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!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Transition Handbook: book giveaway

Welcome to day three of green book week, where I'm giving away a green book a day. If you didn't see the previous posts, there's still time to enter the drawing for The Green Teen and Chickens in Your Backyard.

Today's giveaway is for The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, by the Founder of the Transition Movement, Rob Hopkins. Now, before you get all wrapped up in the peak oil/oil dependency stuff, let it be known that this book is an excellent reference for how to create a more local economy.

For those of you interested in supporting local businesses, farms, and basically having independence from the larger economy as a whole, you will be interested in this book, and what it has to say as well. Some of the reviews (this one from Library Journal) include:
Meant to be a guide and motivator, the handbook discusses how several U.K. towns are preparing for the twin threats of climate change and peak oil. Hopkins, a teacher of permaculture and natural building and a cofounder of the Transition Network, urges a community response—local sustainability made fun—in which groups grapple with issues like food, transportation, energy, building materials, and waste and even develop their own local currency.

So, if you want to learn how to respond to a low carbon future by thinking globally while acting locally, this book is for you!

To enter the random drawing to win this book, add your name to the comments of this post. You have until Friday, October 2nd, at 6:00 pm PST to enter. The winner will be drawn and announced on Saturday. Bonne chance!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chickens in Your Backyard: book giveaway

Welcome to day two of green book week, where I'm giving away a green book a day. If you didn't see yesterday's post, there's still time to enter the drawing for The Green Teen.

Today's giveaway is for Chickens In Your Backyard: A Beginner's Guide.

If you have ever thought of getting chickens as pets, egg layers or meat, this is one fantastic book to start with. I've read quite a few books on raising chickens and this one was one of my favorites with easy to digest information and enough details to get you started without being completely overwhelmed.

Since it focuses on backyard chickens (rather than starting your own poultry farm), it takes into consideration your space limits and other issues you might run into. From the back cover:
Your backyard can be the source of the best eggs and meat you've ever tasted. The answer is chickens - endearing birds that require but a modest outlay of time, space and food.

As they learned to raise chickens, Gail and Rick Luttmann came to realize the need for a comprehensive but clear and nontechnical guide. Their book covers all the basics in a light and entertaining style, from housing and feeding through incubating, bringing up chicks, butchering, and raising chickens for show.

Throughout the book, the Luttmanns express their wonder at the personalities of chickens - the role of brash protector played by roosters, and the instinctive motherliness of the hens. Given some freedom and attention, these birds can become much more than the egg-and-meat machines of commercial hatcheries and broiler factories. Chickens provide backyard farmers with enjoyable pastime, as well as a supply of good food.

If you want to enter the random drawing to win this book, add your name to the comments of this post. You have until Friday, October 2nd, at 6:00 pm PST to enter. The winner will be drawn and announced on Saturday. Good luck!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Green Teen: book giveaway

I'm feeling much better, but I'm still slightly addled so it's a great week to give away a bunch of books! Since I haven't done this in a while, today begins green book week, where I'll be giving away one book a day. And, this time I promise to actually mail them out to the winners in a timely manner.

Today's book is The Green Teen, written by the venerable Jenn Savedge. I reviewed this book back in June. But, for your benefit, I'll repeat it here, since clicking back is too much work.

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 teenage niece, 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.

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.

Okay, if you want to enter the random drawing to win this book (it makes an excellent gift for your Buy Hand for the Holidays Challenge), add your name to the comments of this post. You have until Friday, October 2nd (my hubby's b-day!) at 6:00 pm PST to enter. The winner will be drawn and announced on Saturday. Buena suerte!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Turn your old toilet into a dual flush

First, let me state for the record, that I have absolutely no association or contact with this product or company. I haven't seen it in action or know how well it works, but wanted to let you guys know about it.

I was listening to a story about dual-flush toilets on NPR and looked into this option because of the cost and "recycling" of your current toilet. That said, let me tell you what the heck I'm talking about.

It's called the Perfect Flush and it's from Brondell. Basically, it works on your current toilet and, after installing a few doodads onto the tank, turns it into a dual-flush toilet. Half-Flush for urine and TP and the like and Full-Flush for when you need more gusto.

One of the benefits of converting your current toilet is that it will not only save you time and money, but your toilet won't end up in the landfill. Now, I'm not going to claim that this thing will allow you to flush tennis balls, potatoes and t-shirts, like the ones features in the NPR story, but if you don't want to replace your entire toilet and like the idea of a dual-flush toilet, then this thing might be worth checking out.

Do you have a dual flush toilet? If not, how do you go about saving water when it comes to flushing?

Cancelling the paper

Well, we did it. We cancelled our subscription to the NY Times. It's not that we don't read it, although there are certain sections that I will dearly miss. Tuesday's Science, Wednesday's Dining, Thursday's Style. Sigh. I guess I'll be getting my fix electronically now.

It's been a long time coming. I find it hard to justify getting the physical paper since most articles can be read online. As much as I love supporting them, it is expensive.

Now we'll actually have to make conversation at the table. Unfortunately, for the most part, any conversation around these parts gets drowned out by small people conversation that tends to revolve around butts, other body parts and Bakugan. Generally in that order.

What about you guys? Do you still subscribe to a newspaper?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Buy Hand for the Holidays ideas and links

If you signed up for the Buy Hand for the Holidays Challenge and now are panicking over what the heck you are going to do, I thought I'd throw out a couple of ideas to get you started.

