experimenting with tiny amounts of bergamot oil to create my own Earl Grey Lavender blend.

Columnar applesWhile I was at it, I picked up two columnar apple trees: a Northpole and a Scarlet Sentinel. The apples on these trees grow along the main branch and they pretty much grow straight up, although you can get them to spread a bit. Mature columnar apple trees average eight to ten feet tall and only about two feet wide. The fruit on them is normal size, but the tree itself takes up much less space.

Oh, and I may have picked up a few broccoli starts.

As usual, I'll keep you up to date on how the plants are doing and how the curing and tea making end up going.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The local sustainability movement

Sustainable BallardLast night I went to my first Sustainable Ballard meeting in an effort to get more involved at the local level. The topics for the evening were centered mostly around growing your own food and what resources there were in the community to help.

Someone from the Seattle P-Patch Trust spoke about the 23 acres of land that is available to the public for growing food. There are currently 6,000 gardeners using the P-Patches, but there are 2,000 people on the waiting lists. For those of you who live in Seattle and want to know how to move up the list a little faster, she suggested that you volunteer at the P-Patch you are interested in. Anyway, one of the resources the speaker was suggesting for people to use is a document, Starting a Community Garden (pdf), from the American Community Garden Association, if you are looking to start a community garden in your area.

I spoke a bit afterwards with the Garden and Natural Environment Guild Leader for the group about harvesting fruit trees both on public and private land. She suggested checking out the Community Fruit Tree Harvest which is focused on harvesting unwanted community fruit and delivering it to people with limited access to organic produce (food bank, shelters, senior centers, etc.).

One thing we discussed was some way of matching neighbors that have fruit and nut trees with volunteers to come and harvest their fruit. It is similar in concept to a recently launched website, Urban Garden Share, which matches up people with gardening space with gardeners who would like to use it. The website is currently only available to those in the Seattle area, but they are looking to expand to Portland and, eventually, the rest of the country. Definitely check it out - it's only been up a few weeks, but it's an interesting idea.

Anyway, I think it would be cool to be able to search for someone who has fruit trees that aren't interested in the fruit and match them with someone who is. Since nothing like this exists (that I know of - but maybe I'll just have to build the darn thing myself), I mentioned that having a "stock" letter on something like a door hanger to put on the fruit tree owner's door asking if they were interested in someone harvesting the fruit/nuts on their trees (with contact info if they want to follow-up - email or phone) would be cool to have. In other words, a request letter, you could even state what you would give in trade, like jars of jam or the like.

For those of you interested in transportation issues related to food security, the Sail Transport Company is working to deliver food grown from around Puget Sound, but transported to Seattle via sailboat. It's a CSA by sail. They've already done at least one delivery to Shilshole Marina this year and weekly delivery will start at the end of May. So, instead of getting your produce grown in the Puget Sound area delivered by car or truck, you can get it delivered farm-to-market without burning a single drop of hydrocarbon fuel.

Lastly, two companies were there to speak about the services they offer to Seattle gardeners. Both offer full service edible landscape design focusing on building your garden beds for you and helping establish your crops, even going so far as maintaining them if you like. Seattle Urban Farm Company will also spec out and build you a custom chicken coop and will soon be offering custom built pygmy goat pens as well.

Cascadian Edible Landscapes offers chicken coops in addition to custom garden bed construction, rain barrel installation and the like, but one thing that was really cool is that they have this program, basically a CSA for plant starts. They do all the plant starts and get them to you at the correct time of the year for year-round produce. Too cool!

Man, I love Seattle.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Doomer dinner party

Well, my guests sure didn't know that we were doing a doomer dinner, they were just enticed to come over by the invite and the menu. What's a doomer dinner party? Well, Peak Oil Hausfrau suggested hosting a dinner made entirely out of food you had stored on hand.

I had so many tomatoes stored in the chest freezer from last year's harvest that I made tomato sauce out of them on Saturday in preparation for homemade pizzas. Since we had stored up olives, flour, yeast and cheese, it was the perfect compliment to the stored root vegetables that I roasted. Drinks consisted of cocktails and wine from supplies that we had stored as well.

While I was digging out the tomatoes, I noticed that we had a ton of frozen raspberries also left over, so I was planning on making a Raspberry Amaretto pie for dessert, but never got around to it, which is fine because we were too full with what we had.

So, in spite of my complaining that we would be serving peanut butter and crackers if we were to do the doomer dinner party, we really do have a lot of food stored and ended up making a fabulous blow-out dinner for my mom and my brother (who is leaving for Paris* for a month on Tuesday). I can't say it was as good as the food he'll be experiencing in France, but MREs it was not!

Ooh la la!

