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

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

Monday, July 25, 2011

The 100 foot dinner

Sunday we finally got some warm weather in Seattle and I think it got close to about 80 degrees. Of course, we're back to cold weather and rain today, but I'll take what I can get.

Over the weekend, I harvested all of our onions and got them ready for storage. Same thing with the garlic - they've been drying outside for a while now and I clipped them and got them ready for final drying before I store them. I've never grown hardneck garlic so I did things differently than I normally do, which is braid them and hang them in the basement. This time around I trimmed the roots and the stalk and brushed off the outer skin that was covered in dirt.

Sunday night our dinner consisted of snappy salted potatoes from our backyard, grilled cauliflower with garlic and hot peppers (the cauliflower was also from the backyard) and fresh wild salmon. Dessert consisted of lavender shortbread cookies from the lavender I dried a few weeks ago. I still have more lavender to process and store, but it was a great taste of things to come.

Our blueberries are producing nicely and the kale, swiss chard, lettuce and sugar snap peas are all still going to town. Our mint is continuing to rebound and, when Paco isn't stealing strawberries, we are still getting some from that bed.

I'm in dire need of putting in some more plant starts (namely more lettuce and greens) before the end of the month. I meant to do that Sunday, but ended up spending 2 hours weeding instead. I'm losing hope on all my pumpkin plants due to the cold.

Sarah, our white orpington chicken, is still broody. We finally did the chicken water-boarding over the weekend. She got perfectly wet but when we lowered the ramp later in the day, she ran back up to work on those imaginary eggs. I think I need to put an ice block under her butt next. She's making it exceedingly difficult to get what eggs we are getting from the other chickens so I'd like to see this end sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Surviving summer in Hades

I am in absolutely no position to dispense advice on how to keep cool during the summer. While most of the U.S. is experiencing insufferably hot temperatures, I've been wearing a sweater and a coat.

Not to complain or anything, but this temperature inversion has caused us here in Seattle to have an extra cool summer. In fact, the statistic running around is that we've experienced only 78 minutes of temperatures above 80 degrees so far this summer.

I couldn't imagine how miserable 100+ temperatures must be so I'm not going to lecture anyone on air conditioner usage. Because when I'm hot and uncomfortable, my brains tend to go squishy and I couldn't give a rip about energy usage and CO2 emissions. I feel really claustrophobic when I'm hot and tend to get panicky.

Anyway, in order to help out just a tad, here are my hints and tips for keeping cool this summer while either forgoing air-conditioning (ha, ha, ha!) or pushing up the thermostat a little at a time.

Home Cooling Tips
  • Open windows at night and/or in the early morning and shut them once the outside temperature rises above the inside temps
  • Close the drapes or blinds on the side of the house where the sun in shining in. So that means the East side of the house in the morning and the West side in the afternoon and evening. Consider purchasing insulated window curtains (these will also help hold heat in during the winter) or install inexpensive heat-reflecting film on windows that face the sun
  • Turn off lights, electronics or appliances that you aren't using and generate heat
  • Fans, fans, fans
  • Put in a window fan and blow the air out of the room while keeping the doors to the room open
  • Recreate your own air-conditioner by blowing a fan across a bowl of ice. This will simulate the same sort of cool air but without the energy involved
  • Longer term home solutions include better attic/roof venting, getting a lighter colored roof or planting shade trees
Keeping Cool The old ice block chair
  • Drink ice water (or sit on a huge block of ice)
  • Stay hydrated and avoid caffeine, alcohol and heavy, high-fat meals. All of these will increase your internal body temperature
  • Stay in the shade and out of direct sunlight
  • Wear loose-fitting, light-colored and lightweight clothes
  • Do like they do in the tropics and eat spicy food. This stimulates sweat and, therefore, will cool you off
  • Soak your feet in cool water or even throw in a few ice cubes
  • Soak a rag or tea towel in ice water and wrap around your neck
  • Sit outside in the evening to enjoy the cooling temperatures
Sleeping in Comfort
  • Take a cool (not cold) shower before bed. Why cool and not cold? Well, if you lower your body temperature too much you'll exert extra energy (aka heat) trying to warm up
  • Soak a t-shirt in ice water and wear to bed or wet your hair before bed
  • Dig out that rice bag you made last winter and put it in the freezer for a couple of hours before bed
  • Use linen sheets as they stay cooler than other fabrics
  • Put your pillowcase (or sheets!) in the freezer a few hours before bed
  • Sleep downstairs or outside if you can
For more ideas, check out this little how-to video on How To Survive Without Air-Conditioning. If you really must use air-conditioning, or something like an evaporative cooler won't work for you, try to avoid central air-conditioning as you're spending a ton of money to heat up the whole house when in fact you probably only need to cool down a few rooms at best. Window air-conditioners are one way of getting around this problem as you can set them up in the most heavily used portions of the house and assist with fans if need be.

