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!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Eco friendly car wash

First of all, let me state that the picture to the left shows what not to wear while washing your car unless you are expecting to use your cleavage to hold the sponge. And, if that's the case, you'll really want to make sure you are using a non-toxic, and non-irritating, soap to do the job.

Anyway, what's the most eco friendly way to wash your car? That is, assuming you still have a car and haven't switched completely over to public transportation or personal modes of transportation (like walking or biking)? There are a number of "eco friendly" products on the market that tout being low phosphorus and the like, but what's the environmental cost of using them?

The biggest issues at hand are those dealing with water usage for starters, but the most striking problem has more to do with what gets washed off your car and goes down the storm drain. In most areas, the water that goes into the storm drain (the drains on your street) doesn't get processed by your local, friendly waste water treatment plant. Most likely it drains directly into your local waterways, affecting fish and other wildlife populations with the soap, grit, grease, salt, oil and pollution that has been collecting on your vehicle as you drive it about town.

How can you mitigate the junk coming off your trunk? Look for a car wash that uses non-toxic soaps and phosphate-free, biodegradable detergents plus one that recycles its wash water. If you don't have a car wash like that in your area, you can get your car washed at a car wash that sends the spent water to the nearest waste water treatment plant for processing.

Another option if the above isn't available or you don't want to pay for it is to wash your car at home using one of the no or low phosphate soaps on the market. However, if you wash your car at home, do it on a flat grass or gravel area that will absorb the wash water before it can run into the storm drain.

If you want to try something quite fancy you can check out the environmentally friendly car washes that don't require any water at all. So, not only do you save money and resources on water, but there's no water runoff. You would just need to clean the cloth you use to wash the car, but the water used for that would go to your waste water treatment facility. I haven't tried these products yet, but The Lucky Earth Waterless Car Wash, Eco Touch Waterless Car Wash, Freedom Waterless Car Wash and Dri Wash are some to check out.

Of course, like many alternative methods, this one requires a lot more elbow (or cleavage?) grease. Finally, when in doubt, I generally just don't wash my car very frequently. It saves all sorts of time, energy, money and resources. Plus, I'm just too damn lazy.

How do you wash your car and how often?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Is there a problem with bananas?

Unless you are my Dad and have a bunch of banana trees in your backyard, odds are that the bananas available to you in stores are in no way local. Even if you do live in an area that supports bananaculture (yes, I made that up), they won't be available year round.

So, what's a banana loving gal or guy to do? Well, the next best thing if you must have bananas is to buy organically grown ones. Even some of the major suppliers (Del Monte, Dole and Chiquita) now provide organic bananas. But, how sustainable are they? We know for a fact that they are shipped in from afar, raising the carbon footprint considerably, but what else is there to consider?

Is there really a difference in taste? I totally think so. The difference in flavors from conventional bananas and organic ones is huge. At least for me. However, there are plenty of issues with non-fair trade bananas, mostly revolving around workers' rights, dealing with terrorists and the like. In other words, fairly nasty business (check out link at the end for more information). The organic major brands are better than conventionally grown, but are by no means an option that will let you sleep soundly at night.

If you are lucky enough to have access to Grow brand organic bananas, you can purchase these bananas that don't cost much more per pound (at least in my area) than the conventionally grown, pesticide, non-crop rotated bananas. What's the difference? Well, let me tell you... they actually give a crap about the farmers who grow the bananas. From their website:
The GROW Fund supports numerous efforts that improve the lives of workers, their families and their surrounding communities. It also requires farmers to use Organic Unlimited's ecologically friendly farming techniques that protect the earth and allow for sustainable agriculture. The GROW Fund ethos forms Organics Unlimited's corporate culture. The company pledges to treat its employees with respect and dignity, provide a pleasant work environment, and be a socially responsible company.

There are other companies that provide fair trade certified bananas that may be available in your area. These bananas are much more available in the UK and Europe so if you live overseas, you'll have better luck buying them. In the meantime, keep your eyes (and your bananas) peeled for sustainably, humanely farmed bananas.

To really read into why Dole and Chiquita are problematic companies (think of the meaning behind "Banana Republic"), you can find out more about the belly of the beast in this article here.

Do you eat bananas or have you given them up for environmental reasons? If you still buy bananas, do you get conventional, organic and/or fair trade?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Two years of DivaCup

This is the first year that I didn't host a DivaCup Challenge on my blog. I have gotten the impression that many of you have already heard about it, but for those of you who haven't, the DivaCup is an internally used, reusable menstrual cup. It's made of silicone (there are other brands made of different materials if you have a silicone aversion), cost about $20 and seems to me to be fairly indestructible.

