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.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tripod laundry rack winner!

It's not too late to sign up for October's Hang 'Em Dry Challenge where you can pledge to line or otherwise air dry all your laundry for the month.

I'm trying to get at least 100 households to pledge to not use their dryers for the month. If 100 households don't use their dryers for a month it will save ~11,100 pounds of CO2 emissions. That's 5.5 tons of carbon!

If you could tweet or Facebook or otherwise help out I would be much appreciative!

"Join 100 families to save $ and 5.5 tons of CO2 by air drying your laundry in October's Hang Em Dry Challenge: http://tinyurl.com/27khd9a"

You can also help promote the line drying laundry challenge by adding the pledge badge to your blog. The code can be found on the main challenge page.

Now, for the exciting stuff... The winner of the wooden tripod Best Drying Rack is:

Caron of the blog, Itty Corbitty

Congrats Caron!

Please send your mailing info to crunchychickenblog@gmail.com and I'll have it sent to you. Congrats!

PamG in AZ

Okay PamG, you already won one laundry rack, but I appreciate the other entry! Please send your mailing information to crunchychickenblog@gmail.com

Thanks!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No ma'am, no mammogram

I went to the doctor recently for a long overdue "annual" exam and since I'm now of a certain age, the topic of mammograms came up. I've read a bunch of conflicting information on mammograms lately, mostly revolving around the number of false positives, overdiagnosis and the medical machinery one gets trapped in if something does show up. My doctor did mention that other countries, Western Europe mainly, don't start doing mammograms until women are 50.

I asked her what the recommendation was and she said that it's every year starting at forty and if you have three clear years, then you can do it every other year. Which sounded like a lot to me, given the fact that they don't seem tremendously accurate and, given the fact that I know of women who have had something show up on a mammogram and freak out over it and get a ton of treatment and all the while they aren't sure exactly if treatment was actually necessary in the first place.

There are other diagnostic tools, but they are expensive or have higher amounts of radiation and I'm still at a quandary of what to do. I don't have any history of breast cancer in my family, took low dose birth control pills only briefly, breastfed for two years and have no history of anything suspicious. My doctor was in the middle of offering me choices of where to get it done (there are three nearby facilities) when I told her I wanted to think about it. She was kind of shocked, I think, and then stated, "well you did just turn 40." Like I was a ticking time bomb.

New guidelines suggest that screening mammograms should be done every two years beginning at age 50 for women at average risk of breast cancer. But the Mayo Clinic still recommends screening mammograms start at age 40. What the heck are we supposed to do with this conflicting information?

I discussed this with my husband, who knows all about cancer and it's happy fun times and false info. He suggested I take her advice and get a base line mammogram, and if there's anything that shows up, ignore it and get tested again in a year.

I told him that's all fine and good, but there's no way anyone can comfortably ignore a potentially cancerous tumor once you know it's there, even if it's just a spot. You're going to want to aspirate it and fall into the cogs of treatment. Not to mention that increased exposure to radiation from all those mammograms increases the risk of cancer and the fact that compression can increase the risk of cancer cells spreading if, in fact, they do already exist in the breast.

I haven't decided much of anything yet, so I thought I'd ask my readers what you do, did or what you think about mammograms and their necessity in women under 50, or 45, for that matter. What say ye?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Meet the Crunchy Chickens

Well, I suppose it's about time that the Crunchy Chicken finally got some chickens. Saturday, my husband and I headed down south near Mt. Rainier to pick up some started pullets for our coop, which was finally finished last week. It was a long drive because of some nasty traffic, but it was well worth the trip in the end.

And, without further ado, here are our chickens.

Roxy, the black and white one, is a Plymouth Barred Rock. Sarah, is a White Orpington. They are both 7 months old and are laying every day.


Sarah makes an amazing amount of noise when Roxy is working her egg delivering magic in the nest. She's either announcing to the world that there's an egg on the way, or she's pissed because Roxy is hogging the nest box. Of course, there are two boxes, but that doesn't mean she can't squeeze on in there with her when Roxy is laying.