*And, for the record, in case you are thinking of my previous post about the carbon impact of air travel, my brother more than makes up for it - no kids, works from home, buys most of his food from Pike Place market (a few blocks away), eats local/homemade, and drives a hybrid for the few miles he and his wife do drive.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Birthday candle guilt

I feel like such a bad mom. We go out of our way to make homemade birthday cakes for the kids, and host creative, low-impact but high-fun birthday parties, yet I deprive the kids of birthday candles.

Why? Well, because, generally, birthday candles are a huge waste of resources, are made from paraffin (read: petroleum), have toxic wicks and aren't good for the environment. Sure, I want them to experience all the fun that other kids do, but last year, I just couldn't bring myself to do the birthday candle thing.

I felt bad, but there you go. I just couldn't do it. Maybe I am suffering from green psychosis. But, what's the point of letting your kids have fun when you are potentially poisoning them and the Earth in the process? Am I being hyper-vigilant or just controlling?

Down to Earth Beeswax CandlesSo, today, while I was looking for local flour in the baking foods section of my favorite local grocery store, I spied some beeswax birthday candles. Even though they cost more than the standard ones, I bought them, since these are the kind that will be used and reused as the occasion requires. And, now, this year I won't feel bad but excited about lighting those air purifying beeswax candles. Whew!

What things do you feel like you are depriving your kids of and what kind of substitute do you make, if any?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring is in the air

Daffodils
Well, except for the snow, hail and torrential rains, spring is in the air up here in Seattle!

Cherry blossoms
Ha, ha, just kidding. This last one is an orchid from my Dad's garden in San Diego (taken last week):

Orchid

Friday, March 20, 2009

Predict the future

My hot and spicy friend was asking people the other day what they are doing to prepare for the future and got some great comments. I wanted to extend on that thread and find out people's impression of the future. In other words, what kind of future are they preparing for?

So, today you get to predict the future. What do you think the Earth will be like in 2030, climate-wise? What do you think the US will be like - how do you think we'll be impacted by peak oil, food shortages, economic issues, social issues, etc.? Do you think we are headed toward a dystopia, utopia or somewhere in between?

I'm leaving it wide open, so anything is game for discussion.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Is air travel selfish?

I can't remember what blog I was reading the other day, but someone in the comments had mentioned that they considered air travel to be something that they weren't willing to give up mostly because they felt that what they got out of the experience was worth the carbon consumption, or something like it. In other words, they felt that some of the pristine scenes or natural sights weren't going to be around for much longer, so they should go see them while they could.

And this struck something in me - the question of, do we as affluent Americans have the right to pleasure travel the globe, catching the last of the sights and sounds before the environment changes, all the while contributing to that decline? And what does that mean for the billions of people who can't even travel outside of their region, let alone afford to get on a plane, these same billions who are the ones most adversely affected by climate change? What rights do they have? As an example, with one round-trip flight to Europe (with 3-4 tons of CO2 emissions) you will have caused more emissions than 20 Bangladeshi will cause in a whole year. Unfortunately they are the ones who will lose their homes and livelihood once sea level rise inundates their low lying country. [1]

To put things in perspective, aviation presently accounts for 4 to 9% of the total climate change impact of human activity. And, instead of the amount going down, as it should be to mitigate climate change, since 1990, CO2 emissions from international aviation have increased 83%. [2] Not all of this is due to pleasure travel, but it does represent a huge chunk of climate change, such that all the carbon trading / tree planting you do to offset the impact really won't make up for it.

So, I wanted to ask you guys how you felt. Do you think air travel for tourism sake is selfish? Can't we all get by seeing the world the way people have always done so, through the experience of a few through travelogues, pictures and, more recently, film and documentaries? Must we all see it first-hand? Is the argument that travelling makes one more aware of worldly problems a sufficient one to make up for the impact or is really just a justification for self-satisfaction and consumption?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Eco cleanser roundup

Since we're discussing cleaners this week I thought I'd throw this out to you. It's been a long time since I've gotten feedback on your favorite green cleansers all in one post, so please answer the following for everyone else to reference.

For each type of cleaner:
  • name what you use
  • state how you like it (love it, like it, it's okay, hate it)
  • other comments

    What's your favorite green:

    1. dish soap (for hand washing dishes)
    2. dishwasher detergent (for machine dishwashers)
    3. laundry detergent (do you have a front loader, top loader or high efficiency machine?)
    4. bleach alternative
    5. bathroom scrub
    6. window cleaner
    7. mold cleaner
    8. floor cleaner (for linoleum)
    9. floor cleaner (for wood floors)
    10. body soap
    11. liquid hand soap
    12. shampoo
    13. toothpaste

    Thanks!
  • Tuesday, March 17, 2009

    Another eco-dishwasher product miracle

    A few months ago I reviewed an eco-dishwasher detergent that we had received a sample of and loved. It worked great with our crappy dishwasher and had minimal environmental impact. Unfortunately, the brand, Wave Gel, is hard to find in our area or, at the very least, is inconvenient to buy.

