Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Eco-Newbie Challenge

So, two things to think about today:

The first is the Eco-Newbie challenge, whose event is hosted on facebook. Just thought I'd throw out some ideas for anyone trying to decide what to do. The challenge is to find one little thing to change this week about your life that will make your life healthier, greener, or better in some other way.

If you're just getting started like me, a great thing to do is to pick up a book and read it. There're great recommendations on the right-hand side of the page. One that's not listed there is published, as far as I can tell, only in Canada, and it's called Green For Life by Gillian Deacon. A warning, though: there's a lot of information in that one little book. Don't try to renovate your whole house this week!

I find the biggest part of my eco-journey is gaining knowledge. The more I learn, the more I can make informed decisions.

Another simple thing to do is to test out baking soda as a cleaning product. Try scrubbing your sink with it along with a little water and a stainless-steel scrubber. Then rinse it out, dry it, and shine it with a couple drops of olive oil on a cloth. Your sink will gleam happily at you when you wake up in the morning, and you won't have to worry about any weird chemicals fuming up your kitchen. :)

Here's another idea: drink more water. It's good for you. Or eat more veggies. I like salad with little bites of broccoli and orange pepper and some creamy poppyseed dressing. Yum!

See how simple this is? There are so many little things we can change that will improve our quality of life. So have fun with it!

As for the other thing I was going to talk about, forget it for now. This is a lot. I'll write about vitamins later.

Friday, June 27, 2008


So you'd think that since I'm blogging, I'd be pretty familiar with technology and computer stuff, right?


Yup. I will freely admit that I am a wide-eyed techno-newbie, gaping in amazement at all my new discoveries online. For instance, did you know that you can download movies? As in, buy them without a box? Amazon calls them "Unbox Movies." (How cute is that?) Amazon also sells mp3's (another thing I'm getting used to. Imagine -- buying whole CD's without the packaging or the trip to the store! Very eco-friendly.).

I'm also drooling over the new Amazon Kindle. Have you heard of this thing? I am a die-hard reader who'd like nothing better than to spend half of each day at my kitchen table sipping a coffee and devouring a book. This Kindle thing is a little hand-held, electronic device with a screen that's supposed to read just like real paper (no sore computer-screen eyes!), and you can download a gezillion different titles onto it. Imagine! I could take my whole library with me everywhere I go. And I wouldn't have to cut down trees to do it. :)

Again, I'm in awe.

I'm also starting to consider the merits of iPods, which I'd up to this point considered to be trendy, unnecessary money-wasters. (Confession: I was also afraid of them. They seem so mysterious.) But someone recently pointed out that they're actually very eco-friendly, too. No CD packaging... or shelves and shelves filled up with CD cases, taking up valuable space in my kitchen cupboards. No gas wasted driving in to the music store. Interesting thought, eh? To think that all those teenagers are actually saving the planet.

I guess the only problem with all this technology is its end-of-life cycle. Since we go through it all so quickly, upgrading to the latest and greatest models, a lot of perfectly useful things get thrown out and fill up the landfills. Plus, according to Greenpeace, some of them have pretty unfriendly electronic components that need to be properly disposed of. (Or better yet, phased out and replaced with something else.)

I'm not quite ready to go out and buy myself an iPod just yet, but I'm getting more and more comfortable with all these new things. (Okay, I realize that iPods aren't new. It just takes me a while to adjust. Give me a break.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Evil Estrogen Shampoo Adventures

Since I am PMS-ing today, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about estrogen.

Did you know that there are a gezillion chemicals out there, in our everyday products, which mimic estrogen? No wonder PMS is so scary!

The most common ones are parabens (found in shampoo and other beauty products as a preservative) and sodium lauryl sulfate (found in shampoo and anything else that foams, like toothpaste and hand soap and the stuff garages use to de-grease engines).

Let's focus on sodium lauryl sulfate.

Last fall, I heard a speaker talk about her experiences with breast cancer and the things she had learned about natural products as a result. One of the substances she mentioned was SLS, and her casual comment about its being a skin irritant found in shampoo caught my attention.

For months, my scalp had been super irritated and itchy and tender, and I was starting to wonder what was wrong with it. Was I not washing enough? But no matter how often I shampooed my hair, I got no relief.

So, when I got home that day, I googled sodium lauryl sulfate. (Thank goodness google is so forgiving of spelling! My guess wasn't quite right.) May I just say, Yikes! I was so upset by what I learned that my husband had to tell me to take deep breaths and calm down.


