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!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Religious asceticism and consumerism

Did Jesus have an affiliate program?I don't discuss religion very much on this blog, mostly because I don't prescribe to any particular one, but I am always curious about other's belief systems regardless of what they are. Having ruminated on the most varied of religions while studying anthropology, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people that practice pretty much any ideology and am open minded to most.

In many of the world's religions there is a strong vein of anti-materialism. Jesus counseled his followers that did have money to give it to the poor and hungry: Jesus said, "If you will be perfect, go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."

Buddha tried to find enlightenment through near total deprivation of worldly goods, the Prophet Muhammad lived an austere life, and more recently, individuals such as Gandhi have advised that people "live simply so that others may simply live."

Of course, everyone's idea of wealth and excess are different and one man's Hummer can be contrived as another's Geo Metro. How do we determine what is sufficient and what is excess?

Not unlike the message we read in Affluenza a while back, Father Timothy V. Vaverek has written the following:
The consumerist lust for a better life is inherently destabilizing of our personal and economic lives. Since we are not satisfied with the good we possess and since our self-worth is connected to never settling for less, we must always be earning and acquiring more.

Hence we work longer hours, fill our days with more self-actualizing activities, and increase spending so that we can have the better life now. In this way we become slaves to dissatisfaction, time, and money--harsh task masters who allow no rest.

So, how can someone who follows a belief system that promotes some level of asceticism also accept materialism? Is this contradiction justifiable? For example, is it possible to follow the teachings of Jesus and accept personal, monetary wealth at the same time?

I'm interested to get your input on how your religious beliefs affect your opinions on consumerism. Do your religious views (or lack of them) directly drive your desire to limit consumeristic desires in your life?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Homemade hair coloring

I got the most recent copy of our natural food market's newsletter in the mail yesterday, and it contained some recipes for natural skin and hair care. I thought I'd share the natural hair coloring recipes in case you would like to try them yourself!

If you want lighter hair:
Skip the uber expensive (and toxic!) highlights at a salon and give this homemade lightener for light hair a whirl by mixing equal parts rhubarb stalks and honey steeped in three parts of white wine. After steeping for a few hours, strain and apply it to your hair. That is, if you haven't sipped it all away while you are waiting. Leave it in until your hair is dry and then rinse out.

If you want darker hair:
If you are looking for a harmless hair darkener, look no further than your root cellar. Pare a dozen potatoes, cover them with cold water in a pot and let them boil until soft and strain. When the liquid is cool, apply it to your hair. Leave it in until your hair is dry and then rinse out. Watch out for husbands trying to apply sour cream and chives to your head during the drying time.

If you want reddish highlights:
To add reddish highlights to your luscious locks, mix 1/2 cup beet juice with 1/2 cup carrot juice and pour over damp hair. Be careful where you do this as you don't want your house to look like a crime scene. Or a DivaCup explosion. Leave the mixture in your hair for an hour before rinsing out.

Caveat: I haven't tried any of these, so if you do (or already have), please report back here and let us know how it goes!

Photo credit: Pocket Farmer

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Getting the dirt on cleanliness

I haven't asked these personal hygiene questions in two years and I'm always curious to see the answers. I do this because there is such a huge focus in our culture on bathing and bath products and sterilizing everything that I wonder how much that advertising infects our consciousness. And our pocketbooks.

One thing that always sticks in my mind is the commercials from the late 1970s for Mitchum antiperspirant. The ad's tagline was "so effective, you can even skip a day." Back then, the concept of not showering everyday wasn't such a big deal.

Well, there's no way in hell you'd see the same sort of ad campaign today. What has changed in the last 30 years that people are so averse to appearing not up to bathing "standards"? That is: showering, shaving, shampooing and getting all gussied up every single day?

So, with that in mind...

What are your personal cleaning habits?
1. How often do you shower/bathe?
2. How often do you wash your hair?
3. How often do you brush your teeth?
4. How often do you floss?
5. Do you use "natural" body cleansing products or conventional ones?
6. Do you use deodorant, antiperspirant or something else?
7. If you shave, how often do you shave?
8. Have any of these habits changed as you've tried to live a greener lifestyle? If so, which ones and how?
9. Where do you live?

Photo credits: Chad Miller

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Seattle's hottest sustainability blogtress

... would apparently be me. At least, according to the May issue of Seattle Metropolitan magazine:
SEATTLE’S MOST INFLUENTIAL BLOGGER just might be a tall, blonde mother of two named Deanna Duke, a hardcore sustainability advocate with a soft, entertaining online touch.

Duke’s green-living site, (“Converting people to Crunchianity since 2007”), draws 50,000 hits a month and has been touted and quoted by The Economist, The New York Times (three times since last year), and, most recently, National Enquirer.

