Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Green Goes with Everything winner

Green Goes with EverythingThis week's book giveaway winner is KLund of the blog, Kaarinivorous Crunch.

KLund, send me an email with your mailing info to

And, for those of you who didn't win this time around, do yourself a favor and go check out her blog.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Evolution, intelligent design and creationism

Both my kids are home sick with fevers and I don't have a ton of time or energy to come up with a post for today, so I thought I'd ask y'all a question.

I mentioned earlier this week how I felt that the Earth would survive whatever humans end up doing to it. Since one of my degrees is in human biological evolution, I am always curious about people's opinions on evolution.

Generally, I usually am surprised at the number of folks who still believe in creation or intelligent design, so I thought I'd devote today's Science Friday post to getting an idea of what you all thought. It still, 83 years after the Scopes Monkey Trial, is a controversial subject and a taboo topic of conversation.

Ultimately, I'm curious whether or not people who are interested in environmental issues tend to believe more in evolution, ID or creationism? Or does it really matter?

So, what do you believe in? Does your belief affect your environmentalism? Finally, do you think that America's wishy-washy approach to teaching evolutionary science in schools has made us lose our edge in the biological sciences?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Giveaway: Green Goes with Everything

Green Goes with EverythingThis week's book giveaway is another one in the line of green books, this time written by Sloan Barnett, a contributor to NBC's Today show. Green Goes with Everything: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life and a Cleaner Planet focuses on more of the health side of the green movement and the affects of cleaning products on us.

For those of you out there trying to reduce the toxins in your life, specifically those related to cleaning your home and your body, you'll be interested in some of the information shared in this book:

"Most Americans, but especially children, have dozens of pesticides and other toxic compounds in their bodies, many of them linked to health threats. A source of many of these toxins? Common, everyday, run of the mill household consumer products. There's no polite way of saying this: your body is a landfill, a dumping ground for a mind-boggling array of toxic chemicals."

Sloan offers up some alternatives, such as the following:

Citrus Floor Cleaner

1 gallon hot water
2 tablespoons liquid castile soap
15 drops sweet orange essential oil
1/4 cup lemon juice

Combine in large bucket.

From Publishers Weekly
According to Barnett, human beings are saturating their bodies, their children's bodies and their homes with noxious waste, pathogens and carcinogens. Barnett recounts having her blood and urine tested to illustrate how toxins have deeply embedded themselves—her results show positive for bisphenonol A (linked to birth defects and reproductive problems) and perchlorate (an active ingredient in rocket fuel found in contaminated food).

The book is divided into seven clean-it-up chapters full of solid information and helpful tips aimed at greening different areas of your life, such as how to best filter household water. Barnett's well-written environmental call-to-arms is passionate and authoritative; her findings correlating childhood illnesses with ordinary—and highly toxic—cleaning supplies is alarming. However, readers will likely find Barnett's claims slightly suspect for the fact that her sensible advice is compromised by her relentless endorsement of Shaklee products (her husband happens to be the Shaklee CEO).

And it is relentless, indeed. But, if you can get past that, then you'll enjoy the book.

If you would like to be entered into the drawing for this book, leave your name in the comments. The giveaway is open until Friday, January 30th, 6:00 pm PST. I'll be announcing the winner most likely later that evening.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In the grand scheme of things

Arduous was requesting some good news to cheer her up, asking for one good story about the environment. Well, my comment was turning into one of a rambly sort, not really addressing her question and I figured I should unleash it here instead.

Aside from suggesting a Crunchy Chicken Cocktail for some good cheer, I didn't have anything immediate to cheer her up. But the comments in her post did make me think of how individual action or even larger improvements in certain species population doesn't really matter all that much on a global scale when looked at separately. They are all just tiny pieces in an enormously infinite pile of puzzle pieces.

Basically, it's difficult for me to look at any individual examples and see them as an arbiter of future health of the Earth. I tend to think in terms of geologic time. In other words, humanity may very well end up being akin to a giant meteor strike on the Earth.

A meteor strike affects the composition of the atmosphere, pollutes the environment, changes global climate and temperature and kills off all sorts of species, sometimes quite drastically. But, in the end, life recovers and retransforms the Earth in a variety of amazing ways. So, sure, near term things look implacable, but it would be just another chink in the geologic chain. Surprisingly, this is what cheers me up.

Humans may not survive their own fate. This would, in many ways, be a huge shame given the fact that we know of no other animal to have achieved the same sentience and intellectual power, however destructive it may turn out to be.

That intelligence just might be our undoing, but be rest assured that the damage we do is no more than what the Earth has seen in the past, nor will in the future. We are just a mere blip here on Earth. Less than a couple hundred thousand years of existence out of 4.5 billion is really not much. It's quite laughable compared to the dinosaurs.

So, why do we bother about all the little things and the individual actions? Because, I'm pretty sure that most of us would like that blip to continue for a lot longer. And, unlike a meteor strike, we do have some modicum of control over the situation. I know some of you don't believe that humans have enough "influence" to affect global climate change, but even if that were the case, why take any chances?

Feeling cheered up yet?

Crunchy Chicken Cocktail

Sipping on gin n' juiceWe have a bunch of oranges left over from guests we had at Christmas and they are looking kind of peaked. I'm not quite sure they are still good to eat straight up, but juicing them seemed like a good option.

In the spirit of the upcoming food waste challenge, I wanted to make something out of one instead of continuing to ignore them in my fruit bowl. So, for dinner I decided to juice an orange and add something to it for flavor, but not knock me out.

And, henceforth, I present to you:

The Crunchy Chicken Cocktail

Juice from one large orange
1.5 oz gin (Hendrick's is always a good choice, but Dry Fly is local-ish to us)
1 Tablespoon simple syrup
3 teaspoons Galliano

Add ingredients to ice, stir and enjoy!

Anyone else getting a jump start on the food waste challenge by using up food you'd normally compost or throw out?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Going no poo: the final report

I suppose this should come as no shock to you, but I gave up the no poo project last week. At first I thought I'd just shampoo my hair and reset things and start over again, but I never got around to that starting over part again. Family health circumstances last week made my life quite hellish and having to deal with a dirty, itchy scalp wasn't helping matters much.

Now, as you all know, I am willing to subject myself to all sorts of strange things, bordering on torture for some, in the name of being more environmental. But, there are some things that just aren't worth it. I'm starting to doubt the overall benefit of not shampooing from an environmental standpoint as there are plenty of commercial shampoos that are low-impact, can be bought in bulk or in bars and clean relatively well without the health/environment issues.

The other big issue for me is my water usage would most likely be higher with this method since it takes so long to wash and rinse out the baking soda. But, ultimately, even though my hair didn't look oily or greasy and it looked moderately okay, it just felt totally gross.

I would stick with it if I felt like there was going to be some improvement. The itching I can tolerate, but there's no reasonable way that the rest of my hair is going to get clean no matter how much vinegar I pour on it. It needs something saponified.

I know this works for some of you or perhaps your for tolerance is different than mine, but this is just not something I'm planning on sticking with. So, I'm back to my organic, fair trade, biodegradable shampoo.