Want to get ideas of what to make? Craftzine should be your first stop. If you can't find anything inspiring there, saunter on over to Craftster for some awesome ideas, including craftastrophes, which would make some great joke gifts.

Keep in mind that, just because something is handmade, doesn't mean that it was "built green". In other words, you can buy some seriously environmentally unfriendly handmade items out there, that isn't much better than mass-manufactured plastic junk. So, keep this in mind when looking around. Choose natural fibers, fabrics and materials and, when you can, choose organic. Keep the packaging and shipping to a minimum as well, if possible.

The first place for checking out handmade stuff online should be the Buy Handmade site where people post links to their handmade wares. It's a little hard to navigate through the 45,000 or so posted links, so your better bet for searching for something specific is to go to Poppy Talk Handmade and Etsy.

There are a veritable shitload of craft how-to's out there, and I found a ton I like over on Purlbee, among other sites. I've listed a few I thought might be of interest here, some more difficult than others. If you have a middling talent at sewing, knitting and/or crotcheting, most of these shouldn't be too daunting. Although, I must admit, that some are far beyond my talents.

Crafts to get you thinking:
  • Woven Felt Placemats
  • Fabric Gift Tags
  • Crotcheted Linen Grocery Tote
  • Quick Dishtowels
  • Handmade Napkins
  • Handmade Ties!
  • Plaid Pillows (from men's shirts)
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Easy Lace Scarf (knit)
  • Springtime Scarf (crotchet)
  • Needlepoint Pillow
  • Cashmere Fingerless Gloves
  • Wool Blanket

    For the kids:
  • Tooth Fairy Bag (I need to get making a couple of these cuties!)
  • Skirts for Girls
  • Felted Christmas Trees
  • Lunchbag
  • Felt Aquarium Magnets
  • Sidewalk Chalk
  • Felt Doll (these are amazing!)
  • Elf Skittles
  • Bobble Dress (Crotchet)

    For those pet lovers:
  • Homemade Dog Biscuits
  • Cat Scarf
  • Pet Leash

    Quick projects (for those who wait until the last minute):
  • 11th Hour Scarf
  • Cozy Quick Blankie
  • Embroidered Plushies

    Soaps and Scrubs:
  • Homemade Lavendar Dishsoap
  • Moisturizing Kitchen Hand Scrub

    You'll want to wait until we get closer to the holidays before making the following food items (if that wasn't already patently obvious), except for the jar recipe. I'm including these here for planning.

    Foods 'n Stuffs:
  • Homemade Almond Roca
  • Pumpkin Biscotti
  • White Chocolate Brownie Mix in a Jar (I plan on livening this up a bit by adding 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper to the mix and calling it Mexican Chocolate Brownies)
  • Homemade Fortune Cookies
  • Aztec Chocolate Bark
  • Chocolate Truffles
  • Chocolate Cookies with Cocoa Nibs and Lime
  • Homemade Beef Jerky

    Odds and Ends:
  • A hand made recipe book compiling old family and favorite recipes. If you start now, you could also include some pictures here and there. If you're worried about printing it out you can make it entirely electronic either as a PDF file or even creating a family recipe website.
  • Make a family calendar, including pictures of family and friends for the months and including birthdays, anniversaries and the like
  • Make handmade soap or wax candles
  • Make homemade liquors

    That's the list for now. I'll be compiling a list of links to reader's stores, so if you sell your handmade stuff, send me the link.

    Happy planning!
  • Tuesday, September 22, 2009

    Fall vegetable plantings

    Maybe I'm being lulled into a false sense of season given the high temperatures we are having this week, but I'm planning on planting some fall vegetables this week in hopes that they'll provide some goodies for us over the next few months.

    I still have the kale trees going strong (complete with white fly infestation), my cabbage plants are just now coming on strong and same thing with the broccoli. My tomato plants are totally loving this heat and are producing some fantastic late season crops, the likes I've never seen before.

    What will I be planting in addition to all this stuff still growing (not including, of course, all the herbs that are still doing their thang)? Well, I'm going to plant frost hardy spinach and lettuces as well as radishes, more kale and possibly some things to overwinter. I'll also be getting on the ball this year and planting garlic sooner rather than later. The panic planting I did last January resulted in some rather puny looking garlic heads. Lesson learned.

    By the way, my columnar apple trees appear to have survived the drought, where all the leaves turned brown, and despite the fact that my kids pulled off all the apples since it was, apparently, "Indian Village Week" back in early August. Whatever the hell that is. I know they are surviving because they have green leaves on them and, showing their complete confusion, are covered in pink blossoms. Go figure.

    Are you growing a fall vegetable garden? If so, what do you have going on?

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    Buy Hand for the Holidays Challenge

    I really like doing the Buy Nothing Challenges, mostly because they make me think about the purchases I make and keep the spending down considerably. Well, at least from my end of the credit card. I wanted to do another one this year, but it always gets more difficult as we near the holidays as people have a lot of shopping they need to do, not only for gift giving, but also for holiday celebrations, parties, dinners and the like.

    So, I got an idea that I'm pretty excited about. It's a new challenge that I'm unleashing on you and I'm calling it the Buy Hand for the Holidays Challenge. What's with the name and what does it mean?