All this while exploring such esoteric and hair-shirt-sounding topics as keeping backyard ducks, growing blackberries in pots, living refrigerator-free (an incipient trend Duke thinks is actually earth-unfriendly), and the environmental impact of depilating one's nether regions (Brazilian wax vs. disposal razors vs. homemade sugar packs).

If those topics mentioned are hair-shirt-sounding, well, I guess cloth wipes, peeing on your plants and DivaCups need more promotion as they should be topping the list.

You can read the rest of the profile in the actual article. And feel free to leave a comment. I'm still wondering why the picture they did of me looks like something out of South Park. I'm surprised I'm not shooting flames out of my ass.

I just have one thing to say, "Respect mah authoritah!"

Monday, April 26, 2010

Solar powered vibrator winner

Last week I teamed up with Babeland to do an Earth Day giveaway that was, perhaps, a little unorthodox. The winner would receive a solar powered vibrator, The Solar Bullet.

Initially, I didn't think many people would sign up for this giveaway, but I really should know my readers better by now. Anonymity wasn't an issue for many of you, but I guess the allure of generating your own porn star name and sharing that was enough to bite the bullet. Okay, poor word choice there.

Anyway, I know I'm not the only one who enjoyed reading through all the comments, names and entries. But, without further ado.

The randomly selected winner is:

Haazegirl aka "Muffin VanPelt" who says,
Wow solar powered pleasure! Oh to avoid batteries, buying and changing! Muffin says it's all just too much! Let me know the simple pleasure of the sun!

So, Haazegirl, or should I say "Muffin", send your contact info to and we'll get that solar vibe out to you faster than a speeding bullet. Pray for sun!

P.S. I was going to list some of my favorite names you guys submitted, but there are just too many!

Another reason to choose cloth wipes

I was reading some statistics on the New Scientist the other day about toilet paper usage, one of my favorite topics. According to the article, 60 million rolls of toilet paper are flushed away in Europe every day.

You think that's bad? The average American blows through 57 sheets a day. That's six times the global average. So, if you think you are a light user, someone out there is making up for it. In fact, someone out there is hand over fisting toilet paper over their hands and, er, fists.

The bigger (messier?) problem is the fact that, in the U.S., 14.5 million tons of office paper and newspaper will be dumped this decade, despite being ideal for recycling as toilet paper. The benefits of recycled toilet paper are that it consumes 64% less energy and 50% less water and creates 74% less air pollution compared with paper made from virgin wood pulp.

Why are we not using recycled? Demand. Apparently, the biggest obstacle to using recycled paper is our preference for the luxury, multi-ply TP that doesn't leave dingleberries that are apparently plaguing hairy assholes nationwide:

Unfortunately, this problem isn't just contained to western nations (or bears). The use of toilet paper is increasing in China and Africa. What does this mean? More huge amounts of waste being created just to wipe our collective hindquarters. So, use less toilet paper and choose 100% post-consumer recycled toilet paper.

Finally, if you are up for it, choose cloth wipes. The end result is resource conservation and cleaner air. And no dingleberries.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Urban homesteading on the rise

The New York Times has an article out today talking about how urban homesteading is become much more popular:
In cities across the country, the term "homesteading" has taken on a new meaning. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it referred to settlers occupying land, cultivating it and claiming it as their own.

Today in the Bay Area and beyond, urban homesteaders like Ms. Stone and her roommates are raising their own food in their backyards, in community gardens and on derelict and undeveloped spaces in the city. They’re preserving and pickling vegetables and fruits, sewing their own clothes, baking bread, making alcoholic beverages, and much more.

As the movement has flourished and become more mainstream — embraced by activists and food lovers alike — so too have the resources for would-be urban homesteaders.

For all you urban homesteaders or wannabes out there, go check out the article.

If you live in an urban area, are you seeing more interest in urban homesteading? Are you seeing more classes and clubs available to help support that growing interest?

I will be soon working with some of the production crew of Mission: Sustainable to offer our own urban homesteading classes as well. We're still really early on in the planning stages, but for those in the area, keep your eyes peeled!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Orgasmic Earth Day Giveaway

In honor of Earth Day, I contacted Babeland to do a green sex-toy giveaway, and to help throw some spice into the anniversary and spread some love. Cause that's how I roll.

What's a Babeland? It's a boutique retailer of high-quality sex toys and accessories with a mission to provide information and encouragement to people who want to explore their sexuality.

All this month, Babeland is donating 20% of sales of eco-friendly sex toys to, the non-profit environmental news site.

Here are some of their tips on how to be eco-friendly in the bedroom:

*Save batteries from the landfill and use rechargeable toys. Better yet, try a Solar Vibe or the Earth Angel, which has a hand-crank.

