Got a lot of blackberries? Then check out this recipe for Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather.

I'm not a huge fan of fruit leathers, but this turned out super good! And, really, you can't go wrong with blackberries, mint and rum.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Sleeping Naked Is Green: Discussion 3

Sleeping Nekkid is GreenWelcome to the third discussion post of Vanessa Farquharson's book, Sleeping Naked Is Green. For those of you who are just joining us, we are smack dab in the middle of the book. Vanessa is the writer of the green blog, Green as a Thistle and the book summarizes the 366 green changes she made over the course of a year. In this installment we'll be covering the fall chapters.

September: During September, Vanessa stops using toilet paper for #1, stops buying DVDs and rents them instead, switches to eating ethically raised fish, switches to cloth menstrual pads instead of disposable ones and exterminates bugs with eco-friendly solutions. Finally, that slut uses a natural lubricant instead of K-Y and stops using birth control pills.

I see now that she switched to cloth wipes for #1 during my first Cloth Wipe Challenge. I can't remember all the participants that first year since that was the same time my husband was diagnosed and I immediately ended up in a fog for a few months (some might say years).

Anyway, this month Vanessa realizes her relationship with Mark isn't really going anywhere and punts him back to Oregon. This is immediately remediated by a funny interview with hottie, Jake Gyllenhaal, where soul searching questions revolving around pets and cilantro ensue. Life could be a whole lot rougher.

October: In October, our heroine starts working from home twice a week, lowers the temperature on her water heater, starts air-drying all her laundry and switches over a menstrual cup. I totally loved her description of the rotting mass collecting in her now-turned-off freezer. But she never said what she ended up doing with the infestation.

Vanessa had a few issues when first using the DivaCup. Apparently, she has a black hole for a vagina and couldn't retrieve it after first inserting it. But, Vanessa managed to overcome the escape velocity issue and, with a little counseling, she figured it out. Or, rather, got it out, and she was officially a happy convert.

November: November is a little bit light as far as changes go, but she still manages to eek out learning how to sew and mend clothes, knit her own scarves and mittens, ask for only green gifts and make soup broth from scratch.

There were a lot of homey, craft oriented changes this month, which makes sense given the holidays and season. Oh yeah, and given the fact that she bought a house and just about had a nervous breakdown. But, those are minor details, really.

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Random discussion questions:

  • Would you be brave enough to stop using toilet paper for pee? If so, sign up for this year's Cloth Wipe Challenge (insert shameless plug here).
  • Do you use an eco-friendly form of birth control?
  • Do you air dry all or part of your laundry? Even if you live in a small place?
  • Do you use a menstrual cup, like the Diva Cup (ladies only)?
  • Do you know how to sew your own clothes and mend them? Or do you tend to just throw them out or donate them?

    Related posts:
    Sleeping Naked Is Green: Discussion 1 (Spring)
    Sleeping Naked Is Green: Discussion 2 (Summer)
  • Sunday, August 30, 2009

    Buy Nothing Sunday Confessional - Week 4

    Buy Nothing Sunday ConfessionalForgive me people, for I have spent. This last week has been essentially a repeat of the previous week. A few days of going out to coffee and lunch and a night out for dinner. The dinner out was unplanned, but I was doing some taping for the makeover show's website and the kids and the hub were out late to give us some quiet. So, we ate out.

    The only odd thing I bought was a book from Amazon to use as research for the makeover show. The rest of the books and movies we got were from the library. I'll try to continue to keep the spending down since July seemed to be a banner month in the credit card bill area.

    Anyway, how did your week go? Now that the month is almost at an end, will you continue with the Buy Nothing thing or will you go back to spending as usual? Have you been paying attention to how much you've saved by consciously not spending this last month?

    By the way, if you like this challenge, I have a real doozy coming up that I'll announce probably in the middle of September to give you enough time to prepare. I'm pretty excited about it and I hope that a lot of you end up participating!

    Saturday, August 29, 2009

    Indian Masala Strawberry Jam

    I've been canning strawberry jam today - we are getting a bunch of late season strawberries in from a local farm and I've got a whole flat to work with. And, since you know I don't like making plain, straight-up jams I've added a little bit of flair to this one.

    So, come check out the recipe for my Indian Masala Strawberry Jam over on Crunchy Chicken Cooks.

    Tomorrow I'll be making a Chocolate Rum Strawberry Jam, so look for that recipe as well!

    Cloth Wipe Challenge 2009

    Cloth Wipe Challenge 2009Holy smokes, people! I almost forgot to host the cloth wipe challenge for this year. But, lucky for you guys, I remembered just in the nick of time. Whew!

    For the last two Septembers I've been hosting a Cloth Wipe Challenge and I'm always impressed by the number of people ready to change the way they wipe. The idea is somewhat daunting at first, but giving up using toilet paper is really not that big a deal.

    As for the last two challenges, the rules are quite simple... ya'll already know how to wipe. Now you just need to learn to do it with something more (or less?) traditional. For this challenge, you can choose to use cloth wipes just for #1 (as my family does) or you can go all out and clean up for #2 as well.

    I'll be going over the details again this time around but if you want to get a jump start on what to expect, you can read all the posts from the last challenges here (from the 2007 challenge) and here (from the 2008 challenge).

    I estimate that we've saved about $360 in toilet paper since we've started using cloth (we normally get the Seventh Generation 100% recycled toilet paper so it's a tad more expensive). We only use it for #1 so the hassle is a lot less, it's a lot more comfortable than TP and we're saving tons of paper products.

    Need some convincing?