    Well, the goal of the challenge is to have you do one or more of the following:

  • hand-make your gifts
  • buy your gifts that are handmade by someone else (like from Etsy or a local craftsperson)
  • buy it used either at a thrift store, yard sale, Craigslist or Freecycle, etc.
  • barter for your gifts

    Giving you all these choices allows that you can still get products for gifts if you don't know necessarily what to make, but you aren't contributing to new purchases and all the environmental impact associated with that. Now, I know this is a HUGE chunk to bite off, so I'm going to let you be flexible about it. Some of you might try to shoot for 100% Buy Hand and some will choose to buy certain objects they know they can't get away with otherwise.

    I'm announcing it so bloody early in the season because I know it's going to take a lot more thought, planning and, in many cases, energy to pull off a Buy Hand Holiday. As the season wears on, I'll be posting skads of suggestions for gifts that you can make, ideas for sticking to the guidelines and open it up to you guys for suggestions. By telling us what you're doing, it will give the rest of us great ideas for gift giving.

    If you are willing to sign up for the Buy Hand for the Holidays Challenge add your name to the comments, including any ideas you have about what to give, just to give people an idea of where to start. If you would like to promote the challenge on your blog or site, you can add this code for the button doohicky:

    <a href=""><img src="" border="0" alt="Buy Hand for the Holidays Challenge - 2009" /></a>

  • Sunday, September 20, 2009

    Cloth Wipe Challenge Wrap-up

    Cloth Wipe Challenge 2009Today wraps up the Cloth Wipe Challenge for 2009 and I know more of you are participating than those who responded to the check-in earlier in the week. For those of you who haven't weighed in yet, now's your chance. Now that you've had a whole week to try it out, what are your thoughts? Will you continue or are you gonna hang up your wipes?

    For the rest of you, here's a poll, because we haven't had enough lately!

    Would you ever try using cloth wipes?

    Saturday, September 19, 2009

    Golden showers proven to improve crops

    Here's a little vindication for you! For those of you who think I'm nuts for suggesting you use your urine as fertilizer for your crops, I thought I'd share this article with you, from the UK Daily Mail: Science & Tech (the emphasis are mine):
    Gardeners keen to boost their crop of tomatoes may be surprised to learn they can turn to an unusual and free source of fertiliser.

    Allotment growers can enrich the soil and therefore their plants using their own wee, according to a new study. Scientists discovered the unusual addition made crops up to four times larger.

    A team of Finnish researchers found that sprinkling tomatoes with human urine mixed with wood ash was the ultimate eco-friendly fertiliser. It worked just as well with cucumber, corn, cabbage and other crops. Although scientists have previously tested urine on plants, this is the first one to mix it with wood ash.

    The mixture produced bumper harvests when compared to untreated plants.

    It could one day be substituted for costly synthetic fertilisers.

    The university study, published in this month's Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, found using nitrogen-rich urine does not carry any risk of disease.

    When combined with wood ash is perfect to provide minerals and reduce the acidity of soil.

    Report author Surenda Pradhen said the findings could lead to a new source of cheap fertiliser without the need to use potentially dangerous chemicals.

    'The results suggest that urine with or without wood ash can be used as a substitute for mineral fertiliser to increase the yields of tomato without posing any microbial or chemical risks,' she concluded.

    So there. Don't be complaining to me if you've got puny crops... you know what to do!

    Who out there is still fertilizing their crops with diluted urine? Anyone... anyone?

    Thanks to all of you who emailed me the article!

    Friday, September 18, 2009

    Book club: Made from Scratch

    Well, the voting is dying down on the selection for the next book club and it looks like the winner, by a wide margin, is going to be Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life. This book will tie in nicely with my next super challenge which I'm going to announced this Monday. I'm so excited!!

    Anyway, I digress, it also looks like the author, Jenna Woginrich, is willing be participate in our book club nonsense, I mean, discussions, so I'm very excited about that, too! So, get yer copy and start reading. I'll be posting the first discussion post sometime in mid-October so we can hopefully be finished before the holidays begin en force.

    Let me know if you'd like to start sooner and I'll get on it!

    Homemade dog treats

    I've discussed in the past how there are pets in your commercial pet food. In other words, dead animals (cats and dogs alike) get recycled into that kibble. Here's a little clip from my previous post:
    Most commercial pet food ingredients all start at the rendering plant, where carcasses of various dead animals are rendered into a by-product that is used primarily for animal and pet feed. What goes into this mix? Well, downed farm animals, dead laboratory animals, what's left over after slaughter of meat and hide animals (such as heads, hoofs, bowels, diseased parts, tumors, bones, contaminated meat and the like), road kill, euthanized or dead companion animals (aka pets), restaurant grease and garbage, and pastries and meat past their pull date from grocery stores.

    So, even though I don't currently have any pets, I'm always on the lookout for good homemade pet food recipes. Well, I ran across one yesterday that I think y'all might be interested in. It's a post written by one of the moms at my kid's school and she runs the 4H Club there. The other day the 4H group made homemade dog treats to sell at the annual craft fair to make money for the club.

    If you are interested in the recipe, as well as cute pictures of kids making pet treats for their 4H Club, go check out the post! I can't attest to how tasty they are, but the recipe certainly sounds good! The nice thing about these dog treats is that they freeze really well, so you can make a bunch and store them for special occasions like doggie birthdays, holidays and anniversaries.