*Know what's in your sex toys - phthalates are plasticizing chemicals used in PVC and soft plastic sex toys and should be avoided, especially in your nether-regions. All of Babeland's toys are phthalate-free.

*Choose lotions, oils and lubes made from organic, natural ingredients.

*Choose sex toys made from renewable resources that are also easily recycled: stainless steel, glass and wood. Or cucumbers, carrots, eggplant, etc.

*Turn off the lights! Light the room with a Babeland massage candle instead - it is soy based, smells great and becomes a silky massage oil.

What's the giveaway? We're giving away a solar powered vibrator. That's right! You can win your very own Solar Bullet and get off (literally) on saving the planet.

Eight hours of exposure to sunshine provides one hour of blissful two-speed vibration. It also makes a perfect gift for your favorite tree-hugging pleasure-seeker, or bring it on your next camping trip. To top it all off, the box is printed to environmentally responsible Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards.

How to enter: I know some of you won't want to enter this giveaway because you prefer to be anonymous. Well, I've got a solution for you - pick a name of a Bond girl as your nom de plume (er keyboard) like Pussy Galore or Honey Ryder. You can also use the Bond Girl Name Generator. Gents (and ladies) who want to enter can use the Porn Star Name Generator. To enter, add your "name" as a comment to this post (and remember what it is!). You have until midnight PST, Sunday, April 25th, to enter.

The teeny tiny print: I was in no way compensated for this giveaway, I'm just hosting some Earth Day lovin.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Unschooling - what do you think?

When my son was born, I was enthralled with the idea of homeschooling. I read a ton of books about the benefits of homeschooling, the different methodologies, the issues and the like. I loved the concept of a classical education and the idea that content could be catered to a child's interests and focus. Needless to say, I was more interested in secular homeschooling and I was happy to see a lot of support in our area for that (groups and the like), including support programs in our public schools for homeschoolers.

All that said, our children go to public school. It all came down to a few things (without going into too much detail): personality and loss of income. However, we are lucky in that our public elementary school uses some of the curriculum that I would use at home - Saxon and Singapore Math and Junior Great Books for reading. They are able to provide an environment that I certainly couldn't do on my own, as well as services they need.

But, one thing I never could wrap my brain around was the concept of unschooling. Basically, unschooling is centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including child directed play, game play and social interaction rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. All of this is facilitated by adults.

I really like the theory behind unschooling, but I don't believe that children would learn everything that I personally think is important to be able to make certain life choices later. In other words, it doesn't provide them with the toolset to do certain things as an adult. I wouldn't want to restrict my children's ability to do anything they wanted to do later in life and that's what unschooling appears to do from my perspective. And, before any panties get twisted, I'm referring mainly to later career choices in math and hard sciences or anything that requires a significant foundation of knowledge.

Good Morning America just did a piece on unschooling. I got the impression they had an strong opinion about it before the interviews and were trying to confirm their pre-conceived ideas about it with the families they chose. They report that 150,000 kids in the U.S. are unschooled.

What do you think of unschooling? For those unschoolers out there, why did you choose unschooling instead of more "traditional" homeschooling? The families that GMA covers do radical unschooling which extends their unschooling ideas to their parenting and they have no rules. Is this common?

Photo by Tup Wanders. Source:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Badger love

I've been having this weird allergy to lip balms and lipsticks going on three years now. I had been using conventional products for lipstick (which I rarely wear) and natural lip balms back when this all started. The first month when it started my lips felt like they were tingly and numb and then peeled. And peeled and peeled. For about a month.

I switched from one natural product to the next, never quite figuring out what the ingredient in them that was causing the problem. I thought maybe it was the lanolin or maybe the SPF or some natural preservative like vitamin E. I finally got desperate and started using petroleum jelly and that's all that has successfully worked for me for the past three years.

Anytime I would try my luck and wear an old lipstick, just for one night, the tingling would begin again. If I used it longer than once, my lips would peel for weeks. I eventually did find one tinted lip gloss that worked for me, but it had questionable ingredients in it and I didn't like the fact that the two things that worked for me were petroleum oil based.

A while back, a reader emailed me saying that, she too, was experiencing the exact same problem and that petroleum jelly was the only product she could use on her lips or she'd have the same reaction. At this point, I knew there was something going on in some of these products, but still couldn't figure out what it was.

About two months ago, I spied another product and thought I'd give it a whirl. It is Badger Organic Cocoa Butter Lip Balm. And, by gum, it works and doesn't make my lips swell up and peel. I've been using it daily and have branched out to a number of the different "flavors" and haven't had any problems whatsoever. I love the Vanilla Bean (it smells like cookie dough), the Creamy Cocoa and the Mocha Cocoa. All of them rock.