    Because of the cost (free!), we went back to the plastic bottles of cheapo dishwasher detergent my mom gets on super-sale and gives to us, but it's been driving me crazy not using something more sustainable. We were out of detergent this weekend and using up the rest of the Seventh Generation detergent that doesn't work for us - it leaves a greasy film all over the dishes - and trying to figure out what to buy.

    So, Saturday, before I went shopping, I went back through all the comments from the post and re-read which detergents you guys love. After reading through them all I decided to look for the ECOVER Dishwasher Tablets. We had tried some other non-sustainable gel pack things (again, from my mom on super-sale) and liked the fact that it was packaged in a cardboard box with only a thin plastic liner (albeit non-recyclable) on the inside. I was hoping to find something similar instead of a product in a big hunking chunk of plastic.

    Our local grocery store, that I love with all my heart, doesn't sell the Wave detergent but they do sell ECOVER tablets. I was happy to see that the tablets were individually wrapped in recyclable plastic, the box is made of 95% recycled cardboard, it has plant based ingredients, is biodegradable and has a minimum impact on aquatic life.

    But do these miracle tablets work in a crappy dishwasher? Well, I'm here to testify that, yes, they do work just as well as Cascade and the other "leading" brands. Who knew that something so simple as finding a decent eco-dishwasher detergent could be so satisfying and make me so pleased! Thanks to everyone who regularly supplies their input on what does and doesn't work for you. Without your suggestions, I'd still be fumbling around with trying to figure out what to do.

    Sunday, March 15, 2009

    Sustainable Food Budget Challenge

    Sustainable Food Budget Challenge - April 2009I've been reading a bit lately about the argument that the sustainable food / organic movement is really only affordable by the middle and upper classes. Basically, those who can afford to shop at Whole Foods or the like. I tend to disagree wholeheartedly because there are many avenues to buying organic, sustainable or local foods without breaking the bank.

    First off is where you are shopping. Sure, if you go to Whole Paycheck and buy their gourmet, packaged items you are going to ring up quite a tally. But, if you skip the morels, cave aged Gruyere and imported organic wines and stick to the in-season local fruits and vegetables and the bulk aisle, even Whole Foods can be somewhat affordable. Locally owned grocery stores more often will carry locally grown food over chain supermarkets. So you'll need to take into consideration whether locally grown fruits and vegetables that are sustainably grown but not certified organic or even use some non-organic practices are 'better' than Walmart organic produce grown half-way around the world.

    Another alternative is shopping at your local food co-op if you have one. If you do, consider yourself extremely lucky because there you will find more food grown locally and at more reasonable prices. Hell, you might as well become a member of the co-op and reap the other benefits generally available to members.

    Farmers markets are certainly on the rise. We have a ton in the Seattle area and, each year, more are opening up, which is so exciting even if I don't always get a chance to shop there. The best part of buying at the farmers markets is that you get to "meet the producer". In other words, you can ask all sorts of questions of the grower to get an idea of how that food was raised (organic, sustainable, with or without pesticides, etc.). But, the best part is also the fact that you are buying directly, so prices tend to be cheaper. Since you are also buying what's in season and fresh, the prices will be more inexpensive as well. If you are willing to eat seasonally, you can really reap the savings.

    Finally, don't forget U-Pick, farm stands and on farm purchases. The U-Pick option tends to be extremely inexpensive mostly because you are doing the manual labor. Of course, you do have to take into consideration your own time with this one, but if you can spare the few moments to head out to your closest farm, then it's well worth the trip to stock up and do some preserving.

    To stretch your food dollars even more, eating less meat is one huge way to go to reducing your costs. Sticking to grains, legumes and nuts can provide great sources of protein at a fraction of the cost. Additionally, cutting back on dairy can stretch out your food budget as well.

    So, the question remains... is it possible to eat an organic or sustainably grown diet on a budget? A few years ago, there was the argument that those individuals who received food assistance from the government didn't receive enough money to be able to afford healthy food. Some took it further and argued that poor Americans really were excluded from being able to eat sustainably strictly because of the higher costs. There are a number of factors at play here, the majority of which have to do with food availability such as the fact that not many supermarkets remain in some inner city areas and it's difficult to travel out to the suburbs to shop at stores that sell the kinds of foods we are talking about here.

    But, for the rest of us, can it be done? For those of us who live in areas where ample farmers markets, farms and grocery stores selling sustainably grown food exist, is it affordable?

    I'd like to challenge us all to see if we can eat sustainably using the Food Stamp Allotment Program guidelines. It will take a lot of careful planning, but the end result is that we can save a lot of money on our food budget by trying to spend within this framework for a month.