    According to Charmin, consumers on average use 8.6 sheets per trip to the bathroom. That's a total of 57 sheets per day and an annual total of 20,805 sheets. There are 230 million adults in the U.S., each averaging a roll and a half per week. Since each roll of toilet paper averages about .5 a pound of paper, that's about 40 pounds of TP per year.

    That equals 4.6 million tons of TP used each year. And that's just from adults. To take the calculation even further, if all U.S. adults used only Charmin toilet paper or the like (aka "virgin fiber" with 0% recycled content or post-consumer waste), the environmental cost is approximately (not including the issues with Dioxin):

  • 78.2 million trees
  • 1.35 million tons of air pollution
  • 32 trillion gallons of water
  • 2.1 trillion gallons of oil
  • 18.75 trillion Kilowatt hours of energy

    Seems rather ridiculous, no? Just for wiping our butts? If you are appalled by these numbers, now's your chance to join in with a group of intrepid wipers and make the switch.

    This year's challenge will only be a week long, so you have no excuse to not give it a try. To sign up, just add yourself to the comments. I know this is a tough one for you guys - there are a lot of mental and cultural barriers to making the switch, but I guarantee if you just give it a try for #1, you'll be hooked!

    If any of last year's participants/converts want to add your encouragement, please do!

    Finally, if you aren't interested in the challenge, but you are interested in finding out how people wipe (I know, I ask weird questions), check out this poll.
  • Friday, August 28, 2009

    Swine flu, breastfeeding and the vaccine

    I was really intending on doing a book club post for today, but I keep reading some advice on how to handle dealing with swine flu on some natural living and green sites with some recommendations that I wanted to hopefully clarify in regards to the benefits of breastfeeding and swine flu protection in children.

    One of the things that I wanted to touch on was the assertion that breastfeeding will help protect your baby from the swine flu and that it is a valid alternative to the swine flu vaccine. On Ecochildsplay, the author states that "there are ways you can protect even the littlest members of your family, without giving them a vaccine."

    She then says that "although the CDC recommends that most seemingly healthy people receive the vaccine, there are other ways to protects [sic] your babies." The article supports this argument by mentioning that the CDC states: "Breastfeed early and often. Limit formula feeds if you can. This will help protect your baby from infection."

    The article goes on to say:
    Yep. The Centers for Disease Control suggests breastmilk over formula to help protect your little ones against swine flu. No, breastmilk is no cure. But it may help boost baby’s immune system and make any illness a mild one.

    I believe the author is inferring way too much here from the CDC's statement. I can't concur with the assumption that breastmilk will help make swine flu a mild illness. I do want to make clear the fact that I wholeheartedly agree that breastfeeding helps the child's immunity, but that is assuming that the mother has immune cells or immunity to the disease you are protecting them from.

    Since this is a novel flu, one that no one (under the age of 60) has immunity for, breastfeeding won't help protect them specifically from the swine flu. In other words, unless the mother has been exposed or has come down with the swine flu and is breastfeeding, the breastfeeding child will not have any immunity.

    The concept that breastfeeding in general helps boost the child's immune system is definitely accurate, but unfortunately, the CDC states that "infants are thought to be at higher risk for severe illness from novel influenza A (H1N1) infection and very little is known about prevention of novel H1N1 flu infection in infants. If you are breastfeeding or giving your baby infant formula, a cautious approach would be to protect your baby from exposure to the flu virus."

    Further the CDC recommends that in order to protect your baby, if you have the flu, you should have someone else feed your infant your expressed milk in order to reduce the possibility of infecting your child. If you do not have help, then you should wear a facemask.
    Since this is a new virus, we don’t know yet about specific protection against it. Mothers pass on protective antibodies to their baby during breastfeeding. Antibodies are a type of protein made by the immune system in the body. Antibodies help fight off infection.

    If you are sick with flu and are breastfeeding, someone who is not sick can give your baby your expressed milk.

    And, if you are wondering if I'm advocating that healthy children get the swine flu vaccine, you bet I am (there are "mercury free" shots available if that makes your hiney twinge). The vaccine should be no more risky than seasonal flu shots. And since children under 5 are considered a high risk group, wishful thinking is, frankly, more dangerous than the potential side effects of a vaccine.

    So, definitely, keep up the breastfeeding, just know that it is no magic silver bullet here. If your child gets sick, monitor their symptoms and seek appropriate treatment according to your doctor's recommendations.

    Are you planning on getting yourself and/or your children vaccinated when it becomes available?

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009

    The last of the family farmer

    Yesterday, David Masumoto was on our local NPR station discussing his book, Wisdom of the Last Farmer: Harvesting Legacies from the Land. During the radio program he discusses returning to his family's farm to take over the land.

    In the interview they cover:
    America is no longer a nation of small family farmers. Small–scale farming has become rare, and the average age of those remaining farmers is 57. What wisdom are we losing as these farms disappear? When parents no longer pass their farms and knowledge of the land onto their children, what do we lose as a nation? What does it take to be a family farm in this era of large–scale corporate agriculture? David Mas Masumoto is a third generation organic peach and grape farmer. He is also a third generation Japanese American. How do these two things overlap? Masumoto joins "Weekday" to discuss what wisdom can we glean from our farming history.

    David argues that it takes years, decades even, before you can master farming. That it takes repetitive, hard work and the understanding of what that means. Even mastering weeds takes years to be able to distinguish which ones are problematic and which ones are prevalent in certain parts of the field. It's all part of the experience of working the land for years.

    He also explains the difficulties of organic farming since there's no magic bullet to managing pests. It takes a lot of managing the fields, trial and error and taking notes about what works where. There are also issues with deciding when to pick the fruit so that the fruit is perfect when it reaches the consumer. Since he works mostly with soft fruits (peaches, nectarines and grapes), he is constantly trying to supply perfectly ripe fruit.