The best part is the ingredient list:

*Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
*Organic Cocoa Butter
*Organic Golden Yellow Beeswax
*Organic Castor Bean Oil
*Extract of Organic Aloe Vera
*CO2 Extracts of Rosehip and Organic Seabuckthorn Berry

So, if you are looking for an organic, natural lip balm or are having problems with allergies and swollen, tingling, peeling lips, give the Badger a try!

The usual small print thanks to the FTC: I am in no way compensated for this review, nor have I been in contact with this company. This review represents my own experiences and I have, in no way, been coerced (or, shall we say, badgered?) by large, midsized or small badgers into writing this review.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rosemary blossoms

My husband made an awesome lemon cheesecake for my mom's birthday over the weekend. While we were waiting for her to arrive for dinner, I showed my brother my baby asparagus growing in the backyard.

As I was poking around in the raised beds, he wandered over to our rosemary bush, which has grown enormously over the winter (I need to trim it back) and is chock full of tons of purple flowers.

He picked one of the flowers off of the plant and ate it and was surprised to find out out that, at the base of the flower, was sweet nectar, followed by a faint rosemary flavor. I sampled some of the nectary goodness as well.

Later, while we were eating dessert, we were commenting about the rosemary flowers, so my son and daughter decided to go out in the backyard and try some for themselves. They harvested a few handfuls and brought them in, which we immediately put on top of our slices of cheesecake.

The combination of the sweet nectar and the hint of rosemary really livened up the lemon in the cheesecake and made for a really pretty dessert. Of course, maybe three slices of cheesecake was a bit much. But, did I mention that my husband is an awesome baker?

Anyway, if you have a rosemary bush in full bloom, make sure you go out and sample the sweetness. It would make a lovely combination with goat cheese. Or any cheese for that matter.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Corn Refiners Assoc. responds to post on HFCS

For those of you who read my post the other day on the end of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), you may be interested to know that someone from the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) responded in the comments to the post.

As a recap, the CRA is the trade group that puts out those commercials exclaiming that high fructose corn syrup is really just like sugar and should be eaten in moderation. The underlying message of these commercials is, "It's just sugar, Stupid!", with the questioning actor left blinking like a deer in headlights after being admonished for thinking otherwise.

Again, the CRA is a trade group consisting of companies like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland and it is in their best interest to keep pumping us full of HFCS. Their subsidized monoculture GMO corn crops are dirt cheap to produce and cheaper for manufacturers to purchase (partially due to import tariffs on foreign sugar) than table sugar or other forms of sweeteners so they are pervasive in everything from soda to bread to soup.

Anyway, a CRA representative, Audrae Erickson, left several quotes in the comments of my post from those who felt that the Princeton study mentioned in my original post was flawed. Ms. Erickson wrapped it all up with the statement that, "Consumers are being misled into thinking that there are nutritional differences between high fructose corn syrup and sugar, when in fact they are nutritionally the same. Whether from cane, beets, or corn, a sugar is a sugar."

Well, consumers are not complete morons, even if the CRA commercials are insinuating as much. The issue is not one of nutritional similarities.

While table sugar and HFCS seem similar on the surface, how the body deals with them is where the difference lies. And that's what the Princeton study (and others) is trying to show. Not the nutritional similarities and how many calories each has.

Finally, just to throw something new on the fire, a March 2010 Duke University Medical Center study found that "increased consumption of high fructose corn syrup was associated with scarring in the liver, or fibrosis, among patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)." Apparently, NAFLD is not uncommon in the United States, affecting almost 1/3 of the adult population.

And, I'm not even mentioning the whole mercury contamination issue with HFCS.

Check out the spoof of this CRA commercial for some real facts.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The end of HFCS

There is a lot more to it than blaming high fructose corn syrup for our nation's obesity epidemic. But, needless to say, recent research is really putting the nail in the coffin about its health effects.

In spite of those commercials unleashed by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) stating that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is really just like sugar and should be eaten in moderation, it isn't really just like sugar. In fact, it's not at all just like sugar in its chemistry as well as how it is processed in the body. But the CRA, a trade group consisting of companies like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, everyone's favorite mega-corps, or should I say mega-corpse, doesn't want you to believe that.

However, a recent study out of Princeton has shown that HFCS is not all that the CRA claims it to be. Rats given access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.

From the article:
In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.

"Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn't true, at least under the conditions of our tests," said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction.

"When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they're becoming obese - every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don't see this; they don't all gain extra weight."

...rats on a diet rich in high-fructose corn syrup showed characteristic signs of a dangerous condition known in humans as the metabolic syndrome, including abnormal weight gain, significant increases in circulating triglycerides and augmented fat deposition, especially visceral fat around the belly.