No poo? No thanks. At least not right now.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why turning off your fridge costs more energy

Greenpa and I were going back and forth a bit last weekend over the alleged merits of getting rid of your fridge. I disagree with him on a number of points, although I'm sure if you changed your eating habits and shopping habits, there is the chance of success.

But, ultimately, I have this thing about bacteria and mold - I don't like them in my food and refrigeration and freezing helps to slow down that growth. I would like to argue also that, unless someone is willing to substantially change the way they eat and live, it's possible that turning off their fridge will cost a higher total energy output.

There are three main reasons why I don't turn off my fridge and why, I think, for many Americans, it would produce a higher overall energy cost. This cost is not just what shows up on your utility bill, but the total inputs going into the system.

Now, if you don't have a newer or Energy Star rated fridge, this is a non-issue. But, if you do, it's likely to present a number of issues. For us, personally, since we get our electricity from hydro and wind, I'm less concerned about the CO2 impact than if I had a really old fridge and my electricity came from coal.

But, that said, there are other issues with turning off your fridge:

1. Cooking and food waste - Since you don't have the option of refrigerating leftovers you really have to make sure that you prepare only enough food that will feed you at that point in time. Any leftovers most likely will need to be thrown away or you risk increased contamination.

This causes a higher energy output for two reasons:

a. You can't take advantage of cooking large quantities at a time and saving it for meals later. For example, turning the oven on to bake one chicken breast for a dish is relatively the same as cooking 6 for that many more meals that get put in the fridge and eaten later in the week or put in the freezer for a meal another time. So, in this example, over the course of those many meals, you would need to turn the oven on 6 times rather than once. This uses more energy.

b. If you end up throwing out food because you made too much and can't save it, then all the energy that went into production and shipping of that food is lost. Not to mention the cost. If you can't bear to throw out the food and feel compelled to ingest the rest of it yourself, then you risk health problems associated with overeating.

Without refrigeration, you also risk throwing out a lot of other food that goes bad before you get a chance to eat it, like lettuce and other perishables that don't do well at room temperature. And, again, the energy that went into the growing and shipping of those foods is wasted as well.

2. Cost of food and packaging: Since I can't take advantage of cost savings in buying larger sizes of food, it is more expensive to me as a consumer. The example here would be only buying a pint or quart of milk each day rather than a gallon of milk to last a week. So, in general, I'm spending more on food if I can't rely on refrigeration or freezing.

Not only does buying smaller amounts end up being much more expensive, but the amount of packaging used for 4 quarts is a lot more than for a gallon. The problem with extra packaging (and in this example, processing), is that it takes more energy to produce that unit.

There's a tremendous environmental cost in the manufacturing process that includes both water and energy. One statistic I found: It takes so much less energy to manufacture one gallon of milk (versus a half gallon) that you could run your fridge for 3 days with the offset.

So, anytime I want to purchase a food item that really should be refrigerated (like milk, cheese, unsalted butter, etc.) and I have to buy it in smaller quantities, it will cost me more and the environmental impact will be higher.

3. Time and travel: Unless you live in an urban area where food shopping is available within walking distance, this increase in daily shopping will require you to, most likely, drive more. You will need to spend more time meal planning, coordinating out what you have and don't have on hand and shopping for those items. You will spend more in gas to drive to the store to pick up these items.

Now, of course, you can completely change the way you eat, walk to the store, etc. but for most people (particularly those who don't live in cold climes, which is more and more of the country these days), turning off your fridge can, ultimately, cost you more time, money and sum energy costs.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The act of dumpster diving

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.

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?

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. I don't know about the legality of rummaging in dumpsters, but I'm fairly certain it's not. Can anyone clarify that?

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.

That said, have you ever dumpster dived? Would you be willing to if it were legal in your area?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Food Not Lawns winner

Food Not LawnsThe winner of the book, Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden And Your Neighborhood into a Community by Heather Flores is:

scifichick of the blog, Eternal Balance

Congratulations! Send me an email with your mailing info and I'll send it out to you directly!

The penalty 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, January 22, 2009

Going no poo: the initial report

I know some of you are curious as to how my no-poo experience is coming along and I figured it was time for an update since it's been a few days. Which is like dog years when it comes to the no-poo experiment.

Day One: Holy smokes, people. Whose idea was it to premix the baking soda and water and keep it in the shower? Rule #1 to making something more comfy: do not pour ice cold water on your head and expect the experience to be pleasant. After sitting overnight in my freezing your buns off bathroom, the cold water reception was less than tolerable.

I "washed" with BS and rinsed with vinegar and used a little coconut oil as my stylin' cream. I then dried and styled as usual since I wanted this to be a realistic survey of how this works. I didn't want to use my regular styling products since I doubt they will ever get washed out using this method and weeks of build-up just didn't sound like a good idea.

My hair didn't look dirty, but then again it didn't exactly look as clean. No oiliness, but my scalp was somewhat itchy. I could smell a whiff of vinegar emanating from my hair for several hours afterwards, but that ceased and I had to sniff hard to smell it by nighttime. Tomorrow I'll rinse better.

Day Two: Well, after the frigid experience on Day 1, I waited until right before I got in the shower before adding warm water to my BS. This allowed me to scrub my head a little better. I also rinsed out the vinegar a little bit better, but could still smell it throughout the morning. My head was still itchy all day long even though I rinsed everything out well.

This experiment may save me money in ingredients, but will cost more in water bills since it takes longer to wash thoroughly and rinse. My hair didn't look oily at all and it still felt soft at the roots, albeit stiff and quite tangly at the ends. I asked my husband to give me a sniff test and he declared that it smelled like I just went for a run. Wonderful - nothing like a heaping helping of wet dog salad to start the day!

Day Three: I got creative and added some essential oil (vanilla) to my baking soda mixture to counter-act the wet animal smell. I also added some orange oil to the vinegar mixture to hopefully reduce the salad smell. Then I went totally nuts and melted down some coconut oil and threw in a little coffee fragrance oil to mix things up. I tell you, I was excited to take a shower!

I don't know if it was the vanilla oil or just my dirty head that made my "shampoo" smell like someone was cooking rotten meat with a hint of vanilla in the shower. It was a most unpleasant odor and I suspected it was my hair that was the problem. After scrubbing and rinsing, I applied my orange vinegar concoction and was quite excited because it smelled fantastic. Even when I went to dry my hair it still smelled more like orange than vinegar so I was happy with that.

Unfortunately, while drying my hair it became readily apparent that all was not so happy in hairville. Things started out great. The hair by my scalp (which I generally dry first) was cleanish and fluffy, but when I got to the rest of my hair (everything from top of the ears down), it felt filmy and totally impossible to comb/brush through. Even after brushing all the way through, it was still a tangled mess of non-brushable, filmy hair.

For the rest of the day, my head itched like crazy. The worst part was that my hair smelled like rotten bacon. If I didn't have to go to work I would have dropped the kids off at school and gone back to wash my hair. Fortunately, the bacon smell went away after lunch, but the itchiness continued.

No Poo Status: While I'm extremely tempted to give up at this point, my hair doesn't look oily or greasy at all, even late at night when it normally starts getting oily. So, in spite of the itchy scalp action, and weird, filmy hair, I'm going to continue for a little while longer.

