Change the World Wednesday: Water conservation

I recently discovered the Reduce Footprints blog, and decided to join last week’s Change the World Wednesday Challenge. The challenge: take only showers for the week and limit them to five minutes. I thought this would be an easy challenge for me since Baby Jupiter generally sees to it that I never have more than five minutes to do any one thing anyway. I’m also a habitual over-sleeper, so I’m extremely experienced in the fine art of a speedy shower.


It finally decided to be sunny in Seattle this week, so I shaved my legs. Five-minute shower fail. And then Mr. Legume and I shared a shower, and that always makes them last longer (though not for any of the steamy reasons you’re imagining, much to Mr. Legume’s chagrin). Five-minute shower fail again. I think I’ve come in at the five minute mark once out of four attempts. But I have been using the low water flow setting on the shower head, so surely that counts for something.


To make up for my (so far) epic fail, I thought I’d share a water-saving shower tip with you. If your house is old an inefficient like mine, a fair amount of perfectly good water goes straight down the drain while you’re waiting for it to warm up to a suitable temperature. Stick a bucket under the faucet to collect the water (remove the bucket before you start actually bathing so that you don’t end up collecting soap suds as well). You’ll be amazed (and shocked and dismayed) at how much water was previously going down the drain. Use your bucket o’ bath H20 to water house plants, soak dirty pots and pans, add it to your rain barrels, or use it to flush your toilet (pour the water into the toilet bowl – carefully, until you get the feel for your toilet’s “flush point” – and it will flush without using the water from the toilet tank).


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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

Antibiotics Lawsuit

We’ve all heard tales of doctors over-prescribing antibiotics to their patients, often for viral illnesses (the common cold, for example) for which antibiotics are not even effective. Even so, humans consume a mere fraction of all the antibiotics in the United States. The rest? Well, we feed that to good ol’ Bessie, naturally.

Photo by JelleS

Depending on the source, a reported 70 – 80% of all antibiotics in the United States are fed in low doses to healthy farm animals with the goal of staving off illness and speeding growth. This is despite the overwhelming (and long-standing) evidence that doing so breeds super bugs – bacteria resistant to antibiotics, which are growing more prevalent and ever more dangerous to humans.

After 30 years of fighting for stricter controls (the FDA acknowledged the link between antibiotics and super bugs waaaaaaay back in the ’70s), there may be hope on the horizon. A suit has been filed against the FDA by environmental and public health organizations in an attempt to force the agency to ban the “therapeutic” use of antibiotics in farm animals.

In the meantime, opt for certified organic meats whenever possible.

This excellent article by Barry Estabrook details just how much evidence the FDA has, and is ignoring.

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Filed under Environment, food

Sunscreen Guide

Photo by Evil Erin

Environmental Work Group has released its 2011 sunscreen guide. This is EWG’s fifth annual guide, and includes ratings for 1700 sunscreen products.

I’m old enough to remember a time when slathering oneself with baby oil was the “proper” response to a sunny day. Suntan lotions lined the shelves of drug stores, boasting their abilities to attract the sun, not shield from it. But deep-frying dermis to a toasted golden brown eventually fell out of favor like so many other things from my childhood (riding bikes without helmets, driving cars without seat belts) and protecting our skin from overactive cell growth became the thing to do. The era of sunscreen was upon us.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, the chemical cocktail inside those plastic bottles may be doing more harm than good. Check out EWG’s Sunscreen Exposed: 9 Surprising Truths article, which includes this gem: “The common sunscreen ingredient, Vitamin A, may speed the development of cancer.” You can also check EWG’s lists of best beach and sport sunscreens, best lip balms with SPF, best moisturizers with SPF, and best makeups with SPF, or use the search feature to find out how your favorite sunscreen rates (the lower the rating, the better).

And then put on a hat and find a spot in the shade, mkay?

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Filed under Toxics

Book Report: In Defence of Food

I admit it: I’m way late to this party. Michael Pollen is kind of a big name in the food activist (for lack of a better term) circles, and I only just got around to reading one of his books.

I started with In Defence of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, which was published waaaaay back in 2008, because it was available first at my local library. In it, Pollan explains his food mantra: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” which is fairly similar to my personal food mantra: “Eat food. Like, real food. [heavy exasperated sigh when people ask what, specifically, I mean] You know, fooooooooood.” But while I just keep repeating and elongating the word “food” and making increasingly emphatic hand gestures, Pollan actually takes the time to clearly describe what he means, making his argument far more convincing than mine. Because he’s a journalist by trade, and I’m a former dance major. Also because he’s a showoff.