Roxy is the dominant bird and is definitely the more intelligent of the two. Sarah, bless her big, fluffy bottom is not too bright. Fortunately, Roxy leads the way, solving all the difficult problems, like how to handle the crust side of a butt of bread. No, Sarah, it's not a rock!


Chloe is finally coming out of her shell. She spent the first two days up in the coop on the roost. She's an Americauna / Rhode Island Red mix. So, she looks a little like each breed. She'll lay green eggs when she's gets around to it and will be productive like a RIR. She's only about 5 months old and is at the bottom of the pecking order.

I suspect when she gets bigger she'll be more bossy. She's not lumbersome like the other two. This girl is fast and actually tries to take flight when I'm trying to chicken wrangle her back into the coop. She's got this great little feathery cheek thing going on. Chloe, I like your beard.


Needless to say, the kids are ecstatic about the chickens and have spent hours watching Chicken TV. Except when Emma got pecked by Roxy when she had her cornered and was going in for some heavy petting. I think Roxy had better ideas about how to spend her free ranging time. Like searching for bugs.

Mangoes? Yes. Tomatoes? No. Salmon? Better than crack.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tripod clothes drying rack giveaway!

In anticipation of October's Hang 'Em Dry Challenge, where you can pledge to line dry all of your laundry for the month to save money on utilities as well as reduce your carbon footprint, I have another clothes drying rack to give away! So, if you missed out on the last one, now's your chance to win a rack - this one has a little more utility to it!

If you are having problems with the accordion style drying racks that tend to get wobbly over time, but like the convenience of a rack that you can move inside when the weather starts looking suspicious, then you'll like this tripod style wooden clothes drying rack. It has 24 feet of clothes hanging capacity and, the best part is, it is adjustable to fit any space, even in the corner.

The Best Drying Rack is a U.S. made rack from a small-scale manufacturer and is constructed of maple hardwood and corrosion resistant steel construction (no plastic parts). It sets up quickly and folds up for storage to an 8" round and 27" tall closed rack.

What's also cool is that the top rotates for loading so you don't have to scoot around it to hang your clothes. It's also sturdy enough to dry six pairs of jeans or twelve bath towels at once.

Giveaway!
If you are interested in entering the randomly drawn giveaway (U.S. residents only), please add your name to the comments of this post and check out the challenge to kick-start saving money and reducing your carbon emissions by a thousand pounds of carbon a year or more!

You have until midnight PST Wednesday, September 29th to enter. Good luck!

Friday, September 24, 2010

WindowDry laundry rack winner!

And the winner of the WindowDry Indoor Drying Rack is...

PamG, who stated, "This would sure be a help. I live in a seniors' mobile home park that won't allow clotheslines. (But I sneak and use one sometimes anyway!)"

Go, Pam, you rebel, you!

Please send your mailing info to crunchychickenblog@gmail.com and I'll have it sent to you. Congrats!

For the rest of you, be not depressed. I will be having a different rack giveaway next week for October's Hang 'Em Dry Challenge. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dangerous lingerie

And I don't mean the kind that will get you pregnant.

This month's Green Moms Carnival, hosted by Diane and her Big Green Purse, is all about the environmental issues with clothing. We've all discussed the benefits of organic fabrics, reuse, refashioning and the like, so I thought I'd tackle an altogether different aspect of the health and environmental impact of... dangerous lingerie.

Most lingerie, especially the kind found in adult sex shops are made of synthetic fabrics and are not only just scratchy, but are in general, just not the healthiest fabrics to be putting near your genitalia due to residual formaldehyde, flame retardants and polyurethane fibers, but also because they generally don't breathe. Although, for some purposes, the garments aren't exactly meant to be worn for very long.

The bigger issue is really adult wear that is made out of vinyl or PVC. The selections are innumerable, ranging from bustiers, corsets and cat suits to Halloween costume style role play. I suspect that few of my readers have a closet full of PVC sex wear but, you never know. What's the problem with PVC, aside from the fact that they stink?

Well, that stink is all the off-gassing of VOC's (volatile organic compounds) from chemicals such as phthalates which are used to make plastics flexible. Phthalates are endocrine distruptors and can interfere with hormone levels. You breathe this into your lungs which then heads into your bloodstream, along with a whole host of other chemicals potentially being absorbed by your skin and mucous membranes - unless you sprang for the crotchless version, you dirty thing, you!

