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.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 5 crappy eco-beauty products of 2010

I've been meaning to write this post for weeks now, but I also wanted to take a few weeks break from writing and blogging to spend the holidays reading and hanging out with the kids. I've managed to read through quite a few books in the meantime and it's been difficult scraping myself together to get back to blogging.

I have some exciting things going on in the book writing arena, which I'll discuss shortly, but in the meantime I wanted to tell you about the crappy eco-products that I tried this year and have been swearing at them ever since. So, without further ado, here's my top list of junk:

1. Vidal Sassoon Ecostyle Hair Dryer: I bought this hair dryer with much excitement because my previous dryer died a terrible death. I know many of you will argue that I shouldn't be using a hair dryer, etc. etc., but I have long, thick hair and live in a cold house with high humidity and don't like torturing myself more than necessary. Unfortunately, in spite of being all environmentally friendly, using less electricity (35% less!) and all that (made from recycled plastic!) it, too, died a miserable death after using it only for about 7 months. Not very environmentally friendly, that one.

2. Physicians Formula Organic make-up: Oh, how I wanted to love this stuff. This product line is easily accessible at the drugstore and inexpensive, all thing considered. I blogged about it in 2009 and used if for a few months in 2010, but came to the dramatic conclusion that this stuff is generally unusable. I just heard that Cover Girl is coming out with their own line of "natural" makeup which I'll try once my non-toxic book project days are over in a month or so.

3. Naturally Bare Hair Removal "honey wax": I reviewed this over on my other blog, Green Goddess Dressing, in January and was upset to find out this product, which was touted as "natural" wasn't all that it claimed to be. The ingredients they included weren't all inclusive and, after reading the fine print, ended up being chock full of parabens.

4. Brazilian Blow-Out: In spite of claiming up and down (and still claiming) that this hair straightening product is formaldehyde free, the manufacturers are still full of shit and this product will alternately straighten your hair and scorch your lungs and eyes at the same time.

5. Aveda hair care products (in general): I have to admit that Aveda is making strides in trying to remove some of the more egregious ingredients in their make-up products, but they are still coy about what's included in their hair care products and oftentimes, a quick peek at the listing on the bottles shows some less than savory ingredients. A special request for the ingredients listing in their salon hair coloring products last month unearthed some spectacularly nasty chemicals that I can no longer convince myself aren't deleterious in spite of the "97% naturally derived" claim. It's the 3% that will bite you.

Hopefully 2011 will bring less crappy eco-products past my door step, but I somehow expect that not to be the case.

What heinous eco-products did you hate in 2010?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Salted Chipotle Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Okay, I promise this is the last recipe I post for the year, but I just finished putting together the gift bags for my kids' teachers and some parent friends from their school and I wanted to throw something else in there. So, I made some cookies. But these aren't your ordinary cookies. These are complex cookies with character. The kind that makes your taste buds report in waves of flavors.

First, I took a standard, chocolate chip cookie recipe that I've had success with in the past (and, more importantly, was quick - I was strapped for time). In this case, it's the Ghiradelli Chocolate Chip cookie recipe. And then I doctored it up with some spices, most notably chipotle, cinnamon and cayenne and then sprinkled some sea salt at the finish for a sweet, salty, spicy (with a hint of smoky) flavor profile.

I recommend getting Ghiradelli bittersweet bars and chopping them into chunks or you can use Scharffen Berger chocolate chunks (it ends up being cheaper than the bars). Just make sure you use good quality chocolate. I would have used Guittard, but didn't want to wrestle with chopping up the bulk chocolate. For the rest, I used all organic ingredients, house made vanilla extract and eggs from our backyard chickens.

These end up being mildly spicy. If I weren't baking these for other people (and eating them myself), I would increase the chipotle and the cayenne. So, if you like things spicy, feel free to double the cinnamon, chipotle and cayenne!


Salted Chipotle Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

2 1/4 cup unsifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chunks
fleur de sel (or fine sea salt)

Directions
Heat oven to 375º F.

Stir flour with baking soda, salt and spices and set aside.

In large mixing bowl, beat butter with sugar and brown sugar at medium speed until creamy and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, one at a time. Mix on low speed until incorporated.

Gradually blend dry mixture into creamed mixture. Stir in chocolate chunks. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheets. Sprinkle fleur de sel or sea salt on each unbaked cookie.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for three minutes and then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling. Then stuff into mouth.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Eat your Christmas tree

A few years back, when my 8-year-old son was an infant, my husband and I visited the (now-defunct) restaurant Cascadia in Seattle, which focused on regional and seasonal ingredients - hence the name. It was before most of my eco-nuttiness, so I wasn't nearly as in tune to the local ingredients thing, but when we went back the second time - whoa doggie - did I ever grill the waiter. Unfortunately, he didn't have many answers to my litany of questions. But I digress.

On that first visit we tried a Douglas Fir Sorbet, mostly because of the uniqueness of it. It was fantastic - one of those flavors that, although you may not want to snack on it daily - has stuck in my mind all these years. And, that's saying something given my ADD.

Anyway, last year my husband purchased a little book called Sips & Apps: Classic and Contemporary Recipes for Cocktails and Appetizers, written by a local author, and one of the cocktails included in this fabulous little gem is a Douglas Fir drink that reminded me of that sorbet from yesteryear.

So, now that you have that fresh Douglas (or Noble) Fir Christmas tree hanging around the house (and I know that you bought an unsprayed one, didn't you?), go ahead and clip a six inch section from the tree where no one will notice it missing and make yourself some Douglas Fir infused gin or vodka and get your holiday spirits on! And, don't forget, little sprigs of Douglas Fir also make for a fantastic drink garnish.

I think a fir or spruce infused gin, vodka or brandy would also make for a nice present, particularly if you hang a drink recipe around the bottleneck.

Douglas Fir Sparkletini
1 1/2 ounce Douglas Fir infused gin (see below)
3/4 ounce white cranberry juice
1 1/2 ounce fresh Lemon Sour (see below)
Splash of dry sparkling wine (preferably local)

For garnishing:
Tiny sprig of Douglas Fir
Fresh or frozen cranberry

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Measure in the infused gin, cranberry juice and lemon sour mixture. Strain into a martini glass and top with a splash of dry sparkling wine. Garnish with a fir sprig and float a cranberry in the drink.

Douglas Fir Infused Gin
1 (5-6 inch) sprig of Douglas Fir branch, rinsed
1 750ml bottle gin

Put the fir branch into the gin bottle and cap and let sit for 24 hours (do not leave it in for longer). Remove the branch and discard. The infused gin can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 year.

Fresh Lemon Sour
Makes 1 cup:
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

In a small container with a lid, combine the ingredients. Cover and keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Another drink idea is the Pine Needle Daiquiri. If drinking trees ain't your thang, then, by all means go ahead and eat it. Here's a tasty looking recipe: Douglas Fir & Orange Blossom Butter Cookies. And, for the serious tree snacker, check out this post: Douglas fir tips bring the flavor of the forest into the kitchen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Douglas fir sachet

I was at Whole Foods yesterday picking up some kid's vitamins and I happened upon some Douglas Fir sachets near the vitamin section. I picked one up, since I love Douglas Fir, and gave it a whiff. I was amazed at how sweet smelling it was even though all it contained in the muslin drawstring bag was Douglas Fir needles. I was about to spring for one when I noticed it cost something like $8.99.