    Have you tried making your own pet food or snacks or do you try to buy more natural pet food products?

    Photo courtesy of Skruben

    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Cloth Wipe Challenge check-in

    Cloth Wipe Challenge 2009How's the Cloth Wipe Challenge going for those of you participating? Are you finding it easier or a lot harder than you expected?

    I know when I first started out, I felt like I was doing something illicit. Like wiping my ass on the bath towels and not telling anyone. Or picking my nose and wiping it on the carpet. Well, you get the idea. Once you get over that strange feeling of wrongness and embrace the softness of cloth wipes, one can become rather giddy with excitement. Or something like that.

    So, how's been your experience? Are you ready to sing from the rooftops, smile secretly to yourself, or give up the wipes?

    Critter cuisine

    Yesterday I was reading, in between projects, one of my self-sufficiency mags and was skimming through an article on hunting squirrels, when I was struck by the fact that the recipes in there sounded horribly disgusting. Now, since the author claimed that squirrel tastes just like chicken, couldn't they have come up with something better than Creamed Squirrel served over biscuits or some other bowel-plugging temptation?

    Sure, I get that it takes about 3 squirrels to make up one cup of squirrel meat, so can't we simmer that in a white wine, garlic and tarragon cream sauce? Served over tagliatelle with shaved Parmesan and cracked pepper? Or, to get away from that whole creamed thing, what about braising it with a rosemary, plum and port sauce? Why does critter cuisine have to be so nasty?

    I'm not averse to eating random critters if prepared well. Not that I do, but it certainly doesn't make my stomach churn like these recipes. Then again, those same recipes would be just as unappealing if they had chicken or beef in them. It's the idea that, if you're going to subsist on these types of foodstuffs, you better prepare them to 1950s standards. Or, maybe the people writing these articles all peaked out in the 50s.

    Anyway, that's not entirely the point of my post today. My point is, how willing are you to catch, capture, or kill critters for consumption? (Sorry for the alliteration, I couldn't help myself.) I'm even going to take it easy on you. What would you be willing to eat, even if someone else did the hunting and preparing?

    Since I've turned into a poll whore, here's another one for you. I've grouped them by critter type, but don't be too put off if one of the things in the list doesn't appeal to you, it's just to get an idea. And, it's multiple choice, bien sûr!

    I'd be willing to eat:

    Bon appetit!

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Gone canning

    I got a surprise batch of plums from a neighbor friend yesterday and made 21 half-pint jars of Cinnamon Ginger Plum Jam with Lillet. That still left a ton of plums so I'll be working on making Cardamom Plum Fruit Leather. If there's any left over I might make some Plum Bread for freezing or I might just freeze the plums straight up for use later.

    I checked on my kale, since I was planning on freezing that as well, but I noticed they are infested by tons of tiny white insects. Anyone know what these things are and how to get rid of them? They are not aphids, I think they are some kind of mite.

    Finally, in order to save some grapes that were a little too high on the tannin side, I made some grape juice, which was really easy and the kids are enjoying that as well. I have some good news about my apple trees, but that will have to wait for another post because I am too tired.

    What kind of preserving/canning/freezing/drying are you doing right now?

    Photo courtesy of Coco Cooks.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Cutting the heat and cutting costs

    Now, you all know what's coming around the bend, don't you? The time for freezing one's buns is almost nigh and I hope you all are planning on joining me for the third year of the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge. I'll be posting more about that next month, but in the meantime I just had to share with you some exciting news!

    For those of you following along at home, last week I was ruminating over the state of our oil heat supply and whether or not to switch to B99 BioHeat (99% biodiesel) now that it's available or to switch back to standard/conventional heating oil. You can go read the post and comments to see what the conundrum is all about, but the short story is that there are more petroleum inputs to creating biodiesel than just using the petroleum directly.

    Of course, at issue is the source of the biodiesel. So, I called out heating company to talk prices and sources and such and found out that their source of biodiesel used to be a local company that went out of business. They won't source a waste veggie oil program because of very inconsistent products and availability and so they are now getting their biodiesel from midwest grown, soy-based Cargill biodiesel. Well, that there decided it all for me.

    For the record, the price differential for the different blends are as follows (the number represents the percentage of biodiesel in the blend). The difference is about 50 cents a gallon between 99% biofuel and standard heating oil. The cost differential isn't as dramatic as I thought it was going to be:

    B99 $3.479
    B50 $3.219
    B25 $3.089
    Standard heating oil $3.049

    But, my last question is the exciting part. I asked him to tell me the amount of oil we use per year (it's rather impossible to tell from their cryptic delivery receipts). In the 2006/2007 heating season it ended up being about 500 gallons per year. This was before the first Freeze Yer Buns Challenge. And, in the 2008/2009 heating season we used about 250 gallons per year. That's a 50% reduction in heating oil difference! That's about $780 a year savings. Apparently, their average customer uses 600 gallons of oil per year. That means we used about 42% of the average.

    Now, I must confess that we did offset some of this by using space heaters last season. I went back through our electrical bills to see how much more we were spending and it was about 1-2 extra kWh per day (at about $.05 per kWh), coming to something like $10 - $15 for the season for extra electricity. One more caveat is that my husband was home full-time last season so the heat was up more than normal.