What's the big deal about a little hot phthalates and sex? If you do plan on getting pregnant as a result of your dangerous lingerie, you can bet your unborn baby boy would appreciate not being exposed to contaminants that will reduce the distance between his anus and penis (resulting in an anis? or panus?), and/or cause his testicles to not drop or, worse yet, have a smaller penis.

If you aren't planning on getting knocked up as a result of your night o' bondage, you yourself can plan on an increased risk of a damaged liver and kidneys and a number of different cancers. Oh, and you can throw a little infertility in there while you are at it.

What if you desperately want that super sexy skintight catsuit? Skip the pleather and spring for the leather or just go with a non-toxic or edible body paint instead. Your lungs, unborn children and all your organs (and your partner's) will thank you for it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Keeping your drugs out of my mug

The following is a draft excerpt from my book on toxins in the environment that will be coming out in 2011 from New Society Publishers:

My husband came home from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance the other day with a brochure on the proper disposal of prescription drugs. It was extremely timely since I was working on researching contaminants in our drinking water and prescriptions drugs were clearly something to think about. It was also pertinent because we have innumerable prescription drugs from my husband’s various cancer treatments and stem-cell transplants to dispose of.

Drugs such as birth control pills, mood stabilizers, steroids, antibiotics and narcotics flow unfettered through our waterways and, unfortunately, sewage treatment plants aren't engineered to remove them. They end up affecting the fish and aquatic animals and, ultimately, come right back around as our drinking water. No amount of chlorine in the drinking water is going to remove these contaminants so, in the end, it comes full circle and those used (and excreted) drugs that get flushed, get shared by everyone. Not too surprisingly, the brochure specifically says not to flush them down the toilet.

There are two recommended methods for the disposal of prescription drugs. I was somewhat amused by their first suggestion, but the idea is to mix unused prescription drugs with an undesirable substance such as used coffee grounds or used kitty litter, put them in a zip lock bag and throw them away.

This method is really to prevent children and pets (and possibly dumpster divers?) from snacking on the drugs. I'm not sure how effective this is, particularly if you have a dog, since they would regard the kitty litter and pills as a nice, tasty snack of Kitty Roca.

The runner-up method is to take them to a pharmaceutical take-back location, but they strongly encourage the first option, according to the federal guidelines. I don't know what they do with the drugs at the take-back locations, but I'm assuming they aren't flushing them down the toilet.

Unfortunately, you can't return narcotics or controlled substances to the pharmacies on the list - those drugs have to be returned to a law enforcement agency. I guess they don't trust the employees of the take-back locations to manage my huge bag of high-street-valued narcotics from when my husband was very ill.

I also don’t know what hazards there are from the degradation of the plastic entombed pills n’ poop in the landfill and the leaching out into groundwater but I suppose, at the very least, it's a less direct route than merely flushing them down the toilet where they end up readily in the waterways and in tap water.

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Aside from proper disposal, the best thing is really, to take all of your medicine as prescribed by your doctor or, better yet (if possible), avoid them in the first place by staying healthy and relying on other, less toxic, ways of managing your health.

To find a take-back location in your area, check with the DEA's collection site database where you can search by zipcode or city/state.

What do you do with old prescription drugs? Or, what do you take instead of pharmaceuticals to deal with health issues?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Craft Challenge update numero dos

Just keep sewing, just keep sewing...

I've been spending so much time working on stitching together the quilt I made for my daughter that my hand is actually sore. It took me some time to figure out why my hand was hurting me but, between the quilt and making napkins with some cute Halloween fabric, I think I'm getting hand-sewer fingeritis from using tiny finger muscles that heretofore haven't gotten as much exercise.

I know, I'm cheating on the Craft Challenge, where you were supposed to pick one of your unfinished craft projects and pledge to finish it by the end of September without starting anything new. But, four out of five napkins are done and at least I'm making serious progress on the quilt.