From what I've read, Seattle has extremely soft water so I don't think it's build-up from that. Anyway, I've got a few things I'm going to try differently to see if the situation improves. And, of course, I'll give you the full, stinky, report.

Anyone else following along at home having similar issues?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Giveaway: Food Not Lawns

Food Not LawnsI don't have time to write a post for today, so you guys are just going to have to make do with a book giveaway.

Today's book giveaway is Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden And Your Neighborhood into a Community. This book, by Heather Flores, is not only a great introduction to gardening, but it also turns the whole act of growing food into a social movement.

If you want to learn more about not just permaculture, garden design, using grey water and community gardening but also ideas like seed saving, guerrilla gardening, eating your weeds and living a low-energy lifestyle, this book will get you started. While some people are a little off-put by the oftentimes preachy new-agey writing style, there's still some really great content to get you thinking differently about your yard.

From the Library Journal review by Sue O'Brien:

Certified permaculture designer Flores advocates living an ecologically friendly lifestyle by creating gardens. Following a foreword by Toby Hemenway (Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture), she discusses the identification of garden sites, the water cycle and water conservation, soils and composting, plants, how to save seed, project design, the fostering of community involvement, the inclusion of children in projects, the sharing of information, and activism.

Many of Flores's ideas are for the extremely committed. She advocates dumpster digging, composting human feces, and living life without appliances like refrigerators. She also suggests growing food on land, not necessarily with the landowner's permission, and espouses gray-water conservation techniques that may be illegal in some communities.

While growing your own food is a worthy goal, Flores doesn't always seem to recognize the hard work involved. She also doesn't expand on all of her ideas, but she does offer an extensive list of resources for further research. Flores has an engaging style and is clearly passionate about her subject, and her debut book provides an alternative viewpoint, but it will probably not interest mainstream audiences.

Hmmm. After reading that review, this book sounds perfect for a lot of my readers!

Anyway, if you would like to be entered into the drawing for this book, leave your name in the comments. The giveaway is open until Friday, January 23rd, 6:00 pm PST. I'll be announcing the winner most likely later that evening.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Depletion & Abundance discussion post - Part Four

Depletion and AbundanceHey, we're halfway there! This section only has two chapters, so today's discussion post will be a little shorter than the last one.

So, here's the fourth discussion post for the Depletion and Abundance book club.

Chapter 9: Little House in the Suburbs. Sharon argues in this chapter that not everyone can move out to a rural area to be completely self-sufficient, it just isn't a feasible option. She also doesn't have the same sort of vitriol that Kunstler has for suburbia, but takes the more realistic stance that many people will have to make do with where they are. And for a lot of the population, that's going to be in the suburbs.

Basically, the suburbs cannot be abandoned if we still want to feed people. Since we turned all that arable farmland into tract homes, what better place to dig in and grow food than in the dirt right beneath our feet? This idea of "Little House in the Suburbs" takes the rural lifestyle, but applies it to the burbs: low-energy and sustainable.

A big issue with living in the burbs is the high cost of transportation, but if you can adapt how you get to work and limit your shopping trips (by growing much of your own food), staying put may just very well be the best option. A bigger issue is one of just being able to keep our homes. And here we need to be creative and adaptive in how we not only use our space at home, but how we share it with others, if necessary.

Essentially, your little house in the suburbs would include vegetable and herb gardens, fruit trees, and animals for meat and milk (chickens, goats, rabbits and the like). You would also want to secure a source of water, a supplemental source of heat, food storage, library (for educational materials) and perhaps a dog for protection. Make sure you have or learn additional skills that can be used for your own benefit or others in the informal economy.

How does your little house in the suburbs compare to her recommendations? If you live in a more urban area or an apartment, what are you doing to prepare yourself for being more self-sufficient?

Chapter 10: The Beauty and Necessity of the Low-Energy Home. This chapter addresses how to manage living in a world where an inconsistent energy supply is the norm. Brownouts and rolling blackouts are already common in some areas of the country, so how should you prepare yourself to adapt to this?

For many of us, plunking down $20,000 on a solar panel system isn't a likely option. Nor is setting up your own rooftop wind farm. So, instead, Sharon suggests a $2,000 budget to help you along on being more resilient to energy disruptions. Purchasing items such as insulation, insulating curtains, solar lanterns, a solar battery charger, battery powered lanterns and rechargeable batteries will help keep you comfortable and provide some lighting.

Figuring out your water cachement or how to pump your well water is wise as is alternative energy sources for cooking and heating. Having other options for transportation, such as bikes or even a fancy Extracycle will allow you to still be mobile. Additionally, it would be smart to opt for more human powered means of doing tasks like knowing how to wash your clothes in the tub and line dry.

In other words, think through all that you use that requires some form of energy and figure out how you would adapt to not having that electricity, propane, gas or oil. If you can do without or do it manually, that's great. Now you can focus your attention on the things you rely on so that you are prepared for not having them.

How prepared are you for living a low-energy lifestyle? Do you have alternative ways of heating and cooking in your home (wood, solar)? What about lighting and transportation?

Monday, January 19, 2009

The no poo experiment

Let me first start off by saying that I've been avoiding doing this experiment like the plague for a variety of reasons. Primarily, I have little faith that this will actually work and that I'll be destined to weeks of substantially greasy hair, ending in major disappointment.

Nothing like starting out on a seriously positive note, huh? Anyway, Melinda and Vanessa have finally influenced (shamed?) me into trying the no poo method. What is this? Well, it's basically using baking soda to wash your hair and a vinegar rinse instead of conditioner. Using coconut oil as a deeper conditioner is okay from what I've read.

The savings are substantial, the impact on the environment is minimal, the amount of plastic waste is none (unless your vinegar comes in plastic bottles) and allegedly, my hair will become healthy, shiny and totally manageable.

Like my previous pit problems, I'm going to air out my dirty laundry just so you know what I'm dealing with here. Unlike some others who have switched to no poo, my hair is long. It's mid-back and very thick. It's also highlighted and prone to dryness on the ends. On top of that my hair is very oily.

I really can't go more than one day without washing it otherwise I become a giant grease slick and my scalp stinks. Add to that the fact that I exercise 6 days a week and get sweaty enough to warrant a washing, even if the greasy factor didn't come into consideration. This is why I'm dubious to this actually working. But, because I'm a complete glutton for punishment I'm going to give it a try.

And because I'm an exhibitionist, I'll be sharing with you all the gory details and sparing no details. I'll be posting weekly updates with daily notes on how my hair feels and how I'm adjusting the mix. To start, I'll be using 1 T baking soda per cup of water for the "shampoo" part and 1 T white vinegar for the rinse (I hucked a cinnamon stick in and some allspice berries in for good measure to cut the salad dressing smell).

So, needless to say, if this no poo experiment works for me, well, then it will work for pretty much anyone. Baboons with a hormone-imbalance included.

How about you, have you tried using no-poo? Did it work for you or was it a hair disaster?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Food Waste Reduction Challenge

Food Waste Reduction ChallengeYou all know the stats: 50% of the garbage that goes into the landfill is edible food. Even if your food goes out into the compost or picked up by your local yard waste service for composting, it's still not only a waste of money, but it's also a waste of energy.