SLS causes skin and eye irritation. It strips oil away, dries out the scalp and hair, and even made my dry hair frizzier (even though the shampoo says "deep moisture" on it). It breaks down the skin cells and gets absorbed into the body, as well as making an avenue for other nasty chemicals to soak through. It's possible that it can cause eye problems even if it doesn't come into contact with the eyes (since it gets absorbed by the skin). It also, once absorbed, mimics estrogen -- and we all know how important that delicate balance of hormones is!

And get this. This was the kicker (aside from my sore head, that is): since it's an eye irritant, it stings when it gets in your eyes. But do companies take it out of shampoo? No. They add one more chemical that numbs your eyeballs.

I'm. Not. Kidding.

I looked at every brand of shampoo in the drugstore, and they all contained either sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, or ammonium laureth sulfate. Even the kids' shampoos.

Some companies and scientists maintain that SLS isn't so bad, but my tender scalp and I beg to differ. Since switching to my Aubrey Organics brand, my head has gradually healed and is now feeling great (except when I've gone four days without showering because I've been pulling my hair out over my four boys). My hairdresser even commented that my hair is much healthier -- shinier, with much less split ends and less frizz. Yay!

A note on the brand I chose to switch to: It was the only brand in my health-food store whose label contained only familiar-sounding ingredients. You know, things like coconut and allspice. The consistency's a bit more liquidy, but it smells heavenly. And the conditioner! My hair just drinks it right up, and there's hardly any left to rinse out. Pure bliss.

Oh yeah, and even though I'm PMS-ing today (and yesterday. Sigh.), the mood swings aren't nearly as bad as they used to be. It's more like a general case of the blahs with a little bit of teary-eyed sentimentality than a full-blown I-Hate-My-Life-And-I-Need-To-Get-Out-Of-Here surprise attack when my husband walks though the door after work.

Who knew reducing chemicals could be so good for a marriage?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What Do I Do About Plastic?

This has become a big dilemma for me -- because I sell Tupperware. Tupperware is plastic. Plastic, plastic, and more plastic.

When the news story about bisphenol-A broke, I watched it with avid interest. I'd been starting to wonder about plastic, but since I enjoyed my Tupperware business, I'd done a teeny bit of research, shrugged my shoulders, and moved on. I kept telling myself, and my customers, that Tupperware plastic was high quality and wouldn't leech into their foods like the cheap, dollar-store containers and water bottles would do.

But after all those baby bottles were recalled, I went online to see if I could find more information about the plastic used in Tupperware products.

Much to my surprise, Tupperware had recently posted information containing the exact type of plastic used in each container as well as the "official" response to BPA. It was a wealth of information! Tupperware maintains that, although they'll be following upcoming research closely, their containers made with BPA are still food-grade and safe.

I'm a little more skeptical.

But then, I'm becoming a little cynical towards big companies and non-natural substances in general.

As one of my friends says (approximately), "I figure if it's wood, glass, or metal, it's probably safe."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Every Woman Should Have This!

About a year ago, a friend of mine told me about the DivaCup. She raved about how it had changed her life. I wasn't sure it would make such a big difference for me, but since I trust her, I searched online and came across the website.

I avidly read through all the FAQ's and customer feedback, and decided that I would try one, too.

Are you ready for this? It is the most amazing thing ever invented in the history of the world for a woman's period.

I can't feel it. I only have to empty it twice a day. It's sanitary. It doesn't smell funny. It's easy to use once you get the hang of it. I paid for it once, and it'll last for about two years.

In other words, it's one of the easiest, most pleasant, money-saving ways to make my life better AND help the environment. How cool is that?

Basically, even if I cared nothing at all about saving the planet, I'd still love it. The whole eco-friendly thing is just an added bonus. :)

Monday, June 23, 2008

I'm An Un-Trendy Eco-Newbie

One thing I find frustrating about trying to get healthy is the current trendiness of all things green.

Here's a controversial question: Is global warming really a big deal, or is it being made into a big deal by the people who profit from our worries? Honestly, I haven't done much research into it, but I'm starting to think I should.

A totally different trend that bugs me a bit is that of major brands now coming out with green product lines. I'm learning to read labels, and from what I can tell, they're only doing the bare minimum to make their products qualify for the green label. I mean, if they really cared about our health (and not just adding more profits to their pockets by jumping onto the latest bandwagon), wouldn't they do away with the other, non-healthy products that their companies produce?