Since we live in the land of Douglas Fir trees and, since we have a fir Christmas tree sitting in our living room, I figured I could easily make my own either by sewing my own sachet or using a repurposed one.

I went home and looked around online to see if anyone had any hints or tips on making your own, such as whether or not you need to dry the needles or what and there were quite a few articles and blog posts on making your own pine needle sachet. One of my favorite's was making a sachet out of a men's shirt sleeve. This same site suggested using pine needles and lavender (which we have a ton of) as well as a mix of other herbs.

What a great way to use leftover pine needles from your used Christmas tree. I think I'm going to have a hard time waiting for after Christmas before I start snagging the needles for this project. Patience, Deanna, patience. In the meantime, I might be heading down the road to Carkeek Park for some downed Douglas Fir needles and some salmon watching at Piper's Creek.

Juniper Ridge, which makes the sachets I was sniffing in the store, also has them in Christmas Fir and Big Sur Sage. Since we also have a ton of sage, I might make one of those as well.

In any case, here's yet another thing to do with your Christmas tree after the holidays are over.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas debt

The money treeAccording to Gallup, Americans will spend, on average, $715 this year on Christmas gifts. This is up from around $640 last year. Every year, I'm amazed that people spend that much on Christmas gifts!

No wonder we have a credit problem in this country. Unless these people are saving up all year for buying gifts or spreading it out, which is probably true for a percentage of Americans, they are really taking a hit at the end of the year.

I don't think I spent more than $250 mostly because some of the gifts I'm giving were made from scratch. The ones that I spent money straight out-of-pocket were toys for the kids and gift certificates for nieces/nephews out-of-state.

Did you end up spending more or less than you were expecting on Christmas gifts? Or, maybe the question should be, did you end up spending more or less than you wanted? How does it compare to the national average?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Keeping your bed warm when it's 50 inside

Even though we've pledged for a night time temperature of 55 degrees in our house for this year's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge, our thermostat is in a faraway land as far as our bedroom is concerned. Because our old central heat is less than efficient, this means that, as the outside temps drop into the freezy zone at night, our bedroom gets colder than 55.

This really hasn't been an issue. Frankly, sometimes I'll wake up and it's 58 in the house and I'll be doing morning chores for a while before I realize I'd forgotten to turn on the heat. That's because I'm still kind of toasty from bed. So, when I get up and put on a sweater or extra layer, I'm fine. What's my secret? A down comforter.

We have two down comforters - the midweight one is the one we use. We have a heavier weight one, but that one makes us feel like we are in an inferno and have never actually used it in Seattle. I should probably sell it but I figure if we ever have a major loss of services, we could all survive under that at night.

If it gets really cold in the bedroom before bed, I'll warm up the bed warmer. A few years ago I researched like the dickens what the best bed warmer for me would be. I thought about a hot water bottle since they come in all fancy sorts of varieties with fuzzy, plushy characters, but I was afraid that it would pop and then I'd be left with water soaking my bed. I know this probably isn't a reasonable fear, but I think a wet bed is worse than a cold bed. Plus, once the water cools down, now you have a cold water bottle unless it's been near you all night. No thanks.

Cherry pit heating padAnd then there are the microwaveable bed warmers. No, I'm not talking about those gel packs. I'm talking about those kinds that are filled with rice or some sort of other material that holds heat for a little while and conforms to whatever shape you want. Somehow I managed to stumble upon cherry pit bed warmers, which are like the rice ones but filled with, well, cherry pits.

Not too surprisingly, it was from Mother Earth News. They have been used for ages to help heat up a bed and, traditionally, have been heated using a warming oven, but they can be put in your oven's warming drawer, or popped into the microwave. Now, why would I choose cherry pits over rice or another filler? Well, they hold heat for a lot longer - upwards of 2+ hours in my experience. And, it smells like cherry pie when you heat it. I must admit it is a bit noisy, but well worth it.

When I was in the market for one, I wanted to make my own, but didn't have a sewing machine or the skills, so I bought one (see fancy leopard print one above). However, it's incredibly easy to make your own. Since I'm sure you don't have several pounds of cherry pits lying about, you can buy sanitized pits in bulk from The Cherry Pit Store.

To make a heating pad, just sew a natural fabric bag into whatever size you want and fill a little more than halfway up with cherry pits. Sew it shut and heat in the microwave no more than 2-3 minutes until hot. You can make a cover for it or you can just hand wash it by sliding the pits to one side, washing the cover and the sliding them to the other side and washing that side. You can also put it in the washing machine. Just don't do this with rice bags! The only caveat is that the cherry pits are expensive. So, if cost is an issue, then use rice (not instant rice!).

And, let's not forget, it's never to late to sign up for this year's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Shaving gift set winner - make that winners!

Okay, so Anne, the owner of Seattle Sundries who is sponsoring last week's shaving gift set giveaway has been kind enough to change it up and let me choose two winners!

The first winner can choose the shaving set or they have the option of selecting three soaps in tins (if they prefer) instead. The shaving set comes with a black ceramic shaving mug, a badger hair shaving brush with a faux ebony handle, and TWO BARS of frothy shaving bliss (of your choosing).

The shaving set (or three soaps) winner is.... Marya of the blog, Fragmentary Green!

The second winner gets to choose three soaps in tins from Anne's soaps. This second winner is.... Crafty Farmer of the blog Anderson Family Nut Farm!

To select your soaps, go to the Seattle Sundries shaving kit page (to decide which two soaps you want) or the soap page to pick out the three soaps in tins and email your selections and contact information to crunchychickenblog@gmail.com!

And, if you are totally confused by this, email me for clarification as well :)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Caramel covered homemade marshmallows

Williams Sonoma versionFollowing the theme of recreating Williams Sonoma food gift ideas, I wanted to share with you another knock-off. It's the caramel covered marshmallow treat. Also called Modjeskas, these candies were purportedly named after a beautiful Polish actress by an admirer.

Anyway, they look a heck of a lot more complicated to make than they actually are. These make great gifts wrapped in wax paper. Especially when you aren't paying $27 a pound for them!

To make the marshmallows:

Ingredients
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup hot water (about 115 degrees)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions
Oil bottom and sides of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some confectioners' sugar.

In bowl of standing electric mixer, sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let stand to soften.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, hot water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240 degrees, about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

With standing mixer beat on high speed until white, thick and nearly tripled in volume, about 6 minutes. In a large bowl with cleaned beaters beat whites (or reconstituted powdered whites) until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat whites and vanilla into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan and sift 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least three hours, and up to 1 day.

Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto large cutting board. Lifting up 1 corner of inverted pan, with fingers loosen marshmallow and let drop onto cutting board. With a large knife trim edges of marshmallow and cut marshmallows into roughly 1-inch cubes. Sift remaining confectioners' sugar into a large bowl and add marshmallows in batches, tossing to evenly coat. Marshmallows (without caramel) keep in an airtight container at cool room temperature for 1 week.

To make the caramel:

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
16 marshmallows (see recipe above)
Wax paper

Directions
Cut the wax paper into 2 inch x 3 inch wide strips. You may need to adjust the size of your wax paper depending on how big your marshmallows are.

Place the sugar, water, cream, and corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the butter until it is melted. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the caramel reaches 238 degrees, then remove from the heat.

Stir in the vanilla and salt. Allow the caramel to thicken and cool for 10-15 minutes until it cools to about 175 degrees.

To dip the marshmallows:

Using a fork, drop a marshmallow into the caramel and turn it over until it is completely covered. Remove the marshmallow from the caramel, letting excess caramel drip off. Place the marshmallow on a piece of wax paper.

Continue dipping with the remaining marshmallows. If the caramel becomes too stiff, place it over the heat for a minute or two until it becomes easy to work with.

Allow the candies to set fully at room temperature before wrapping. Store excess candies in an airtight container at room temperature.

Related posts:
Chocolate peppermint bark
Holiday gift basket
White chocolate raspberry jam

Friday, December 3, 2010

Chocolate covered candied orange peels

Chocolate dipped candied orange peelsI wrote up this recipe almost three years ago and made some for holiday presents and I still have people asking me to make some more. I better get on it this year...

You can modify this recipe to make more or less. This year, since I'm all about non-toxic ingredients, I've edited it a tad, but if you can't find organic chocolate or sugar to your liking then do what you can.

Ingredients:
Peels from 5 medium size organic oranges
4 cups granulated organic sugar
2.5 cups filtered water
6 oz organic, fair trade chocolate (milk or dark or white or mix it up)

The process is fairly easy.

Step 1. Scrape the inside of the orange peels to remove the residual orange from the pith. If the pith is really thick, scrape it out with a vegetable peeler or a knife.

Step 1

Step 2. Cut the peels into strips about 1/4" in width, removing the parts where the stem and the orange end are and any parts that don't look good.

Step 2

Step 3. Put the strips into a medium sauce pan and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil to blanch the peels. This helps remove the bitterness of the pith. Repeat the blanching process one more time (if you removed a lot of the pith) or two more times if you left a lot of the pith on (like I did).

Step 3

Step 4. Drain the peels and rinse with cold water. In the same saucepan add the water and sugar and bring to a boil. It will start to boil somewhere around 210 degrees F.

Step 4

Step 5. Once the sugar syrup is boiling, add the peels and bring the temperature back up to boiling. Simmer the peels on medium low until they become translucent. Depending on how much pith is on the peel this will take anywhere from 1/2 an hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes (this is how long it took mine).

Step 5

Step 6. When the peels are looking translucent, use a pair of tongs and remove them from the pot, placing them on a rack set over a cookie sheet to catch the drips. If you want you can roll the freshly removed strips in additional sugar but I found this to be a huge mess.

[You can strain the sugar syrup and use it as a simple syrup in a variety of recipes - just make sure you refrigerate it.]

Step 6

Step 7. Leave the peels out to dry. If you want to speed things up you can put the whole cookie tray/rack combo in the oven at 250 degrees F for an hour or two (just skip the non-stick!).

Step 8. If you want to dip the strips in chocolate, melt the chocolate over a double boiler and dip, laying the strips down on parchment paper to dry.

Step 8

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Candy cane themed holiday gift ideas

Here is a repost of a few easy to make homemade holiday gift giving ideas. I've included one food item and one beauty care item in case you prefer one or both!

Layered peppermint barkI suspect I'm not the only one being bombarded by Williams Sonoma and Crate and Barrel catalogs all sporting delicious tins of chocolate peppermint bark. I've had the stuff from Williams Sonoma and it's mighty tasty, but for about $30 a pound, I knew I could do much better (Crate and Barrel's is something like $15 for 14 ounces).

So, even with using high quality Callebaut chocolate (on sale this week in the Seattle area at Town and Country Markets for $4.99 a pound) it's much, much cheaper to make it yourself.

Peppermint Bark

Ingredients

16 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
12 ounces high quality white chocolate, chopped
6 candy canes, coarsely crushed (about 6 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Instructions
Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil.

Melt bittersweet chocolate in double boiler until it is melted and smooth. Stir in peppermint extract. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Pour bittersweet chocolate mixture onto cookie sheet. Using a spatula, spread the chocolate so that it is about 1/4 inch thick. Chill for about 15 minutes or until it is set.

Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate in a double boiler until it is melted and smooth. Cool until it is barely lukewarm (about 5 minutes). Pour the white chocolate onto the cooled bittersweet chocolate, using a spatula to spread out the chocolate to cover the first layer evenly.

Immediately sprinkle top layer with crushed candy canes. Let it sit for about 10 minutes and then chill just until firm, about 20 minutes. It can be broken apart or cut into rectangles. Store in an airtight container in a cool place or freeze. Allow it to come to room temperature before serving.

You can pack the bark in glass jars that are decorated with red ribbon and candy canes for a sweet touch.

Candy Cane Sugar Scrub

Crushed candy canes are really just sugar right? So, why not add them to a sugar scrub to make a super festive beauty treat?

Ingredients
1 cup granulated white sugar
6 candy canes, finely crushed almost into a powder
1/2 cup sweet almond oil (or olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon vitamin E oil (optional - used as a preservative)
1 teaspoon cocoa butter (optional)
6 drops peppermint essential oil

Instructions
Mix all ingredients until well blended. Place into a clean glass jar with a tight lid and add a fancy label. I highly recommend the 1/2 pint wide mouth canning jars and wide mouth plastic storage lids.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Shaving gift set giveaway

A mom friend of mine, Anne, from our kids' school is also the owner and mastermind behind Seattle Sundries, where she sells soaps with the most unique names and designs. An immense amount of thought goes into all of her products and their ingredients and it definitely shows.

For the upcoming holidays, Anne offered to have me host a giveaway of one of her Men's Shaving Sets. This would make a great holiday gift for the man (or even woman!) in your life. From her website:
Seattle Sundries' soap is GREAT for shaving... smooth with creamy lather. The shaving set comes with a black ceramic shaving mug, a badger hair shaving brush with a faux ebony handle, and TWO BARS of frothy shaving bliss (of your choosing).

Each bar is 3” wide and just over 1” deep weighing 4 ounces or more. As with all handcrafted artisan soaps, there may be some variation in color and slight irregularities in shape. This is a result of being cut and trimmed by human hands rather than by a machine If you find that your soap “sweats” when left out, don’t be alarmed. It’s simply the natural glycerin in the soap attracting moisture from the air.

If you need some tips on how to build great shaving lather, read our blog post on the topic!

Seattle Sundries is known for its Backwoods Soap, Pottymouth Soap and Sasquatch Soap that's rumored to help "tame the smelly beast in all of us." Her bars were also featured on Pioneer Woman's blog a while back (if you want to see 8 billion close up photos of the soap :).