    Challenge Guidelines
    So, here's the skinny. Based on the following allotment chart, you are to stick to the corresponding amount for food for the month of April. The challenge is that you must buy according to the following guidelines (from Locavores). Do not include non-food items or home grown items into your budget, but do include seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat. Make sure you include all the food costs from eating out, trips to coffee shops, etc.

    These are fairly loose rules, but the goal is to buy sustainably grown food:

    1. If not LOCALLY PRODUCED, then Organic.
    2. If not ORGANIC, then Family farm.
    3. If not FAMILY FARM, then Local business.
    4. If not a LOCAL BUSINESS, then Terroir: purchase foods famous for the region they are grown in.
    5. Hit the farmers market before the supermarket.

    Household Maximum Monthly Allotment Chart:
    1 person - $176
    2 people - $323
    3 people - $463
    4 people - $588
    5 people - $698
    6 people - $838
    7 people - $926
    8 people - $1,058
    Each additional person - $132

    Sign Me Up!
    To sign up for the challenge, add your name to the comments of this post. I'll be doing weekly check-ins to see how everyone is faring and for you to confess your non-sustainably grown food purchases.

    This should be a difficult challenge for most of us since it's combining a tight budget with buying sustainably grown foods. For those of you already ahead of the curve, feel free to lower the budget amount and see if you can squeeze in even more savings.

    Saturday, March 14, 2009

    Stay green for St. Patrick's Day

    Irish Soda BreadThis is a repost from last year, but I thought I'd post it again in case anyone is looking to green up their holiday, and I don't mean in a colorful way...

    Traditionally, people all over the U.S. like to have a green St. Patty's Day. But, in contrast to the tradition, which must be the result of someone's fervent love of the shades of shamrock, I'm wishing you all an environmentally green holiday.

    So, how do you go about greening up St. Patty's Day?

    1. Go ahead and eat green food. Just make sure it is naturally green. Try to add in spinach, peas, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green onions, kiwis and avocados (whatever has the least carbon imprint for you area).

    2. I don't advocate adding green food coloring to anything, no matter how much you want to have it fit the "theme". If you must color it, make sure you choose a product that is "natural", using vegetable and plant extracts only.

    3. Choose an organic or natural corned beef. This may be hard to come by, depending on where you live, but check with your local natural foods market or a Whole Foods. The search is definitely worth it.

    4. Make sure your spuds are green. No, not the green potatoes with toxins. But those grown sustainably with no chemicals. Your liver will thank you.

    5. Make your own Irish Soda Bread. It's pretty damn simple and oooooh, so much better than what you can buy in the stores. Unless you live in Brooklyn. Don't forget to make your own butter.

    6. Get your head on straight and buy organic cabbage. Even if you believe the argument that eating organic cabbage isn't as important as choosing organic for the dirty dozen, it's the agricultural practices and their problems that you need to consider, not just how contaminated the food is with pesticides.

    7. Speaking of head, don't forget the beer. I have to admit I'm not a big beer fan, but I do like me some Guinness. Look for a local brewery who does an organic beer.

    8. Make sure you don't use disposable dishes, glassware, silverware or napkins. If you don't have enough, ask your guests to bring some to the party.

    9. Try a St. Patty's Day fun run or walk if there's one in your area and it's not too late to enter. How is this green? Well, maybe the extra exercise will inspire you to eat less for dinner. The result is you'll have more leftovers to reduce your food impact later in the week. Also, you'll not only burn off a little of the excess corned beef if you do go overboard, but you'll be just a tad healthier for it.

    10. Enjoy the time you have with friends and family, enjoying great food and company. What could be more green friendly than that?

    Friday, March 13, 2009

    Come check out my chits!

    Nice chits!Melinda, over at One Green Generation was kind enough to explain the chitting potato process the other day. I bought two types of potato seeds this year, Yukon Gold and All Blue. They are organic and from a farm called Irish Eyes, just over in Eastern Washington. So, I consider them to be both local and organic.

    I was hoping to plant them this weekend (as per traditional St. Patty's Day potato action), but it's been so darn cold and freezing that I think I'm going to wait a week or two, not just to give them a better chance of not freezing to death, but also to give me a better chance of not freezing to death while planting them.

    This will be the third year I've grown potatoes. Okay, actually last year, I didn't plant any new potatoes, I just left what was in there from the previous year and they still grew a few. But, this year, I'm going to do it right again and plant and hill them in my plastique bins and hope for a bumper crop. The first year we had more potatoes than we could eat. But, the take home lesson with potatoes is that they are dirt easy to grow.

    How about you? Have you grown taters before and will you do so this year?

