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Paper Towel Moratorium

We participated in the Change the World Wednesday (#ctww) challenge hosted by Reduce Footprints again this week. On the chopping block: paper towels. We’re not particularly paper towel dependent around here, having a plentiful supply of dish towels, sponges, and cloth napkins. The only real challenge I ran into was bacon. You know, the whole paper-towel-lined-plate-to-soak-up-the-grease thing. I couldn’t quite figure out how to get around it, since I didn’t much care for the idea of sticking in on a  dish towel to degrease. So, I asked the Internet.

Most recommendations were to bake the bacon in the oven on a broiler pan, letting the juices simply drip through. Others suggested to let the bacon drip dry on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet. These are both excellent suggestions, but I needed to render the fat in the pan to use for cooking up some other ingredients. And the recipe instructed me to chop the bacon and then cook it, so I just couldn’t figure out a way to get small pieces to drain. Now, why it didn’t occur to me to just cook the bacon whole, drain it, and then chop it we’ll never know. But I didn’t and the whole house was anxiously awaiting dinner, so I caved and used paper towels. But only two.

Sigh. Bested by bacon.



Filed under Environment, food, Home

No Impact Experiment: Energy and Water

I’m rather insistent that Bug’s summer vacation be educational as well as fun. I’m one of THOSE moms. This week, we’re taking part in the No Impact Experiment, a 1-week carbon cleanse, and learning (hopefully) why it’s important to be more conscious of the environmental impact of seemingly mundane daily decisions. 

We fell a bit behind on our experiment over the weekend because Bug had some social engagements that kept him out of the house. Since this is his educational activity, I decided to wait until he was back home to continue. But to make up a bit for lost time, we decided to do two days’ challenges in one: energy and water.

For the energy portion, we wrote down every item in every room in the house that is using energy (electricity, gas, batteries). I’d show the list here, but it’s long and, really, not that important. Next, we starred those items that we would normally use in the remaining days of our experiment (which was pretty much all of them). Then we decided which items we would eliminate and which we would mitigate. Interestingly enough, it was my iPod I missed the most. I hand-pounded pesto with a mortar and pestle in order to avoid the food processor, and still it was the music I missed the most. Bug reports missing his DS the most. (No surprise there.) We didn’t do anything terribly unique in order to cut back on our energy usage, we just…. used less. It was warm and sunny, so Bug was outside most of the day while I worked. Hand-pounding pesto is about as exciting as we got on this one.

As for water, we practiced our usual conservation techniques: collecting water from the tub faucet while waiting for it to warm and using it to water plants and flush the toilet, letting it mellow when it’s yellow, using the low-flow feature on the showerhead, washing pots and pans by hand so there’s more room for other dishes in the dishwasher, washing only full loads of laundry (which takes no effort, since there’s always plenty of laundry with Baby Jupiter around), reusing the same dishes throughout the day so the dishwasher fills less quickly… again, nothing particularly out of the ordinary for us on this challenge. I did introduce Bug to the water footprint of our food, which he found mildly interesting, and we opted for chicken instead of beef for dinner, but we rarely eat beef anyway. (I could go vegetarian or nearly-vegetarian  myself, but Mr. Legume – a former vegetarian himself – finds that he’s always starving without meat in his meals.)

So, as I write this, I’m realizing we could’ve challenged ourselves more. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I see that we kind of regressed today. Poor planning on my part led to a trip through a drive-through for lunch (which is something that very rarely happens around here even when we’re not in the middle of a no impact experiment) and more poor planning had our garbage production up as well. Maybe we’ve hit mid-week fatigue?

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Filed under Environment, food, Home, No Impact Experiment

Cleaning the Kitchen au Natural

Photo by brad montgomery

Sadly, this is not a post about scouring the stove in the nude. Not today, anyway. Instead it’s about using natural cleaners in the kitchen, which isn’t quite as exciting as nude stove cleaning, but it’s still pretty exciting.

While I’ve been using natural cleansers for a long time, what I’d really like to accomplish is a cleaning arsenal made from regular household items. But does that vinegar and baking soda stuff really work? I conducted a little experiment in my kitchen to find out.


The motivation:
Sanitize. A wipe down with water and a sponge takes care of food remnants, but what about the germs?

The cleanser:
Vinegar + Water dispensed from a spray bottle (roughly half and half, but a bit more water than vinegar)

But does it work?
Yep, just fine. At least, I think it does. I haven’t done any scientific tests, but we don’t seem to be overrun with salmonella or anything, so I think we’re good. The kitchen does smell a little pickled at first, but the smell fades quickly.


The motivation:
Get rid of gunk gently. My sink is fireclay and the stove top is whatever stove tops are. Both can be scratched, and I don’t want that. But both get absolutely filthy (especially the stove top), and the white fireclay threatens to stain (though it hasn’t yet).