You can even work with Anne to create your own custom soap with private label, which makes for a great holiday gift as well. Hmmmm... maybe I should have her work on a "Clean your Duker" soap to give out to everyone for the holidays this year.

Anyway, if you are interested in being entered in the Shaving Gift Set Giveaway, to be chosen by the random number generator, add your name to the comments of this post and let me know which soap from her site you would like to try. I think they are all fantastic, so it's going to be hard to choose! You have until midnight Saturday PST, December 4th to enter. Good luck!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dirty electricity and CFLs

I was at the podiatrist's office yesterday, getting casted for some new orthotics for my stupid foot, and we were chit-chatting about my book on environmental toxins. My doctor brought up the fact that he's always been concerned about electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) such as radio frequency and the effect on the human body.

Having an engineering degree, in addition to a medical degree, made him a little more educated on the matter than the average person. However, when I mentioned to him some studies about the effect of dirty electricity (from a variety of sources including compact fluorescent light bulbs) on blood glucose levels in diabetics, he was unaware of the impact. Which isn't too surprising since the research done is relatively little and most likely something not in the purview of a foot doctor.

According to one study done, in an environment free of EMFs, Type 1 diabetics needed less insulin and Type 2s had lower blood glucose levels. The researchers also noted that diabetes testing done in a high EMF environment can lead to false positives. While the research so far done on diabetics is somewhat dubious, I'd like to see some more work done to either confirm or dispel this theory.

Most people are unaware of the unseen and (mostly) unheard bombardment of low and high levels frequencies being generated all around us from our microwaves to our cordless and cell phones to the computer monitor you are currently staring at. More recently is the concern of the type of electricity generated from CFL bulbs. Not all CFL bulbs generate the same level of dirty electricity, but it is something to be aware of.

The big deal is that high-frequency voltage transients, aka "dirty electricity", is a by-product of modern energy efficient electronics and appliances which reduce the amount of electricity they use. By tamping down the current, these electronics create a wildly fluctuating electromagnetic field that not only radiates into the immediate environment but also can back up along your home or office wiring all the way back to the utility, affecting every energy customer in between. So, even if you unplug all your electronics and are "going Amish" at home, your next door neighbor could be impacting you from afar, unless you've unplugged yourself from the grid.

Dr. Olle Johansson, a Swedish neuroscientist claims that:
"The human body, whose cells, nerves and organs function with electrical impulse, have difficulty adapting to 60-Hertz cycles, let alone transient high frequencies that last milliseconds. We are dealing with amplitude-modulated or pulsed microwaves in the 2.45 Ghz range (or nearby), in a form that has only been around to any extent for the last 10-15 years.

Compared to the natural background fields, in which living cells have developed during the last 3.8 billion years, these electromagnetic fields are actually very, very strong. It is thus wrong to believe that evolution has furnished us with a safety protection shielding layer against such WLAN (wireless local area network) signals. It has not."

Whether or not you think dirty electricity is a problem (and, for the record, the CDC and the WHO are following research done on this), some suggestions for reducing exposure include limiting wireless Internet, avoiding dimmer switches, limiting CFLs and using LEDs instead, using a landline phone rather than a cordless phone, avoiding Bluetooth headsets, avoiding cell phones when the signal is low, charging your laptop when it's not on your lap and unplugging everything when you aren't using it (which we should all be doing anyway). If you do think your home has high EMFs, you can get an EMF capacitor filter that you plug into the electrical outlet to help reduce it.

I know this sounds all conspiracy theory, but what do you think about EMFs? Do you think it's something to worry about or that it's not a big deal? Has the issue of dirty electricity stopped you from buying CFLs?

More reading (caveat emptor - I am in no way endorsing the content of these):
Dirty Electricity: Electrification and the Diseases of Civilization
Is Dirty Electricity Making You Sick?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cold weather and frozen chickens

This fall started out quite warm with sunny, balmy temperatures stretching into mid-November. However, since this is a La Niña year, we've been having predictions of an extremely cold winter and we saw some of it this last week.

The Monday before Thanksgiving we got enough snow to put the city of Seattle into a tailspin. My husband was fortunate enough to get out of downtown on a less travelled bus route extending his commute only by a half hour or so. Others weren't so lucky - it took his oncologist 7 hours to get home that night. The rest of the week we saw temperatures down into the teens with highs in the mid-twenties, which is very unusual around these parts.

Since our chicken coop is fairly well closed up, with plexiglass on the biggest of the "windows", I wasn't too worried about the chickens. I could always cover up the other windows and pull up the ramp to really seal them in. They've been putting on a lot of feathers over the last few weeks, and I was really only concerned about the smallest one, Chloe, who isn't packing as much fluff as the other girls. I made sure there was extra bedding in the coop to snuggle up in if she wanted to, but I think they really just huddled together on the roost at night.

The biggest issue, however, was keeping their water supply liquid. Since I didn't have a solution at hand, I ended up replacing their water several times a day. Their main water tank froze up into a solid tube of ice, so they relied on the water bowl I supplied them. Now that the temperatures are back up into the normal range, it's business as usual, but I will be getting a heated dog bowl to use for the next time it's that cold, just to make sure they have ample water.

In spite of all the cold, snow and craziness, Chloe managed to start laying. She really likes hanging out in the nesting box and Roxy has been indulging her own broodiness by sitting on both their eggs. Alas, Sarah, the big white hen, spends more time eating and less time laying. She hasn't laid an egg since we first got her back in mid-September.

All in all, the chickens did fine. They didn't spend much time down in the run when the wind blew a bunch of snow down there. But, once I cleaned out the snow, they were back down in the run, digging and bagawking and searching for snacks of the buggy kind. I froze my tail off with all the oversight, but I'll be prepared for the next cold snap.

Do you have chickens? If so, how do they fare during cold weather? Do you have a heat lamp or other set up to keep them comfy?

For a tour of my chicken coop and an introduction to the girls, you can check out this video here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Circumcision ban

Here's something to discuss over Thanksgiving dinner...

San Francisco residents may vote on a measure on the ballot next year to ban circumcision, according to the Huffington Post. The initiative would make it a misdemeanor to circumcise, excise, cut or mutilate the genitals of all minors, and would not make exceptions for religious reasons.

A CDC researcher reported this year that only 32.5% of boys were circumcised in 2009 versus 56% in 2006.

What do you think? Is this a dying practice? If you have boys, did you have them circumcised and why?

Either way, should circumcision be illegal?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Organics and leaving the sanctuary

As part of my book project on environmental toxins, I've been cutting all sources of pesticides and toxins from my diet. That means that anything conventionally grown or containing artificial colors and flavors are out. This also means that I have to be very careful not to slip into old habits and absent-mindedly eat something that doesn't fit these parameters.

One of the biggest issues has been eating out or grabbing something on the go. We rarely eat out as it is, but the problem is that there are generally few restaurants, even in Seattle, that serve an all-organic menu. Even if there are organic items on the menu, that doesn't mean that the whole meal is organic. It's the same story with coffee shops. Even if the coffee beans are organic, they don't always offer organic milk and, if you want to eat something there, inevitably you are more likely to find vegan options over organic ones.