    Thursday, March 12, 2009

    If you plan on doing Earth Hour

    Earth Hour this year is Saturday, March 28th from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm, where participants are urged to turn off all their lights for an hour as a show of support against global warming. These sorts of events oftentimes seem like an empty gesture to me that tend to have far too many commercial interests.

    Sure, they get people excited and make them feel like they are participating in a global movement, but the overall impact is fairly minimal, particularly given the fact that the majority of participants end up burning paraffin candles instead. The end result is that Earth Hour burns more CO2 than keeping one low-watt CFL bulb burning instead.

    Here's the trade-off: if you get your electricity from green sources (wind, hydro, solar, etc.), switching over to a seemingly innocuous candle is a bit of mental legerdemain. Are the candles 100% beeswax or soy with a 100% cotton wick? Or are they the cheaper paraffin (fossil fuel) kind? Do they burn cleanly or do they actually contribute to increased carbon dioxide emissions?

    For those of you not intimately knowledgeable about standard paraffin candles, paraffin is essentially hydrocarbon, or a heavy alkane fraction distilled straight from crude oil. Even if 80% of your electricity comes from coal and fossil fuel fired power stations, burning candles is very polluting and certainly very greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions intensive, even more so than electric lighting. In other words, for every paraffin candle that is burned to replace electric lighting during Earth Hour, greenhouse gas emissions over the course of the one hour are increased by 9.8 g of carbon dioxide.

    Beeswax candles, on the other hand, can be considered "carbon neutral" in the sense that, even though it produces carbon dioxide when burned, it’s carbon that is naturally cycled through the ecospheric carbon cycle - not from fossil fuel.

    So, if you are doing Earth Hour, stock up on beeswax candles if you really want to make a statement. Another alternative is a hand-crank or solar lantern. Or, you can just hang out in the dark and enjoy yourself with other, more carbon neutral activities.

    Are you going to do Earth Hour this year and what kind of alternative lighting will be used, if any?

    Wednesday, March 11, 2009

    Sweatin' off my buns

    Freeze Yer Buns Challenge 2008I'm sitting here and I'm hot. I really shouldn't be because it's been bloody cold around here today (well, cold for Seattle - in the teens), but because I haven't been keeping an eye on the thermostat it's been creeping up to 70 in here.

    And I really can't stand it warmer than 65 when I'm dressed warmly. It probably doesn't help that I'm wearing two long-sleeve shirts, one of which is some winter sports material that makes you extra hot.

    Unfortunately, my husband's metabolism is all screwed up from his stem cell transplant, so the tables are turned and now he's always cold and I'm always hot. What a weird turn of events. I can't really tell him to buck up and freeze him out too much, since he's not generally feeling good altogether and adding death by shivering is a little too cruel and unusual. They say that it takes a year after your transplant for this to go away so hopefully by next year's Freeze Yer Buns, he'll be back to preferring cooler temps.

    Fortunately, my husband likes to sleep in an icebox, so turning the heat down to 58 at night is not an issue. What this means, however, is that our bedroom is even colder than that, since the central heating seems to avoid coming anywhere near the duct that leads to our bedroom, much preferring other areas of the house, just on principle. What this also means is that my natural heat source (aka husband) is no longer putting off 2,000 BTUs in bed so I'm even colder than normal.

    In any case, I really can't believe this season's challenge is almost over. Thank God. Anyone else looking forward to warmer weather? I say this now, but since I'm acclimated to the cold, I will be bitching when it's above 70. And, when it's time for the summer cooling challenge and it's sweaty ass-crack hot, you bet I'll be complaining. You can count on it.

    Anyway, how about you, do you naturally run hot or cold? Does this make turning your heat down more of a problem? Do you have heating/cooling wars with your spouse, roommates, kids because of how you each regulate your body temperature?

    Tuesday, March 10, 2009

    Super exciting recycling news!

    Recycling foilI'm sure this won't be as exciting to anyone else (unless you live in Seattle), but we are now getting food waste pickup weekly at the end of the month and can put in delightful waste such as meat, fish, dairy and bones.

    Our recycling is also being extended to include foil, foil trays, jar lids, plastic plant pots, paper and plastic cups! I don't care about the latter because I never use paper and plastic cups, but I do accrue a lot of plastic plant pots (which I've been saving) and the occasional foil from baking that irks me to no end that we can't recycle it. Lids from glass jars are also highly exciting for me.

    So, let me tell you, I really am pleased with these changes and I can't think of too many other things that I would like them to accept (within reason). I'm in collection services hog heaven!

    What kind of items would you like to be able to put out in the recycling that you can't now? Do you have food waste recycling and, if so, do you use it? If not, do you want it?

    Monday, March 9, 2009

    Harvesting household water

    If you live in an area that experiences frequent droughts or you just don't like paying high water bills, there are a number of ways you can capture or reclaim the water that your household uses for other purposes.

