Category Archives: green living

its not easy being green…

It may not still be Earth Week,  but in my household, we try to practice a more environmentally friendly lifestyle on a daily basis. Some things are easier than others. Last week, I shared a list of simple things you can do. Today, in preparation for my annual spring clean, let’s talk about chemical cleaners.

Oh Kermit, you said it the best. It’s not easy being green, especially in all aspects of our daily lives. I have struggled with my cleaning products over the years. There are just certain things that I have been conditioned to believe make things “clean”. Particular scents and presence of bubbles also equate clean in my mind. Too many “Scrubbing Bubbles” commercials as a child? Or the dizzying aroma of Mr. Clean?

Why should we care? What difference does a few cups of bleach or a shake of powdered detergent make? Well, lets talk about phosphates for a moment.

Phosphates enter waterways from human and animal waste,  laundry water waste, cleaning agents, industrial waste, and fertilizer runoff, just to name a few. These phosphates become detrimental when they over fertilize aquatic plants and cause stepped up eutrophication, a recognized pollution problem.  Phosphates stimulate the growth of plankton which messes up the whole biodiversity of our water ecosystems, including toxic algal blooms.

Bodies of water are being aged at a much faster rate than geological forces can create new ones. All those organisms and animals that rely on that water are negatively impacted. And the humans who need to drink that water? Um, ya, eventually they will be effected too.

My mother in law introduced me to a wonderful line of natural cleaning products from Shaklee. I use their Basic H and Basic G concentrates to make all kinds of alternative cleaning sprays.  They are non-toxic and very affordable considering how far a bottle goes.  The Basic H is so gentle and safe, it can even be used to clean fruit or pets, plus a thousand other things.  The Basic G is used in place of bleach as a germacide without the fumes.

You don’t have to go out and buy special products though.  There are tons of natural cleaning products waiting to be made, right in your very own cupboard.

Environmentally friendly cleaning ideas:

Drain opener:  Instead of drain cleaner, pour about 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain, then 1/2 cup vinegar. The resulting chemical reaction can break down fatty acids, allowing the clog to wash down the drain. After 15 minutes, pour in boiling water to clear residue.  Do not use this method after trying a commercial drain opener–the vinegar can react with the drain opener to create dangerous fumes.

All-Purpose Cleaner: Mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax) into 1/2 gallon (2 liters) water. Store and use whenever you’d reach for your usual not-so-safe cleaning agent to spray down countertops, bathroom walls, mirrors, etc.

Microfiber cloths: An alternative to paper towels or a linty rag is a microfiber cloth.  They lift off dirt, grease and dust without the need for cleaning chemicals because they are formulated to penetrate and trap dirt. There are a number of different brands. A good quality cloth can last for several years. My favorite is the Miracle Maid, or as my husband calls it “the magic cloth”.

Stainless steel cleaner:  Super hot water + microfiber cloth + a little elbow grease for a streak free, no residue shine!

Fruit/veggie sprays– Mix Basic H or vinegar with water in a spray bottle.  Just spray onto edible item, rub a few times, and rinse clean.  So much less expensive than the kind you buy at the store!

Fragrant Room Sprays– Step away from the can of spray and unplug that deodorizing wallflower.  You can make your own inexpensive and naturally delightful room spray with essential oil and water.  Just put a few drops of your favorite natural oil into a spray bottle, add water, and spray away.  Stock up on a variety of oils:  rose, lemon grass, peppermint, ylang ylang, lavender, rosemary, orange essence, or whatever appeals to you the most. You could also use an essential oil burner to emit the scent of your choice, burn a stick of incense or some sage, or light a soy candle.  Why spray chemicals into the air you breath?

Borax, a natural mineral cleaner, is also a favorite natural cleaner of those in the eco-know.  Mixed with lemon juice, it can make your toilet shine!   Toss some in with your funky mildew-y towels to make them fresh as can be.  There are tons of uses for it listed all over the internet.  I am just getting around to trying it.  Step by step, slowly but surely, I am making these changes.  I’ll let you know what I think.