    If it is picked too late, even a day or two, the fruit will be bruised by the time they reach the seller. At that point, the farmer pays back "adjustments" since a certain percentage of the product arrives damaged.

    David farms 80 acres in California. This book is his seventh book about farming. If you are interested in farming, check out the interview and/or his books.

    If you have done any farming or have experience with farms, do you agree with the author that it takes decades to master farming? Do his statements about farming scare off potential younger farmers or is it an accurate assessment? That the knowledge and wisdom of farming is hard earned and takes years to master?

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009

    Cool coal coloring book

    I don't know about you, but I'm thinking this coloring book, Eyes for Frosty, would make a great back-to-school educational gift for our nation's youngest students. What's more important than learning about where our energy comes from? Particularly the nitty gritty about coal? Fascinating stuff.

    The Sierra Club has this to say about it:
    Families Organized to Represent the Coal Economy, a coal-industry association that ironically does not permit families to join, recently released a coloring book for children teaching them the basics about coal energy. Enter Power Rock and his sidekick Spurt, superheroes with lumps of coal for heads.

    To make a moronic story short, Power Rock sings the praises of coal energy, reminding kids that without coal they wouldn’t be able to play videos games or cruise the internet. Of course, he forgets to mention that coal is unsustainable, incapable of being clean, and continues to be a major contributor to climate change -- but these are just pesky little details probably too difficult to color.

    Go download it now! Also makes a great holiday gift!

    Originally, from this article on Grist, Coal coloring book teaches kids about dirty energy.

    Local-washing: big business hijacks "local"

    I suppose it should come as no surprise that large corporations are jumping on the "local" bandwagon. I discussed this briefly before in describing how Lays is claiming that they are a local company (local to whom, exactly?). And now, Starbucks, is taking advantage of the idea of local.

    It appears that others are joining the "local washing" effort and co-opting these new buzzwords that people rely on when they want to choose a lower carbon or healthier alternative to industrial food. Unfortunately, the industrial food giants are saturating the market with confusing marketing.

    In the article, The Corporate Co-Opt of Local, the author explains how big industry is altogether scrambling to join in. From the article:

    This new variation on corporate greenwashing - local washing - is, like the buy-local movement itself, most advanced in the context of food. Hellmann's, the mayonnaise brand owned by the processed-food giant Unilever, is test-driving a new "Eat Real, Eat Local," initiative in Canada. The ad campaign seems aimed partly at enhancing the brand by simply associating Hellmann's with local food. But it also makes the a claim that Hellmann's is local, because most of its ingredients come from North America.....

    Still another corporate strategy is to redefine the term "local" to mean, not locally owned or locally produced, but just nearby. "With the term 'local' being so nebulous, it seems ripe for manipulation," notes Mintel, another consumer research firm that counsels companies on how to "craft marketing messages that appeal to locally conscious consumers" and how to avoid "charges of 'local washing.'" The key, Mintel says, is for companies to decide what they mean by local and to disclose that clearly so as not to be accused of trying to misappropriate the term.

    Corporate-oriented buy-local campaigns that define "local" as the nearest Lowe's or Gap store are now being rolled out in cities nationwide. Some represent desperate bids by shopping malls to survive the recession and fend off online competition. Others are the work of chambers of commerce trying to remain relevant. Still others are the half-baked plans of municipal officials casting about for some way to stop the steep drop in sales tax revenue.

    Many of these AstroTurf campaigns are modeled directly on grassroots initiatives. "They copy our language and tactics," said Michelle Long, executive director of Sustainable Connections, a seven-year-old coalition of 600 independent businesses in northwest Washington state that runs a very visible, and according to market research, very successful "local first" program. "I get calls from chambers and other groups who say, We want to do what you are doing. It took me a while to realize that what they had in mind was not what we do. Once I realized, I started asking them, what do you mean by 'local'?"

    For those of you unaware of the Starbucks local washing, there are a few stores in Seattle being "rebranded". Basically, they closed the Starbucks stores at several locations, remodeled them to look like an independently owned local coffeehouse and removed any Starbucks branding from all products and merchandise. But, it's essentially a Starbucks - with cooler baristas.

    This has caused a bit of a ruckus in Seattle, particularly from those interested in supporting a local business over Bigbucks. And they feel pissed that Starbucks was trying to pull one over on them. I, for one, was rather offended by the sneakiness of the deal since I usually avoid Starbucks and their propensity for squeezing out the little guys.

    Anyway, the article goes into far more detail than I'm providing here and makes a great read about what's going on with local washing, so go check it out.

    What do you think about the local washing trend? Does it offend you or do you care?

    Related reading:
    Small Is Possible: Life in a Local Economy
    Mega Food Manufacturers Go Local

    Sunday, August 23, 2009

    Buy Nothing Sunday Confessional - Week 3

    Buy Nothing Sunday ConfessionalForgive me people, for I have spent. This week I don't have a whole lot to report. I didn't go shopping for anything besides food and vitamins.

    We did go out for coffee a couple of times at work and ate out lunch twice and took the kids out to dinner before going swimming on Tuesday. So, we did spent money on fees for the public pool twice this week. Other than that, I kept my money in my wallet.

    How about you guys? I swear it gets easier as the month goes on, because you are more in the mindset of not spending. Well, except for that eating out business, but we only frequent small, local businesses, so I don't feel too horrible about it.

    Related posts:
    Buy Nothing Sunday Confessional: Week 1
    Buy Nothing Sunday Confessional: Week 2

    Saturday, August 22, 2009

    Eco friendly protein - eat your bugs

    Greenopia has an article about the best sources of protein for you. Well, if bugs are your thang.