    First, I want to state that the suggestions I make in this post require very little in the way of equipment, installation or, really, intelligence. The main thing to know is that there are different kinds of water: white water (clean, potable water that you can drink), gray water (used water that may have some chemical or particulate matter in it) and black water (water that has fecal matter in it). Because of the high potential for disease, I'm not going to include black water (mainly water flushed from your toilet) in this discussion because processing that kind of water takes more than most people are interested in doing.

    So, what kind of household water can you use?

    Rainwater
    Well, the most obvious is rainwater capture. Roof run-off collected in rain barrels is the easiest way of going about it, but unless you have multiple rain barrels stationed at every downspout, you won't get a tremendous volume, which is probably okay for most of you anyway. Additionally, most of us aren't interested in digging up the yard and burying a cistern, but that certainly is a great way to store your rainwater. So, I'm going to assume that most people will be willing to try a rain barrel or two, just to see what it's like before investing in anything more complicated.

    What can you use your collected rainwater for? If you don't mind lugging around a lot of buckets, you can use it for flushing your toilets, washing your windows or any other number of creative uses in addition to watering your lawn and plants (indoor and outdoor). I also have a low-budget idea for using it for shower water (to be explained in a future post). I would suggest it for washing your car, but you should already know that washing your car at home is a bad idea unless you do so on a permeable surface to filter out the grease, dirt and other goop your car collects. We don't want that dirty water draining straight into the local waterways.

    There are a number of potential issues that come up when discussing captured rainwater for use on food plants. Because of the dust, dirt, bird poop and chemicals that can leach from roof surfaces, you might want to look into a "first-flush" system where the first five minutes (or equivalent amount of rainwater) of runoff gets diverted away from your rain barrels. Kind of like rinsing off the roof before using the rain that falls afterwards. Of course, using captured water on fruit or nut trees shouldn't pose a problem.

    White water
    Here I'm referring to the water that comes from your sinks, bathtub or shower that doesn't get used - mostly because you are waiting for the water to heat up. This water can be collected in buckets (shower/bath) or Tupperware (for smaller sinks and the kitchen). Water captured in clean containers specifically for this purpose can be used for drinking or filling the pet's water bowls. Remember, this water is clean and potable, it just wasn't the "right" temperature. Again, the water collected can be used for watering indoor and outdoor plants as well.

    Water from the shower can be used for flushing the toilet (just dump it into the toilet bowl until it flushes) or really any number of the uses mentioned in the above section. Since this water is clean you can use it for food plants with no worries. One thing I like to do is to keep a rain barrel just for dumping warm up water since I know it has no contaminants in it (like the aforementioned bird poop and asphalt shingle juice) and can be safely used on food plants when the rain is less prevalent and I actually need to water my food plants (like during the summer versus the rest of the year).

    Gray water
    Gray water gets a little more tricky, mostly because of what might be in the water. Used water from the bath, washing machine, and bathroom sink are considered gray water*. It's a little difficult to capture sink water (unless you divert it from the drain), so the easiest gray water to reuse is from a bathtub/shower and washing machine if your machine plumbing drains into a sink or is easy to divert.

    Since we are dealing with water that potentially has some contaminants in it, it can safely be used on nonedible landscape plants only. Some plants may be sensitive to the sodium and chloride found in some detergents, but if you are using more natural cleansers this may not be an issue. Gray water may actually be better for your plants since some detergents contain nitrogen or phosphorus which are plant nutrients. Basically, the rule of thumb is to experiment in small quantities with plants and see how it is tolerated and/or use biodegradable soaps.

    I would also caution against using diverted washing machine water if you are doing a load of cloth wipes, cloth diapers or the like that may contain fecal matter, since you don't want to be using this water without some extra precautions. In addition, don't keep your gray water sitting around for more than 24 hours, since there is an increased risk of growth, bacterial and otherwise.

    Gray water can also be used for watering fruit trees, flushing the toilet or pre-rinsing those poopy cloth diapers. Finally, some areas have laws against using gray water. Since you aren't employing some huge gray water system in the yard, I can't imagine you'd run into any problems, but you should look into it, if you end up diverting all your washing machine water out into the yard or something of the like.

    *Water from the kitchen sink drain, garbage disposal and dishwasher usually is considered black water because of high concentrations of organic waste.

    What kind of household water do you capture or reuse? If you aren't doing any of the above, which would you be interested in doing?

    Sunday, March 8, 2009

    Refurbishing the old

    I've discussed before how crappy modern products are with their one-piece plastic casings and impenetrable innards to keep the manufacturing costs down. Our refrigerator has issues, our microwave finally bit the dust and we got a second-hand replacement and, most recently, our Kenmore vacuum died on us. The main difference is that the vacuum is 15 years old and actually well made.