Really, how bad is it? A University of Arizona study showed that 40 to 50% of U.S. edible food never gets eaten. That's $100 billion worth of edible food discarded every year in the U.S.. It's a tremendous waste of resources and one that we are all guilty in contributing to.

There's also a large environmental impact as well if your food waste gets sent to a landfill. Food waste is the largest landfill contributor to methane gas production, so unless your municipality has a landfill-to-gas capture, your rotten bananas and forgotten pickles are contributing to global climate change.

How is it a waste of energy? Because there's a lot of energy that goes into growing and transporting your food (unless you grow it all yourself, in which case the impact is a lot less), throwing it out just means you have to replace it with more food.

Do you have a food waste problem? Most likely you do. This is one of those challenges that we all can and should do. So, now's the time to sign up for the Food Waste Reduction Challenge. But, what does it entail?

Well, it's pretty simple. Your goal is to try to reduce the amount of food you throw out or put into the compost. This does not include inedible food waste like egg shells or banana peels (unless you have a use for them I don't know about).

Your job is to keep track of the food that you have on hand and make sure that it gets eaten or preserved before it goes bad and needs to be disposed. All it takes is a little planning, some organization and the willingness to be creative. Just remember to cook wisely and shop wisely.

So, every week, go through your fridge, cabinets and cellar storage and see what's getting close to its pull date or is starting to turn. If it's getting near, plan on eating it, making it into a meal, preserving it or freezing it. Since this is an important challenge that will help you reduce your waste and save money I'm going to host it for the whole month of February.

If you are interested in signing up for the Food Waste Reduction Challenge, add your name to the comments of this post. I'll check in occasionally to see how you all are doing or if you have any food saving recipes or tips to share with others. If you want to put the graphic up on your blog, just paste the following code:

<a href=""><img src="" border="0" alt="Food Waste Reduction Challenge - February 2009" /></a>

Related reading:
One Country's Table Scraps, Another Country's Meal (NY Times)
All About: Food Waste (CNN)
Wasted Food (blog)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Fruit tree approved!

Random honeycrisp photoWe live in an area with covenants. Lots of covenants. Most of them are regarding limiting anything that will affect a neighbor's view, so planting trees that will grow taller than the roof line or obstruct a previously unobstructed view are out. So is building up. Oh, how that would be cool - if we built up, we would have sweeping north and west views of Puget Sound. Not that we would ever plan on doing so, but either way it is verboten.

I've been wanting to plant some sort of fruit tree in the front yard and figured I should probably check with the community board for approval since they can and will take me to court if necessary if they don't like what I'm planting.

After a few emails and a couple of drive-bys, I finally met with the president of the board to show him where I was planning on planting a semi-dwarf fruit tree and describe to him how tall it was going to be. Since I don't want some behemoth in the yard (I want to actually be able to pick the fruit off of it without a two-story ladder), it turned out to be a relative non-issue. I should be getting written approval from the board next month.

I haven't totally decided what I'm going to plant since I wanted to make sure I could actually plant something before I got too far ahead of myself. I'm thinking of an apple tree or a plum. Our neighbor has an apple tree and I know when it does it's pollination thing. I've got my eye on a Honeycrisp or an Akane or a self-pollinating kind.

I also had asked about the recent "feeling" on owning chickens. The covenants say no to backyard poultry, but it was written before the city of Seattle started allowing it. The president thought chickens were cool and didn't think it would be too huge a deal, but in any case, I would need to present at the next community meeting and let them vote on the matter.

I live on the outlying edge of the community so there would only be really two neighbors "affected" by any chickens. I'm not sure I want to do the chicken thing yet, but it would be nice to know if it's even an option. I do know they have recently started approving solar panels and the like, so hopefully there's an interest in more sustainable living here.

In either case, I'm rather pleased that, at the very least, I can have a fruit tree in the front. Do you have any covenants that prevent you from doing something you want towards being more self-sufficient or sustainable?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Autism and environmental factors

In the orchardWhen I was pregnant with my first child, I had read some of the literature on vaccinations and autism and how many parents believed there was a link between getting the MMR vaccination and their children "contracting" autism as a result.

So, needless to say, I was a bit circumspect when it was time for my son's MMR shot. The press about it certainly didn't prevent me from having him get it, since the benefits far outweigh any risk, but it did stay in my mind. So, we discussed the risks with his physician and, given the fact there is little if any scientifically proven link between autism and vaccines, we chose to vaccinate both our children.

Now, I know there are still many parents out there that believe that vaccines have played some contributing factor in their child's autism, but the scientific data just isn't there to either prove it or even suggest it. The main problem has been, what I believe to be, the confusion between cause and correlation and a fundamental distrust or misunderstanding of the scientific method.

Autism does not often become apparent until around the time when children receive their first MMR vaccination. So, to a parent, it may seem clear that their children regressed around the same time as they got their MMR vaccination, and that the vaccine must be the cause of their regression. When, in fact, it could be merely a correlation.

Obviously, this is still a heated debate, but not within the scientific community. I think that mainstream media has done a huge disservice to parents by essentially advertising alternative treatments or even "cures" by those profiting off of them. Once again, the media has sensationalized the misfortune of others, creating controversy where there really isn't any.

The acting surgeon general, Dr. Steven K. Galson, has issued a statement saying that "childhood immunizations are one of the greatest achievements of all time" and that "scientific evidence clearly shows that vaccines do not contribute to autism". In fact, for all the media coverage given the anti-vaccine crowd, his office said he had not been questioned by journalists about vaccines and autism. So much for equal coverage.

The other confounding issue with autism is that is can abruptly appear as well as improve. Parents will oftentimes see an improvement in their child that they will attribute to whatever alternative forms of therapy they are doing with their child. Again, this is a confusion between causation and correlation as there is no scientific evidence at this point showing any benefit to these therapies. Any evidence out there is all anecdotal at best.

Having an autistic child can be devastating. When my son was an infant he exhibited classic characteristics of someone on the spectrum. I fully believed he had Aspergers and it wasn't until he was formally diagnosed with a different neurological impairment at age 5 that I thought otherwise. Spectral disabilities are extremely difficult to diagnose and kids on the spectrum improve in some ways while regressing in others. We've personally seen that rather dramatically over the last few years.

We also have had our experience with trying alternatives such as the gluten-free/casein-free diet as well as other supplements and we still get advice from other well-meaning individuals who suggest we try different supplements or dietary restrictions or different courses of alternative treatments that worked for their child. I really don't think that any of these treatments have much merit and, generally, the only people who benefit are those who sell the "antidotes". But, one thing I cannot fathom is why millions of parents are taking the anecdotal advice of celebrities over the advice of their doctors and denying their children vaccinations.

Dr. Offit, author of Autism's False Prophets, makes the argument that "opponents of vaccines have taken the autism story hostage. They don’t speak for all parents of autistic kids, they use fringe scientists and celebrities, they’ve set up cottage industries of false hope, and they’re hurting kids. Parents pay out of their pockets for dangerous treatments, they take out second mortgages to buy hyperbaric oxygen chambers. It’s just unconscionable."