    Apparently, the 8 best bugs to eat for protein include grasshoppers, edible stinkbugs, scorpions, hornet larvae, giant silkworms, witchetty grubs, casu marzu and tarantulas.

    Even if the future doesn't look like Cormac McCarthy's The Road, we should probably start thinking of eating bugs as a source of protein, since "it takes 869 gallons of water to produce a third of a pound of beef, about enough for a large hamburger. By contrast, you supply a pretty minimal amount of water to a quarter pound of crickets. The rest of the world has long eaten up insects – in Thailand, food markets are stocked with commercially-raised water beetles and bamboo worms."

    So, if you feel like limiting your carbon footprint when it comes to your protein needs, sink your teeth into some insects. Roasted grasshoppers with gray sea salt and olive oil anyone? No? What about yummy fried tarantulas with a paprika aioli? Mmmm. Crunchy.

    Friday, August 21, 2009

    Sleeping Naked Is Green: Discussion 2

    Sleeping Nekkid is GreenWelcome to the second discussion post of Vanessa Farquharson's book, Sleeping Naked Is Green. For those of you who are just joining us, Vanessa is the writer of the green blog, Green as a Thistle and the book summarizes the 366 green changes she made over the course of a year. In this installment we'll be covering the summer chapters.

    June: During the month of June, Vanessa tackles making changes to her beauty routine by switching to a natural bar soap, using natural, mineral-based sunscreen, letting her hair air dry, not using nail polish, using natural hair dye, treating sunburns with pure aloe and using only one bar of soap for her face and body.

    I believe when I read on her blog that she was using bar soap on her face, I also switched myself. I'm pretty sure I've been using Dr. Bronner's bar soap on my face since then, with much success. Another notable change she makes this month is sleeping naked (hence the title), although she laments that she has no one to share this nekkidness with except her cat.

    However, the biggest change o' the month has to be selling her car. Instead of private vehicle transport she relies on her bike and public transportation and the occasional use of a Zipcar.

    July: In July, Ms. Thistle attempts to build a compost bin, buy only locally and sustainably made clothes (good luck with that one!), use biodegradable garbage bags and quit social smoking. I'm sure her lungs are thanking her for it. As for the compost bin, Vanessa turns out to be construction challenged and wrangles her literary agent to come over and build it for her.

    During this month of her project, she discovers how green her grandparents really are when she goes for a visit, strictly because they live according to a lifestyle they grew up with, having lived through the Depression and wartime. They grow much of their own food and her grandfather hunts and fishes. When it comes down to it, Vanessa realizes she has a lot less to complain about with her green changes since many people live or lived this way not as a matter of choice.

    August: At the height of summer's heat, Vanessa skips A/C and chooses only a hand held fan, uses only cold water for her laundry, switches from paper napkins to cloth and makes her own jams and preserves. Apparently, my jam recipes convinced her to give canning a try and she successfully made some peach and plum vanilla jam without poisoning herself and others.

    Unfortunately, her love life isn't as sweet and Vanessa resorts to giving GreenSingles.com a try. It sounds like she ran into some real winners there and ends up sticking to a romance with someone she already knows, albeit not exactly the right match for her. I mean, really, who doesn't know what a Mini is anyway? (You'll have to read the book to find out what I'm talking about here :)

    ----------------------------------
    Random discussion questions:

  • Would you be willing to give up your car?
  • How about your A/C?
  • Do you use only cold water in your laundry?
  • Do you have a compost bin?
  • If you are single (or married, you naughty reader), have you looked into Greensingles.com?

    Related posts:
    Sleeping Naked Is Green: Discussion 1
  • Thursday, August 20, 2009

    List of environmentally friendly colleges

    For those of you who will be helping your children look for colleges this year (or are planning on going back yourself), the Sierra Club has just released their third annual list of Cool Schools, a list of the top 10 greenest 4-year colleges and universities (the full list includes 135 schools).

    Apparently, according to a recent survey by Princeton Review, two-thirds of university applicants say that a school's environmental report card would influence whether they'd enroll. I must admit I was rather shocked by this statistic! Very cool.

    Since being environmentally friendly is becoming a larger and larger influential factor in the college decision making process, universities and colleges in the U.S. are doing their part to curb their environmental footprint, which isn't just good for the students but for the communities around them as well. These colleges and universities are integrating in programs like free bikes for students, organic gardens on campus, solar panels on buildings and the like.

    So, if you've got a student in the house, go check out the list. My alma mater, the University of Washington ranked #2 (go Huskies!) on the list. That might explain a few things :)

    Mobile slaughterhouse gets rolling

    I can't tell you how excited I am that the Puget Sound area has finally gotten its mobile abattoir program rolling. Following the lead of San Juan County, small farms in the area now have access to a mobile slaughterhouse unit that allows them to not have to ship their animals down to Oregon for USDA-inspected facility "processing".

    It didn't make sense for these local farms to be able to tout their products as local if there was so much mileage involved in getting their meat from farm to table. This specially built, 45-foot, stainless-steel trailer, officially called a "Mobile Meat Processing Unit", now lets small, local farms supply local meat without all the hassles inherent in selling live animals to consumers.

    This whole thing got me thinking about chickens, so I asked the program manager of Puget Sound Fresh if this unit is available to a collective of backyard urban chicken farmers and, apparently, it's just for hooved animals. However, I was informed that there are actually small units you can buy/rent for backyard efforts.