    We got this canister vacuum from my mom around the time we graduated from the UW, so it must have been in 1994. At the time, we didn't have much of an opinion on vacuums and were just happy to have one that worked well. This was way before the current media blitzkrieg by Dyson et al on why you need a sci-fi vacuum that doubles as a Foreman Grill when you aren't looking.

    For some weird reason, we bought an upright vacuum at Target about 5 years ago - I don't remember exactly why, but I think it was because my husband was under the impression that uprights were better than canister vacuums. Needless to say, it totally sucks, and I don't mean that in a good, vacuum cleanery sort of way. We only used it when we ran out of vacuum cleaner bags for the old one. Oh, that's it! The Kenmore vacuum cleaner bags are hard to come by on our old vacuum, that's why we got the new one. Aren't you glad to witness my brain in serial action?

    Anyway, we really came to appreciate our old vacuum and how good it is, so we managed to find replacement bags online and have been happily using the old Sears one. About a year ago, the carpet cleaner attachment died on us (yeah, maybe vacuuming that giant flokati wool carpet wasn't such a good idea) and the canister part finally kicked the bucket about two months ago.

    Are you getting the impression that our house is really dirty by now? Well, you'd be quite right. We looked into buying new canister style vacuums, but they are quite expensive, so instead of doing what most people do (which is buy a new one and throw out the old one), we found a repair shop that would fix Kenmore vacuums. Oddly enough, Kenmore vacuums can only be repaired at Kenmore shops, which makes things even more difficult and annoying. Fortunately, there's one in South Seattle.

    Are you bored yet? You should be. So, to make a long story short, we spent about $150 getting our old vacuum fixed rather than spending $500 for an equivalent new one. And, I must say it's a hell of a lot better than the cheap crap being manufactured today. We picked up the vacuum today and are happy about saving the money and I'm happy about keeping it out of the landfill.

    What would you do? Are you more apt to get things repaired or is it too much trouble so you buy a new one? Or do you buy a refurbished products instead?

    Saturday, March 7, 2009

    Anniversary winner

    Congratulations to Anisa Schell of Schell Urban Homestead, the winner of the 2nd Anniversary Crunchy Chicken gift basket!

    Email me your mailing info and I'll send it out!

    Drought and CO2 emissions

    I just started reading Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet (thank you Seattle Public Library!) and wanted to share something I ran across last night that I thought was interesting.

    Apparently, it is quite common that, during periods of drought, plants act differently regarding absorbing CO2. For example, during the heatwave of 2003 in Europe, not only did scientists see a 30 percent drop in plant growth across the continent (due to high temperatures and drought), but instead of absorbing carbon dioxide from the air, the stressed plants actually began to emit it.

    Around a half a billion tons of carbon was added to the atmosphere that summer as a result, which is the equivalent to one-twelfth of the total global emissions from fossil fuels. In fact, during the 1998 - 2002 droughts in the Northern Hemisphere, over a billion tons of extra carbon poured out of the plants and soils in response to the drought and heat. [p. 82]

    So, there's another one of those hidden variables that isn't very obvious. It's bad enough that there's such dramatic impact as a result of higher temperatures on the planet, but I still can't get over the fact that 10,000 people died in Paris that summer (2003) from heatstroke. Can you imagine that happening in any one of our American cities? Do you think we are at all better equipped to deal with that many patients than Paris? I doubt it.

    I'll share more tidbits with you as I read them!

    Friday, March 6, 2009

    Assisted suicide and new laws

    After winning over the populace last fall, the Death with Dignity Act became law yesterday in Washington state. The law now allows doctors to prescribe lethal medication to patients who qualify. It was modeled on Oregon's decade old law and I was surprised to learn that these are the only two states where this is legal. For some reason, I was under the assumption there were at least a handful, particularly given how much more acceptable the issue has become to the public (latest Gallup poll numbers from 2007).

    Local hospitals are choosing sides already, to some extent. One-third of the state's hospitals have created a set of policies for employing the law while others are refusing to participate. Apparently, the law included an opt-out provision for hospitals, mostly for those hospitals with a religious affiliation, although several Seattle area hospitals are using the provision even though they have no such affiliation.

    Not to sound too patrician, but I wasn't too surprised that many of the rural hospitals opted out, but I still can't believe that major medical centers such as Swedish Hospital and Virginia Mason are opting-out as well. At least now I know where to direct the ambulance in case I'm in an accident.

    Anyway, before my Mom retired, she was a hospice nurse. Her job was to comfort the families and (medically) comfort/treat terminally ill patients. I frankly don't know how she did it, I don't think I'd have the strength to do what she did, but many of the patient's families loved her as they got to know her at the long-term care facility where she worked (which has since been closed by the hospital for financial reasons).