The other big issue when going out is going to the bathroom. It sounds strange, but I've started carrying my own liquid hand soap in a little reusable container. Why? Because most public bathrooms don't stock non-toxic soap.

Instead, these soaps are heavily perfumed (in other words, contain endocrine disrupting phthalates), are chock full of the anti-bacterial triclosan and contain various estrogenic preservatives known as parabens. And, don't get me started on air fresheners in these bathrooms - that cloying stench of artificial fragrances that invite another dollop of phthalates into my bloodstream.

Old habits and exposures are hard to avoid but, over time, I'm learning to change my behavior to avoid them. It's been hard and I'm trying not to go a little too bonkers with it. But, if you see me in the bathroom just rinsing my hands, holding my breath and turning a shade of purple, don't be surprised.

Do you pay attention to food ingredients when you go out to eat or just throw caution to the wind? What about something so simple as soap and air fresheners in public or restaurant bathrooms?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Freeze Yer Buns airs on King 5

This morning, King 5, our local NBC channel aired a few different clips about my Freeze Yer Buns Challenge, the challenge where you pledge to lower your thermostat to save money and reduce carbon emissions.

If you want to check out the accompanying article, you can do so here, Seattle blogger issues a 'chilly' challenge as temperatures drop.

They managed to post online the only clip where I, in true Sarah Palin fashion, am making up new English words.



Enjoy!

And, if you haven't yet signed up for the challenge, it's not too late to join in on the freezing fun!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

LED Christmas lights

Last night our neighbor put up their outdoor Christmas lights. I felt like they had broken some unwritten rule. Around these parts you just don't put them up until after Thanksgiving. Even then, I think that's too early, but I've gotten used to it.

When do you think it's "okay" to start decorating for Christmas?

And, speaking of lights, if you do decorate for the holidays, are you still using ye olde incandescent bulbs or have you switched out to LED holiday lights yet?

I've noticed that there are a lot more LED options now. We switched over a few years ago, back when the selection was grim. I'm getting a few more strands of LED lights since we are doing things a little bit different for our lighting display this year, which I'm very excited about.

Even then, for these specialty lights, I could only find one place online that sells an LED version of them and they are twice as expensive. I can justify the expense because I know we'll save on electricity in the long run and over the years, but still it's hard to swallow going in.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I've got a mole in my hole

The following is an excerpt (edited for this blog) from my book on toxins in the environment that will be coming out in Fall 2011 from New Society Publishers:

Our front yard, for the past week or so, has slowly been turning into molehill central. It started last weekend with two dirt lumps popping up near the fig tree. When I went for a walk later that Sunday, I was at least pleased to see that we weren't the only ones sporting dirty lumps in our lawn. The neighbors on either side of us were each inflicted with their own pair of molehills. Over the next few days, I woke up to another molehill and then another. It got to the point that every morning we were greeted by an additional molehill, all in a linear path heading out to the street. Over the last week, we have acquired nine dirt piles in our lawn.

I looked into what could be making these mounds. I didn't think we had many burrowing animals in our area and narrowed it down to the rather populous (at least in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest) Townsend Mole, aka Scapanus townsendii. The evidence left behind seemed to fit the crime. It could also have been a gopher, but they are relatively rare around Seattle. A Townsend mole, which is about 8 to 9 inches long and black in color, has a general population density where the typical city lot has one or two moles. Why we've never had them before is surprising although I've seen plenty of neighbor's lawns exhibiting some inhabitants.

According to Sunrise Pest Management, Townsend moles feed primarily on insect larvae, earthworms, slugs, centipedes, roots and seeds. We certainly have an abundance of those in our front lawn. When I was searching for solutions to our mole issues, I ran across a laundry list of things people do to try to deter them ranging from using poison, insecticides, smoke bombs or even burying razor blades. I don't want to kill-trap the mole and I certainly don't want to poison the little fella, even if he is making a mess of my yard. Any chemical agent or poison surely would affect the environment and wildlife from both land and sea, as the run-off from our yard goes directly out to Puget Sound and I can't imagine what mole bait and poison would do to the local fish populations.

Sunrise Pest Management does do an environmentally (and critter friendly) treatment that entails a natural treatment that makes the mole's food source taste bitter. Since the moles don't like sour patch worms, they leave in search of other food. Better still, the worms and other insects are unharmed. I sent them an email to get a quote and see if it was worth the cost to have them come out and do an initial treatment. If it is going to be expensive, I figure I'll just rake over the mounds, stamp down the tunnels and hope for the best. It's not like our pesticide free lawn was immaculate in the first place. Since we've never used synthetic chemicals, herbicides or pesticides on our yard, let alone water it, the lawn is already pretty lumpy. So, what's wrong with a few extra bumps?

Another option is a castor oil based treatment that I found on the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife website. I could save myself the money if the mole doesn't cease and desist and go with this completely non-toxic, cheap treatment instead:
Homemade Mole Control

Commercially available castor oil–based repellents have been scientifically tested on moles in the Eastern United States with some success. In theory, the repellent coats earthworms and other prey with castor oil. This renders the prey distasteful and, if eaten, gives the moles diarrhea. The moles supposedly then leave the treated area in search of a new food source.

The formula for the castor-oil repellent can be made by using a blender to combine 1/4 cup of unrefined castor oil (can be purchased at most pharmacies) and 2 tablespoons of a dishwashing liquid. Blend the two together, add 6 tablespoons water, and blend again. Combine the concentrated mixture with water at a rate of 2 tablespoons of solution to 1 gallon of water. Use a watering can or sprayer to liberally apply the solution to areas where moles are active. The above mixture will cover approximately 300 square feet.

The repellent will be most effective where it can be watered into the moist soil surrounding surface tunnels made by moles. Areas that receive extensive irrigation will quickly loose the repellent to leaching. For best results, spray the entire area needing protection; moles will burrow under a perimeter treatment.

The repellent may need to be reapplied before moles depart. Once moles move elsewhere, the solution usually remains effective for 30 to 60 days.

I'm not sure if I want to give my mole a bad case of the squirts, so I'll see if he decides to move on to someone else's property. But, if he continues as he has, he'll be leaving Le Château Duke on the Poop Express.

Photos courtesy of Sunrise Pest Management

Monday, November 15, 2010

Home Depot LED winners

Based on the responses from the giveaway entries filled out over the last week regarding your experiences with compact fluorescent light bulbs, it seems like there is a lot of satisfaction with these bulbs, mixed with worry over the mercury in them. There was also a lot of dissatisfaction based on how long they lasted, how long it took for them to "light" up and what kind of light they put out.

So, I'm excited to announce the winners of the LED light bulb giveaway sponsored by Home Depot because it's great to share some new technology that many of you may otherwise not try.

And, without further ado...