There is a huge biological element to autism. How the environment fits into how it is expressed is definitely a complicated one. My main concern with this incessant focus on vaccines is that it is leading us down a never-ending rabbit hole that is precluding research from focusing on something else in the environment that may be a bigger contributing factor. It's a scientific sleight of hand because money that would go into autism research is being spent on something that has been proven for the last ten years to be a non-issue, whether the focus is on thimerosal or proteins in the vaccines.

At risk are thousands of children who are not getting vaccinated for truly deadly diseases because of a fear that is relatively unfounded. Also at risk are the millions of Americans who depend on the basics of universal vaccination to prevent and keep diseases at bay, without which it makes all of us (even those of us vaccinated) susceptible to these diseases since we lose some immunity over time.

All that said, what's your opinion on the vaccine debate? For those of you still on the fence (or not), I urge you to read the excerpt from the book mentioned above.

Related reading:
Book Is Rallying Resistance to the Antivaccine Crusade (from the NY Times)
Book Excerpt: Autism's False Prophets
Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure
The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child (by Dr. Sears)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Survival series: making soap without lye

Peak Oil CampWhile I may not be as fervent in the belief that the world as we know it is coming to an end, I am interested in topics along the self-sufficiency and survival route. As such, I often think about how much we rely on outside sources for everyday goods.

One of the things I like making myself is cold-process soap. The whole process fascinates me since it's a mixture of chemistry and craft. But the way I know how to make it relies not only on hard to find oils (coconut oils, olive oils, etc.) but also on equally hard to find lye. It's not too hard to imagine using animal fats if access to other types of oils becomes scarce, but what about the lye? There are two options to overcome this: using soapy plants or making lye from ashes.

First off, let me state that lye is not something to work with lightly and can be quite dangerous as well as corrosive. So, if you have access to soapy plants, that's probably your easiest bet to getting around to staying clean without bars of commercial or even handmade soap. So, what plants can you use that are naturally "soapy"?

There are a number of plants that are high in saponin, or the component that makes them good cleansers. Many grow in California or in arid areas, but there is one that grows throughout the U.S. and can be grown in most climates.

Bouncing Bet, aka soapwortThe plant I'm referring to is Bouncing Bet, otherwise known as soapwort or Saponaria officinalis. It's a very pretty, perennial plant and is worth planting for it's beauty as well as to have on hand, just in case. Plus, the flowers smell like cloves, if that's something that appeals to you.

Once established, the plant can be invasive, so you'll want to keep an eye on it. Basically, you harvest soapwort in the late summer to fall to be used fresh or dried for later "soapmaking".

You can make a liquid soap out of the whole plant, particularly the root, which is high in saponins. You just add 1/2 cup of fresh leaves and/or root (or 1/4 cup dried) to 4 cups of water (preferably distilled or rain water) and simmer until it becomes sudsy, about 20 minutes.

Add some essential oils to the cooled, strained liquid soap and store in one of those foaming pump dispensers for a very gentle home-grown soap. The shelf life for this mixture is about 1 week. You can also use this as a mild shampoo, but be careful about getting it in your eyes as it can be irritating.

Soapwort has been used historically as a mild skin cleanser as well as a gentle cleanser for cleaning wool, tapestries and paintings. It is poisonous, so do not ingest.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Winner: The Green Year

The Green YearCongratulations to the winner of the book, The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference:

Heather at Simple - Green - Frugal!

Email me your snail mail info and I'll get that out to you on Friday!

[P.S. Rob - I found your email and address info in my spam folder. It must have been the subject line "Nine Inches: The Enlargement Breakthrough" that did it in. Anyway, I will mail your book on Friday.]

A bout of bad gas

Plug-in Hybrid Electric VehicleAs I was coming home from picking my daughter up from school yesterday, I noticed that regular unleaded gas is creeping up towards $2.00 a gallon again. On one hand, this is good, because increased gas prices forces consumers to think about not only their driving habits, but also their car choices. Smaller cars and better fuel efficiency is better for our environment.

Increasing gas prices also will hopefully smack the car manufacturers getting bailed out into rethinking their horrid choices in "fuel economy" vehicles. I think it's laughable that any car manufacturer can state that their hybrid behemoth, that gets 30 mpg, is "fuel efficient". Hell, my Honda Civic gets better mileage than that, costs $22,000 less and it ain't even a hybrid.

On the other hand, increasing gas prices puts pressure on the pocketbooks of many Americans that are hurting from the flailing economy, many of whom don't have many options with alternative forms of transportation. Of course, farmers are hurt tremendously as well, particularly those who are dependent on petroleum-based fertilizers, but even organic farmers are hard hit as their farm equipment depends on petroleum fuel.

So, should we be rooting for higher gas prices or crying over it? I honestly don't know. The whole issue is a double-edged sword. Either way, we lose something. It would, of course, be ideal for gas prices to be low and have people still choose the most fuel-efficient car or opt for public transportation and/or walking or biking instead of private vehicles.

It also would, of course, be nice if last summer's gas price inflation had struck enough fear into the hearts of consumers that their future choice in vehicles primarily revolved around how many miles per gallon they got instead of how prestigious/cool/big it is.

As an aside, the other day at work I got a chance to fondle one of our fleet hybrid vehicles that was converted to a plug-in electric. It's a Toyota Prius that is now sporting a standard plug on its bumper (see above photo), a set of batteries in the trunk and 100 mpg. Swoooon!

Anyway, what about you? Do you have mixed feelings about gas prices or are you happy about them being low?

Related posts:
Life without oil: Part 1
Who Killed the Electric Car: movie review
Fuel cell: Fool sell

Related books:
Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars that will Recharge America
Build Your Own Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle
Build Your Own Electric Vehicle

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

2009 Environmental Nutjob Award

2009 AwardFirst of all, let me say that I'm totally freaking myself out over here. After a very long and exhausting day yesterday I was contemplating what the heck I was going to post about today whilst I was brushing my teeth.

I was looking for something easy and thought about the fact that I haven't done a poll in a while. In fact, since it's award season and all (Golden Globes, etc.), I thought I should do another Environmental Nutjob Award for today.

So, I went and looked up when I had the last award (thinking it was sometime mid-February) when, lo and behold, it was on January 13th. Am I freaking bloggy clairvoyant or what? What does this mean? Maybe I should be trying to channel this amazing power into something more useful.

Anyway, before I was struck down with the miraculousness of it all, I was also thinking about how the nominees haven't really changed over the last year. Which means either: 1. I'm stuck in a rut and don't get out much or 2. there really aren't too many new nutjob environmentalists on the scene. I'm not sure which is more accurate, but I did try to shake things up a bit by adding in a few new faces.

That said, I think it will all come down to (again) a bitter fight between Sharon and Greenpa. May the bigger nutjob win! Unleash the minions!

I add myself only because, well, it's my blog. Here are the links to the contestants:

No Impact Man
Peak Oil Hausfrau

Monday, January 12, 2009

Giveaway: The Green Year

The Green YearLet me first start off by saying that there are a couple of green book winners dangling out there - you need to send me your addresses so I have somewhere to mail these. If I don't hear from you, I'll do another book drawing.