I'll have some updated pictures posted in my next update. I'm not sure if I'll have completely finished the quilt by the end of the month, but I'll definitely have it done in time for Emma's birthday at the end of October. Just in time to cozy down in cooler weather with a brand new quilt, hand-sewed by Mom!

How is your Craft Challenge coming along?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Indoor laundry drying rack giveaway!

Shortly after I posted the question asking people if they line dried their laundry year round, I got an email from the owner of a business that manufacturers indoor drying racks, who also reads my blog. Interestingly enough, this guy lives quite close to me and wanted to drop one off for me to check out. He uses all sustainable materials and the racks are hand crafted by laid off carpenters. This contrasts from most drying racks in the market in that they are made oversees and shipped over here.

The WindowDry Indoor Drying Rack was developed by the owner out of necessity because the large, bulky rack he was using was continually being knocked down by his 90 pound golden retriever and 4-year-old daughter. He decided to build a rack that could be mounted up and out of the way yet be near or on a window. It was important for the rack to be easily mounted and removed.

His motivation for having the rack on or near a window was twofold: ventilation from outside and solar assistance. One of the first questions people ask after seeing this rack is how much weight does it support using suction cups? According to the website, it supports over 25 pounds (average load of wet laundry weighs 11 lbs), but the owner has tested it with his 36 pound daughter and she lived to tell about it!

Review
I've been using this rack, mounted in our basement bathroom next to the laundry room to handle overflow from our other two racks. It attaches well to the tile and does, indeed, handle quite a few clothes. I can't say that it would hold one load of laundry, but it's great for all the socks, underwear and other, lighter items that I don't want on display in my backyard for the neighbors to see and, more importantly, blowing off in the wind on our other racks.

Even though it's in an area without great airflow, everything dries quickly and it's totally out of the way. There's only one improvement I'd like besides a little larger capacity is that the bottom suction cups don't line up under the top ones. Since I've got it mounted in a tile shower, the top suction cups are attached but the lower two fall on the tile grout and I can't get a great seal. I can't get it to mount anywhere on the tile where all four suctions cups are on tile.

Giveaway!
Other than that, I love the little bugger and I'm excited about the opportunity to give one away to help jump start the Hang 'Em Dry Challenge this October, where you can pledge to air dry all your laundry for one month. One thing that I've learned about successful air drying of laundry is to make sure you have enough hanging space and this little rack holds quite a bit more than it looks.

If you are interested in entering the randomly drawn giveaway (U.S. residents only), please add you name to the comments of this post and check out the challenge. You have until midnight PST Wednesday, September 22nd to enter. Good luck!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Should women be punished for abortion?

The issue of abortion brings up many topics relative to environmentalism, human rights, women's rights, women's health, religion and a whole host of personal freedoms. Aside from the obvious issues pertaining to world population and the access to abortions, I wanted to bring up the problem with making abortions illegal.

Abortion is clearly an issue that divides this country with a good proportion of Americans believing that abortion should be illegal for a variety of personal, religious or ethical reasons. But, when asked, many anti-abortionists don't have a clear answer for how one should be punished for this crime.

In other words, let's say that abortion is made illegal, what should the penalty be for getting an abortion? Because history has shown that making abortions illegal doesn't stop abortions from happening. It just makes them less safe for the woman. And they will continue.

At a Libertyville anti-abortion demonstration, these people were questioned about their opinion as to how women should be punished if they have an illegal abortion and many of them didn't have an answer. Most felt that the woman shouldn't be punished, but the question was rightfully put to them that, if it's illegal, shouldn't they be punished?

What other crime of this supposed magnitude (particularly one where it is analogous to murder), or really any magnitude, goes without punishment? They didn't seem to think about this next, obvious step in making abortions illegal, and many of them had been involved in the anti-abortion movement for several years.

What about you? If you feel that abortions should be illegal, should women serve jail time? If so, how long? Should it be treated as murder? Life sentence or the death penalty?

And, if there is no penalty for obtaining an illegal abortion, then what's the point of making it illegal if there is no punishment?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Accurate line drying predictions

I'm going to let you in on a little secret of mine. I've been heavily relying on technology for line drying my clothes outside. And, it's not some super duper fancy rack that hangs the clothes by itself. No, it's something on the intarwebs.