    Anyway, not only is the extra electricity cheap (thanks to the wind farms and hydro up here), it's nice to know that it is based on renewable resources. All in all, I'd estimate we saved around $750 last year by turning down our heat and using space heaters instead of heating the whole house with B25.

    If this isn't an example and incentive to turn down your thermostat, I don't know what is!

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    Conserving resources

    This post is my contribution to the Green Moms Carnival which will be hosted by Micaela on her blog, Mindful Momma.

    You hear all sorts of admonishments for helping "save" the environment. Replace this lightbulb with that one, recycle what you can, compost your food waste, switch out one product for the "eco" version. The list goes on and on. But you generally don't see too much about the missing link.

    So, what's the best way to conserve resources? Stop buying and stop using stuff. I'm happy that you are recycling 80 cardboard boxes every week, but the consumption involved in the packaging of whatever it is you are buying is far more detrimental than the offset of recycling. I'm glad that you are composting your food waste. But, it would be a hell of a lot more effective if you didn't generate any food waste by mindful shopping and meal planning.

    Yes, that whole reduce thing is not very sexy. What did you do this weekend? "I went to the farmers market and bought some locally raised fruits and vegetables" is a whole lot sexier than, "I rummaged through my fridge, freezer and pantry to do my meal planning for the week." And "we spent the holidays canning pumpkin and making turkey stock for the winter" doesn't sound nearly as exciting as "I spent Thanksgiving vacation at an eco-resort in the Bahamas."

    Now, I'm not in any way suggesting that you shouldn't recycle, buy local and make more eco-friendly choices. But using less of everything: water, energy, food and consumer goods will go a whole lot farther than replacing one thing for another.

    What do you think is the most effective way to conserve resources?

    Wind turbine - eyesore or awesome?

    Since we're talking energy these days, I wanted to ask your opinion on something I read in yesterday's NY Times that discussed how some individuals were being thwarted from installing a wind turbine on their private property even though the code in their area says it's legal. Mostly the reasons for it are due to the height and, basically, what an eyesore they are for the neighbors.

    Other issues include improper installation and fear of the windmill falling over and landing on your house, fear of the blades shearing off and/or ice flying off the blades in winter, shadow flicker (the strobe of sunlight passing through rotating blade) and, most importantly, noise. Perhaps flying fricasseed birds should be added to this handbag of reasons. The American Wind Energy Association estimates that one-third of small wind projects are thwarted by vague or overly strict local laws, or by outdated zoning rules that preclude them.

    What do you think about the responsibility of neighbors regarding installing these energy generators? It can certainly be argued that it's one thing when you live out in a rural area with lots of land. It's another issue altogether when you live in close proximity to someone else's property.

    I know in California the installation of solar panels has caused issues since you can force a neighbor to cut down or trim their trees if the branches shadow your solar panels. Are we going to see the reverse problem when it comes to the responsibility of the owner of these wind machines?

    Poll time!

    What do you think about wind turbines?

    Photo courtesy of the NY Times

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Cloth Wipe Challenge Kickoff!

    Cloth Wipe Challenge 2009Welcome to the first day of the Cloth Wipe Challenge! I hope you've got your cloth wipes stacked and ready to go. This should turn out to be a real easy challenge for you once you get into it if you are doing cloth wipes for #1.

    If you are being more adventurous and getting busy with cloth wipes and #2, then it should be no more difficult than storing and washing cloth diapers. Actually, it's a ton easier than cloth diapers because you are neither peeing nor pooping directly into the cloth wipe. You are just, well, wiping.

    If you are just now reading about this and want to know more, check out all the last posts on the topic about the basics and how to set up. For a real easy intro to cloth wipes that will cost you nothing and should relieve most of your squeamishness (for #1 at least), just take an old t-shirt and rip it into squares. Store the used wipes in whatever container you have lying about. Even an old large plastic tub with holes poked in the lid for air circulation will do, although I prefer a mesh bag of some kind.

    Then wash the wipes with your other stuff whenever you get around to it. We've gone a few weeks in between washings without any smell or other issues. Remember, you are not peeing on them, just wiping so there's very little, if any, moisture left while they are "waiting" to be washed.

    One of my readers sent me a rather well thought out email the other day asking if it really is more environmentally friendly to use cloth wipes over TP. I hope to get the chance to address her questions later this week.

    In the meantime, start wiping!

    Saturday, September 12, 2009

    Spicy sweet relish recipe

    I've got a new recipe up over on Crunchy Chicken Cooks for Spicy Sweet Relish if you are looking to do some canning this weekend and/or you have a crapton of pickling cucumbers and don't know what to do with them.

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    BioHeat versus petroleum heating oil

    As many of you know, we buy BioHeat for our oil furnace. It's currently at a mix of 30% biodiesel and 70%ish conventional heating oil (aka B30). When I initially signed up for the BioHeat program years ago, I did so because I figured it was better for the environment even though it cost more than the regular heating oil option. Cleaner burning and all that.

    I've ruminated on the issues with buying BioHeat in the past, but basically to recap, the underlying problem is that it takes more petroleum-based fuel to generate the same amount of biofuel. So, wouldn't it be better to just buy the straight-up petroleum-based heating oil?