Male rats in particular ballooned in size: Animals with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained 48 percent more weight than those eating a normal diet.

So, is high fructose corn syrup dead? Well, PepsiCo is taking it out of Gatorade and some brands of Pepsi. Starting in May, Hunt's Ketchup will contain sugar, not HFCS. Kraft is removing it from their Wheat Thins and Snapple is HFCS free. The list of products with HFCS removed from them goes on and on.

The ax is falling slowly but, after this report, I think we'll see a lot more products touting the fact that they are HFCS free. What kind of impact do you think this will have on the obesity rates? Do you think it will matter much or do you think the obesity problem has more to do with eating habits and lack of exercise? Is it even rational to blame it all on HFCS?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Shampoo bar recipe

I have to tell you guys something. I've been keeping it a secret, more or less, for about six weeks now. Okay, admittedly, it's not very exciting, but I wanted to let you know that I stopped using shampoo and switched over to using shampoo bars instead.

I switched out my shampoo mostly in an effort to reduce my plastic consumption, but also to avoid some of the toxic chemicals in the salon shampoos I've been using. Even the Aveda stuff I have has a few nasty things in them and want to avoid.

I ran across a new shampoo bar in my local grocery store, sold by Camamu out of Portland. I later saw that it was sold at my local co-op in a number of different kinds. I've tried both the Rosemary and Laranja bars and liked them a lot. The Laranja works better for my hair since it's blondish. My husband has been using the Rosemary (he has black hair) and has been totally loving it as well.

It took about a week after using it for my hair to feel decent, mostly because I think it was adjusting to not being stripped and having all those silicones getting deposited as with the standard shampoo. My hair looked fine, not greasy or anything, it just kind of felt a little weird. But, I was also trying to switch out a few things at once so I'm sure that had something to do with it as well.

Anyway, now I just use a shampoo bar, a little Aveda conditioner (without any creepy parabens and whatnot) and that's it. One thing I've noticed is that my hair is super shiny. Like fake, hair commercial shiny. My hair has never been shiny, probably because of the shampoo film that's been coating it all these years.

About two weeks into my shampoo bar adventure I was in love and decided that I wanted to try to make my own. So, after extensive research and going through my soap making stock, I settled on my own recipe. Below is the basic recipe, I'll tell you how to customize it for your hair color at the end.

Oh, and one more thing, this is a cold process soap. Please follow all the basics for making this type of soap. In other words, be careful with the lye - I'm not responsible for soap making calamities by posting this recipe online. If you don't have the right fats, feel free to switch them out (use an online lye calculator to adjust the lye!), just make sure to leave in the castor and jojoba oils. That's what makes this a shampoo bar and not a body soap.

Basic Shampoo Bar Recipe
4 ounces castor oil
2 ounces jojoba oil
4 ounces sunflower oil

3 ounces palm oil
1 ounce cocoa butter
8 ounces coconut oil

8 ounces distilled water
3 ounces lye

1/2 to 1 ounce essential oils at trace

Cut into bars when solid. When I made it, this took about 4 days, but check frequently.

Let the bars cure, covered by a towel, for 4 weeks.

Lemon Chamomile Shampoo Bar
(for blonde hair)

I like to call this one, California Sunshine Shampoo Bar. Follow the above recipe except, instead of the distilled water, steep a half cup or so of chamomile tea herbs in 12 ounces of boiling distilled water and strain well. Measure out 8 ounces and use this for your water.

At trace, add in 1 ounce of lemon essential oil or use a mix of citrus essential oils. I used a combination of lemon, orange, lemongrass and bergamot.

Rosemary Mint Shampoo Bar
(for dark hair)

Follow the above recipe except, instead of the distilled water, steep a half cup or so of chopped rosemary in 12 ounces of boiling distilled water and strain well. Measure out 8 ounces and use this for your water.

At trace, add in rosemary and mint essential oils.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Do you have a favorite child?

A question came up the other day that I thought was an interesting one. If you have more than one child, do you have one that is a favorite? Alternatively, if you have siblings, did your parents favor one child over another?

I thought about this, but it didn't take too long. I don't have a favorite child. I love them both immensely and enjoy being with them for totally different reasons. Their personalities are so different, yet so similar at the same time. It's hard to put into words exactly what I love so much about each one of them, but I just know that I don't have a favorite. Sure, they both alternatively irritate me (or both at the same time) and I wish one were more like the other, but when you get down to it, I wouldn't change that. Okay, maybe a few personality quirks.