If you are planning on letting the sun and the wind help dry your clothes, you're going to need some help in predicting the weather for the day and week in order to plan your laundry accordingly. Since it's nearly impossible to know what the weather is going to do from hour to hour, using some modern technology can help you know when to bring that laundry back inside. That's how I've been planning my laundry for the last few weeks.

What is it already? It's the weather.com hour-by-hour weather report. I've found it to be relatively accurate and it's super helpful to know whether or not it will get sunny and when or whether I should wait to put out my clothes. Since it also tells you what the percent chance of rain it will be, I can hedge my bets that way as well.

For example, the current hourly weather report for my area is rain, followed by sun in the late afternoon, so I know I will be keeping it inside most of the day. But, when there's a break in the weather, I'll know about that too so I can huck it out there for a few hours.

Go check it out. You can thank me later.

If you still haven't signed up for October's Hang 'Em Dry Challenge, where you pledge to air/line dry all your laundry, git on over there and do it!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to Make Blackberry Wine - Part II

If you are just now joining in on the process of making blackberry wine from fresh blackberries (preferably just picked), you can read about Part I here.

Taking off from where I left off, after letting the wine sit unmolested for a week, now is the time to drain off the wine must, add some more sugar syrup and let it burble some more.

Additional Ingredients:

Sugar Syrup
5 1/3 ounces water
4 ounces sugar (about 3/4 cup)

Bring water and sugar to boiling and heat until sugar goes into the solution. Let the sugar syrup cool to room temperature (below 100 degrees F).

While the sugar syrup is cooling, remove the cloth from the container where the blackberries have been resting. Strain the blackberries through cheesecloth into a sterilized container, squeezing out as much of the juice as possible. Add the cooled sugar syrup and mix thoroughly. If you are reusing the original container, clean and sterilize before pouring the blackberry wine back in.

There are a few options for creating the right environment at this point. Many people will stuff wool into the neck of the bottle to allow the bubbling to escape, but prevent contamination. Others will use a balloon, but I can't recommend that method as several others have complained that it imparts a rubber taste to the wine, and you probably don't want that.

I had an airlock for when I was attempting the hard apple cider in the past. It didn't fit the neck (it was too small), so I retrofitted the airlock by cutting the original cap for the milk bottle a little smaller that the airlock and pushed it in that way. I'm hoping this is providing a good seal, but I guess I'll find out soon.

Let the blackberry wine (sans its solids) bubble away for ten days and then come back and check here for Part III of how to make blackberry wine. The next step involves bottling the wine, so if you are making it, you'll want to come here first to make sure you have all the equipment ahead of time.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hang 'em Dry Challenge

Air or line drying laundry is something that many of us still find challenging, particularly when the convenience of a dryer is mere inches away from the washing machine. In many western countries, few people use a dryer and will air dry year round, regardless of outside temperatures and in spite of a lack of indoor space. They get creative, using indoor racks, and hangers, shower space and whatever nooks and crannies they can find. The excuses we use in the United States just don't fly in other areas of the world.

How do we get over our addiction to drying machines and stop using excuses when, if you get down to it, are really just excuses and not real justifications? What is the real savings, both from a monetary standpoint and a carbon emissions one? One thing I love about air drying laundry is that, after some initial investment in racks or lines, it's free.

Why bother?
Here are some of the benefits (depending on how much laundry you do and whether or not you have to pay coin-operated machines):
  • You save $150 or more per year in energy costs or coins
  • You reduce your carbon emissions by about a thousand pounds or more
  • You create less wear and tear on your clothes
  • Air drying eliminates static cling
  • If you dry outside, the UV light from the sun can help disinfect clothing
The Challenge
The Hang 'em Dry Challenge is a challenge to get you to line dry all of your laundry for the month of October. Preferably, you'll air dry all of your laundry and not use your dryer at all, but, since it's October (and might be moist in your area), if you need to finish off drying a load, that is allowed as long as it doesn't take more than 15 minutes to finish drying it.

