Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Word of the Day: Biobigotry

I learned a new word today- biobigotry:
"the persistent and often irrational desire to be surrounded only by those species of which one approves, and to exclude any animals, plants and other life forms that one finds offensive."
According to the article Noble Eagles, Nasty Pigeons, Biased Humans from the New York Times, biobigotry is
"...the dislike we direct toward creatures that live outdoors and generally mind their own business, but that behave in ways we find rude, irritating, selfish or contemptible."
Squirrels, starlings, sparrows, weeds...
We spend so much time cursing the 'evil' plants and animals, when forgetting that we were the ones that created the environment that they find so attractive. We degrade the habitats for the plants and animals we do like.

Rabbits and deer are problems because we yank and spray every offensive weed that they would actually prefer to eat over our ornamental plants. The species that are pests are either exotic with no natural enemy, or have adapted to human altered habitats.

More to Come...
I will be exploring this subject in depth after I read the newest book in my collection- “Bringing Nature Home-How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Doug Tallamy, chairman of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware.

Tallamy was interviewed in this New York Times article 'To Feed the Birds, First Feed the Bugs' on what he and his wife are doing for wild things on their own 10 acres.

Curious Cardinal © 2008 Rachel Logterman

Brand of Paper Towels is Not the Issue

I saw a product review of recycled paper towels on Grist today.

After reading this...
Conventional paper processing is intensive -- not only does the quest for virgin fiber lead to massive deforestation, but the manufacturing process typically involves chlorine, a toxic chemical that releases carcinogenic dioxins and furans. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the paper industry is the third-largest industrial contributor to global warming.
...I wondered why they were focusing on the brand of paper product. They did say in parenthesis that "a dishcloth or cellulose sponge may be the greenest choice of all", but I think they should have made more of that and compared the paper towels to reusable towels, which would have passed every test they tried.

Why spend a premium for recycled paper towels that get thrown away after barely being used? Cloth Towels are stronger, longer lasting, reusable, easy to use, inexpensive, and very multipurpose.

Eco-friendly tips from my kitchen:
  • Paper towels are handy for some situations- If you have to use them, buy recycled, use as little as possible (get the ones with smaller sheets), and compost them when you're done.
  • Get out of the habit of reaching for the paper- It's just as easy to grab a clean cloth towel than a paper towel if you keep a fresh supply handy where you use it. I have a drawer by the sink, and bags of the older rags by the cleaning supplies (I keep separate ones for cleaning the bathroom).
  • Worried about germs? Just grab a clean one- Especially after cleaning areas used to prepare raw meat. Dishrags are small, I doubt you will notice the difference in amount of laundry.
  • You don't need to spend a lot- Cut up rags, towels, or sheets, or sew some from cotton fabric.
  • No stinky dishrags! I like to use a fresh cloth everyday so I rinse and hang them up and keep a little laundry basket or bucket to throw in when they are dry.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Thrifty Shopping

For Many, Thrift Shops Are a Wardrobe Essential - New York Times:
"According to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, the industry is growing at a rate of 5 percent a year. And as the prices of gasoline and groceries edge higher and debt — be it mortgage or credit card — weighs more heavily, saving money on clothes, shoes and household goods has become increasingly essential for many people."
Why Shop Secondhand?
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Even if you're not on a tight budget, shopping secondhand is still a great thing. It is recycling at its finest- keeping perfectly usable stuff out of landfills. You can have nice things without spending so much money and consuming new materials.

  • Impulse Control: When I'm looking for something, I always check Goodwill first. It's fun, like a treasure hunt, and it also helps with impulse control. If you don't find what you're looking for, you have to wait until it shows up, and it forces you to think about whether you really need it.

  • The Hunt: My most recent thrifty treasures include a breadbox, a roll-top desk, curtains, work pants for the boyfriend ($5 secondhand jeans last longer than $15 new jeans), and cute brand name clothes for me. Everything is in great condition at a quarter (or less) of what you would pay new. Some things are even new!
Thrifty shopping is the way to go! Don't be embarrassed when someone asks where you found that wonderful item, be proud of your thriftiness. Hopefully it will spread and catch on, and more people will shop smarter.

Find a Store Near You:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Recipe: Gentle Face Cleanser for Sensitive Skin

If itchy-red-bumpy skin sounds familiar, you might be in the same boat I am. I have very sensitive skin, and it definitely lets me know when it doesn't like something.

After a particularly bad flare-up earlier this year, where anything I put on my face (cheap or expensive) irritated my skin, I went on a quest for something gentle and natural (and not too expensive of course).

I actually found that much of my problem was from washing my pillowcases and towels with Tide detergent. I started using a free and clear (also cheaper) brand and my face cleared up almost overnight.