    The arguments against doing so are primarily that it burns cleaner and supports energy independence, sort of, but at some point, farm equipment was burning diesel (and probably not cleanly) and oil-based fertilizers were used on the crops to grow the oil that is used in the end product. This was covered quite well in The Omnivore's Dilemma and there were a lot of well thought out answers in my last post on the subject.

    But, here's the latest dilemma. Our fuel and heating company is now offering new blends at B50 and B99. Assuming the cost differential isn't exorbitant and our oil furnace can handle the higher blends, what makes the most sense from an environmental standpoint? I'm hoping to talk to the company about the source of their biofuel, but based on their website (which hasn't been updated with the new blend info) I'm certain it's not waste oil and it's most likely soybeans, possibly from WA state.

    Again, do we stick with BioHeat and bump it up or scrap it altogether for sweet crude? Any thoughts on the subject? What's an environmentalist to do? Does anyone know the lifecycle stats of biofuel versus petroleum based fuel?

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    Cloth wipes: the set up

    Cloth Wipe Challenge 2009So, you are planning on doing (or are fence-straddling) the Cloth Wipe Challenge and you want more details. Well, here's the wipe-up. Or, the wrap-up, whichever you prefer. These are my suggestions.

    1. If you are just trying this out as a trial, but aren't convinced you want to do this for more than the week of the challenge, then get some cheap 100% cotton flannel or rip up old sheets or t-shirts and use those. For more details read my doin' it on the cheap post. Otherwise you can buy wipes made especially for this purpose (Google "family wipes").

    2. If you plan on using cloth only for #1, get a mesh bag to hang on your TP roll holder or a small container with a lid (those compost pails with the filter work nice too). After you wipe, just throw the used cloth in your receptacle of choice and then launder with your other clothes. You can use a cold water wash if you use the dryer or line dry in the sun. If you're worried about bacteria, wash them in hot water.

    3. If you plan on using cloth for #1 and #2, get a small container with a lid (again, the compost pail with filter is nice to keep the stink down). If you are doing a dry pail method, just throw the used wipes in the pail and toss some baking soda in occasionally if smell is an issue.

    If you are using a wet pail method, fill the pail with the soak of your choice (tea tree oil, baking soda, etc.) and then throw the used wipes in there. Wash the used cloth in hot water. You can add a vinegar rinse if you like. For more info on cleaning, see my stinky post.

    That's pretty much it! Any more questions?

    What are you waiting for? Sign up now!

    Wednesday, September 9, 2009

    New book club vote

    Now that we've wrapped up the book club for Sleeping Naked Is Green, I thought I'd spring some ideas on you for the next one. The most obvious choice is Colin Beavan's recently released, No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process. But, since it's new and many don't have access to it from the library, I thought I'd put it to a vote and take suggestions.

    Here are some oldies and some goodies:

    Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life
    Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer
    A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil
    Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
    We could also finish Depletion & Abundance (I know, I know, bad book club host)!

    Feel free to add suggestions in the comments. This is a multiple choice poll so you can pick your top 2. I wouldn't start the discussion posts until early October to give you time to acquire the book we choose and get a headstart on reading.

    Anyway, what book would you like to read/follow along with for the next book club?

    Reminder: The Cloth Wipe Challenge starts this Sunday the 13th and lasts for a week.

    Head's up: I've got another challenge I'll announce soon after The Cloth Wipe Challenge ends. I'm so excited about it, I'm about to burst. I've been sitting on it for a few weeks now and I hope I can make it!

    Sleeping Naked Is Green: Discussion 4

    Sleeping Nekkid is GreenWoohoo! We've made it to the final discussion post of Vanessa Farquharson's book, Sleeping Naked Is Green. Once again, for those who are unfamiliar, Vanessa is the writer of the green blog, Green as a Thistle and the book summarizes the 366 green changes she made over the course of a year. In this installment we'll be covering the winter and final chapters. So, grab yourself some local wine (or not-so-local coffee if it's morning) and join me.

    December: During December, Vanessa stops shaving her legs, quits downhill skiing, drinks only fair-trade tea, goes cold turkey with her vacuum, stops using paper towels and makes her own cosmetics and beauty products.

    Although this chapter was somewhat light on the green changes, I found it an interesting statistic that one toilet flush on an airplane equates to over fourteen pounds of carbon dioxide, which is enough to power an average-size car for six miles. Now I have one more reason to avoid the airplane bathroom besides my fear of getting sucked out.

    Vanessa also describes her meeting with Colin of No Impact Man fame, her rival at a year-long green challenge. She tries to sneak out of him more details about his toileting habits (which lack any TP), but he remains elusive on the subject. Apparently, he switched back to toilet paper after his challenge ended. Vanessa, to her benefit, still uses cloth wipes. Go Vanessa!

    January: The new year brings with it no new plastic, switching to organic cotton produce bags, taking a butchering class to confront her meat-eating and switching to Bullfrog Power, which uses alternative energy sources.

    Vanessa also buys a used mattress for her new place and ends up buying it from the guy working at the U-Haul rather than from the person she intended to on Craigslist. The reason for the used mattress was to avoid off-gassing. In the end, she only paid $120 for the mattress, boxspring, love seat and transportation. I'd say she also got away with her life. Really, Vanessa, taking up some guy named Fred's offer to test out a used mattress in the back of a U-Haul office sounds rather sketchy.