Of all the things I've done in the name of experimentation for this blog, this has to be the one change that I've been most consistent about. In fact, since I embarked on the DivaCup over two years ago, I haven't used anything else. I've written ad nauseum about it before so if you're curious, feel free to read back through previous posts.

One thing I never did revisit (and because some of you have asked) was my complaints about DivaCup changing their return policy as well as the "lifetime" of the product. Previously, it was stated that the DivaCup lasted interminably, but then it was edited to one year. In my mind, this negates the cost and environmental benefit if you feel like you are compelled to replace it every year.

Fairly immediately after that post, the company contacted me to share their side of the story. I didn't have the time to speak to them over the phone at the time and the information they supplied was the same that was sent out to their suppliers. Funny how in all the time I've been promoting their product, doing giveaways, talking it up like it's the bestest thing ever they never felt compelled to contact me. It wasn't until I had a criticism about the company that they immediately jumped to send me an email. I must confess this irked me considerably.

I later contacted them asking them to refute some other claims made in this article but they seemed reluctant to respond in writing, requesting a one-on-one phone conversation. I never got around to setting up the conference call and, frankly, I wasn't exactly expecting any new information than what was already previously stated.

But, for all that, if I could take only one thing to a deserted island with me it would be my DivaCup. Plus it doubles as a tiny drinking cup if I get real desperate - perfect for shots of coconut milk.

What about you? Do you use a reusable menstrual cup? Or are you still avoiding it like the swine flu?

P.S. There are a lot of reusable menstrual cups on the market if the DivaCup isn't working out for you. This is fantastic news since it means they are catching on! They vary in materials and sizes (Diva Cup is one of the largest out there) and some will replace it if you choose the wrong size, like Lady Cup:

The Keeper
Femme Cup
Lady Cup (also comes in pink!)
Fleurcup (French) comes in 5 colors
Green Donna
M Power (South Africa)
Yuuki Cup (someone in marketing needs to be fired for the naming of this product)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Green Teen - book review

It's been a while since I've been a teenager, but I can certainly appreciate their concerns about the environment. Back when I was a teen, the biggest issues that kept me up at night were nuclear war and holes in the ozone. Well, that and Don Johnson. Kids today can add environmental destruction to the list of things to preoccupy themselves.

Having a newly minted teenage niece (well, she just turned 14 less than a month ago), I was interested in doing a review of The Green Teen: The Eco-Friendly Teen's Guide to Saving the Planet, written by Jenn Savedge, a fellow Green Mom and host of this week's carnival.

The book contains super salient information about being environmentally friendly, yet geared for a younger audience. It starts off with a global warming primer and then gets right into tips for how teens can green themselves (food, clothing), their homes (turning off water, lights) and school (lunch, recycling programs). The final sections describe what they can do to get more involved and even prepare themselves for a green collar job, for those teens already planning for their future career. Well, one that doesn't involve living on a sailboat with an alligator named Elvis and hanging out with an overacting partner named Tubbs. But, I digress...

If you know a teen who is interested in green or, really, any color, surreptitiously leave this gem around the house in some inconspicuous (but obvious) spot for them to find. Because, you know, if they discover it and find out the information on their own, it's way better than you telling them to turn off the lights, shut off the water when they brush their teeth, recycle their cans, etc.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The edible schoolyard

I have to say, I'm super excited by the fact that my kids' elementary school has plans to create space for a vegetable garden. The building of the space was underway during June and the kindergarten class helped put in plant starts right before school ended. So far, they've got beans, summer squash, corn, sunflowers and a whole host of other goodies in.

The rest is getting prepped for planting. Since it's being built in an area that was formerly grass, there is a bit of work to do and I really don't want to think of what kind of chemicals or contaminants might be in the soil (I hope someone tested it). But, at the very least, it's showing the couple hundred children that go to school there, as well as their parents, that growing your own food is actually quite easy.

I can't say that I had any part of getting this arranged since it sounds like it was the kindergarten class that got it going. They even have parents signed up all summer to come down and water the plants. Since I live a few blocks away and we use the park and playground next door all the time, it will be interesting to watch how it progresses.

I'm hoping the other classes will integrate lessons into the new space. I know they grow edible plants from seed, so this is very encouraging that they have somewhere to plant them. (We have a pumpkin plant my son started growing in class that now resides in the potato bin - don't ask). The local high school has been selling plant starts every spring in their parking lot for at least the last two years. I believe it's part of the botany class, but they always have a fairly decent selection of plants to buy.