Before I realized how bad the detergent was (and while researching natural hair care), I found a recipe for a natural cleanser for sensitive skin made with baking soda and oatmeal. I happened to have both ingredients in my kitchen, so I tried it, and it really worked great! It smells good and feels really nice and gentle on my skin.

Oatmeal and Baking Soda Scrub
1 part baking soda
2 parts ground oatmeal
Mix together and store in a sealed container.

To Use: Mix a 1/2 tsp or so with warm water in your hand or in a container. Rub gently onto skin and rinse off to gently exfoliate and cleanse. Follow with vinegar rinse.

Vinegar Rinse:
Baking Soda can be a bit too alkaline for your skin's preferred pH level. Vinegar is great to keep that natural balance. I keep a spray bottle in the shower with vinegar diluted in water or herbal tea and spray on after cleansing. You can instantly feel the difference.

After using this method every night (I only rinse with water in the morning), my skin looks and feels great! My face is clean and fresh with a healthy glow. It is not too dry, not too oily, and I almost don't need moisturizer. Best of all- It's cheap, easy, and I already have the ingredients!

Shopping List: 

Monday, April 21, 2008

Vegetable Gardening: It Really Is Worth the Work!

I sit here on a Monday morning- tired, sunburned, and sore. I have a long weekend preparing the vegetable garden behind me, and a lot of long weekends tending it ahead. Then, I spotted this article in the New York Times by my favorite author, Michael Pollan. Now I feel great, it is all worth it. I'm doing something! If everyone did one thing, like grow their own food, imagine how much it would change in the world.
This article is a must read!

Why Bother? The Green Issue - New York Times:
...If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand...

...Measured against the Problem We Face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do — to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind... MORE

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How to Buy Local

Meet Your Local Farmer courtesy of Mother Earth News:
"Recent news about the side effects from artificial colorings and preservatives, the decline of nutrients in mass-produced food, and the unappetizing practices of industrial beef production have made the choice crystal clear: Bypass all of that and buy as much food as feasible from local farmers you can get to know and trust. You can go straight to the source and purchase food from a farmer, shop at a farmers market or join a CSA (community supported agriculture)."
Find out how to locate a local farmer with these Web sites:

Food Routes

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

This Week in Plastic News

Plastics: Adored, Deplored and Ubiquitous - New York Times:
The author agrees we need to use less plastic bags but then asks:
"Now tell me this: What am I supposed to line my garbage cans with? I always use plastic supermarket bags, and the Whole Foods ones were by far my favorites — roomy and springy enough to hold a lot of sodden waste without fear of breakage, always a plus when one is disposing of, say, fish skins or cat litter. So if I have to buy plastic bags by the box, that’s better for the environment how?"
I also think this statement is true. If you look around, almost everything is plastic.
"We adore plastics for their versatility, lightness, strength and affordability, and it seems we can’t get enough: the United States produced 6.5 billion pounds of raw plastic in December alone, up 2.3 percent from a year earlier. We deplore plastics for being cheap petroleum products and fear we’ll never get rid of them."
The article then goes into what is being done to create non-petroleum based plastics.

More Plastic News
Bag Monsters to educate shoppers on evils of plastic bags- Gristmill:
The bag monsters, made of 350 plastic bags (amount an average family of four uses in four months) will be handing out educational material and reusable totes at malls across the country.

The project is sponsored by the cosmetics company Lush, and the bag monsters will be making an appearance at malls in NYC, LA, Carmel, Pasadena, Aspen, Boulder, Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, Portland, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C..

U.S. health agency says ubiquitous chemical may harm kiddos- Gristmill:

"A U.S. federal agency has declared that there is "some concern" that chemical bisphenol A can harm the development of children's brains and reproductive systems...
BPA can seep from hard plastic beverage containers, including baby bottles, and was detected in the urine of 93 percent of participants in a recent study. In light of the NTP report, congressional Democrats are asking the Food and Drug Administration to reconsider its view that BPA is safe."
See my earlier posts on using less plastic.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Eat Real Food Already!

Potential for Harm in Dietary Supplements - New York Times:
Dietary supplements (poorly regulated if at all) including vitamins, herbs, and other supplements, are taken by 70% of adults in the US. Some are good for you, some are not, and some can be toxic you take too many or have a bad combination.
"Vitamins A, B6, B12, C, E and K; niacin; folic acid; calcium; magnesium; iron; and zinc can be hazardous when combined with various prescription drugs and over-the-counter remedies. Yet patients often fail to mention using such supplements to physicians."

You know, we know these things about plants and animals, I don't know why we consider our health any different.

  • Nutrient deficiency- supply nutrient and health increases
  • Adequate Nutrients- supply nutrients and no change
  • Surplus Nutrients- supply more nutrients, health decreases and it can becomes toxic

Examples from the article:

  • People who eat foods with antioxidants- improved health
  • People who take antioxidant supplements- increased death rates
  • Low doses of vitamin C- suppress harmful free radicals
  • Very high doses of vitamin C- promote formation of harmful free radicals, and increased risk of heart failure
Bottom Line: Real food is better for health than supplements.