Pollan begins by shedding light on the faulty science behind what he terms “nutritionism,” a reductionist approach to food, eating, and nutrition on which the entire Western diet is based. He suggests (rather convincingly, I might add) that fat and cholesterol in the diet do not cause higher rates of coronary disease, that, in fact, the lipid hypothesis is erroneous and unsubstantiated. He then goes on to suggest (again, rather convincingly) that studying the individual elements of a particular food ignores the more important interaction of the whole, leading to fads (low fat! more antioxidants! dha supplements!) that simply don’t work out of context.

In the remainder of the book, Pollan expounds on each of three main points. “Eat food” becomes a discussion on the difference between food and food-like substances. “Not too much,” obviously, focuses on quantity, serving sizes, etc. And “mostly plants” discusses the ratio of meat to plants. Which makes this an entirely unnecessary paragraph because you could’ve figured all that out for your own. Right then. Moving on.

The book, perhaps, goes on a bit too long (in that those three points described in the previous paragraph don’t really require much elaboration) but Pollan’s writing style somehow manages to be studious and conversational, so it’s hard to mind a few extra pages. And really, the book is pretty short and a quick read even at that. I found it informative and enjoyable enough to move his previous book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, to the top of my library queue.

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Filed under Books, food

Making Your Own Baby Food

When Bug was born, I was full of lofty parenting ideas. I thought I would breast feed until he was at least a year old; I thought I would never let a disposable diaper touch his butt; I thought I would make all of his baby food with my own two hands. And so on and so forth. In the end, I did nurse for a little over a year, he wore cloth diapers most of the time, and I made his baby food… that one time. The combination of working full-time and being married to a man who didn’t help out a whole lot just didn’t leave me with enough time or energy to squash up baby food.

But this time, it’s different. While I was on maternity leave with Baby Jupiter, I lost my job. Only working full-time sporadically and/or working very part-time from home leaves me with a lot more time for parenting activities. Also? (And this is really the biggest and bestest change:) I have a man around who actually pulls his weight. Also, also? Making your own baby food is waaaaay easier and less time consuming than you might guess, especially if you make big enough batches to last the month. Plus, it gives you more control over what’s going into your baby’s mouth and it’s considerably cheaper than buying those tiny jars at the supermarket.

Here’s a primer, using apples as an example:

Step One: Prepare the Food
For apples, I core and slice. I don’t usually worry about peeling them because my food mill takes care of that for me. (Actually, the food mill would take care of the core too, but it makes cranking the handle a little harder so I usually opt to core ahead of time.) If you’re using a food processor, you’ll obviously want to remove anything you don’t want ground up into the pulp that ultimately lands in your baby’s gullet.

Step Two: Cook the Food
I generally prefer to steam things because the foods lose less of their nutrients that way. But boiling or baking or whatever you’re into works fine. Reserve the water if you steam or boil. We can use that later.

Step Three: Prepare to Squish
I use a Foley Food Mill set over a bowl unless I’m making a super big batch, in which case the food process comes out. Sometimes. Sometimes I still use the food mill. It’s just less fuss that hauling out the food processor, and it cleans up quicker too. But again, whatever’s clever.

Step Four: Squish
Either turn the crank (food mill) or hit the button (food processor). With a food mill, you’ll be left with this (skins):

…and this (baby food!):

Step Five: Use or Store
Depending on the age and preferences of your baby, you’ll likely need to thin out the food before feeding. If you’ve reserved the cooking water, you can use it to thin out the food while adding back in some of the nutrients that cooked out. (DON’T use the cooking water of foods high in nitrates, like carrots.) Or thin with regular drinking water, breast milk, or formula. You can thin the whole batch or only as much as you’re about to serve. I usually opt to thin individual servings at a time because Jupiter’s thickness tastes change from meal to meal. Store in the fridge the amounts that you’ll use in the next 24 or so hours. Freeze the rest using ice-cube trays.

(Yikes! Those aren’t apples. You caught me. Those are peas and carrots from a different day. I forgot to photograph the apples in the tray.)

It only takes a couple of hours for the food to freeze. Then pop the cubes out of the tray and transfer to a more suitable storage container. I’d recommend something that you can label with the date and contents (those cubes aren’t always so easy to identify later).

Step Six: Pat Back
Et, voila! C’est fini! Congratulate yourself on a job well done.

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Filed under food, Kids

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:

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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