I know most of this information isn’t new to anyone, but sometimes we all need a gentle reminder to lessen our chemical “spills”.  If nothing else, use less product and more elbow grease.  Your sexy summer biceps will thank you!


random acts of kindness to the earth…

Happy Earth Day!

I hope that everyone lives their daily lives in an environmentally conscious way. Of course none of us are perfect, but we should all do what we can.

Simple changes, even little ones, can make a huge impact on our world. I try to adopt new habits and make small adjustments, continuing to progress slowly. Its less painful that way. We can’t all go out and be “No Impact Man“, but we can be more mindful of our decisions and the effect they have.

Last year I made the conscious effort to quit using regular toxic cleaning products and soaps (more to come on that next week). I’ve known the effect of phosphates on our water shed, but for some reason, I couldn’t let go of that fresh soapy smell. Fortunately many mainstream companies have gotten on board and it is easy to find suitable environmentally friendly products. Beware of greenwashing though. Research your products to make sure they truly are eco-friendly.

I’ve found that I love the natural scent of eucalyptus or sandalwood more than artificial “fresh linen”. I’ve also rediscovered my love of Dr. Bronner’s magic soap. I was on a lavender kick for a while but now its all about the almond scent again.

Here are a few simple, every day things you can slowly adopt:

  • Add vinegar to your washer to get your gym clothes extra clean. It works better than adding extra soap or using harsh detergents or color safe bleaches. Use less soap in general. Most of use twice as much of these highly concentrated detergents than we really need. Old habits die hard.
  • Wash and rinse your clothes in cold water. Hot water isn’t necessary.  The heat of the dryer will kill anything remaining on your clothes.
  • Turn the water off while you are brushing your teeth.
  • Turn lights off as you leave the room. Use Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs. They are more expensive but can save a lot in electricity costs over their lifetime. Plus they use about 75% less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and lasts up to 10 times longer.
  • Pee in the shower. Seriously. It saves toilet paper and water. Brazil even had a campaign to save water/toilet flushing, by peeing in the shower or showering with a friend…but just not both at the same time 🙂 (click here for a giggle) This suggestion is only for the occasions that you are actually planning to take a shower…don’t just randomly use your bath tub as a toilet!
  • Don’t flush anything down the toilet except what is supposed to go down. Avoid throwing tissues, cotton swabs, tampons, wrappers, condoms, etc down the drain. They just have to be fished back out. More chemicals will also need to be added to clean the water with these products mixed in. Just put them in the garbage where they belong and take it out more often.
  • Recycle the cardboard from your toilet paper roll (you know you just toss it in the regular bathroom garbage…) This assumes that you are already recycling, right? Right!
  • Use cloth napkins. Pack them in your lunch. Keep one at work. Use it a couple of times before you wash it. I go to Pier 1 or Cost Plus and buy single napkins in different pretty designs. They usually have clearance items for $1. We use different colors so we know which one is ours and leave them out on the table until they need washed.
  • Carry reusable bags and USE THEM. Avoid plastic bags altogether. Try to get in the habit of using them at clothing stores, drugstores, and convenience stores, not just the grocery store. My favorites are Envirosax and Bag The Habit. I like these small compact bags because I can leave them in my purse, coat pocket, or glove box. Less expensive single bags are available pretty much everywhere you shop.
  • Don’t buy bottled water. Carry a stainless steel bottle with you and refill it. If you like sparkling water, buy a Soda Stream and make your own!
  • Compost your vegetable waste or start a worm bin. The rich fertile soil you get in return is a reward in itself!
  • Turn off lights and unplug vampire appliances and chargers when not in use.

What little (or big) things do you do? Please share!

Just by adopting a few of these easy habits, you can make a difference in the future of our world. Practice random acts of kindness to the Earth. Whether its good karma that comes back to you, clean water from your tap, or just the knowledge of knowing you helped to do your part, its all worth it!