The cleanser:
Baking soda + warm water (enough to make a paste) + a couple drops of liquid soap (free of phosphates, of course), applied to surface and allowed to sit for 5 minutes or so.

But does it work?
Uh… define “work.” It works great on the sink: gets it back to white without much scrubbing effort and rinses off easily because, well, it’s in a sink. But on the stove top, it’s not as effective. It’s a decent scrub for food spills and splatters (like tomato sauce), but not so great at cutting through grease, of which there was plenty. It works, but definitely requires extra elbow grease (though, for the record, my stove top was NASTY when I started this experiment – extra scrubbing would’ve been required even with a traditional cleanser). Also? Rinsing it off the stove top is a bitch. 


The Motivation:
Finger print removal from fridge, oven, and dishwasher.

The cleanser:
Vinegar + lint-free rag

But does it work?
Totally. (I’ve also heard of using olive oil – sparingly – but I found it added as many smears as it got rid of, so I had to go back over it with vinegar anyway. Plus, it’s way more expensive than vinegar.)


The motivation:
Stench removal. My boards take on a permanent onion and/or garlic scent without proper care.

The cleanser:
Lemon juice

But does it work?
Yep, better if you do it regularly. Whenever I’m using lemon for a recipe, I give my boards a quick swipe with the remnants (no need to buy lemons solely for the purpose of washing your boards, unless you wouldn’t otherwise buy them).


The motivation:
Conditioning (lemon juice can be a bit abrasive)

The cleanser (in this case, conditioner):
Olive oil + clean rag

But does it work?
Yep. Don’t bother buying specific cutting board oil. This works just fine.


The motivation:
Stench removal

The cleanser:
Lemon (or other citrus) rinds, thrown down the drain and “disposaled.”

But does it work?
Totally. We compost our food waste, so there’s very little that ends up down the disposal anyway. But throwing a bit of citrus down there and grinding it up makes the sink smell good enough to eat.


The motivation:
Remove food spills and muddy footprints.

The cleanser:
Water. Period.

But does it work?
Absolutely. When we remodeled our kitchen, our contractors talked us into using Marmoleum flooring and I will forever love them for it. It’s eco-friendly, indestructible, and naturally anti-microbial. And, really, it takes nothing more that a quick watery wipe-down to keep it clean. Love.


My next experiment will be the bathroom. Any suggestions?

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Filed under Environment, Home

Potential Upcycle: Forgotten Doors

Nearly a decade ago I purchased five old (period appropriate) solid-core 5-panel doors with the intent of painting them and hanging them in place of the new (cheap and tacky) hollow-core 4-panel doors that lined my hallway. Thinking I would tackle the project in the next few months, I stored the doors in my basement where, as it turns out, projects and inspiration and motivation go to die. The doors are still there leaning against the far wall where I originally placed them, glaring bitterly at me whenever I pass.

I’ve been cleaning out the basement over the past few months, which has led me to spend considerable time contemplating their fates. It seems clear that my original plan is not to materialize, so now what? I’ve thought about numerous ways to repurpose them, but none have really felt quite right. (Or, more accurately, all my ideas have felt like yet another project that will never get started.)

And then last week I was wandering around the back yard, sighing heavily at all the unfinished (unstarted) projects outside, when I leaned on a section of rotted fence. And then I had an idea.

I did a little google image search, and found these:

Photo Source

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That last one’s my favorite. Isn’t is fantastic? I kind of love it. What do you think?

He built his fences out of doors and made the trespassers into guests.”
~Patrick Edwards-Daugherty~


Filed under Garden, Home, Upcycling

Take Action to Ban Triclosan!

I didn’t even know what triclosan was up until recently, when Natural Home Magazine tweeted a link to an article listing the chemical as a reason to dislike anti-bacterial soaps. Never a fan of anti-bacterial anything (soap and water works just fine, people), I eagerly clicked on the link.

And then I was horrified.

Triclosan is officially a pesticide, and is found in a wide range of consumer products, including clothing, toothpaste, toys and, yes, liquid soap. According to the Environmental Working Group, triclosan is linked to cancer, developmental defects, and liver and inhalation toxicity, and may affect thyroid and other hormone systems (Source). Ninety-five percent of nursing mothers have traces of the chemical in their breast milk, and 75% of Americans over the age of 6 have traces in their urine (source).

Adding insult to injury, the “beneficial” use in anti-bacterial soap is marginal at best. Studies show that soap and water works just as well as antibacterials in removing bacteria from hands. (Antibacterials kill the bacteria while soap and water merely removes them, but the results are the same.) (Source.) Further, many people use anti-bacterial soaps to help stave off colds and flus… which are viruses and are not affected by antibacterials.

Further, it is believed to aid in the development of antibiotic-immune “super bugs,” and contaminates water, plants, and fish.