The three winners of 1 EcoSmart LED A19 40 Watt Equivalent light bulb are:
The grand prize winner of a $200 Home Depot gift card to re-fit their home with LED EcoSmart bulbs is:
All right all you fantabulous winners! You can thank the random integer generator gods. Send your contact info to crunchychickenblog@gmail.com and I'll have Home Depot send your spoils your way. Congratulations!!!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Urban chicken video action

If you are, like me, hanging around on Veteran's Day and looking for a little diversion, you can check out the 10 minutes or so of video I made this week explaining our chicken coop setup, the run and the stars of the episode themselves, the chickens!

Enjoy!

If you are having problems viewing this you can go directly to my channel on the YouTubes.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Do it Yourself Home Energy Audit book review

A few months ago, I was asked to be a part of the 2010 Green Books Campaign sponsored by Eco-Libris. This campaign is aiming to promote "green" books by reviewing 200 books printed on recycled paper or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using environmental paper, we want to raise the awareness of book buyers to this issue and encourage them to take it into consideration when purchasing books.

For this campaign, I chose to review the book Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audits: 140 Simple Solutions to Lower Energy Costs, Increase Your Home's Efficiency, and Save the Environment. I figured it fit in well with this year's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge as well as the home energy audit contest I will be hosting at the end of the month as part of the challenge.

The Review
This book shows you how to increase your home's energy efficiency by offering 140 energy saving solutions, most of which require little in the way of financial investment. The suggestions to improving your home energy efficiency are relatively easy to do and the vast majority of the suggestions were surprisingly cheap. And, all of them will save you money over the long term.

This book shows you how to:
  • Implement immediate no and low cost improvements for lighting, heating, electricity, insulation, water use, and more
  • Identify and modify the most costly appliances in your home
  • Reduce carbon emissions
  • Develop a personal energy plan
  • Determine how and when to contract your green renovation
  • Understand ratings, standards, and conversions
  • Fund your green home improvement projects and take advantage of grants, rebates, and tax incentives
It is written in a very conversational tone, which makes reading it straight through or a section at a time enjoyable. The author, an energy expert, comes across as a friend giving you advice, rather than a know-it-all telling you what to do. I found it to be an easy read and picked up some great advice, much of which I'll be trying to implement this winter. You can look forward to me sharing some of the things I learned from this book.

Have you ever had a professional energy audit done on your house? Would you want one done? Or do you just try to learn as much as you can and do it yourself?

If you want to participate in the Green Books campaign, make sure you check out the reviews of books on the campaign's list that look interesting to you.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

LED giveaway from Home Depot

We've been talking a lot about energy savings with the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge by way of saving money from home heating costs, either from electricity, oil or natural gas. Well, another way to reduce your energy costs is by switching from standard incandescent bulbs for home lighting to an alternative.

Over the last five or so years, the most accessible alternative has been compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). However, LED options are becoming more and more available. Currently, they are more expensive than CFLs, much like CFLs are more expensive than incandescent lighting. However, the cost savings in the long run (assuming they last as long as they purportedly are supposed to) more than makes up for the initial investment.

I'm sure a lot of you have eyeballed LED light bulbs at the store, but didn't want to spring for the $20 or so to pick up a light or two. I know I have. So, I jumped at the chance when the Home Depot offered to send me a selection of LED lights to try out and review. I also managed to convince them to help spread the love to some lucky readers.

Most of the Home Depot's LED options are still fairly limited and I'm hoping that a larger selection is on the way in the near future. Of the LED bulbs that I received, the most comparable one was the 40 watt LED standard sized light bulb. It seemed like it put out as much light, as advertised, but without the warm glow of an incandescent, so really not that much different than a CFL.

What the heck is an LED light?
What's the big difference? Longevity. An LED bulb will last years (15 years!), longer than any comparable CFL bulb and you don't have the issue of mercury disposal when you do need to replace them.

If you are not familiar with LED bulbs, here are a few stats from the Home Depot website.
  • An LED is a light emitting diode capable of illuminating any space in your home.
  • LEDs generate a high level of brightness using less power than incandescent bulbs.
  • LEDs last up to 100,000 hours, 100 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
  • Using LEDs can dramatically reduce maintenance and replacement costs.
  • LEDs are reliable, safe and durable, solid state devices with no moving parts.
  • LEDs do not contain glass, filaments, UV light, or mercury.
  • Longer life makes LED light bulbs less likely to create environmental waste.
  • The size and digital nature of the bulb offers innovative technology.
  • LED lights have an instant re-strike and are fully dimmable with no humming or buzzing

Giveaway
In honor of turning our clocks back an hour this morning, I'm hosting an LED light bulb giveaway sponsored by Home Depot and their selection of LED light bulbs. I don't know about you but, where I live, Daylight Savings Time means that I have to turn the lights on about 4:00pm if I want to see my hand in front of my face. Using energy saving light bulbs saves me a ton of money.

Here's the meat of the giveaway:

Three (3) random winners will receive 1 EcoSmart LED A19 40 Watt Equivalent light bulb

One (1) grand prize winner will receive a $200 Home Depot gift card to re-fit their home with LED EcoSmart bulbs

How to enter
If you are interested in entering the random drawing, please add your name to the comments of this post and tell me what you think about your lighting. Do you love incandescents and refuse to give them up and hate CFLs or are you happy with the energy saving alternatives. You have until midnight PST this Friday, November 12th to enter. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.

Good luck!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Biggest issue with turning down the heat

One of the questions that Teresa Yuan from King 5 television asked me yesterday morning when she came to interview me about this year's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge was what is the biggest issue that people have with turning down their thermostat? That question, coupled with what questions do most people have about lowering the temperature, got me wondering what you think.

For most of the general public, the issue is really just wanting to live at a comfortable 70+ degrees. But, a lot of you in the past have said it was trying to convince others that live in your house to turn the heat down. Then there are issues of moisture and mold if it's too cold and concerns of freezing pipes and freezing babies, toddlers and sensitive pets.

So, what's your biggest concern with turning down the heat? I know it's not saving too much money.

If you still haven't signed up yet for this year's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge, git to it!

And make sure you check back this Sunday, I'm doing a huge energy saving giveaway courtesy of The Home Depot! I know, I know, but this one is worth it...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hades on Earth

Christine over at Peak Oil Hausfrau wrote a brilliantly funny account of how, due to global warming, denizens of the underworld are planning on colonizing Earth. If you have even the remotest interest in global climate change, transition towns and peak oil, go check it out!

Here's a snippet:
December 12, 2011 -- Ninth Level of Hell, Expansion Division

Hell today announced a new Pilot Colonization Program to relocate demons, devils, incubi, succubi, and Damned Souls to the surface of the Earth, starting as early as 2012. Lucifer Jr., Senior Executive Vice-President of Hades, explained the rationale behind the new program: "From our perspective, warming Earth temperatures offers an infernally perfect solution for the overcrowding we've been experiencing in Hell for the last 66 years. As the planet heats up, Earth will present a terrific opportunity for Hell's growth and expansion."

...