What are your favorite methods of keeping cool when the temperature rises? Which ones did I miss?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

In the garden... Summer 2011

Even though it's early July, everything is running weeks behind in the garden. Our strawberries are finally getting ripe and our cherries are probably a week or two away from being edible. Our greens are doing well, but things like cucumbers and zucchinis are still tiny and look very unpromising.

I finally got around to planting our three tomato plants yesterday. Two of them had some fruit on them already even though they were dying on our deck. Hopefully they'll survive the transplant. They all are early or ultra early varieties.

I also finally got around to planting my myriad of Cinderella pumpkin plants. I don't have high hopes for these because generally pumpkins don't like being transplanted and they've been suffering with the tomatoes on our deck. At the least, they'll do better being in the ground than in tiny containers.

I clipped all our garlic scapes and put them in a glass like a floral arrangement. I got the idea from the blog, The Art of Doing Stuff,(see picture at top). We've been eating them with our Swiss chard and kale. What do you like to do with your scapes?

I also clipped a bunch of lavender to dry for future culinary uses. We have a bunch of weeds that I generally pull up every year, but didn't get around to it this year. It turns out that they are some sort of day lilly with beautiful flowers, so I clipped those as well to enjoy inside.

Our potato plants are as good as dead. I will go rummaging around in the potato bins this week to see what's going on. Also dead is our mint. I have a black thumb when it comes to mint. It started off promising and then I think they just got too dried out or something.

In any case, it's hit or miss out there!

Photo courtesy of The Art of Doing Stuff.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Non-Toxic Cleaning: Miele Neptune Canister Vacuum Cleaner review

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What you don't know can hurt you, due out Fall 2011 from New Society Publishers and available for pre-order from Amazon. The book follows my attempts to rid everything potentially toxic from my life.

Just as we started this project, our vacuum cleaner of twenty years finally presented itself beyond repair. In other words, it kicked the bucket. I much prefer trying to fix something rather than throwing it out and buying a new one. Since this was a nice canister vacuum and replacing it would be expensive, we had opted in the past to get it repaired. A few years ago the motor on the carpet attachment burned out because I decided to vacuum our long wool flokati rug one too many times. And then the main motor burned out, so we took the whole thing in for repair, which was more difficult than it sounded.

Our dead vacuum was a Kenmore and apparently it was not legal for most vacuum repair shops to work on Kenmore vacuums – it had to be taken to a special Sears repair shop. There weren’t too many of these shops in our area and trying to schedule and arrange a weekday drop-off and pick-up was a pain but, for less than the price of a new one, we got it fixed and got a few more years out of it. Then the vacuum hose started falling apart and popped out frequently. When it wasn’t popping out the hose, it was dropping pieces that held the electrical cord in it. In any case, it was a good time to replace it.

Fortunately, replacing our vacuum was high on my list of things to do for this project because I wanted to get a true HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) sealed system vacuum. It all sounds very technical but basically I was looking for a vacuum with a HEPA filter that filtered particulates as small as .3 microns and that was housed in a sealed construction so that the particulates vacuumed up couldn’t escape out the back end. This is potentially a problem in non-sealed system vacuums. I didn’t want to spend the money on a purportedly “HEPA” vacuum only to find out that it just picked up big chunks and then shot the smaller bits right back out again.

The benefits of having an extremely effective vacuum and, of course, using it frequently, has to do with the fact that most household dust contains a whole lot of lead, PFOS (Scotchgard and the like) and PBDEs (flame retardants). These are the most common contaminants of concern. The lead comes from paint chipping, carpeting and dirt carried in from outside. The PFOS comes from stain resistant coating on carpeting and furniture. PBDEs come from electronic dust from computers, televisions, monitors and the like and the flame retardants that poof out from your furniture every time you sit down on something that contains foam. So, unless you have only wood chairs and non-padded church pews to sit on, it is in pretty much everything else. And, since this project didn’t include us replacing all of our padded furniture, it was important to address this issue using a different route.