The first one is Green Mama, winner of How to Store Your Garden Produce.

The second one is Roberto de Burien, the winner of Fresh Food From Small Spaces.

Jason, your book is being shipped this week and the the two electric blankets are going out as well to those winners. Sorry for the delay!

Okay, now that I got that off my chest, I need to tell you that I still have a veritable pile of other books to give away. So, let's get cracking people!

Today's book giveaway is for the delightful little tome called, The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference. I know, I know, you've already missed the first eleven days of things to be done, but given my speedy delivery history, it's safe to say that you're gonna miss the first month of activities.

This book, by Jodi Helmer, gives you a list of things (365 of them) you can do each day to make your life a little greener. She explains why each item makes a difference and goes into detail on how to implement them, if need be. Think of it as Green as a Thistle's project, but easier and more organized (sorry Vanessa).

The author also spends some time debunking some common green myths, which is highly useful for pretty much everybody out there. Most of her suggestions are not only affordable, they are quite manageable and, frankly, you'd have to be a moron to not be able to do most of them. This isn't a book describing how to navigate installing your own solar panels and hooking them up to the grid. We'll leave that sort of thing to Greenpa if he ever decides to start blogging again about something useful :)

Anyway, I digress. If you are looking for a book to help you convert yourself to an off-the-grid lifestyle this isn't it. But, if you are looking for some extra help and ideas of how to lessen your footprint, you'll have 365 new suggestions to help you along.

Some of my favorites:

February 1: Research hybrid rental cars for your next vacation
February 8: Add your fireplace ashes to the compost pile
March 28: Hang a bird feeder and keep it well stocked with birdseed
July 4: Celebrate Independence Day without fireworks
September 22: Replace your metal staplers with eco-staplers
October 14: Schedule a home energy audit
December 19: Buy reusable containers for homemade treats

If you would like to be entered into the drawing for this book, leave your name in the comments. The giveaway is open until Wednesday, January 14th, 6:00 pm PST. I'll be announcing the winner most likely later that evening.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Confessing I'm not perfectly green

There's been a bit of discussion lately in the blogosphere about the pressure people (women in particular) feel about doing or not doing enough to be considered green. Things that mostly come up are in regards to time consuming self-sufficient tasks like home cooking everything, making your own soap, bread, butter, etc.

I mainly wanted to open up the opportunity for people to discuss what they aren't doing that is green. Mostly because I want others to realize that, no matter what we preach, sometimes it's really hard to consistently practice everything we suggest.

So, here's my confessional.

Clothes dryer: I've been using the clothes dryer for pretty much everything besides my jeans, pants and sweaters. But, only the ones that have to be air dried lest they shrink up and I look like a crazy person wearing miniaturized clothes. The main problem has also been that it takes so many days to dry that things start smelling musty and gross. Plus, I'm just lazy.

Water conservation: I've been taking longer showers since it's been cold. I still use my shower head valve to reduce the water pressure, but sometimes I forget I have it on full blast (particularly when I commence my round of singing jazz standards) and don't realize that I haven't turned it down until the end of the shower.

Central heat: I was doing really well keeping the thermostat low and then we had guests and I didn't want to kill him so we turned the heat up to 70 so the basement wasn't sporting icicles. We haven't been as good about turning it back down again now that we've been spoiled with warmer temperatures.

Homemade cooking: While we still make all our meals, I haven't been making my own butter or bread lately. I'd like to, but my schedule makes it really tough to do without a lot of planning. I do still stick to focusing on local, organic and fresh ingredients and won't buy imported fruits (although I was awfully tempted to buy that flat of blueberries from Chile for $6 yesterday, but didn't).

Miscellaneous items: I haven't made soap in a year, I've switched back to using mainstream shampoo (most of the time), I drive to work, I eat Skippy peanut butter, I use Colgate toothpaste, drink the occasional Diet Dr. Pepper and don't always buy stuff at thrift stores.

In other words, I have a lot of room for improvement. Do I feel guilty? Sometimes, but I do the best I can given the circumstances. One could certainly argue that I could do more, but if I were to list the things I do do, they would outnumber the things I don't. So, I don't sweat it.

And, while I do preach a lot of eco-changes, I sometimes don't get around to always doing them. I am human after all.

What are some of the things that you indulge in that aren't very green?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Scents of smell

Good sniffin'This is a really off-topic sort of conversation, but it is something that has intrigued me ever since I had kids. No, I'm not referring to the heightened sense of smell you have when you are pregnant, although there is certainly something interesting in that from a biological adaptation standpoint. What I'm talking about is the baby and child's ability to identify their mother by smell.

This totally makes sense to me, particularly if you are breastfeeding. Your newborn, with its fuzzy vision, is able to identify you by your smell and I always assumed it was mostly based on compounds from lactation. But, I'm pretty sure it goes beyond that to actual personal body scent.

I know this sounds really strange, but my kids, who are nowhere near newborn age and I'm nowhere near lactating, are always identifying my objects (clothes, pillow, blankets, etc.) with a declaration of "smells like Mom". And it's always said with a real fondness and joy in their voices that makes me believe it doesn't smell like Mom in a bad way.

Last night, as I was cuddled on the couch reading to my son, he buried his nose in my chest and declared the "smells like Mom" thing again and then dove in for a more pronounced sniff, like he was breathing in a rose. It was a little strange, but mostly funny and I just couldn't get past this whole idea of scent recognition. His reaction was one of comfort and happiness as if my pits were some sort of calming elixir.

So, I started thinking about how individuals have their own smell. Yet, I can't really identify anyone from their body odor, except my Mom, even to this day. Now, we must either be stinky people or I am experiencing a throwback to something that had a real and biological purpose somewhere in our mammalian ancestry.

One article that I read last month in the New Scientist describes the secret signals in human sweat, which contains more than 2000 different compounds.

Pheromones are something of a sensitive subject in human biology. Though they are found across the animal world from insects to mammals, research into human pheromones has been dogged by flaky experimental designs and dubious commercial endorsements, with the result that the entire field has a whiff of the disreputable about it. "It's not so much that the jury is out, but that the jury has been dismissed before the trial has begun," says Mike Meredith, a neuroscientist at Florida State University in Tallahassee, who studies animal pheromones.

In recent years, though, this has begun to change. Evidence that animal pheromones don't always work in they way we thought, backed up by a growing number of brain-imaging studies in humans, is convincing some researchers that we really do make and respond to pheromones. As a result some think it's time to stop asking if human pheromones exist and start investigating exactly how they affect our behaviour.

The research into how we can smell fear in sweat is really fascinating and some have even commented on its ability to be used as a weapon, joking whether the military was planning to use pheromones to send people "stampeding like spooked cattle".

But while the scientists are still trying to figure out what role pheromones play in human scent communication, do you have any experience with identifying people by scent? If you have kids, do they sniff you out too?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Free range children

I ran across this website the other day, Free Range Kids, which espouses the virtues of letting your kids have a little more autonomy and the ability to run free. without parents monitoring their every move. Basically, have the same sort of childhood we had growing up.

I must admit, I love the idea, but it makes me nervous. Let's just say that my kids don't have nearly the same freedom I had growing up. I guess my justification is that I grew up in a very suburban area with lots of kids around and lots of stay at home parents and the only people in the neighborhood lived there. So, the risk of anything happening to us (aside from accidents) was small.