As for my three brothers and I, I'd have to say that we were all favorites for different reasons. I was a favorite because I was the only girl, my oldest brother for being first born and for being born premature, my second oldest brother for being the brilliant, easy golden child and my third oldest brother for being the youngest boy. We were all favored for different reasons, so I'd have to conclude that none of us were the favorite. Although my brothers would argue that I was probably the favorite, but that's because they didn't see it from my point of view.

What about you? Do you have a favorite child? Or were you the favorite growing up?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Going solar in San Jose

I got an email from my brother last night, who lives in San Jose, CA. He recently had solar panels installed on his house and I thought I'd share with you some of the information he sent, for those of you out there interested in the cost/benefits of going solar in a sunny climate for electricity.

Here's what he installed:
The 39 Kyocera polycrystalline PV (photovoltaic) panels have a total DC rating of about 8.2kW and are hooked up to a 7kW true sine AC inverter, arranged in 3 strings of 13. 2 of the 3 strings are on the side roof and 1 string (of 13) is on the front. Almost none is visible from the street.

Basically, I sized it for 80% of my power consumption and about 95% of my electric bill, giving me a little room/incentive to conserve further. So far, it is producing WAY more than what it's supposed to, and I hope it keeps it up. In March, it produced nearly 1200 kWh while, based on historical seasonal models, it should have produced only about 850 kWh. Woot!

Here is the production for yesterday, about 50 kWh total on a nice, clear spring day (click on picture to make it larger):

As the days get longer, it will be producing even more, but right now, it is producing much more than we are using, so it is going into the PG&E utility "bank" for winter.

For those in Seattle who don't pay 50 cents per kWh like I do, you can forget about solar panels. On a cash-flow basis, after taxes and payments, this is very "green" for me, saving me ~2/3 of my previous electric costs or about $200 of green per month. It's rather surprising how much energy falls from the sky where only a fraction of our roof is enough for all our electricity.

I spoke to my brother about the costs of installation and how long he thought it would take to pay off his solar panel investment. The top line cost for the panels was $48,000, but after $1.10 per watt credit from the state of CA and other federal credits and state rebates, he ended up paying only $28,000. He financed that through a home equity loan that he pays $85 a month on. Since he saves about $300 per month on electricity, it ends up being more like $215 savings a month.

At this rate it will take him less than 8 years to pay off the solar panels. And, after that point, it's free electricity. It's also possible that he could make money in the future since CA is in the process of figuring out how to compensate people generating electricity into the grid.

Not only is he saving money in the long-term, but he is substantially lowering his carbon footprint. According to the solar panel computer (which, by admission, is probably not extremely accurate), he saved 22,300 pounds of CO2 in March. That's the equivalent of burning 1,150 gallons of gasoline in an average car. For one month.

So, if you are thinking about going solar and you live in an area with high electricity rates and a lot of sun (and generous rebates), then get some solar panels already!

Dirt! The Movie winner

Congratulations to the winner of a DVD copy and a tote bag for Dirt! The Movie. What? You want to know who the winner is? You guys are so demanding.

The randomly selected winner of the DVD and tote bag is: Abbie of the blog, Farmer's Daughter!

Congratulations Abs! Please email your contact info to me at

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Global water shortage

Water footprintIt's difficult to remember that other areas of the world are increasingly getting drier due to global climate change and the loss of topsoil due to industrial agricultural practices (less plant life + less trees = less moisture captured in an area). Since we tend to get so much steady rain in Seattle, I usually don't consider water shortages as the top of my list of things to worry about. But it should.

For many people in the rest of the world, that's not at all the case. In fact, water is a resource people are and will fight more and more over. Riparian rights and state's rights over water resources have been and still are a huge issue in America's southwest and will only get worse as a large growing population drains aquifers with little replenishing them.

Here are some cheery facts I received in my email from Sustainable Ballard:

• While the average American uses 150 gallons of water per day, those in developing countries cannot find five. (
• The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns. (
• A water footprint, or virtual water, is the amount of water used in the entire production and/or growth of a specific product. For example, 2.2 lbs of beef has a water footprint of 4,226.8 gallons; one sheet of paper has a water footprint of 2.6 gallons; one cup of tea has a water footprint of 9.2 gallons; and one microchip has a water footprint of 8.5 gallons. (
•Water is a $400 billion dollar global industry; the third largest behind electricity and oil. (CBS News, FLOW the film)
• There are over 116,000 human-made chemicals that are finding their way into public water supply systems. (William Marks, author of Water Voices from Around the World, FLOW the film.)
• According to the National Resources Defense Council, in a scientific study in which more than 1,000 bottles of 103 brands of water were tested, about one-third of the bottles contained synthetic organic chemicals, bacteria, and arsenic. (

When we lived in California, I was much more concerned about water availability, mostly because I was reminded of how arid it was every day. In fact, my husband used to have nightmares of turning on the tap and having brown, muddy water come out. But, now that we are back in the land of wetness, those thoughts are not so pressing.

