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Friday, December 26, 2008

Wave Goodbye to Dishwasher Detergent.

After making the decision to lead a more sustainable life, I gave up my beloved Electrasol tabs and started the search for an eco-friendly dishwasher detergent. The first one I tried was 7th Generation Free & Clear Automatic Dishwasher Powder. I hated it. It did not get my dishes clean and left them in a cloudy haze. So I moved on to BioKleen Automatic Dish Powder. I actually like this stuff. It has a pleasant smell and does a pretty good job of cleaning the dishes. There was some residue left after the final rinse, but I was willing to live with it. Then one day I ran out. It is not available locally. I had been ordering it online from or Amazon. Being unprepared, I picked up a bottle of Earth Friendly Products Wave Auto Dishwasher Gel at my local grocery store.

I LOVE it! No residue, clean dishes, available locally - yes! Phosphate free, chlorine free, caustic free - Yes! Plant based and totally biodegradable - YES! Yes! Yes! Yes! Packaged in plastic - yes. What? Packaged in plastic - Oh, man. It was damn near perfect. They even have a rinse agent I like, also packaged in plastic. Shucks.

All this plastic is wreaking havoc on our planet and on ourselves. Something must be done. Scores of people have decided to cut plastic from their lives. I, too, have committed to reducing the amount of plastic my family consumes. So it is with a teary eye that I must bid adieu to my new found favorite. It was fun while it lasted.

So now what? I know, I know. 7th Generation dishwasher powder comes in a cardboard box. See above. I hate it. As much as I want it to, it just does not work for me. Surprisingly, the answer lies just on the other side of the wall of my dishwasher, in the washing machine. Huh?

Borax and Baking Soda.

Just mix equal parts borax and baking soda. Add 2 tablespoons per load.

Adjust the quantity or baking soda ratio for hard water. I have also read recipes using washing soda instead of baking soda. I store mine in a glass pickle jar under the sink. No more plastic. I have been using this combination for several weeks now with no complaints. My dishes are clean, in fact I think they are cleaner now then when I was using actual dishwasher detergent, and there is no residue left behind. Once my rinse agent runs out I will switch to white vinegar to be truly plastic free.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Did I mention we're not normal?



Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hair's the Scoop

I have dry, frizzy, naturally curly, unruly red hair. I have struggled with it well into my adult life. Growing up, my mother was a hair stylist; giving me all too easy access to every chemical I wanted to tame my mane. Anything I tried just made it worse. My tresses have endured a barrage of perms, relaxers, dyes, flat irons, curling irons, hair dryers, shampoos, conditioners, mousse, gel, and hairspray. Finally, after my college years, I came to the realization that the best thing for it was to just let it be. My hair seems to do whatever the hell it wants anyway so why fight it?

By limiting myself to just one gel (currently Kiss my Face upper management), I also discovered that my hair does not need daily washing. I used to shampoo and condition twice a day every day. No wonder my hair was dry and frizzy! Just because the back of a conventional shampoo bottle tells you to use daily does not mean you have to. It is a myth folks, no really, it is. You actually do more damage than good by daily washing. I am not saying you should be sporting dreadlocks either, just rethink what clean means. An added bonus of giving of hairspray is a cleaner bathroom. You know that crusty film that seems to blanket everything from the sticky cloud descending on your head? Gone! My counter top, mirror, bottles, floor, toilet, everything in a 5 foot radius had this dull film on the surface from spraying hairspray. Boy am I glad that is gone. Now my bathroom shines!

I made the switch from Pantene to Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap over a year ago. It is all I use as a body wash, to shave, and shampoo my hair. It works wonderfully for all three. I can even clean the shower with it! Dr. Bronner's is all natural, made with certified organic oils, is certified fair trade, 100% vegan, and comes in a 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottle. While all of that is great, the real reason I love it is that my hair has stopped falling out. I used to lose handfuls of hair in the shower while using Pantene. Gross! Unclogging the drain, double gross! It seems to me the sole purpose of shampoo is to clean your hair, keeping it healthy and on your head. What's up with that, Pantene? Have you ever read the ingredients on the back of your shampoo bottle? You should. METHYLCHLOROISOTHIAZOLINONE What? SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE Bless you.

METHYLCHLORO-ISOTHIAZOLINONE •Asthma - Reversible bronchoconstriction (narrowing of bronchioles) initiated by the inhalation of irritating or allergenic agents: Yes; •Skin Sensitizer - An agent that can induce an allergic reaction in the skin or lungs: Yes; Known human immune system toxicant; Human skin toxicant - strong evidence.

SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE •Irritation (eyes, skin, or lungs); Human irritant - strong evidence; One or more animal studies show skin irritation at very low doses.