My husband grew up in rural Missouri so his experience was far more wild than mine, one that I can't really comprehend because, while I mostly ran around the neighborhood, hiding in the bushes and shrubbery and occasionally heading down to the wooded areas, he and his two brothers were romping through open fields, sampling every plant and weed around them. To this day they still joke about "eating bananas" and trying to defend themselves that they hadn't been out eating weeds. The whole while standing there with a large ring of green matter stained on their mouths.

I must also admit, that when we first moved to our new house I was appalled, aghast!, that the neighborhood kids all walked to school by themselves. Now, the school is about 2 blocks away and any child over 4 is more than capable of walking there themselves, but these were 2nd graders. But, they also had older siblings and neighbor friends they walked with so, really, how bad can it be?

I have improved slightly, and it helps that my kids are older (5 and 6), so I did let them play outside in the snow last month alone, out of sight, in the front yard. I told them to stay close, which they more or less did, although there were a number of times they wandered out of sight and needed to be corralled up. I just don't trust them yet to not run off somewhere. My mom, on the other hand, was concerned they'd be snatched up when she heard of our errant parenting. I assured her that if they did get snatched, they wouldn't make it around the block before they were dropped off right back where they started.

I think it's very important that kids spend a lot of time outdoors, in any weather. It doesn't also mean that they have to have a parent with them. Sure, they will get into trouble, just like we did, but how else will they learn about the natural world and their abilities in it?

Some might argue that the world is a different place and is more dangerous, scary, etc. but is it really? Do your kids have the same amount of freedom that you did growing up? Why or why not?

Related books:
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder
Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Childrearing in America
I Love Dirt!: 52 Activities to Help Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Being "helpful"

My mother, she means well. But, ever since she retired she's taken up complaining full-time. And when she isn't doing that, she spends her time trying to be helpful, which oftentimes isn't.

I should have known better when she started dropping hints about my "dead" Meyer lemon tree. Apparently, she had asked my husband over the weekend, no, I take that back, she had stated that we/she should pull all the leaves off my lemon tree. You know, the one that was recently under duress after being covered by a foot of snow and then stressed from being brought indoors and was attempting to recover?

Anyway, pulling off leaves is her idea of somehow readying it for the spring. She has a one-size fits all approach to plants and when she sees a less than green and glossy leaf, she pulls it off. Her only experience is with indoor plants, so how hard can it be?

My husband, not very unequivocally (because he doesn't know either), suggested that not all plants are the same and that maybe she should talk to me about it. It wouldn't have mattered all that much because, even if I had told her "please don't" or "no way", she would have gone ahead and done it anyway, since she knows best. Or, at the very least, that's what she thinks.

Now, don't get me wrong, she truly believes she does things with our best interests in mind. She just doesn't agree with what our best interests are. Hence, when I came home the other day (she was watching Emma for a bit), I was surprised to see that my Meyer lemon tree had been exceptionally defoliated or, rather, exfoliated.

Yes, she decided to pull off most of the leaves with Emma's help (and there were a lot). They left a few on so you can see that they weren't exactly healthy and would have fallen off all on their own, but I wanted to let the tree decide when it was going to drop its leaves for fear that yanking them out would further stress the already stressed tree. As you can also see, the branches are still green and there are little buds on it, so there's hope yet.

And, realistically, it probably won't affect the tree all that much. But, why oh why? This isn't the first time she's taken to pruning my plants after telling her no. I'm fairly certain she just thinks I'm terribly misguided.

Do you have someone in your life that tries to be "helpful"?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Depletion & Abundance discussion post - Part Three

Man, at this rate, Sharon's next book will be published and on the shelves before I finish the book club posts. But, I'm determined to speed things up since I know a lot of you have finished reading it a long time ago.

So, here's the third discussion post for the Depletion and Abundance book club. Now, be forewarned, I'm a little critical of these chapters, but I am really enjoying the rest of the book.

Chapter 6: Talking Population with Old Men. You'll have to forgive me on this one, but I had a real hard time getting through this chapter. Every time I tried to pick it up, things just grinded to a halt. I know Sharon has a background in demographics, but this chapter just didn't engage me as well as the others. I didn't want this to keep holding me up so I just sorta breezed through it.

So, here's my short synopsis of this chapter (and mind that I really didn't read the whole thing closely - I just skimmed through it, so it's possible I missed something): overpopulation is bad for everyone and the environment. If you have a lot of kids, try to live with a low-carbon impact and you'll end up actually using less resources than the average American family with no kids.

Chapter 7: The Permaculture of Family. The gist of the early part of this chapter is that, throughout human history, children have spent the majority of their lives with both parents every single day. This continued up through the transition to agriculture and really ended only in the modern era. Sharon states that this lifestyle is a more ecologically and environmentally sound form of family life and that it, ultimately, leads to greater psychological happiness.

This is where I differ with her a bit. I'm sure the children enjoyed being around their parents more often, but that time was spent working. Now, I'm not saying that a bit of work isn't good for children, but up to and during the industrial revolution we really saw the end of childhood as we know it today. In other words, children were considered to be just as useful and responsible for earning their keep as an adolescent or adult. This certainly doesn't necessarily preclude happiness, but it by no means suggests to me that these children were psychologically happier than children who spent their childhoods playing, albeit not at their parent's side while doing so.

Sharon also contends that, after decades spent living apart, we have created a society that "valorizes apartness and fears closeness". I would argue that people have chosen to live apart because they prefer it and, for the first time in history, a large group of the population could actually afford to do so. Given the choice of living under the thumb (or roof) of one's parents, in-laws, neighbors, relatives, what-have-you, most people prefer to live on their own.

I don't think it's because people fear closeness, it's because it's difficult for people to get along. Without some extenuating circumstance forcing them into living together (financial reasons, etc.), I believe that most people would choose to live in smaller family units away from the prying eyes of others.

Another point that Sharon makes is in discussing how "labor saving devices" (vacuum cleaners, washing machines, etc.) have stripped much of what was valuable and interesting in domestic work, rendering home labor boring. I'd have to contend that most domestic work is boring, particularly if you don't have a choice about the matter.

Doing domestic work as a hobby (like line drying clothes, washing dishes by hand, etc.), can be enjoyable and quite satisfying. But, if you have a huge list of manual labor tasks to get through and no quick alternatives to employ, scrubbing the clothes in the tub and wrestling with the dirt on the floors with a dustpan loses its luster real quick. She claims that "what the reduction of domestic work to cleaning did was take away the fun and excitement..." I don't think there's a whole lot of excitement in scrubbing toilets, but then again, maybe I'm in the minority here.

The last bit of the chapter deals with relying on family to help with housing and elder care. The argument that it's stupid for adult children to work a ton of hours in order to pay the costs to support their parents or grandparents in a nursing home assumes that those children wouldn't mind taking on this task themselves. For the most part, many of these adult children don't have the skills to take on an elder (and with people living longer, these elders have increasingly more physical and mental disease).