Does your local school system encourage food gardening on their grounds?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Make your own mascarpone

I don't know about you, but I love foods made with mascarpone, even though I inevitably always mispronounce it. It's that triple-cream cheese that's used in making tiramisu and a whole host of very tasty sweet and savory Italian dishes. You can also serve it with fruit or it can be mixed with cocoa or coffee.

Unfortunately, it's also very expensive to buy, that is, if you can find it in stores. However, luckily for us, it's actually quite easy to make yourself*.

Homemade mascarpone

16 ounces (not ultra-pasteurized) organic whipping cream
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a wide skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the water is barely simmering. Pour the cream into a medium heat-resistant bowl, then place the bowl into the water in the skillet.

Heat the cream, stirring often, to 190 F. It will take about 15 minutes of gentle heating. Add the lemon juice and continue heating the mixture, stirring gently, until the cream curdles. The whipping cream will become thicker and will cover the back of your spoon thickly.

When the cream reaches temperature, keep it at temperature for 5 minutes, then remove the bowl from the water and let the mixture cool for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, line a sieve with four layers of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Pour the mixture into the lined sieve. Once it is cooled completely, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate in the sieve overnight or up to 24 hours. Transfer to a sealable storage container. Or your mouth, whichever comes first.

Yield: about 12 oz

*Based on this recipe.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Confessions of an eco-sinner

I know I've discussed this in the past but, as part of the Green Moms Carnival, this month we are posting about our eco-confessions. Things that we indulge in that, well, aren't exactly eco-friendly. It's being hosted by Jenn at The Green Parent so get ye over there on June 24th and check out all the self-flagellations.

To start, just like Diane, we still get the NY Times and a bunch of magazines. So, sue me. There's just nothing that can complete with the printed word. Sure, I'm covetous of the Kindle and it's a heck of a lot easier to read than previous electronic devices, but honestly I hate reading anything substantial online. Maybe that's why my posts are always kinda short.

Like Micaela, I still drive instead of bike and, also like Lisa, I indulge in using plastic produce bags rather than my cloth produce bags. My kids and Karen both have an affinity for tape. And I let them. Hey, it's better than drugs.

Similar to the other Lisa, I drink way too much coffee and eat way too much chocolate. But, what else are you going to do when the skies are dark gray 10 months out of the year? At least this year I'm growing my own tea bush. As for Eco Burban Mom, I'm all down with the soft, lotiony tissues when someone is sick. I just make up for it later with the scratchy, recycled kind.

And, I'll throw in the following for good measure: I don't save my shower warm-up water anymore, the clothing line has gone north for the summer, I've temporarily switched back to an anti-perspirant instead of the Rock, and I don't pee on my plants as much as people attribute to me. But, the rest has remained the same and I still do more rather than less.

What about you? What are your guilty non-eco-friendly pleasures?

Update: Ack! I just realized that the reason why the title of my post sounded so darn familiar is because it's the name of a book I started reading a while back: Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff! Sorry Fred...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Easy peasy makeup remover

I've been trying out all sorts of new stuff this last week, the most recent using coconut oil as an eye makeup remover. And, let me tell you! It's super.... well, you might as well read my review over on Green Goddess Dressing instead of me repeating myself here.

Let me just tell you this: the average person uses as many as 25 personal care products, exposing themselves to upwards of 100 different chemicals before breakfast. So, since the FDA does not test the chemicals in any cosmetic product before it hits store shelves and is not authorized to require recalls of cosmetics that are found to contain toxins, why not give the natural alternative a whirl?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Clean your face with honey

As a follow-up to yesterday's discussion on eco friendly facial cleansers, I gave washing my face with honey a try last night. I also went to town and used coconut oil as a facial moisturizer.

Sound crazy? Go read my report over on Green Goddess Dressing.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Eco facial cleansers

Eventually, I'll stop all this redirecting to my other blog, but in the meantime you can go read about what I do for an eco friendly facial cleanser on Green Goddess Dressing today.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Organic sunscreen

I'm doing a review of Vivesana Organic Sun Care over on Green Goddess Dressing today if you want to see what this sunscreen is all about!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Getting suited for summer

If you are thinking of checking out some organic cotton swimsuits for summer, go check out my post, Organic Cotton Swimwear, over on Green Goddess Dressing.