Giveaways
As part of this challenge, I'll be doing some fun giveaways, including an indoor and a tripod laundry rack, so keep your eyes peeled for that!

Pledge
If you are interested in signing up for this challenge, add your name to the comments of this post. You have a few weeks to get yourselves prepared, but if you don't want to spend much money, invest in an inexpensive clothesline and some clothespins and it shouldn't set you back more than $10.

Help promote!
If you want to put the challenge badge on your blog to help encourage people to start line drying their clothes, just use the following code:

<a href="http://www.thecrunchychicken.com/2010/09/hang-em-dry-challenge.html"><img width: 200px; height: 92px;" src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_8ndgSYbdkZ0/TI2tlu9fhsI/AAAAAAAADrE/ruZRr4jOKUY/s200/hangemdry2010.jpg" border="0" alt="Hang Em Dry Challenge 2010" /></a>

For more information on line drying laundry, make sure you check out Project Laundry!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Do you have the balls to dumpster dive?

Dive on in!With finances being tight these days, more and more people are cutting back on their spending. Many people are even doing something they probably weren't comfortable doing before: shopping at thrift stores. I know that, since I'll be out of work for six months writing my book and not working, I'll be frequenting the thrift stores if I need any clothes.

With the focus not only on saving money, but also on being environmentally friendly, it's become a little more socially acceptable to admit to getting that nice "new" sweater second-hand. In fact, there's even a sense of pride in finding a good deal.

More anonymous buying and selling of used goods through websites like Craigslist or eBay doesn't exactly have the same sort of stigma as neighborhood garage sales and have been accepted by many trying to make money selling their goods or getting a deal. So, how does this trend portend to the acceptance of dumpster diving?

If it were legal and socially acceptable, I think more people would be willing to give it a try. I know some people who (out of economic necessity) have a history of dumpster diving, but I imagine that many do it these days for environmental reasons either for food or goods. There are so many useful items and still edible foods that are thrown out each day, it seems a shame that these can't be rescued from the waste stream by interested people.

Not yet having the cojones to dumpster dive (although I feel a challenge coming on), I can't say much about it aside from being scared of trying it. That said, have you ever dumpster dived? Would you be willing to go dumpster diving?

If you are real interested, there's a movie, Dive! The Movie, that's available in fairly limited release that's a documentary about people going dumpster diving and why they do it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

How to Make Blackberry Wine - Part I

About a week ago, the kids and I walked down to their school for them to play on the playground and for me to pillage the blackberry hill. I had already made one trip down and gotten about a gallon of blackberries, which I turned into jam.

This trip I picked some for the hubs to make a blackberry cobbler with enough left over to attempt making some blackberry wine. I didn't want to get stuck with a huge amount of rancid liquid in case of failure, so I started small. About 5 cups worth (or a pound and a half) of blackberries.

Making wine is a multi-part effort. I had attempted making some hard apple cider a few years back and it failed miserably, but I did have some leftover wine yeast to work with so I figured it was worth the time.

I'm planning on posting all parts of the process. If you are catching this later, this is the first part.

Ingredients:

Blackberry mash
1.5 lbs blackberries
1/4 cup chopped raisins
1 1/3 cups water

Sugar Syrup
1 pint water
4 ounces sugar (about 3/4 cup)

Yeast mix
1/4 cup water (100 - 110 degrees F)
1/2 packet wine yeast

After rinsing and draining the blackberries, heat them with the water (1 1/3 cup) to a simmer and mash them down with a potato masher to release their juices. Add in the chopped raisins and stirred to mix.

Random notes: I added in raisins to give it more tannin flavors. Some people will throw in rinsed oak wood chips to impart an aged in oak flavor. Many recipes don't call for heating the blackberries, but I wanted to heat them to kill off any natural yeasts or other funky residues. Generally, people use campden tablets to kill yeast, but I didn't have any and didn't want to bother. So, we'll see how smart a move that is when I'm all done.

Leave the blackberry mixture to cool for a couple hours. While it's cooling, make the sugar syrup (basically bring the sugar and water to boil), so it also has a chance to cool to almost room temperature.