    The oncologists, doctors, nurses and health care workers were huge proponents of providing a comfortable end of life for these patients, many of whom suffered immensely. It doesn't take much to make a patient "comfortable" enough that their desires for death are heeded. What I'm saying here is that medically assisted suicide goes on all the time, whether you want to know about it or not. I'm just glad that it's legal now in WA and that the patient has the right to choose and plan how they go.

    Living with a potentially terminally ill spouse also brings this topic a little too close to the forefront for me. When he was first diagnosed, assisted suicide was illegal and I couldn't imagine having to force him to suffer any more than he wanted to for the sake of some antiquated ideals of life and death. I think the thought crosses the mind of anyone suffering greatly at the hands of a terrible disease that, if life were to continue in the same way, they would choose death over it.

    For those with a moral aversion to medically assisted death, there is no question or quandary, but for those who do not hold the same beliefs, they end up feeling more at a loss, panicked and hopeless about their condition and their end of life and all it's accompanying worries. I know when it comes time for my Mom (or pretty much any of my loved ones) to pass on, they'll want to take advantage of this law to prevent an extended suffering, not just for themselves, but for their family and friends as well.

    As usual, I'm always curious to hear other's opinions on these things. What are your feelings on assisted suicide? Have you experienced a loved one wishing for more help and not getting it because of the law? Is the right to control your own demise a human right, one of which is defined by their own free will? Or should governments and the law be able to take this right away from an individual?

    [And, since I know Greenpa will bring this up, there is an environmental impact to keeping people alive either heavily medicated or on life support against their and their family's wishes. So, I don't know how this stacks up to your piles of foreskins analogy, but there you go.]

    Monday, March 2, 2009

    Food Waste Reduction Challenge wrap-up

    Food Waste Reduction ChallengeWell, the Food Waste Reduction Challenge went out with a bang. We did really well on meals, but had some issues with odds n' ends.

    To be fair, I went through the fridge yesterday and made sure I got rid of items that had gone bad instead of surreptitiously throwing it out after the challenge.

    Here are the results of the last week:

    1 cup sour cream
    12 oz buttermilk
    3 jalapenos
    1 cup salsa
    3 heads of broccoli
    1/2 cup black olives
    1 head lettuce
    1 lemon
    1/3 onion
    1 cup basil

    I suppose I could have tried to whip together some sort of Mexi-thing, but most of the ingredients had gone south and I didn't think they were safe to eat. One nice thing about clearing out the fridge frequently is that I know that everything left in there is edible so I have no excuses for the next week or two.

    All in all, I think we did fairly well this month in reducing the amount of food we toss out. We generally compost a heck of a lot more than we did last month, although we still really need to work on the kid's leftovers (as many of you did).

    How did the challenge go for you? Will you continue trying to reduce how much you throw out or did having to fess up to your food waste sins make you think twice about your food?

    Oh, and don't think I'm done commenting on yesterday's post. I have a lot more to say on the matter.

    Sunday, March 1, 2009

    Future Earth aka Hades

    Hell in a handbasketSo, here I was, mindlessly enjoying my blogging vacation, filling my spare time with painting, playing the guitar and reading, when I picked up the latest issue of the New Scientist and made the horrific mistake of reading the lead story, How to Survive the Coming Century.

    Up until that point I was unmotivated to write anything since I haven't had much to say and I am still having problems with fevers and headaches (and am now on a new antibiotic). But this story has simply rocked my concept of the future that I'm not sure what to do with it.

    Essentially, the article covers what the Earth will look like when we hit a 4 degree C temperature rise. It could happen around 2100, but many are speculating it will be here by 2050 and the crux of the matter is that there's not much we can do about it now. We'd need to reduce our carbon output 70% by 2015 to do anything useful and right now we are adding 3% per year.

    So, geoengineers are drafting out "Plan B". In other words, how to deal with the coming geoclimate catastrophe and, more or less, where to "store" people. I don't mean like Walt Disney's head, but where people will be living since all of the current U.S. (except Alaska), most of Europe, Africa, Central America, and South America will be uninhabitable either due to desert conditions or because of fierce weather. Yes, I said, uninhabitable.

    Please take a look at this graphic (thumbnail at top) and study it closely. Let me forewarn you that it will give you a huge sinking feeling in your stomach and as you absorb it you will come to the understanding that the Earth as we know it now, and all its biodiversity, will never exist again. Ever. And I'm not even talking about a potentially massive decrease in human population.

    Am I being overly melodramatic today? Maybe. Do I hope this article is totally wrong? I sure as shit hope so. I hope someone out there has a great argument as to why this is all wrong, because at this point I don't see much contradictory evidence.

    So, don't mind me. I'll be busy packing for my upcoming move to Alaska. Although I'm sure that Western Antartica has some great deals on property. For now.

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