However, legal experts say that Hell's colonization of land owned by various Satanic holding companies is all perfectly legal. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, an avid property-rights advocate, observed, "Some people say that Demons belong in Hell. I tend to agree, but Satan has purchased this real estate through legitimate and proper channels. What would happen if we tried to just nullify all the contracts that we didn't like? Chaos, that's what!"

...
You can read the rest here.

Thanks, Christine, for brightening, er, darkening my day!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Just call me pine mouth

We got a huge wad of kale in our sailboat CSA on Sunday morning so I decided to whip up a batch for lunch. I've been doing this thing where I'll sautee kale (or chard) in olive oil with shredded carrots, adding water as it cooks. I also throw in onion powder, garlic, salt, pepper and whatever else I feel like adding. It makes for an extremely tasty alternative to the higher fat version that I make, which entails heavy whipping cream and Parmesan cheese, which is slightly not as good for you.

Monday evening I started eating dinner and from the first bite, things tasted weird. I asked my husband if his vegetables (not kale) tasted okay and he said it was fine. I noticed everything had an odd bitter, metallic taste to it and just assumed I had eaten something that had thrown my taste buds off.

By Tuesday, I was still experiencing a problem. I didn't notice it in the morning, but by afternoon my apple tasted weird and, again, my dinner was even more bitter and metallic. I thought maybe it had to do with some new supplements I started taking and was a little concerned that it might be something more physical.

I know some nutritional deficiencies or a little too much of something can throw off your sense of taste. Since I had spent a good part of the afternoon trying to decipher a bunch of wonky lab results for my toxin body burden testing for my book (hello tungsten and molybdenum, why are you so high?), I figured anything was game.

So, I went to my trusty Google to see what I could find. I ran into a number of people claiming they had the same problem after eating pine nuts. Pine nuts! I had loaded up my kale on Sunday with pine nuts to make it a more substantial meal. According to wikipedia:

A small minority of pine nuts can cause taste disturbances, developing 1–3 days after consumption and lasting for days or weeks. A bitter, metallic taste is described. Though very unpleasant, there are no lasting effects... Some publications have made reference to this phenomenon as "pine mouth". This is a relatively newly noticed phenomenon.

The Nestle Research Centre has hypothesized that a particular species of Chinese pine nuts is the cause of the problem. The suspect species of pine nuts are smaller, duller, and more rounded than typical pine nuts. This agrees with the findings of ødevarestyrelsen (Danish food ministry), which ties the symptoms to "illegitimate" nuts from Pinus armandii (Chinese white pine) and Pinus massoniana (Chinese red pine), which have a different fatty acid than "genuine" pine nuts, being mixed with "genuine" pine nuts in China to meet export demands.

Metallic taste disturbance, known as metallogeusia, is reported 1–3 days after ingestion, being worse on day 2 and lasting for up to 2 weeks. Cases are self-limited and resolve without treatment.

This does bring up the issue of food safety. This isn't the first time we've seen Chinese products "padded" with filler foods. When we buy nuts, we always buy in bulk and choose organic, but we don't have that option at the store we frequent for pine nuts. I suspect that we got a batch of pseudo-pine nuts because I've never had this happen before.

This apparently has become an emerging problem over the last few years with it peaking this last summer. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency is looking into the issue. As to be expected, in spite of complaints, the FDA is sitting on its hands.

The pine nuts I ate are relatively fresh, so I know that rancidity (which is an issue with these high fat tasty little nuts) isn't the problem. In any case, I thought I'd share my experience with you in case you buy pine nuts for the pesto I'm sure you make from all that basil you grow in the summer. I tell you, though, I'm going to be leary about the pine nuts I buy in the future. Several weeks of pine mouth is really unpleasant. Although it could be the next popular diet aid since it makes everything taste nasty.

Have you ever experienced pine mouth? Or even heard of it?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

SodaStream Penguin winner

I'm so excited for the winner of this contest, I can barely stand it. Not only is it a super cool gadget (and expensive at that), but it will help reduce her plastic and/or glass usage tremendously.

So, without further ado...

The winner of the SodaStream Penguin Starter Kit that includes the:
  • Penguin Sparkling Water & Soda Machine
  • 2 Penguin Glass Carafes
  • 2 60 Liter Carbonators
  • Sparkling Naturals - Pink Grapefruit concentrate 750 ml
  • Sparkling Naturals - Orange Pineapple concentrate 750 ml
  • MyWater Flavor Essence - Variety pack
is....

Courtney Cable from the blog A Life Sustained, who wrote:
Holy cow, this is awesome! I've been coveting one of these for the longest time. My husband drinks lime Mendota Springs like it's goin' out of style and I would love the chance to switch us over to a homemade option. When I was a kid, we had a Soda Stream machine and got our canisters and syrups from the Schwann's man. Many, many happy childhood memories.

Congratulations, Courtney!!!! Please email your contact information to crunchychickenblog@gmail.com.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Freeze Yer Buns 2010 kick-off

Welcome to the first day of the fourth annual Freeze Yer Buns Challenge. It's the start of five months of keeping the thermostat at a lower temperature than you normally keep it, not just for saving a boat load of money, but also for reducing your carbon footprint as well.

Saving a ton of money
Last year, when I called our oil company to get some information, I got some stats about our energy usage and how it's changed. Before we started doing this challenge, we used 500 gallons of heating oil a year. The average for our area (Seattle) is 600 gallons. Last year, we used only 250 gallons of heating oil. All in all, we save about $750 a year by lowering our thermostat and occasionally using electric space heaters to heat the rooms we are in.

This year I'm expecting our savings to be even higher because we are keeping the temperatures even lower than last year. It's going to be three degrees cooler during the day and three degrees cooler at night (62 day and 55 night). Since I work from home now, I'll be cuddling under a down throw while I'm writing and so far it's been manageable. If it's gets any warmer in here, I find it to be too warm. Anything above 65 is too hot.

Reducing our carbon footprint by the ton
The average Seattle household emits 3.75 metric tons of CO2 per year due to home heating. Since we started this challenge, we've dropped our thermostat by 10 degrees. For every 3 degrees lowered, we save 1/2 ton of CO2. That means we've dropped our CO2 emissions due to home heating by about 1.7 tons of CO2 per year.

Want to see some big savings yourselves? Well, come join in on the fun! It doesn't need to be uncomfortable or cold. I'll be sharing tips on how to keep the heat you generate in your house and stay warm with the heat you do have.

Kick your carbon footprint in the balls
If you haven't yet signed up for this year's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge, go on over and sign up! This year's participants will be eligible for some fun and exciting giveaways like a home energy audit and a few other surprises.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hang 'Em Dry Challenge Wrap Up

Well, I certainly went out with a bang in October's Hang 'Em Dry Challenge where you can pledge to line or otherwise air dry all your laundry for the month.

This week has been crazy with a capital C. Between being sick, prepping to film for local TV and crappy weather, I ended up using the dryer for far more than I wanted to. We had a couple days of semi-decent weather, but between the cold and humidity our clothes dried at a glacial pace. Some of the loads I did were bedding that couldn't wait three days to dry.