I think the underlying issue with this scenario and the idea that people would be much happier also assumes that you actually like your parents/grandparents and this wouldn't be a tremendous burden to either party. It's also possible that the parents/grandparents wouldn't like this situation either. If it works out for all parties involved in that everyone agrees that this is a doable arrangement and the older generation doesn't have significant health problems, then this certainly would be ideal, but I reckon that those families are in the minority. It isn't just social pressures that stop people from doing this, it's because, again, they don't want to. Of course, if economic pressures force one into that situation, it's a valuable arrangement, but I wouldn't argue that the people are happier for it.

Chapter 8: Raising Kids in a New World: Family Life and Education. In the first section of the chapter, Sharon discusses what I like to call "the toy situation". That is, Americans buy their kids too many toys and too many toys made out of crap. She urges us to buy non-toxic, more sustainable toys and in lesser quantities.

Now, while I agree with her, sometimes it's difficult to entice children with the hand-hewn wooden toys when brightly colored and molded Legos are calling. Now, I'm not talking about the cheap crap, just the environmentally unfriendly toys. So, in order to keep some semblance of family peace, I'm all for buying the coveted goods, just in small quantities.

Let me also state that, starting in this chapter, things really started taking off for me with her book and I was really excited with what she had to say. Now, Sharon and I may not agree on a lot of things, but it seems like we both end up at the same result regardless of our motivations.

In the next section, Sharon starts talking about something near and dear to my heart - adding ecological and agricultural education to our children's lives. As she mentions, expecting public/private education to provide this is not exactly realistic and it's something that, most likely, parents will have to do themselves. So, teaching your child about the native flora and fauna and learning where your water and electricity come from is a great start to an education that most adults don't even have. Throw in growing food and they are well on their way to self-sufficiency.

Sharon also discusses alternative or mixed forms of formal education for our children. I believe the solution is really dependent on a number of factors, specifically the availability of parents, proximity to schools, children's temperament and/or learning ability and strength of school districts, that I think it's difficult to extrapolate out a suggestion. What works for one family doesn't work for another. While I still disagree with her that the school systems will collapse in the coming years, it certainly doesn't hurt to have educational materials on hand just for your own edification.

Related posts:
Depletion & Abundance discussion post - Part One
Depletion & Abundance discussion post - Part Two
Depletion & Abundance - the book club

Related books:
Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front
The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience
Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change

Monday, January 5, 2009

Getting around to growing garlic

Yes, you've all heard me lamenting the fact that I hadn't gotten my garlic into the ground as early as I wanted, but this weekend I braved the cold temperatures and cleaned out one of the beds, added compost and planted 36 garlic cloves. I dutifully covered two of my beds (the other one is harboring cabbage and turnips that need some help) under floating row covers. So, hopefully that will help protect the garlic and keep it from getting too water-logged and rotting out.

I did some research the other night and found out that, here in the Pacific Northwest, we can plant garlic from between October to January. I'm still a little dubious on the later time frame, but I guess only time will tell.

Two years ago I got a late start and planted a few cloves in the early spring. Well, let me tell you, that didn't work out so well. If I had done my research I would have learned that garlic planted in the spring here usually ends up growing not a head of garlic, but one huge clove. We still ate them, but they weren't really worth the trouble.

Garlic braidLast year, in the midst of tons of hospital action I went out and planted about 5 grocery store cloves of garlic during a much needed act of gardening therapy. Only 4 of them actually produced something (one was puny), but let me tell you, I was totally sold on the experience. It was dumb-ass easy and totally worth the little effort. I had visions of planting a whole bed full of garlic this year but, alas, never got around to it.

I figure that I had about an 80% success rate last year, so maybe I'll have something more like 60% given the late start and the crappy weather (my newly planted garlic is now sitting under a few inches of snow that started falling last night). That's about 28 heads of garlic. I'm not about to start expecting that amount, but it will be fun to see what happens. If it's a total failure, well, at least I'll have the bed cleared up for something else.

Anyway, after reading all this great literature on growing garlic from the county extension offices in our state, I started daydreaming about starting a garlic farm in Eastern Washington. Then I realized how damn cold it gets over there during the winter and quickly decided that maybe just turning my backyard into "Crunchy's Garlic Nirvana" is about as good as it's going to get for now.

For those of you just dying to know what's going on with the rest of my lamentations, I didn't move quickly enough on the pumpkins after the freeze and all 5 of them turned into thinly veiled squishy sacks of liquid pumpkin snot. It became readily obvious since they were starting to turn black. So, they went into the yard waste bin (I still need to get that compost thing rolling).

My grape vines are still dormant and probably will stay that way and out of the ground until spring. I just need to make sure they stay watered. Should I bring them inside or leave them outside?

And, finally, I brought my sorry, sad little Meyer lemon tree inside the other day. My mom announced last night that she thought it looked dead. Hopefully it will recover, but I have my doubts.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Freezing corn: preservation methods compared

Thumbs downI wanted to share with you some of the results of the corn freezing methods that I tried last summer. Some came out fantastic and some came out inedible. I don't know if you have experienced the same problems as I, but here's the run-down.

1. Blanch and freeze off the cob: The first trial consisted of shucking the fresh corn, rinsing, blanching the corn on the cob in boiling water for 4 minutes and then placing into an ice bath for 5 minutes. I cut the kernels off the corn and put them into Ziploc freezer bags, sucking the air out with a straw, and then freezing. To reheat, I place the kernels in a microwave safe covered bowl and heat until hot.

Result: Good - a little better than premium organic frozen corn, but much cheaper and worth the effort.
Verdict: Would definitely do this again and would feel comfortable doing large quantities.

2. Grill and freeze off the cob: In the second trial, I decided to grill the corn instead of the hot water blanching, mostly because I was already grilling corn for dinner and just did the whole dozen ears while I was at it. I shucked the corn cobs, rinsed them, brushed them with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and grilled them as long as I normally do to ensure that the kernels were nicely caramelized. Once they were cool enough to handle, I cut the kernels off the cob, put them into Ziploc freezer bags, sucked the air out of the bags and then froze them. To reheat, I place the kernels in a microwave safe covered bowl and heat until hot.

Result: Fantastic - this is, by far, my most favorite method.
Verdict: Unless the grill is out of propane or it's a monsoon and raining like crazy, I will forever process my corn this way. The flavor, even after freezing, tastes just like right off the grill.

3. Blanch and freeze on the cob: Similar to method number one, I shuck the corn, rinse, boil in hot water for 4 minutes and dip into an ice bath for 5 minutes. I put the corn cobs into Ziploc freezer bags, sucking the air out with a straw, and then freeze. To reheat, I place the frozen cobs into boiling water and boil until tender.

Result: Terrible - this corn had such an odd, water-logged flavor to them that it was bordering on inedible. In fact, we ended up composting most of what I made.
Verdict: Unless I find out what I did that went so terribly awry, I won't be bothering with this method again. I really did it because I needed to process the corn in a hurry and was too lazy to cut the kernels off the cob. In the end, I would have saved more time and expense if I had just done method number one.

So, now I know what kind of corn preservation method I will be employing next summer. I love eating corn off season (without having it shipped in from who knows where) and plan on processing a ton next summer.

What's your favorite method of preserving corn?