    For those of you in the area, a group on Vashon Island got a small grant to purchase a plucker and now they train people on how to harvest their chickens and process them. So, I can certainly see how a group of backyard chicken breeders could band together to process their own birds. It would certainly take a lot of the issues out of dispatching your own cluckers.

    Would you be more apt to raise animals for meat if you had access to either an abattoir or a local group to help you?

    Picture courtesy of The Seattle Times.

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    Disposable bag fee fails miserably

    Well, it's mostly official. The referendum to charge 20 cents per disposable bag used by consumers has gone down in a big pile of burning plastic flames. So far, 58% of voters voted against it.

    Now, I would expect this if the referendum included all of King County, but this was just for the city of Seattle. Really, people? Is it just too much of a hardship to remember to bring your reusable bags when you go shopping? Are you too lazy or too cheap? Which is it? And, really, if you forget and have to have a bag, is adding 20 cents onto your purchase of Cheetos really going to break the bank? Better yet, how 'bout just not getting a bag?

    I find this horribly frustrating and, frankly, this just doesn't bode well for the rest of the country. If us nutball liberals here in Seattle can't get a little ol' bag fee passed, well, it just looks like we'll be looking forward to getting payback when those 100 billion plastic bags used in the U.S. every year choke us to death down the road.

    Bike sharing comes to Seattle

    For those of you who have visited Paris, Copenhagen or D.C. and have been enamored of their bike sharing programs, you'll probably be excited to hear that Seattle is beginning a similar program of our own.

    What's a bike share? Basically, bike sharing features automated, self-serve bicycle rental stations. The high-tech, utilitarian bikes are intended for short trips where people check out a bike from a kiosk and then return it either to that location or another near their destination. If the first 30 minutes are free, like in Paris, and if the bike stations are spaced decently, you could potentially ride from station to station and never pay for the bike :)

    These bikes are equipped with GPS so they can be found if "misplaced" from the rental station. You also need a credit card to check out a bike and it has special sensors on it to make sure the tires are inflated properly before you can remove it from the station. So, even though the theft of bikes might be an issue in other areas that have these programs, I suspect that unless a renter has a pocketful of stolen credit cards, it's unlikely they'll be stealing these bikes. The only downside to this much technology is that the bikes aren't exactly light. And this can be a big problem here in hilly Seattle.

    Finally, with Paris eyeballing a car-sharing program, Autolib', with a fleet of 4,000 electric cars, could something similar hit the states in the near future?

    I wish. Le sigh.

    I think I would still be more apt to rely on public transportation rather than the bikes, mostly because I'm a complete wimp about riding in dense traffic. Riding a bike in a bike-friendly European city is one thing. Riding it in crazy traffic with no bike lanes is another.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009

    Save water! Pee in the shower

    My fellow Crunchy friend has a post today regarding the campaign in Brazil urging citizens to pee in the shower to save water. Since I seem to have a well, some may say obsession, with bodily fluids, this news is right up my alley.

    I'm always amazed at how campaigns such as these fly in other countries (urine separation systems in Scandinavia, the Brazil campaign) but are met with squeals of disgust in the U.S. and the originating article describes it as a "bizarre" news clip, whereas people in other countries don't bat at eye about it.

    Anyway, go check out her post on the campaign! Do you pee in the shower?

    Related posts:
    Golden Showers Garden Party
    Urine: fuel of the future

    Shopping bag tax

    Today is the day that Seattleites vote for or against a shopping bag tax. Well, in theory, it's the last day we can vote since we've switched to all absentee mail-in voting. Anyway, by voting "Yes", citizens are choosing to retain an ordinance that was adopted by Seattle City Council last year whose goals was to reduce waste and pollution by encouraging shoppers to use reusable bags. The ordinance would charge shoppers 20 cents for every new disposable bag they carry out of grocery, drug and convenience stores.

    This ordinance was modeled after a similar law that exists in Ireland, with the hope that the fee would increase the use of reusables and is expected to reduce disposable bag use by up to 90%. Not too surprisingly, oil and chemical companies have now spent 1.4 million dollars in a campaign to repeal the law, mostly focusing on how unfair the bag tax is to the poor, etc.

    What’s the American Chemistry Council getting for its money? In the last two weeks the group has spent $40,000 on direct mail, more than $7,000 on yard signs (many of which have been placed illegally in city medians), $15,000 on phone calls to voters, $11,000 on online and radio ads, and nearly $9,000 on unspecified "get-out-the-vote" efforts. Looks like this ordinance is hitting the ACC in a sore spot - its profits.

    Disposable shopping bags are a significant source of pollution, generate global warming gases, harm wildlife, clog stormdrains, and cause other problems. Seattle Public Utilities estimates that Seattleites use approximately 292 million plastic and 68 million paper disposable shopping bags per year, totaling about 360 million bags a year. Nationally, we use 100 billion plastic bags and 7 billion paper bags a year. Wouldn't it be nice to get rid of them all?

    Want to find out more? Read How Bad are Disposible Grocery Bags?.

    What do you feel about a bag tax? Would you vote for one in your area?

    Sunday, August 16, 2009

    Buy Nothing Sunday Confessional - Week 2

    Buy Nothing Sunday ConfessionalForgive me people, for I have spent. This last week has been much better than the first week. I did end up buying some pajamas for the kids, but only because they were 40% off plus an additional 15% and they outgrew all their other pajamas. I could have tried to find some at the local thrift stores, but previous experience has shown that there are never any pajamas available in the size and/or style I'm looking for.

    What else? Emma needed a backpack and lunch container for Kindergarten, so that was bought. We also went out to some local coffee shops for coffee and to lunch twice (local establishments) while we were working from home. Which means we have to be away from the house since the kids are home. So, buying coffee to get free WiFi is kinda part of the deal for not commuting all the way downtown on those days. I sort of figure that's a wash. The library is only open a few hours on those days, but as soon as it opens we take full advantage of it.