When the blackberry mixture and the sugar syrup are about room temperature (really, anything under 100 degrees is okay), mix the wine yeast with the warm water and then add the syrup and the yeast mix to the blackberry mixture, stirring it well together.

Pour the combined liquids into a sterilized container and cover with a clean cloth. I used a glass 1/2 gallon milk bottle. Be forewarned - you'll want to keep this mixture in a warmish area, but it does highly smell of yeast for the first day or so. So, if you don't want an area smelling like a bakery exploded, you might want to move this to an area not heavily trafficked.

Let this sit for a week and then you're ready for Part II.

Other random, smaller note: If you can't wait for all my posts on making wine, I'm basing my forays into winemaking on this set of instructions. It's also useful for those who want to make wine with larger quantities.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Back to (gross) school lunches

School finally started back in session today. I know many of you have students that started weeks ago, but we are the post-Labor Day crowd. Since my kids' lunchboxes are getting kind of worn (but still usable for a couple months) I wanted to make sure they had back-ups that were PVC and lead free, so I ordered some from Lands End. It's much worse to wait until you need them in a hurry and have to buy some off-gassing PVC product because you don't have time.

Buying their back-up lunchboxes reminded me of the crappy school lunches that are offered through our public schools. They certainly aren't as bad as in some areas, but they aren't good either. The times that I've visited the kids during lunch have always ended in me feeling sorry for those students who were eating the school lunch. I don't know if it's because they like them or because their parents don't have time to pack a lunch every day, but I'm always depressed watching them eat this, how to I put this delicately? Crap. And, I'm not the only parent.

Our school doesn't have a regular kitchen. It's staffed by nice folks who basically reheat frozen meals encased in plastic, covered with a plastic film and, no doubt, zapped in the microwave, potentially dripping yummy plastics back into the food. The food offerings are less than creative and, all told, it's just gross.

Where's Jamie Oliver when you need him? If you haven't heard of his Food Revolution to get better food in schools, now's a good time to learn about it. Not that I expect a celebrity chef to make much of a dent, but hopefully his focus on awareness will push parents into getting their local schools and districts into making better choices when it comes to the food offered in their schools.

If you are concerned about the lunches offered in your schools, please complete this survey hosted by Healthy Child, Healthy World in collaboration with Jamie Oliver.

What's the state of your kid's cafeteria? Do they eat the food there or do they pack a lunch?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Going from blogger to writer

Any time someone asks me what I do for a living, my knee-jerk answer is always "software developer", because that's my primary job and what I've been doing for the last 15 years. I have a degree in Computer Science and have done different development work from web application design to software architect and that's what I get paid for professionally.

So, when someone asks me what I do and it's in relation to my work on environmental issues, I never know what to say. Obviously, software engineer doesn't make sense, but I still don't feel like I can claim being a writer. I even have a hard time saying I'm a blogger. I usually just say, "oh, I write a blog." Which is dumb, because my blog is ranked in the top 2,700 blogs, so I should qualify as a blogger, at the very least.

Except recently, I've learned to start saying I'm an environmental writer. Especially since I'm taking a 6 month sabbatical from work starting next week to finish writing my book so it seems totally reasonable to claim I'm a writer, no? I mean, I have a publisher and all, some entity silly enough to pay me an advance, right? Yet, the word "writer" still gets stuck in my throat and won't come out.

I think it's mostly because when I think of "writer", I think of authors. Of real books. Or fiction writers or, really, anyone beside myself. Because I don't feel like I've yet earned the title of writer. But, I suppose writing almost daily posts for three and a half years sort of qualifies. And, when my book is published the title will feel more fitting.

But for now, I still feel like I'm a softbloggeriter.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Finding nature

We spent Labor Day Weekend here:


Sleeping here:


Hanging out with these guys:


Hiking through here:


Catching our breath here:


And yet the kids still loved seeing this:


And even this:


I'm always amazed at how kids can find nature fascinating even in its smallest forms.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Tattoo toxicity

The following is a draft excerpt from my book on environmental toxins that will be coming out in 2011 from New Society Publishers:

My sea turtle tattooIn 2004, the American Environmental Safety Institute filed a lawsuit against a half dozen or so tattoo ink pigment manufacturers, claiming they failed to warn California residents about exposure to hazardous materials in their inks. The lead content found in the ink needed for a medium sized tattoo could contain between 1 to 23 micrograms of lead, which is considerably more than the 0.5 microgram per-day recommended limit. Some inks also contain metals such as aluminum, arsenic, mercury and chromium, in addition to lead. The heavy metals are used to give these pigments their permanent color, not unlike other artist paints, and the type of metal depends mostly on the color pigment as well as the manufacturer.