Does this sound like something you want to touch with your hands and massage into your scalp? Yeah, not me. For other frightening facts about the products you use, grab a bottle and head on over to Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database. There you will learn more than you ever wanted to know about the things you are putting in and on your body.

After making the switch to human, animal, and planet friendly shampoo, shave gel, and body wash a year ago, I continued to use a not so friendly conditioner. Mainly because I was still using a big ass gallon of it I have had since college, but also because I am less willing to give this one up. Curly hair without conditioner is not a good thing. Well about a month ago I ran out. Time to shit or get off the pot. Ultimately I would like to go the no 'poo/ACV rinse route, but not during the winter. Dry, dry, dry. So I tried a natural conditioner. Baby steps.

Picked up a bottle of Aubrey Organics Island Naturals, replenishing conditioner at my local food coop. While it is not cheap, it works for me. The ingredient list sounds more like a grocery list:

INGREDIENTS: Coconut Fatty Acid Cream Base, Organic Aloe Vera, Wheat Germ Oil, Almond Protein; Extracts of Fennel, Hops, Balm Mint, Mistletoe, Camomile and Yarrow; Organic Coconut Milk, Jojoba Butter, Organic Shea Butter, Horsetail Extract, Coltsfoot Extract, Aubrey's Preservative (Citrus Seed Extract, Vitamins A, C and E), Vegetable Glycerin, Organic Rosemary Oil, Pimenta Leaf Oil, Allspice Powder, Organic Sage Oil, Carrot Oil.

The consistency and smell took some getting used to. It looks like Tom's of Maine toothpaste and has an aroma reminiscent of Chai-spiced cookies. Yum! Makes me crave them every time I use it. So far so good. I have found that if I skip the gel and let my hair air dry it is SUPER soft when using this conditioner. Even on days I do use gel and blow dry, it is still very soft. I cannot keep my hands out of it! Aubrey Organics are made in the USA, conduct no animal testing, are vegan, and use 100% natural ingredients. In fact, they claim to be 100% natural since 1967.

In 2009 I hope to eliminate a lot more plastic from our lives and this will have to go. But, for now I will ride out the winter with the Aubrey conditioner. Once summer rolls around I spend most of my time under a hat in the garden and bad hair days will not matter. I will give the no 'poo method a go then. Baby steps, baby.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Speaking of Ghosts...

Was that a tumbleweed that just rolled by? Sorry I have not posted much here lately. Okay, at all. My time has been spent on more action and less talk. Lots of Earth Day planning, community involvement, and of course going green. Christmas greening, as of late. My Friday post at the Green Phone Booth reflects on Christmases past and what I envision for Christmases yet to come. It all starts with a visit from The Ghost of Christmas Past.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Don't blow your top!

Bank of America has announced it will phase out financing to companies whose predominant method of extracting coal is through mountain top removal. Read all about it in my Friday post Banking on the environment at the Green Phone Booth.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Life less plastic.

I have never liked plastic and after reading all of the plastic woes posted by Beth I feel it is about time I do something about it. There are alternatives out there. Just because everything on Earth is made of plastic it does not mean we have to use it. If you commit to it, it is possible to reduce the plastic in your life.

And so it began. I phased out all plastic food containers in our kitchen, traded plastic cooking utensils for bamboo, started buying peanut butter, maple syrup, mayo, juice, cooking oil, spices, spaghetti sauce and anything else I could find in glass, kept and reused all the empty jars from those products (my version of tupperware), started baking my own bread, refused all plastic shopping bags in favor of my own reusables, bought the chitlins stainless steel thermoses for their lunch, switched from bath poufs to natural sea sponges, pencils instead of pens, cardboard binders instead of vinyl, cardboard egg cartons, skip the straw and lid, use string or rubber bands in place of tape, bought myself a Diva cup and Lunapads for my daughter, generally try to avoid plastic packaging and on and on. This is a relatively short list and there is still much more we could do.

If anyone has successfully weaned themselves off Ziploc sandwich bags and plastic wrap please comment about it! It is going to be a struggle for my family. I use freezer bags to portion our vegetable purees and cut up chicken, store berries and morels, hold the chitlins' pancakes and waffles, and keep a supply of meatballs and individual portions of dough for breadsticks on hand. There is also a plastic bag of flaxseed meal, individually wrapped fruit pops, and three bins I use to organize our meats in there. It is a practical plastic explosion!

Other areas on the "hit list":
2 liter bottles of soda
vinegar gallons
dishwasher detergent
laundry detergent
garbage bags
yogurt, sour cream, milk containers
plastic wrapped cheese
organic sugar, brown sugar, confectioner's sugar and pasta in plastic bags
plastic produce bags
styrofoam meat trays
shampoo & conditioner bottles
plastic packs of cotton balls & q-tips
toilet paper sealed in plastic
plastic packaging!