    The only other non-essential thing I bought was a bottle of wine for my cast party last Monday. But, it's Washington Wine Month, so I bought (well, I always do) a local wine to bring. More info on the cast party and green makeover show to come, so stay tuned. Yes, I got the part! The show will be total hoot and I'm very excited to make this show as educational and entertaining as possible.

    Anyway, I am definitely paying more attention to what I buy and don't buy because of the challenge. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that the hubs isn't taking up the slack on purchases, but there's only so much I can do about that one.

    Sooo... how was your week?

    Saturday, August 15, 2009

    Omnivore's Delusion: Debunked

    It's been a while since I've had so much to say and I've got a crapton of posts lined up. I hate to throw this post under the Saturday bus (when readership is low), but I thought it was an important article for y'all to check out.

    Tom Philpott has a response in Grist to the article, The Omnivore's Delusion: Against the Agri-Intellectuals written by a corn/soy farmer from Missouri published in The American, a right-wing journal.

    Tom starts off by acknowledging the obvious issues inherent with sustainable agriculture such as these three big challenges:
    1) soil fertility—in the absence of synthesized nitrogen and mined phosphorous and potassium, how are we to build soil fertility on a larger scale?;
    2) labor—sustainable farming requires more hands on the ground; who’s going to work our farm fields, and at what wages?; and
    3) access—in an economy built on long-term wage stagnation, how can we make sustainably grown food accessible to everyone?

    He then goes on to discuss the flaws in the Omnivore's Delusion article. I'll leave you to read what Tom Philpott has to say since he's going to do a better job than I. So go check it out! And come back here and let me know what you think.

    Friday, August 14, 2009

    Sleeping Naked Is Green: Discussion 1

    Sleeping Nekkid is GreenVanessa Farquharson doesn't mince words in her book, Sleeping Naked Is Green, when she says that she's no stinky, granola-chomping hippy. So, reading through her book/diary about how she manages to make 366 green changes in her life makes for an entertaining read.

    This is the first discussion post of the four I'll be doing on the book, each post covering a season, more or less. So, let's begin! Here comes spring...

    March: In March, Vanessa starts off with a bang making some easy, palatable changes like switching to recycled paper towels and toilet paper to more hard-core changes like freezing her butt off when she turns down the thermostat and going car free on the weekends.

    During this portion of her challenge, she is definitely concerned with whether or not she can keep up with a daily change and is worried about what her friends and family will think of her. In the early days, Vanessa manages to overcome her fear and regret and plunges ahead anyway. In order to mentally steel herself for the coming days, she allows herself to realize that she could always bail if things become too nuts. Little did she know what was coming.

    My only issue with this chapter, and others to come, is that there are a lot of character generalizations that play on stereotypes. Since the book is geared toward a broader audience (rather than to environmentalists), I can see where she would want to distance herself from the "dirty hippy" stereotype. It makes for a funny read, but sometimes it comes off sounding somewhat mean-spirited.

    April: In April, Vanessa steps it up by reducing the amount of meat she eats and making sure that it is sustainably raised. In addition, she makes a huge change and turns off her freezer. Well, maybe not so huge, since she didn't have much in it anyway, but nonetheless, she got past the mental hurdle of turning it off which is something most people don't cotton to.

    I loved her interaction with the vegan about her opinion regarding beeswax toothfloss and it's ethical ramifications; the story about trying to buy paper towels at the Green Living Show; and the giddiness she has at the thought that Margaret Atwood might, possibly, look at her blog. Classic enthusiasm from Vanessa.

    My only problem with this chapter is that when I reread it, it makes me think of Stephen Baldwin. Why, you ask? Because I read it on the plane home from NY and he happened to be sitting several rows in front of me in coach and was taking every opportunity to stand up and be noticed.

    May: May's highlights include not using the oven and air-conditioner, switching to natural deodorant, buying carbon offsets for travel, unplugging the fridge and letting that yellow mellow.

    It was nice to see that her friends and family were so supportive of her goals that, for her birthday, nobody seemed to give her gifts that would sabotage them. Although it sounds like she wouldn't have minded someone breaking the "rules", it's encouraging to hear that they didn't disregard her project and preferences like so many family and friends do.

    When it came to letting her pee mellow, she quickly decided that every other flush or so was preferable to a steeping bowl of stinky pee that generally occurs unless you drink a ton of water, thereby cancelling out the amount being flushed. On the day that she unplugged her fridge, nothing exactly eventful occurred so there's not much reported. Yet. I suspect we'll hear more about it in later chapters.

    --------------------------------------------

    So far, this book has been highly entertaining and fun to read through. I only wish that there were follow-ups in each section that told us whether she stuck with the change long-term (after her challenge was over) or later found something better that replace the change.

    What did you think of the first three chapters?

    Thursday, August 13, 2009

    Cash for Clunkers: epic fail

    I'm not even going to touch on the most obvious reasons why the Cash for Clunkers program is an environmental failure. If you want a quick overview, you can read Ruchi's post on the matter.

    Basically, what I see as the main issue with this program is that it is only applicable to cars 25-years-old and younger. So, any car built before 1984 can not be traded-in. Now, before you get all excited, I do realize that many cars manufactured in the early 80s are more fuel efficient than many of the modern behemoths currently on the road. But, those cars wouldn't be eligible because they are too fuel efficient. However, that does leave 5 million of the other stinkers ineligible and still on the road.