Do you feel like scarcity and health of the world's fresh water sources is an issue? Or is it so far down your list of concerns you don't really think about it?

Related books: For an awesome book about water and the American West, check out Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Freeze Yer Buns wrap-up

The 2009 - 2010 Freeze Yer Buns Challenge has come to a close, although many areas (including Seattle) are still experiencing cold temperatures. So, even though the challenge is over, now's not the time to crank up the thermostat. Not that any of you are going to.

This year's challenge has been completely crazy, mostly because of all the press that covered it between USA Today, the NY Times and even the National Enquirer (see the media page for links). I think it's great that it got some coverage because it helps encourage others to give it a try and not feel like what they are doing is out of the ordinary.

It sounds really stupid to even say that, as if turning down the thermostat is some rocket science to saving energy and money, but there definitely are barriers to keeping your home cooler. Most of them are social. Nobody wants visitors to be uncomfortable and nobody likes feeling like they are weird.

One thing I learned during this year's challenge is that I like the temperature really cold at night. I'd say I prefer 55 at night, especially when I can cuddle under our down comforter. I rarely needed to use my bed warmer this year, just because of the down.

We recently switched out our blanket to our wool one because it's been warming up, but I still prefer the loft and heat retention of down. I think I'd much rather compromise with ├╝ber cold temperatures at night, just to keep the daytime temperature up a few degrees so it all evens out on the cooler side in the end.

I know some of you out there kept your thermostats very cool. How did that work out for you? Did you run into any resistance from family and friends or was it fine? Did you learn anything from this challenge by keeping the heat down (aside from lower bills)? Would you have kept it colder if you could (because of roommates, kids, etc.)?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Dirt! The Movie review and giveaway

I received an advance copy of Dirt! The Movie a few weeks ago and sat down recently with the kids to watch it and see what they had to say about one of our favorite things, dirt. For me, I love dirt because I get a huge kick out of growing food in it and, for my kids, they love dirt because there's so much fun to have with it.

This documentary about the value of our topsoil, its necessity for life and how precious and valuable it is, started off a tad slow and I figured I was in for the long haul. Narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, it picked up quickly and I was impressed by how much they were able to cover. The content ranged from the disappearing topsoil due to industrial farming practices, to climate change and desertification of farmland to death from warfare over arable land.

In between, they livened up the discussion by using an animated character my kids called "dirt guy", who they couldn't wait to pop up again (in actuality his name is "Digby"). By the end of the movie, I was extremely impressed by all that they covered and really ended up loving it. Which is hard to do. But, then again, it was hitting all my buttons.

I would love to have portions of this movie screened at my kids' school. I know they are working on an educational version of the film, which would be necessary as they really would need to cut the sections showing the death resulting from desertification and warfare as I'm sure some parents would complain. I think it's reasonable, but some kids are very sensitive to that sort of thing.

Otherwise, it really appeals to both adults and kids and is extremely educational. My kids actually were commenting on how they now understand better all the things I'm always telling them about the value of food and how lucky they are. Sometimes the visual message is much more effective than a verbal one. Anyway, I'm going to out on a limb here and say that everyone should watch this film. It's that important.

If you are interested in seeing this movie, I'm hosting a giveaway for a copy of the DVD and a tote bag. So, if you would like to enter the giveaway, add your name to the comments of this post! You have until April 6th (the release date) at midnight PST to enter.

Here's the trailer to whet your appetite! At the very least, watch this :)

Small print: I have in no way been compensated for this review, save for the copy of the DVD for viewing. The opinions expressed are my own and are in no way influenced by the producers of this film.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Leaving kids home alone

The topic came up the other day, mostly related to a disagreement about how to spend the day and our ill-fated trip to the Seattle Art Museum, about what is an appropriate age when kids can be left home alone. I grew up a latch-key child. You see, when my father left and took my three brothers with him, it was just my mom and I left in a 6 bedroom house out in the burbs.

My mom had just started working as a nurse and I got out of school hours before she got home from work. So, I was given a key and dropped off via carpool (I went to a private Catholic school) and was left to my own devices until she came home. I was a little over 9-years-old. Eventually, that changed and I walked to my Dad's new house, which was only a few blocks away from school, and hung out with my brothers (they are all older than I ranging from 1 year to 6 years older) until my mom came and picked me up after work. I'm fairly certain this was an every day occurrence until I started 9th grade and walked to and from middle school back home.

Nine was definitely too young for me, and I remember being left alone when I was 8 as well, but that was occasional. Being home alone really was unnerving for me particularly since I didn't really have too many neighbors around to keep an eye out for me. I'm glad I had an alternative to go to after school as I really didn't enjoy being home alone in a huge house. It was scary for me and I spent the time totally unproductively, watching TV and eating crap. Well, not real crap, just junk.