There's no guarantee you'll end up looking like Gisele on the left if you buy a 100% organic cotton bikini, but it's worth a look!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Drink your roses - make rosolio

I'm reading another book by the same author from whom I got the Asparagi alla Milanese recipe. This one is called, Libation: A Bitter Alchemy and, no surprises here, it's about the origins of different drinks, written in a series of essays.

And wouldn't you know it, before you even hit page 50, there's already a recipe I want to try out using my roses. You see, I've already made rose jam and rose potpourri and I'm hankering to try something new. So, when I ran across the recipe for making rosolio, an Italian liqueur made with rose petals, I knew I wanted to give it a whirl. My brother is the master of making his own lemon liqueur, limoncello, and I've always wanted to try doing it. I've never had rosolio, but it sounds rather tempting and, most importantly, super easy to do. There are other recipes online for making rosolio, but this one sounds way more tasty to me.

Here's the instructions from the book (p. 37):
Pick roses at the hottest point of the day - red roses, for they will impart more color and flavor to the alcohol. (If you do not have your own rose garden, I recommend procuring your roses from a friend or a local grower so that you can be certain that the blooms have not been treated with any chemicals.)

Separate the petals from the flower. Trim the white edge at the base with a knife or scissors. Weigh out 1.75 ounces petals, then steep the petals in a jar of 190 proof (95 percent) pure grain alcohol with a vanilla bean in a large canning jar. Close the jar and set aside in a dark place for two weeks. After two weeks, strain the liquid, removing the rose petals and vanilla bean.

Prepare a simple syrup by dissolving 1 pound sugar and 3.25 cups water. Add the simple syrup to the alcohol, return the mixture to the jar, and store for another two weeks. At the end of those two weeks, filter and bottle. After your first tasting, more simple syrup can be added if desired to cut the hotness of the alcohol and suit your taste.

If you get cracking now, you'll have enough rosolio to give away for holiday gifts this year!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Columnar apple tree update

My babiesAs you may recall, I recently purchased two columnar apple trees back in March. I bought one Northpole and one Scarlet Sentinel and they are doing just fabulous.

I haven't gotten around to planting them yet and, even though they are still in pots, they are healthy and looking beautiful on my deck. They are pretty much done flowering and are both covered with tiny fruit as you can see in the picture on the upper left. I might just end up planting them in larger pots and keeping them in containers so I can move them wherever I like.

Columnar applesFor those of you unfamiliar with columnar apples, the apples on these trees grow along the main branch and they pretty much grow straight up, although you can get them to spread a bit. Mature columnar apple trees average eight to ten feet tall and only about two feet wide. The fruit on them is normal size, but the tree itself takes up much less space.

So, if you have a tiny space and didn't think you could have fruit trees, even on a patio, you might want to give these columnar trees a try. If you don't like apples and have a hankering for peaches, you can get those as well. Too cool!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

New blog - Green Goddess Dressing

Okay, so I've started a new blog. I figured I already had a separate food blog, so I might as well start one to compile all my green fashion and beauty posts as well as include additional product reviews and stuff that not everyone here would be interested in.

It's called Green Goddess Dressing and the first week will be re-posts of stuff you've already seen here, but I'll be branching out into more product reviews, beauty related book reviews and green fashion information. I don't have all the bells and whistles going on yet, but that will come soon enough.

I'd certainly appreciate if you mosey on over and check it out and sign up!

Monday, June 1, 2009

SpaRitual polish review

SpaRitual Nail ColorI recently had the chance to check out a salon in my neighborhood that offers nail care services using a blend of their own skin care products. Zerene Salon exclusively uses a nail polish called SpaRitual, which is vegan, DBP, formaldehyde and toluene free.

Why avoid these ingredients? Well, for starters, DBP, or dibutyl phthalate, is a plasticizing ingredient that has recently been banned for use in cosmetic products in the European Union. DBP is a potential developmental and reproductive toxin that may cause a broad range of birth defects. Toulene is a toxic volatile organic compound often used as an industrial solvent and formaldehyde is great if you want to preserve yourself. It is used as an embalming agent.

How well does it work? Initially, the nail polish is a little more liquidy than the "standard" polishes and you might find you'll need an additional coat to get the coverage you like. But, as the product ages and gets exposed to the air, it will thicken up. I found it lasts just as long and is as chip resistant too.

I'm pretty excited to see that there are tons of nail polishes on the market that are removing some of the more insiduous or, at the very least, questionable, chemicals from their products. Is it as good as not using nail polish? Well, no, but if you like to have your nails painted, make sure you buy safer products. And, if you get your nails done and they don't carry these types of products, ask them to start stocking them. Or, better yet. Bring your own.