    One huge issue is that cars built before the mid 1970s didn't have catalytic converters and, in many cases, spew out hundreds of times the amount of particulate matter than even the most fuel inefficient beast produces today.

    From the LA Times:
    For example, a 1965 Chevrolet Malibu, when new, produced 400 times the smog-forming pollutants that a new 2010 Malibu produces, said John Swanton, an air pollution specialist with the board. Thus, an old Malibu driven only 1,000 miles per year produces as much pollution as a new Malibu would in 400,000 miles.

    Why is it that the cars that really need to be pulled off the road aren't eligible for this program? Well, it seems that the classic car lobby managed to get older cars excluded. I don't understand the impetus for this lobbying effort, I'm sure there is one that makes sense to somebody, but frankly, the people I know that drive their classic cars around regularly really need some serious emissions control (but that's another story entirely).

    I believe most of this has something to do with the aftermarket parts manufacturers not wanting their customer base removed. Unfortunately, the result is that the guy that drives a beat-up 1981 Dodge pickup can't take advantage of this program, even though his car doesn't exactly qualify as a "classic car" and, realistically, isn't spending a whole lot tricking out his ride.

    So, is this program devised to help get fuel inefficient cars off the road, or really, just to move new cars off the lot? Methinks that if this program were really about fuel efficiency and pollution they would have told the classic car lobbying group to go stick it up their hotrod. You can thank the government for another auto bailout, this one more back-handed than usual.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    Urine: fuel of the future

    Now, many of you know that I'm always enamored of what useful things we can do with waste products and human waste is no exception. Why throw away a good thing?

    I've discussed in the past the utility of urine in providing nitrogen to plants and even hosted a challenge for those who wanted to try it out (all the gory details of using your urine as a fertilizer are on the challenge page).

    Well, it turns out that the hydrogen content of urine could save our hides. Research done at Ohio University has concluded that urine-powered cars, homes and personal electronic devices could be available in six months with new technology developed by scientists there.

    From the article on Organic Consumers Association's website:
    Using a nickel-based electrode, the scientists can create large amounts of cheap hydrogen from urine that could be burned or used in fuel cells. "One cow can provide enough energy to supply hot water for 19 houses," said Gerardine Botte, a professor at Ohio University developing the technology. "Soldiers in the field could carry their own fuel."

    Pee power is based on hydrogen, the most common element in the universe but one that has resisted efforts to produce, store, transport and use economically...

    One molecule of urea, a major component of urine, contains four atoms of hydrogen bonded to two atoms of nitrogen. Stick a special nickel electrode into a pool of urine, apply an electrical current, and hydrogen gas is released.

    Indeed. In fact, a pee-powered vehicle could theoretically travel 90 miles per gallon. And, apparently, converting pee to hydrogen takes only 3% of the energy than converting water does. Now, that's something I can get behind. Or whatever the proper preposition is here.

    But don't start stocking up now. Initially, urine collected from farms would provide the right scale for mass production. Then again, who knows, maybe you'll be seeing home urinefuel processing kits sooner rather than later.

    Check out the article for more details.

    Green schools

    This month's green mom's carnival is all about Greenin' Yer Schools up. The lovely Miss Lynn is hosting on her site so go check out all the fabulous posts!

    My contribution to the carnival is a little stale, but still useful for the carnival, where I discuss the edible schoolyard at my kid's elementary. At the left is a picture I took of the garden just after school ended in mid-June.

    Yesterday, my husband took my daughter down there after work (it's a few blocks away) and took some pictures. He also took some pictures of the kid's garden.

    At the right is a picture to show how it has grown and oh my! It's doing well in all this heat. Those volunteers for watering the garden have been doing a great job!

    I think they may have put a lot of the starts into the ground a bit late, so hopefully the heat will continue, we'll have an Indian summer and the crops will come in as the kids are returning to school so they can see the fruits of their labor from last school year.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    Getting over a dry patch

    Whew! Well, we finally got some rain up here in Seattle. Now, I know many people think that Seattle is the land of rain, but we actually get less total rainfall per year than New York City (37 inches versus 50 inches in NY). And, this year we certainly are a heck of a lot drier.

    We've only had .24 inch of rain here since May 20th. It's been the longest dry spell on record. Of course, the lack of rain coupled with 103 degree temperatures (another record) has done a number on some of my plants.

    Unfortunately, a couple of my hanging plants didn't survive while I was on vacation and I must have been somewhat deluded to think that my garden was going to get watered while I was gone. I'm afraid that my columnar apple trees will also join the list of fatalities.

    I can't say we've been getting those garden saturating downpours like we experienced in New York. These were the same storms that caused our plane to get rerouted to Connecticut and grounded for hours for repair since it was hit by lightening.

    And, while you can't look at specific instances of "weather" and claim any great trend regarding global climate change, the weather we've been having over the last several years around here has been uncharacteristically weird. Floods anyone?

    Monday, August 10, 2009

    Idling in the hood

    While I was out running this morning, I saw something on the way back to my house that kind of annoyed me. One of our neighbors had started his car in the driveway, got out of the car and then went back into the house.

    Since I had to pass by their house twice on the way back to mine, I noticed it was still running several minutes later. And, since I do some stretching outside, I saw that it was still empty and idling for at least the ten minutes I was outside.

    I was somewhat tempted to say something to him, even if only to feign ignorance that someone left their car running in the driveway and, oh, maybe it would be a good idea (for safety, pollution, whatever) that they turn it off. But the giant "Susan Hutchinson for King County Executive" lawn sign kind of scared me off.

    I was happy to see, while we were in Manhattan, that there is a fine for unattended idling in the city. If only those signs existed here, at the very least, in school zones and included school buses while they are at it. I'm sure enforcement of those laws are problematic, but maybe the signs alone would help to educate people or remind them to turn their cars off.