Happy Earth Day!

meatless mondays: i love you mark bittman…

Today I’d like to share a video from my favorite food journalist, Mark Bittman. Although it is a little dated, it is more relevant than ever. What he says just makes plain and simple sense.

He is not a vegetarian and is actually a great lover of meat. But he understands that we can’t overconsume animals, for our own health or the well-being of the planet. He calls himself a “Less-meatarian”. Less quantity, better quality. What a great concept!

Over the years, I have thoroughly enjoyed Bittman’s New York Times column, The Minimalist which he recently brought to an end. He has a blog and continues to write for the NYT weekend magazine though, so I am still able to cyberstalk him. 🙂

He has written several incredible cookbooks. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian gets the most use of any book I own. His newer Food Matters Cookbook is on my buy list. His style is more of a base recipe with ideas of all kinds of variations and substitutions. Plus he explains how to choose, store, and prepare different items, which makes experimenting in the kitchen less intimidating.

I love his views on food and our consumption of meat. He breaks it down in such a no-nonsense way. Instead of trying to emulate his eloquence, I’ll just let the man speak for himself:

Here is a recipe from Mark Bittman, in his own words:

Recipe: Braised and Glazed Butternut Squash

This is your go-to recipe for everyday winter squash; it will work with any variety, but I usually turn to butternut because it’s so much easier to deal with than all the others. Once you peel and cut the squash, you braise it in a small amount of liquid, then boil off the remaining moisture to glaze it. Other vegetables you can use: any winter squash (except spaghetti), though they will all be more difficult to cut and peel than butternut.

Quick Info:
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
11/2 pounds butternut or other winter squash, peeled and cut into 1/2- to 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup vegetable stock or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped parsley leaves for garnish

1. Put the oil and garlic in a large, deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. When the garlic begins to color, add the squash and stock and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, and turn the heat down to low. Cook, stirring once or twice, until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes.

2. Uncover the pan and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally and stirring somewhat less often, until all the liquid is evaporated and the squash has begun to brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Turn the heat back down to low and cook until the squash is as browned and crisp as you like. Taste and adjust the seasoning, garnish, and serve.

my shiny new bubbling toy…

We have splurged on the most fun new gadget! We are now the proud owners of a Penguin Soda Stream. A what, you ask? Well, I put a pretty glass bottle into the penguin, lock it up tight, press down on its cute little beak 5 or 6 times, and Voila! Bubbly water! I know, really, it’s the little things that thrill me.

I’m justifying the expense and the ridiculousness of this permanent fixture on my counter as environmental and, dare I say, practical. I love carbonated water. I don’t drink regular soda pop. I rarely have juice. I’m a coffee, tea, and water drinker. Preferably soda water. So this cute little stainless steel penguin makes my regular ol’ tap water bubbly! Its genius really. And attractive to boot.

I’ve calculated that I only need to go through 2 cartridges to get my return on investment. The initial $199 expense (that was subsidized with wedding gift cards, thank you very much) which included the Penguin and two cartridges = 180 bottles of “insert fancy spring brand here” at $1+ per bottle. When you factor in the environmental savings of not using glass and plastic bottles, not having them transported, and then not having to recycle them, I think you will agree that a carbonated water loving lady like myself has made a pretty good purchase. Plus the cartridges are refillable and it doesn’t use electricity or batteries.

There are flavored add-ins that you can purchase or a quinine additive if you prefer tonic. I like mine with just a squeeze of fresh lemon. If I have leftover juice, I might add a splash to the bubbly water for a homemade spritzer. It makes a perfect mixer for a cocktail too. The 2 glass carafes that come with it have a handy cap that actually seal in the bubbles to save for later. Again, genius!

I’m enjoying showing off my handsome little penguin and plan to put him to work again tonight. Its Thursday aka Ladies Night, and I’m hosting at my place. I’m sure we will all need a little bubbly water to go with our wine!

Note: This handsome little fellow can be found online or at Williams Sonoma. Highly Recommended!