    February: In February, Vanessa installs a dual-flush toilet (I'm jealous!), sets up a rain barrel to collect water for the garden, stops using makeup, restricts food to only that grown in the Ontario region and provides for an eco-friendly funeral in her will. In addition, she also switches over to eco-logs in the fireplace.

    Epilogue: The epilogue contains a follow-up of the number of changes that she's stuck with. She doesn't go through which ones have worked out and which ones haven't per se, but she does mention a few and calculated that about 74 percent of the green changes she continues to do.

    She also had Zero-footprint run the calculations (as best they could) on what kind of impact the changes made. They were able to do so on about 26 percent of her total changes (some things like consumer consumption are difficult to translate into carbon) and it resulted in approximately 11.02 tons of CO2 saved. Not bad for a cynic, eh?

    Random discussion questions:

  • If you are female, would you be willing to stop shaving your legs and/or armpits in the name of environmentalism? Have you stopped wearing makeup?
  • Do you avoid anything made or packaged in plastic? Would you be willing to forgo products that were?
  • Would you be willing to butcher your own meat to learn more about the process?
  • Do you use rain barrels?
  • Do you burn wood or eco-logs in your fireplace (if you have one and use it)?
  • What would you have liked Vanessa to have done during her challenge or have done differently? Were there things in particular that you would have liked a more thorough follow-up on?

    Related posts:
    Sleeping Naked Is Green: Discussion 1 (Spring)
    Sleeping Naked Is Green: Discussion 2 (Summer)
    Sleeping Naked Is Green: Discussion 3 (Fall)
  • Monday, September 7, 2009

    Was Van Jones getting too uppity for Glenn Beck?

    Well, I suppose this should come as no shock to those who have been following along in the Glenn Beck smear campaign against Van Jones, the Special Advisor for Green Jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

    Given his very left-wing politics and extreme comments made in the past, it's no surprise that the Obama administration dropped him like the hot potato that he is. No matter what you think of his comments, it is fairly unrealistic for any other outcome than his resignation particularly since the administration hasn't really done much to defend him.

    Unfortunately, the right has created this atmosphere of fear-mongering and, if Obama and his team plan on getting anything accomplished, they have to be squeaky clean. Not that Van Jones played a pivotal role in any regard in the administration, but hacks like Beck have to have something to ride and this example was easy pickings, unfortunately.

    When Van Jones was given the post, I was pretty excited about it. Given his history, I'm sure he will do just fine, although I find it highly annoying that these sorts of silly games are still played by the media. I mean, really, is having two highly intelligent, articulate, and fine-looking black men in the White House too much for people like Glenn Beck to bear? [Last sarcastic joke removed for propriety's sake.]

    What's your opinion on this whole debacle?

    Friday, September 4, 2009

    Forced background checks for IVF

    Well, it appears that a new state law in Australia now requires a background check for couples wanting to undergo IVF treatment (aka in vitro fertilization - a treatment to help deal with infertility).

    The requirements were included in the Reproductive Treatment Bill passed by State Parliament last December. This bill helped paved the way for single women and lesbians to have access to IVF. That, in and of itself, is an outrage showing the amazing discrimination being shown to these women.

    But, that's not all! This law apparently covers heterosexual couples as well. So, now these people can be discriminated against for being infertile. The new law will affect approximately 5,000 couples a year who will have to submit to police checks ensuring they are fit to be parents.
    Briony and Lew Sanelle, who completed police checks three weeks ago so they could start trying to have their second child through IVF, said they were insulted by the discrimination.

    "My friends trying to have babies don't have to have a police check and go and talk to their doctor before they are given the go-ahead to have a baby, so why should I?" Ms Sanelle said.

    "People who have a shady past who they are trying to direct this at do not have to go through this to conceive naturally... this is discrimination."

    So, this begs the question: if it's comprehensible to even pass such a law, what does that mean for the population at large? Should all individuals have to pass a background check before they are allowed to procreate?

    Should couples/individuals have to pass a police background check before receiving IVF services?

    Thursday, September 3, 2009

    American Dream: House and Home

    I know many of us have an idea of what the ideal home is, but we are oftentimes constrained by a number of things. Money is usually the biggest concern, but access to good schools, transportation, proximity to jobs and like-minded people are all deciding factors.

    So, I wanted to pose to you this question: If you could remove all of the above variables, in other words, they would be the same no matter the choice, in what kind of home and place would you like to live?

    Assume that you would have to pay nothing to buy and maintain these places. Also, assume that you aren't choosing any of them for financial gain. Just, plainly, where would you like to live? Any particular reason why? I've made the poll multiple choice in case you are torn between a few and can't decide.

    Where would you like to live?

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    Cloth wipes: all you ever wanted to know

    Cloth Wipe Challenge 2009A few questions have come up regarding the latest challenge, the Cloth Wipe Challenge 2009. So, I've updated the content from a few posts that I put up over the years explaining some of the details.

    The whole famdamily issue
    If you are dubious about washing cloth wipes for six people in your household, then just try them yourself. No one said you had to drag family and friends into this. In our household, the kids don't use cloth wipes yet as they are too young and we would be spending far more in plumbing bills than we would be saving by having them use cloth.

    Maybe when they are a little older and pay more attention to what should and shouldn't go in the toilet we'll have them use cloth. In the meantime, we risk just flushing the benefits down the toilet. So to speak. Anyway, just start small and see how it goes.