The big problem wasn’t so much just replacing our canister vacuum with a true HEPA, sealed system one, it was finding one that fit this criteria and didn’t cost an arm and a leg. I didn’t want to spend a thousand dollars on a vacuum. Most of the vacuums available at that price range seemed to be gimmicks that broke down just as quickly as the cheaper ones. I wanted a vacuum that would last so I was willing to pay more than a few hundred dollars. After hours spent researching allergy and healthy home product web sites and reading dozens of reviews, I settled on a low to mid-range Miele Neptune.

Our new vacuum was a product from a manufacturer that allegedly took into account long-lasting product lines since they still made available parts for vacuums that were sold over a decade ago. Most manufacturers of appliances employ the business tactic of planned obsolescence so you are forced into purchasing a new product when the old one wears out either because you can’t find anyone who knows how to fix it or because replacement parts don’t exist anymore. This has become a larger issue with single molded plastic pieces in everything from vacuums to refrigerators. For the most part it has become cheaper to replace the whole appliance rather than fix the problem. We had another similar issue with our relatively brand new GE Profile refrigerator when a plastic door seal part snapped off. It would have cost us $800 to “fix” it, which was really just replacing the door as there was no other way of attaching it back to the rest of the door. Miele, on the other hand, had a history of solid construction and replacement parts, so I felt less buyer’s remorse investing $500 in a vacuum.

In any case, this lightweight, quiet vacuum was an immense improvement over our old vacuum that no doubt put back just as much dust into the air as it was picking up. I sprung for the upgraded Miele Active HEPA filter on our new vacuum just to ensure that, when we vacuumed, we were picking up all those flame retardant and lead bits and pieces and keeping them in the canister rather than spraying it right back into my sinuses. Since I ordered it through Amazon, we got the vacuum about a day later and I went to town testing it out, not only for its ability to pick up all the dirt and crud the kids tend to drag into the house (really, “take your shoes off! “ and “turn off the water!” should be engraved on my eco-friendly grave marker), but also to see how much the vacuum smelled. Any new appliance is going to off-gas a little heated-up plasticky smell as the plastic, lube and grease gets exercised the first few times.

One thing that was a little alarming about the vacuum was that the “exhaust”, rather than coming out the back of the canister like our old vacuum, shot straight up into the air, like a geyser. I really hated the back-end exhaust action, because all it did was shoot fuzz balls, dirt and dust bunnies back into an area you already vacuumed if you had it aimed the wrong direction. The geyser method, although unnerving when you accidentally crossed your head into its jet stream and got blown all over the place (well, my hair that is), avoided the dirt redistribution method employed by the other one.

The geyser method also allowed you to smell, or rather, not smell, the exhaust. Our old vacuum had a stink about it. Not just dirty air flying out the back end, but also something like a burning dirt mixed with a chemical smell. You could always tell when it was recently used, just because it left a stink in the house. And it wasn’t just because it was old. It always left this stink. The new Miele Neptune one, however, was like a breath of fresh air. I honestly didn’t mind getting my face caught in the geyser stream because it was more like a fan blowing clean air instead of exhaust fumes.

As for its cleaning power, it was well worth the price of admission. It was extremely quiet, even with the carpet cleaning attachment affixed and it vacuumed better than any vacuum I’ve ever owned. I actually wanted to vacuum. I would go out of my way to vacuum areas of the house even if I recently had vacuumed it. Because it was lightweight, quiet and easy to maneuver, didn’t smell and, most importantly, I really felt like I was sterilizing the house from a bunch of chemical dust, it was a great incentive to whip out the vacuum. Which, for me, was a bloody miracle.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Dog versus chickens

Result:

Dog - Likes chickens
Chickens - Not so much

I made the mistake last week of letting Paco (our new rescue Chihuahua mix) loose to run around our backyard and check things out. Now, our chickens are totally used to the neighborhood cats sitting and staring at them at close range (see picture at right), so I didn't think much about it. Of course, the chickens were in their enclosed coop and run, safe from any puppy rambunctiousness.

However, as he ran around the yard and eventually ran over to the run, the chickens went batshit crazy and, in an attempt to escape Paco (who is notably smaller than they are), they ended up slamming themselves into the side and roof of the run.

Okay, that wasn't so helpful. The next few times, I walked him around the yard on the leash and they were a little bit better. Since Sarah is in perpetual nesting mode (we're going to try water-boarding her this weekend), she didn't care, but Chloe was bagawking like a crazy lady.

I'm hoping they eventually get used to having him in the backyard since I'd like to be able to work out back and let him run around at the same time (while the chickens are in their run) without having to listen to a bunch of chicken bitching.

For those of you who have chickens and pets, how did you introduce them?

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