Does Your Hair Care? Part 2

In Part 1 of Does Your Hair Care?, I explored what possibly harmful ingredients are in my current shampoo. I tried out some other brands and did a little research and came to the conclusion that I am concerned about the safety and costs of conventional shampoo.

Homemade and Natural Options:
I started looking into homemade options, and found there are many very inexpensive and easy options, and I have most of them in my house already!

I posed the question to my Homesteading group and got tons of great information!
By far the most popular answer, and the one that inspired the most people to try it was, Baking soda: mixed with water, followed by a vinegar rinse. It can leave a residue if you have hard water, soft water or rainwater is best. For dry hair, they recommended using baking soda no more than once a week. It may feel like your hair is dry, so you may need conditioner.

After some more research on the subject I found:

Most cleansers you buy in the store are not actually 'soap', they are synthetic detergents with additives, with possibly real soap as an ingredient. Real soap is made from fat, lye and liquid. If you read the labels of baby shampoos they often list lye, added to make it more neutral in pH, making it less likely to burn the baby's eyes.

Your hair (and skin) prefers to be slightly acidic. Most shampoos and cleansers are alkaline, which does not leave your body happy (think of shampoos claiming they are pH balanced).

Baking soda is slightly alkaline, but following it with a vinegar rinse will bring your hair back to balance. Baking soda is also recommended by hairdressers for leaching a bad color job out of your hair. It also removes buildup and cleans gently without the harsh cleansers found in shampoos.

The 'No Poo' Experiment
Baking soda scrub/vinegar rinse users and 'real soap' users inspired many of us to try to give up our addiction to shampoo. Shampoos clean all right, but they clean too well, stripping away our natural oils. Our bodies compensate by making more oil until you can't go more than a day or two without turning into a greasy mess. Remember, it is only fairly recently, and mostly in this country that people feel the need to shower and wash their hair every day. If you can wean yourself off the shampoo and let your body get back in balance, you won't need to wash your hair as often.

So, I'm ready to jump on board, I have my baking soda ready and my vinegar/herbal rinse in a spray bottle. But wait, they say you will go through a couple weeks of withdrawal where your hair will seem really greasy. I'm not sure I can go to work like that, so I did a little more searching and found this advice from The Herbwife's Kitchen:

"If you want to stop using shampoo but you don’t want to end up with icky hair, here’s what to do: Every day, use a little less shampoo. After a while, switch to a soap-based (rather than detergent-based) shampoo. Then use less and less of that soap-based shampoo. Try washing every other day, then every third day. Now switch from your soap-based shampoo to baking soda water (1/2 tsp in a pint of water) and a vinegar rinse (1 tablespoon in a pint of water). If you brush thoroughly, you can probably stop using the baking soda eventually.

The whole process needs to be done carefully, paying attention to how your scalp is adjusting. I’d say it should take 3-6 months for most people. If you go cold turkey on hardcore industrial detergent-based shampoo, well, don’t blame me if your hair gets greasy and icky!"

Stay tuned for Part 3 of Does Your Hair Care? where I will have the results of the baking soda experiment. Will I be a walking greaseball? Will my hair fall out? Will I find the good for you but not expensive solution I have always dreamed of?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Science Behind Microwaving

On Food and Zapping - New York Times:
"To make the most of the microwave, it helps to know its quirks, and ways to work around them."
Here is what I learned today about microwaving (some of it I knew, but I didn't know why!):
  • Water is quick to absorb microwave energy, then heats the other stuff around it. (This is what makes eggs explode and butter splatter)
  • Microwaving is not a great way to cook meat, fish, or eggs because it's too easy to overcook
  • The microwave can cause moisture to quickly evaporate, you can cover the food to keep from drying out (but leave a vent hole)
  • Glass or ceramic is best, plastic can hold color or flavors and leach chemicals, and can melt if used with oils or fats
  • Sparking from metal is from the metal too close to the microwave wall, or two pieces of metal too close together (think tines of a fork)
  • Microwave energy cooks instantly through about an inch deep
  • Foods don't brown in the microwave (unless totally dried out), it's more like steaming
Another article also had some good recipe ideas for microwaving veggies and desserts.

What is modern homesteading

In an earlier post, I wrote about homesteading. Here is a good explanation of Modern Homesteading from Mother Earth News.

What exactly does the term “homesteading” mean?:
"The term “homesteading” may be familiar, but its usage can cause some confusion as its meaning has changed over the decades. For years the word referred to a free government land program and the skills necessary for pioneer living. Today the word homesteading is more apt to refer to a lifestyle that promotes greater self sufficiency. To better understand all things homesteading, here is a very brief timeline of the common use of the term."