In short, there is nothing even remotely redeeming about the chemical.

We now have the opportunity to tell the EPA to ban triclosan. Beyond Pesticides is asking for public comment on the Ban Triclosan petition, filed by 82 public health and environmental groups. The public comment period is expiring on Monday, February 7. Visit the Beyond Pesticides blog for instructions on submitting your comment and letting the EPA know that this chemical must be banned for public safety.

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Filed under Environment, Home, Toxics

Dumpster Diving

As part of Plastic Free February, we are collecting our plastic waste for one week. This is a little counter-intuitive, because if we were actually plastic free in February, we wouldn’t have any plastic waste to collect. Right?


Sadly, we have plenty to collect. Yesterday Bug and I spread the collection from just one day on the kitchen floor to examine our progress.

  1. Two Amazon Fresh plastic bags from a recent delivery. (These arrive, despite the fact that I select the “less packaging” option every time I order. More infuriating is that one of those bags held a package of sausages that were inside yet another plastic bag, while the other held a single lemon. Why the sausages and the lemon couldn’t be put in the same plastic bag – or no plastic bag at all – is beyond me.)
  2. Red twist tie-type thing that holds Amazon Fresh crates closed.
  3. One interior plastic bag from a box of frozen waffles.
  4. One Odwalla juice jug, plus lid.
  5. Two plastic-windowed envelopes.
  6. Two string cheese wrappers.
  7. One Orbits gum 3-pack wrapper.
  8. One Orbits gum wrapper (the wrapper inside the 3-pack wrapper).
  9. One bag of Rice Chips (this is extra embarrassing in that I ate that entire bag in one day).
  10. The cut-off corner to a bag of baby carrots (the remainder of the bag will likely show up later in the week).
  11. One ziplock baggie from Bug’s lunch bag.
  12. One plastic-lined top to a bag of tortilla chips (the remainder of this bag will also show up later this week).
  13. One cap to a carton of orange juice.

If that’s just 24 hours, imagine what the pile will look like by the end of the week.

As we reviewed our stash, I asked Bug to suggest ways that we could reduce our waste. We could stop ordering from Amazon Fresh, he suggested. Make waffles from scratch (which would be divine, but honestly isn’t likely to happen during the rushed week-day mornings). Buy regular carrots instead of packaged baby ones (this representing a huge break through – Bug used to only eat baby carrots). Use ReUsies instead of ziplocks to pack lunch. We also talked about what items we can reuse and what we can recycle.

So, while we’re not plastic free yet, I like to think that participating this month is providing ample educational opportunities. If nothing else, Bug now walks around pointing at things and gasping, “That’s plastic too!” which is annoying and satisfying at the same time.

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Filed under Environment, Home, Kids, Plastic Free February

Plastic Free February is going plastic free during the month of February and inviting all of us to join in on the fun. The rules:

  1. Don’t buy/acquire any new plastic.
  2. Don’t cook or store food in plastic.
  3. Minimize all other plastic use.

I’ll admit, I’m tempted… but I’m just not up for it. Maybe it’s because I spent the day yesterday caring for an ill infant, but the mere idea of trying to go without his (plastic-handled) pacifier for an entire month almost makes me cry.

Still, I like the idea of a month spent being more conscious of our plastic consumption, particularly as an educational tool for Bug. With that in mind, we carefully examined the contents of our most recent grocery bag. It contained:

  1. one pizza-flavored bagel (a snack for Bug)
  2. 1/4 lb of sliced deli ham
  3. deli container of a farro salad (a snack for me)
  4. small container of fresh sage
  5. freezer-sized plastic baggies
  6. one jar of blue cheese salad dressing
  7. one package of blueberry scones
  8. one bunch of green onions
  9. one bag of apples
  10. one lime

As I pulled each item out of the bag, Bug shouted out “good!” (no plastic) or “bad!” (anything with plastic packaging). I placed all of the bad items at one end of the dining room table, and all the good items at the other end. The deli ham was sealed in a plastic baggie before the butcher handed it to me; the sage and scones came in plastic clamshell containers; the freezer baggies are, well, baggies; the salad dressing, while packaged in a glass jar, had a plastic lid; I put the green onions in a plastic produce bag; the apples were packaged in a bag (I normally don’t buy them that way, but these apples were small enough to be eaten in their entirety when packed in Bug’s lunch). Out of 10 items, only three were plastic-free (the lime, bagel, and farro salad). Pretty abysmal.

After shaking our heads in dismay at the piles, we decided to spend the rest of the month at least thinking about our plastic consumption, even if we don’t aim to eradicate it entirely. I have some fun activities planned for us to help wrap our minds around how much plastic is in our lives. Will be sharing more as the month goes on…

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Filed under Environment, Home, Kids