Total dryer time used: 300 minutes
Total dryer time saved: 180 minutes

I think this last week represents a lot more of the average of how our winter will look like as far as air drying clothes goes. In other words, I'll probably be able to squeak three or four loads in per week where I'm air drying them. The biggest issue overall is really trying to keep the total amount of laundry down (which I'll cover in another post). I don't generate much laundry, but I can't say the same for the rest of the household.

The other big issue has more to do with humidity and lack of heat in the house. It's difficult to dry clothes in the basement when it's in the 50s and 60s with high humidity. The clothes start stinking something terrible and that just means we would have to resort to more intensive cleaning agents, which I'm not willing to do.

So, all in all, I'd say we can safely air dry our laundry at least half of the year. The rest of the year, we'll have to see how it goes.

Total Savings
All in all, we saved about 32 hours of drying time for the month. Since I started doing this challenge at the beginning of August, I would say that I've saved about 100 hours of drying time altogether. That's like running the dryer all day for 4 days straight. Which is ridiculous when you think about it.

How did the challenge go for you?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Greening the Dead Carnival

Just in time for Halloween and the Day of the Dead, I'm hosting a green burial/death carnival as part of the Green Mom's Carnival. Unfortunately, death is something we talk about a little too frequently in this household and the discussion of, how shall we say, "disposal", has come up a number of times.

Even though my husband's cancer numbers have been going down, we still talk about the inevitable and our conversation about a green burial, which I wrote about a few years ago in the post, What to do when you're dead, usually revolves around groundwater contamination. I wonder, given all the drugs my husband takes, if a green burial for him would end up being a super-fund site. I know it sounds morbid, but if we are going to plan for things, this kind of stuff comes up.

In order to get others to think about it too, the Green Moms Carnival has posted blogs about the various aspects of keeping it green all the way to the very end.

Anna at Green Talk covers sustainable caskets. In her post, she interviews the creator of a casket that is made out of long fiber recycled paper and water. No toxins, glues, formaldehydes or anything. So, if you have to have a casket (and most places do require one, even for cremation), this is one sustainable way of achieving that.

Tiffany from Nature Moms thinks about what she wants done with her own remains and discusses what is not so green about funerals, burials, and cremation and goes over some greener choices.

Harriet from Climatemama brings up the question of how can we sustain burials if there are no trees for coffins? Between climate change, fires, invasive species and other pests, much of our nation's forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate.

Beth from Fake Plastic Fish likens green burials to composting your body. In her post, she contemplates her own demise and gives a well thought out description of what she wants done when she joins that giant plastic patch in the sky. I get dibs on her brain!

Jennifer from Puddle Jumping in DC goes into grave detail about the ins and outs of donating your body to science. She also contemplates donating her husband to the Bodies Exhibit, although the plastination process doesn't sound very green.

Karen at Best of Mother Earth emphasis pre-planning. You don't want to wait until the last minute of life to figure out the details of a green death. And Karen has her last wishes pre-planned out to the very smallest, if not illegal, details. Which may just involve a truck and a shovel. Let's hope that her kids wait until she's dead first. Just sayin'.

Diane of Big Green Purse puts the cart before the horse and asks to be buried before she dies. Not literally, but she wants to have her wake while she is still alive, so she can enjoy it with the ones she loves.

Lynn at Organic Mania goes old school when it comes to death and burial and describes how her ancestors in Bermuda handled the problem of burials in a country made up of limestone and coral. It gives the term "stacking" a whole new twist.

Karen mentions in her post (and, really, how this carnival came about) how standard funerals and burials are really a money making racket. Our local funeral home even offers a hybrid green cremation that costs $5400 (plus sales tax!?) for a willow casket, a biodegradable urn and a service. That's one expensive bonfire.

Finally, I love the concept of the Day of the Dead where you celebrate those loved ones who have passed on, honoring them with their favorite foods, gifts and more. Putting up pictures and having a party every year helps keep them close.

Do you have plans for a green demise or is this something you have even thought about for yourself or your family?

Image courtesy of White Eagle.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

SodaStream Penguin review and giveaway

We've been using the Penguin soda maker from SodaStream for about three years now, mostly for making sparkling water that we add our own syrups to or for making some fabulous mojitos using the mint from our backyard.

It's convenient because we generally don't have sparkling water or tonic water on hand, so if we want to whip up something besides water, tea or coffee, we've got the penguin to chirp our way into sparkling goodness. Chirp you ask? Well, when you are carbonating the water, you know it's done when the penguin makes a chirping noise. The kids get pretty excited about it too, because it's like a little mini science experiment.

Anyway, we've also been known to make actual soda from it using their flavored syrups, mostly Root Beer, Cream Soda and the like. The cool thing about their soda syrups is that they use actual sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup and, if diet soda is your thang, they have that option as well, using Splenda as the sweetener.

They also have a new line of Sparkling Naturals in a bunch of fruity flavors like Orange Pineapple and Apple Mango, that I was able to try out. I normally don't go for regular sodas and diet sodas because I don't like all the artificial ingredients that tend to be in them, but the Sparkling Naturals literally have no artificial colors, flavors or sugars in them. You can check out the ingredients list here.

The reason why I really like the Penguin (besides the cute noises it makes) is the fact that the carafes are made out of glass. You get two with the SodaStream maker so you can have more than one flavor going at a time, plus you don't have to worry about plastics leaching into your beverage. One of the things I was concerned about when getting this product was replacing the cartridges. Well, it turns out we can exchange them at a kitchen store down the street from our place (you can see a map of where you can find their products), so it really ends up being super inexpensive if you tend to drink a lot of carbonated beverages. And you will go through tons less plastic in the process.

Yeah! There's a Giveaway!
SodaStream has been nice enough to sponsor a giveaway of one of their Penguin Starter Kits that includes the:
  • Penguin Sparkling Water & Soda Machine
  • 2 Penguin Glass Carafes
  • 2 60 Liter Carbonators
  • Sparkling Naturals - Pink Grapefruit concentrate 750 ml
  • Sparkling Naturals - Orange Pineapple concentrate 750 ml
  • MyWater Flavor Essence - Variety pack
This starter set plus the soda mixes retail for $280 so I'm really excited about the opportunity to give this set away to one of my readers.

To be entered in this randomly drawn giveaway, please add your name to the comments of this post and tell me what your favorite sparkly beverage is. You have until midnight PST on Sunday, October 31st to enter this spooktacular giveaway. Good luck!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Freeze Yer Buns on local TV

This Friday, a local TV camera team is coming to my house to film a segment on this year's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge to cover some brief details of the challenge as well as get some tips on how to survive in a low-heat environment.

This year I'm planning on focusing a little less on suffering and more on making your home more comfortable with lower temperatures. I'll be focusing on that aspect rather than on the "how cold am I" one during the interview. In any case, I'll let you know if and when there's a link to the segment available.

If you haven't yet signed up for this year's challenge, the basics of it are to encourage participants to lower their thermostat in order to save money and reduce their carbon footprint.

This year I've got some great giveaways, including some gadgets to help keep your home warm as well as a home energy audit. So, if you want to be eligible for them, make sure you sign up for this year's challenge!

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