Considering that one in four adults in the U.S. has at least one tattoo, many of them sporting quite a few, this is an issue that really needs more widespread education on the potential risks. I have two tattoos of small to medium size. Both are in areas that aren’t visible and I have no interest in getting them removed, although it would make sense since I am exposed to the metals from the pigments.

However, there are a few issues with laser tattoo removal. The first issue is that additional chemicals are used on the skin to reduce surface temperature so your skin doesn’t scar. The more commonly used chemical is tetrafluoroethane, which is a very toxic greenhouse gas. The alternative, which is considered to be more “green”, is a carbon dioxide spray, or rather, a dry ice spray, which is better for your skin and the ozone layer .

The big issue with laser tattoo removal is that, when you break down the pigments into small particles, the body has to do something with them. Research done at the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) has been studying how tattoo ink breaks down in your body, either from exposure to sunlight or natural degradation, and the main question to be answered is, where does the pigment go? Are they broken down by enzymes or metabolized? At least in one study, researchers found that some pigment migrates from the tattoo site to the body’s lymph nodes . Considering that chemists at the NCTR identified low levels of carcinogens in tattoo ink, what kind of health impact is there in having a tattoo? And, if this is occurring under the normal lifetime of a tattoo, what happens when you try to remove it?

German scientists have shown that, after laser irradiation, the concentrations of toxic molecules from red and yellow tattoo inks increased up to 70-fold . Heat on the pigment triggers a chemical reaction that generates mutation-inducing and carcinogenic breakdown products that get reabsorbed by the body. At this point, it sounds more toxic to get them removed than to just leave them be.

One last point, too. The FDA warns that patients about to undergo an MRI let the technician know they have a tattoo, because it can swell or burn, most likely from the metals in the pigments. Something to keep in mind when I go visit the neurologist for that MRI for the numbness and tingling that I still have in my arms and legs.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Craft Challenge update

I thought I'd give you an update on how much progress I've made in my Craft Challenge - where you were supposed to pick one of your unfinished craft projects and pledge to finish it by the end of September.

What started as a huge pile of cut out pieces for Emma's quilt has turned into completed top and bottom quilt pieces. I pinned the batting and the layers together last night and will begin the actual quilting of it this weekend. Once I, uh, figure out how to do it and whatnot.

Did I mention that I hand sewed everything? I have two sewing machines, but I'm finding that if I have to set up the machine and sit down at it, it never happens. The cool thing about hand sewing the quilt is that I can do it anywhere. On the couch, upstairs, downstairs, in bed (my husband makes a great pin-cushion!). In any case, it's very convenient and probably why I have made so much progress.

Emma has been very inspired by all the sewing I'm doing so I cut out pieces from the extra fabric to make a matching pillow for her stuffed critters. I got her started on sewing it together and she got somewhat far before she poked herself one too many times and gave it up. I need to get her a sewing set with a little less poke in it.

My craft challenge was to finish something by the end of September and I'm hoping I can make that happen. I also stated that I had to finish one thing before I bought anything for a new craft, but dang it! Those Halloween fabrics were too nice to pass up. And I'm planning on making some napkins out of them. Just maybe not until October :)

How is this informal Craft Challenge going for you? Are you making any progress?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How do you save money?

Here's a quickie post, but hopefully it will get a lot of comments for people to learn from. Aside from just not buying stuff you don't need, what's your favorite money-saving tips?

My favorites are:
• Reducing energy and water usage
• Refinancing mortgage
• Replacing items with more energy efficient things (when they are ready to be replaced)

If you need some advice of your own, check out this list from The Simple Dollar.

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