    What about shared bathrooms with roommates?
    If you live with other people who aren't as enthused about it as you, it's a little more difficult, but not undoable. You just need to be a bit more sneaky and run a covert cloth wipe operation. I would suggest going for #1 only - it will be easier to hide. Find a container of some sort and hide it under the sink somewhere. You can always go for some cammo patterned cloth remnants.

    Even if someone asks you what it is, it won't be readily obvious what you're doing. Feel free to tell them, or just say you use them for cleaning your armpits or some other misdirection. It won't totally gross them out but it will keep them from fiddling with your wipes.

    It's going to create too much laundry
    Umm, unless you are repurposing ship's sails in their original size, you won't be generating much laundry. For #1 use for two people, we wash the "pee pads", as my mom calls them, a couple times a week. We just throw them in with the rest of the laundry and they don't take up any more space than a small t-shirt. The water usage and soap is negligible. You'll find you won't need a very big piece to do the job as cloth is way more absorbent than TP.

    Why don't you try the "hand and water method"?
    By gum, if you've got spunk enough to do that, be my guest. I just have a few words for you: fingernails and fecal matter. Someone brought up the whole drying after the rinse cycle issue and, unless you've got time to air dry, you're ending up using a cloth to dry, no?

    How much does it cost to get setup? - Outside of the initial investment in wipes (see my doin' it on the cheap post), the costs beyond that are for a container to put the wipes in (if you use one) and whatever cleaning agent you use. If you are washing them with other stuff, the amount of detergent used over the course of a year is pretty small. On the other hand, toilet paper is expensive, especially if you are springing for 100% recycled toilet paper.

    Is it more comfortable than using super Charmin? - OMG, I cannot even describe how much more comfortable it is to wipe using 100% cotton flannel than even the softest of Charminy TPs. Now compare that to the relative scratchitude of some recycled toilet papers. Enough said.

    What's the environmental impact of washing the wipes? - This is the big one so I've broken it down.

    a. Energy - Yes, washing cloth wipes does require some extra energy in your washing machine, but unless you are using a million wipes a week, there's no way you're going to fill up your machine. So just throw them in with your other stuff. #1 wipes can go in with anything (except maybe kitchen towels) and #2 wipes can go in with towels or the like. They don't take up much space. Really.

    b. Water - Again, washing cloth wipes requires some water, but if you're throwing them in with a load of other stuff, it's fairly negligible.

    Compare the minimal energy and water usage at home with how much water and energy is used in the production of toilet paper. It's a pretty water and energy intensive process. Even recycled toilet paper uses a lot more of both than what your using with cloth wipes.

    c. Natural Resources - If you're not using recycled toilet paper, the amount of trees saved is equivalent to that little pile of cloth you have at the end of the day. Add into both regular or recycled TP extra waste in processing. Plus, don't forget the other natural resources used like water and energy (minus whatever went into making the cloth, amortized over time). You can also throw in the harm caused by whatever chemicals are used in the processing (most likely bleach).

    In sum, the benefits are: you win with cost savings and comfort (with minimal extra work) and the environment wins every time you wipe!

    In the next post, I'll go into more detail about the cloth wipe setup.

    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    Mission: Sustainable cast announced

    Well, it's officially official. ReGeneration Productions, the production company for the green makeover reality show, Mission: Sustainable, has announced its list of cast members: eleven strikingly charming and well-informed individuals.

    In today's press release, they list all the participating cast members, including yours truly, who has been cast as a Green Personal Care Consultant. To see all the bios and watch a short personal video of each consultant, check out the bio page. One weird thing I noticed is that my videotaped voice sounds a lot deeper than in my own head. Well, that and I need to work on my on-camera coherencivity and such like.

    Anyway, the biggest thing that's next up for production is to select someone for the makeover for the pilot. If you live in the Seattle area and you know someone who needs a green ass-whooping, I mean, makeover, you can visit the nomination instruction page to nominate them. Seriously, people, go nominate them. Now. Because it will be a total hoot.

    According to the press release, "Those chosen to receive a makeover will receive personalized advice and products from our experts to dramatically reduce their carbon footprints. Our experts will make over the candidate's lifestyle in a way that saves money, improves health and contributes to overall happiness."

    I'm really looking forward to working with the other cast members. I can really see a great camaraderie coming out of this, along the kind that made Queer Eye such an amazingly fun show to watch. I guarantee that this group of funny (and smart) personalities will make for very entertaining television. And, hopefully, inform and educate a few people along the way.

    I'll be blogging about the show's progress both on the production's website as well as here, so stay tuned for more details!

    This is your food on drugs

    Señor Philpott over at Grist has another post up regarding the sustainability of our food supply.

    In the post, The way we eat is trashing the fragile conditions that make human life possible, Tom explores the problem with producing and distributing lots and lots of calories, leveraged by fossil fuel and synthetic fertilizers and poisons. This may solve certain short-term problems but the practice also creates long-term ones that won’t be easily solved.

    Go check it out and see how our nation's corn and soy crops are dependent on a Roundup and Atrazine cocktail. The hangover sucks and the withdrawal is catastrophic. What's next, corn stalks huffing all the nitrous oxide off-gassing from the synthetic nitrogen fertilizers?

    When you read this kind of stuff does it make you irate and more willing to choose organic and/or sustainable crops?