2009 looks to be a year of change. While Obama is clearing the White House cabinet, I too, will be clearing my white house cabinets. Life less plastic makes me feel fantastic!


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Adjusting to life at 55...


It is December, in Wisconsin, there is snow on the ground, and it is 55 degrees in my house; all day, all night. This is something I thought we could never accomplish endure. It has not been and is not always easy. There are days when I would love to crank that dial ten degrees warmer, but the thought of all that money blowing out the heat vents into oblivion makes me shiver far more than the cold.

Last year we burned through 150 gallons of fuel oil every three weeks! And that was with the thermostat set at 62! Not exactly balmy. We got our first fill in October, $424.83; it lasted 46 days, costing us $9.24 per day. This year I did not even turn the furnace on until November. Our first fill for 2008 was yesterday, December 1. So already we have saved $332.64! There is also the electrical savings of not having the furnace run so much.

Last year we ordered 750 gallons of fuel oil; with the last fill being in March, for a total heating season cost of $2330.81. Assuming we were running the furnace off that last fill all the way through April; from first fill, October 26, to May 1 (187 heating days) we averaged $12.46 per day for the entire winter. Not accounting for electrical usage; which after an energy audit concluded our furnace operates at only 60% efficiency, I am sure is significant. The energy audit also revealed that our additions which run the entire perimeter of the house have no insulation in the crawlspace or attics. Yikes!

This year I signed on for Crunchy Chicken's Freeze Yer Buns challenge, as noted by the button in my left sidebar. Coupled with last year's financial hemorrhage, we are finding ways to keep warm other than the furnace.

Option 1: Dress in layers.
This has helped tremendously! Normal attire for our house is long underwear (top & bottom), thick socks, slippers to keep our feet off the cold uninsulated floors, jeans, long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt or fleece, and if that is not enough we throw a long bath robe over everything. Since I am the only who endures the bulk of frigidness I add a scarf and fingerless gloves to the list. Aprons are another way to add an extra layer of warmth and not just while baking. Which brings me to option two.

Option 2: Bake!
What better way to warm a home than with the smell of fresh baked bread or cookies? My house seems to rise two degrees if I have been baking or cooking a lot throughout the day. The kitchen is especially toasty where I am spending all my time baking that bread and cookies. Added bonus: you get to eat the goodies! Not to mention save money by making your own. One of my favorite things is cracking the oven door open after baking and standing in front of it with my shirt bottom pulled out to catch all the heat. Ahhh....

Option 3: Clean.
Okay, admittedly this is not as fun as eating warm cookies, but it works. If you are up and moving rather than sitting idle in front of dare I say it the computer gasp! you will feel warmer. I am amazed at how clean my house gets the colder I get. Sweeping, scrubbing, dusting ick!, running up and down the basement stairs to line dry the laundry, it is enough to break a sweat. Or, you could march in place while you read my posts.

Option 4: Spread the warmth.
If I have nothing going on until later in the day I spread my body heat throughout. In the morning I rely on residual body heat stored from being in bed all night. That tends to run out around noon because I have not been marching in place while reading all your posts. So I get a quick recharge in the shower. 4:00 the Chitlins show up and a lot of running around and preparing dinner keeps my body temp up. Four hours later Hubby arrives home stinky from work, so I share a shower with him to reheat. Another few hours pass and it is time to snuggle into bed for the process to start all over. On days I have meetings I have to shower upon awakening, but I am lucky enough to leave the house and toast my buns on the heated seats in my car; along with enjoying the company of normal folks who actually use their heat.

Option 5: Warm yourself from the inside out.
Hubby drinks coffee, the Chitlins and I drink hot cocoa. A teakettle is a permanent fixture on our stove throughout the winter. It does not take long for the water to heat up, it adds moisture to the dry winter air, and I find comfort in the sound of its whistle. A tray of large mugs, jar of cocoa mix, and homemade marshmallows are always easily accessible.

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix

2 cups nonfat dry milk powder
3/4 sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup powdered non dairy creamer
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Mix all ingredients in large bowl until evenly blended.
2. Store in tightly covered container at room temperature.
3. Spoon 3 or 4 tablespoons of mix into cup, add boiling water, and stir well.

Makes about 4 cups mix.

Leave a comment with your email address if you would like the marshmallow recipe. Or, you can email me at flockmaster [at] greeensheeep [dot] com.

Option 6: Go outside!
Whenever the family starts to complain that it is cold in the house I tell them to go outside. "If you think it is cold in here, go outside! Then it will feel warm."