When I look at my almost 8-year-old son today, I know he wouldn't be ready to be alone for that long day after day, but then again, he pretty much can operate on his own for hours on end without interacting with us. However, I think that's only because we are in the house and he feels comfortable because of that fact. On the other hand, I would also trust him to be alone for 30 minutes or an hour if I needed to go out and do something. This has never happened - I don't think I've ever even left him in the car alone for more than 3 minutes. So, I always wonder - what's appropriate?

Some states have laws about what the minimum age you can leave a child home alone is. Georgia makes it pretty clear what the law is. Between the ages of 9 and 12, you can leave a child alone for up to two hours. Age 12 and up, no more than 12 hours at a time. In South Carolina, there are no set laws, but officials say no child under 8 should be left alone. Other states have no set laws at all.

I found some statistics that were really interesting. The most recent U.S. Census report shows that 7 million of the nation's 38 million children ages 5 to 14 are left home alone regularly. For example:
  • 600,000 5- to 8-year-olds fend for themselves.
  • 3.4 million children are under the care of siblings.
  • The average time "home alone" is 6 hours per week.
  • Higher-income parents are more likely to leave kids unsupervised.

So, what about you? How old were your children when you left them home alone? Or, alternatively, how old will your children be when you plan on letting them stay alone?

How old were you when you were left home alone? I know it really depends on the child's personality, but are we over-cautious these days or has not much changed in the last 40 years?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Help drop kick Sarah Palin off Discovery Channel

This just grinds my crackers.

Discovery Communications has just announced that they'll be producing a "reality TV" series starring Sarah Palin on Alaska's wildlife, to showcase the "powerful beauty of Alaska". For this, she'll be paid $8 million.

Have they lost their minds? Do they not remember that this is the same Sarah Palin who escalated Alaska's war on wolves and offered a $150 bounty for the severed front-forelegs of dead wolves? The Sarah Palin who fought against increased protections for America's struggling polar bear populations? And the same Palin who fought against the increased protections for the dwindling Cook Inlet beluga whales?

I'm angered that Discovery Communications, known for their wildlife-focused productions, would choose to embrace such a controversial and anti-wildlife person as Sarah Palin to represent Alaska and the wildlife that lives there.

That's why I've joined Defenders of Wildlife's fight to get Discovery Communications to drop kick Sarah Palin's new show, and I am hoping you will too.

Please sign the petition online at

My friend's father used to work with Palin when he was a senior scientist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and he complained vociferously how Sarah routinely ignored the recommendations of his organization, endangering far more species than the ones mentioned above. Ugh.

Doing this show will give voters the impression that Sarah Palin has a positive interest in her state's wildlife and this is just not true. It's great rebranding for her image. Not to mention that $8 million won't hurt when it comes to campaigning...

Grab your foreskin!

In this day and age of hard decisions and arguments about circumcising the youth of today, there's some good news to cheer about!

No, I'm not talking about face creams made out of baby's foreskins and, no, I'm not talking about the profits that one single foreskin can earn you (it can be used for decades to produce miles of skin and generate as much as $100,000).

What I'm talking about is a product to enhance those men whose parents felt the need to snip. Viafin-Atlas, out of Salisbury, England, is the world leader (and, I suspect, the only one) in the manufacture of the world's first ever artificial retractable foreskin for circumcised men. Yes, I'm talking to you, 56.1% of American men!

SenSlip will, allegedly, help restore the sensitivity of the penis, and protect the glans from the dryness and chafing caused by constant exposure to, and rubbing against, clothing. It looks, feels and "works" similar to a real foreskin. Well, except for the sex part.

So, if your man is circumcised, no fear! SenSlip has a "Trial Size Pack" of 4 different sizes from just $29 so you can give your new man-made foreskin a whirl. It comes in different colors and will make you scream, "slip it to me baby"!

My favorite FAQ:
Q: Can the SenSlip be used during sexual activity?

A: No. The SenSlip must never be inserted into any part of the body. During R&D some men became aroused when they fitted the SenSlip and subsequently admitted to masturbating when it was in place. It should be noted that the SenSlip was not designed for this and damage to the SenSlip may occur.

R&D, huh? Anyway, go ahead and slip on what yo momma gave you. And then snipped off.

Just remember... The SenSlip is NOT to be used for penetration. The SenSlip is not a sex toy, your man puts it on in the morning and takes it off at night, just like his shirt.

And he'll have the foreskin of the man your man's foreskin could look like. On a horse. Or a boat. I'm not sure which. But they do come in brown.