    Anyway, what about you, would you say anything to your neighbor or just let it go?

    Sunday, August 9, 2009

    Buy Nothing Sunday Confessional - Week 1

    Buy Nothing Sunday ConfessionalForgive me people, for I have spent. This month started out with a bang since we were still travelling in New York for the first three days. So, we ate out for all of our meals on those days, but it was well worth it. We got to try one of Mario Batali's restaurants (Esca) before we saw a Broadway play (Mary Stuart).

    We ate some fantastical pizza in Greenwich Village, hung out at Almondine hoarking down French Pastries and Jacque Torres' chocolate shop in DUMBO and ate some wonderful desserts on the Upper East Side at E.A.T. where I'm fairly sure we saw the housewives of both New York and New Jersey (pretty much everyone else eating there arrived in a private, chaufferred car).

    Since then, I've bought a couple cappuccinos and ate out lunch on Friday (kind of an anniversary meal thing). And, to wrap it all up, I got my hair cut and highlighted because it's been since March and I figured if I'm going to do this TV pilot I should look somewhat groomed.

    So, I can't say that I'm not spending, but I knew these expenses were going to happen this last week. The rest of the month should hopefully be a bit easier.

    How about you guys? How's the challenge going for you? Feel free to link to posts about it on your blog...

    Friday, August 7, 2009

    Green Goddess Dressing post alert

    I know I've been slacking on posting over at Green Goddess Dressing, but I wanted to alert you that I have a new post up over there. It's a review of Burt's Bees Aftershave for Men. Well, it's mostly a review of my husband's experience with it, not mine.

    Just as a head's up, I'll be running the first Buy Nothing Challenge confessional this Sunday. And next week I'll be doing the first post for the Sleeping Naked Is Green book club. So, stay tuned!

    Thursday, August 6, 2009

    Falling in love with the subway

    The last time I rode the NYC subway system was probably back in the late 80s. Back then it was a sweaty, stinky, scary place - one that you didn't want to find yourself on late at night.

    So, consider my surprise when, over our vacation last week in Manhattan, I totally fell head over heels in love with the subway system. Our hotel was equidistant between two subway stops on the green line (33rd and Grand Central Station), so getting anywhere only required that we walk about 5 blocks. As long as you know which train you need, you really don't need much in the way of a schedule since they come so frequently.

    Transferring from one subway line to another is relatively easy, albeit somewhat confusing at some stations. I would imagine it's easy to get lost on occasion since some stations have multiple levels and the signs can be a tad confusing, but for even us idiots who have no idea where we were going, we managed just fine, without any problems.

    Some of the announcements can be unclear, but the information about where you are while on the train is really clear - some trains have illuminated maps that tell you exactly where you are on the line and most have reader boards telling you what the next stop is. Far more handy than the bus.

    All the trains are air conditioned these days and, if I must admit, they are over air-conditioned. Granted, standing on the platform while waiting for the train may feel like a short stay in Hades, but getting on the train more than makes up for it.

    Finally, we always felt extremely safe, even riding the trains after midnight. I got so used to taking the subway that I lamented having to use my car the day after we returned from New York. For those of you interested in how the MTA is looking at mass transit and energy consumption, you can check out their sustainability pages.

    Does your area have a rapid transit system similar to New York? If your area did, would you use it?

    Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    How green is your church?

    I don't generally discuss religion too frequently, mostly because I'm a recovering Catholic and I like to leave well enough alone, but the concept of greening one's congregation came up over a discussion the other day. A Facebook friend was looking for ways to replace the disposable plastic cups they used for communion.

    Not having heard of such a thing since the only churches I've been too all used the common communion chalice complete with the obligatory, yet not quite sanitary, "wipe" across the cup. So, on one hand, the hypochondriac in me was pleased that such highly delicious communicable-by-mouth diseases wasn't something to fear in these churches, yet the environmentalist in me was horrified at the amount of cups a church must go through every year. Well, that and the cost.

    I'm sure most churches, in this day and age of fear and swine flu, wouldn't go back to the shared chalice, but there are other alternatives, such as glass or stainless steel cups. The stainless steel ones are a little harder to come by in the U.S. but the glass cups seem more available. Better yet, why not BYOC. Or is packing your own shot glass a little too over-the-top for church? What if it's got some great biblical quote etched on the side? No?

    Anyway, how about reducing the energy used at the church either by investing in solar panels or wind power? From the Sierra Club website:
    The Energy Star web site, a program of the U.S. EPA, has devoted a number of pages to helping congregations get started on saving energy. Some projects are simple, like changing lightbulbs or installing occupancy sensors in light switches so lights turn off when no one is present. And then there are the more involved projects, like upgrading heating and ventilation and landscaping with plants native to your climate.

    Some other ideas for greening your church include using green cleaning products and encouraging church-goers to take public transportation, carpool, walk or bike to church. Hosting a sewing circle for making reusable cloth grocery bags or even making them out of plastic shopping bags that could be auctioned or sold to support greening the church would be a good place to start.

    Holding a canning session in the church kitchen for using the season's surplus and providing for the poor would be invaluable. Better yet, start a community garden to provide an additional source of food for the poor. And replacing disposable eating utensils with good old-fashioned silverware, glasses and plates that are washed for reuse would cost more to start, but would save money in the end.

    Finally, providing recycling services for those who don't have it at home is a valuable resource since people would, ultimately, be showing up once a week for church/recycling drop-offs.

    For more ideas, check out what these Presbyterian churches are doing. What efforts is your church doing to be greener?

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