I also find that trendiness makes people think about one part of a large issue for mere minutes... before they settle back in to their usual ways of life. It's all too confusing to figure out if the Atkins diet really works, or if it'll be de-bunked in five years and we'll feel ridiculous for trying it. What if green stuff is like that, too?, we wonder.

Being trendy takes away credibility. Trends come and go. So what of this green movement is lasting? And how much of it will really make a difference?

I'm a firm believer in starting the change that I want to see. Why wait? Maybe on my own, I won't accomplish much on a global scale, but I can at least change the atmosphere in my house. And I really do think that a lot of these "trendy" things have merit. It's just sorting through it all that's the hard part...

I Love My Cast Iron Pan So Much, I Think I'll Give It A Name

After my success with my little bitty cast-iron frying pan, I told my husband that I'd like to get another, bigger one. He replied that he might have an old one from camping hiding somewhere in his parents' garage.

Oh. My. Goodness.

He didn't tell me it was for frying whole fish or a side of elk. He presented me with a huge, 13 3/8 inch frying pan, encrusted with layers of dirt, rust, and old grease. But he said I could use it. If I could lift it, that is.

All I have to say is, it's a good thing my excitement about cast iron cookware is still so new.

I rolled up my figurative sleeves and started scrubbing away at that thing last night, determined to get it back in shape so I could make monstrously huge berry cobblers in the oven to feed forty people (you know, just in case).

There are muscles in my arms which I never would have discovered if it weren't for all that rust. As each arm began to burn, I would switch to the other arm, scrubbing as hard as I could with my little stainless-steel scrubber. My husband had the idea of pouring pepsi on the pan to loosen the rust, and, I must say, it worked like a charm. And, it gave me one more reason never to drink soft drinks again.

By the time I was done, an inky black liquid had been sprayed all over the kitchen. With each scrub, drops flew across the sink and landed on the clean dishes, the not-so-clean floor, and even my shirt. (Oddly enough, once I put my apron on, I didn't get any more on my clothes.) It looked like a very stressed-out octopus had been put in a blender with the lid off and the power on.

But the deed was done. The pan was as clean as it was going to get. We lovingly coated it with (a little too much) oil and placed it in the oven to season for an hour.

This morning, I got up, put on some coffee, and wondered if it would be silly to scramble four eggs in a pan that would fit two dozen. I decided, sadly, that it would be. But that's okay. I'll just think of a dinner dish that will put the pan through its paces tonight.

And maybe I'll do some online shopping, gazing wistfully at stove tops with bigger burners while I run my fingers over the smooth, black surface of my new old cast-iron pan.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

What On Earth Is She Doing?

My (borderline) obsession with going natural and chemical-free began innocently four years ago, after the birth of my firstborn. I was invited to a Melaleuca party, where I learned about all the nasty chemicals in Lysol and other cleaners found in the grocery store (but Lysol in particular). I was so horrified by all their possible effects -- cancer, asthma, poisoning, lung irritation -- that I switched from using chemical cleaners to using, of course, the Melaleuca products. (Lately, I've been branching out.)

Since then, I've been slowly learning more about chemicals in our everyday products. I'm already frightened, and I have a feeling that I'm just touching the tip of the iceberg.

This last year, though, has been a bit of an accelerated learning time, especially in the last few months, and I'm finding that as I learn more, a couple things happen.

1) I get extremely frustrated and angry for a couple moments.
2) I get a little obsessed.
3) I get weird looks from my friends.
4) I change things in my immediate environment.

I can't believe all the information out there that most of us just don't know. I mean, it's not like I'm a Greenpeace activist or anything. I'm just a stay-at-home mom who likes to paint and try to keep up with the dishes. But maybe that's the problem: most of us "normal people" just go on with our lives, too busy driving kids to doctors appointments and trying to pay the bills on time, without ever stopping to think about what's in our shampoo. Why would we? The drugstore sells it, and Dove has those really great commercials about self-esteem, so they wouldn't hurt us, would they?

Anyway. I don't want to rant. (I might a bit, though, depending on the day and how much coffee I've had.)

But here's the deal: that innocent shampoo with the unreadable label contains, it turns out, a chemical that explains why my scalp has been so irritated for the last year. And when I switched to a shampoo whose label I could understand and which didn't contain sodium laurel sulphate, I paid a bit more, but I got a happy head back. (And my hairdresser said she's never seen my hair so healthy.)

This is the journey that I am on. Health-discovery. It's a bit weird to some people, but I'm confident that as I learn more, I'll be able to prevent more silliness like my itchy scalp. And hopefully, I'll be able to give my kids a safer home environment to grow up in.

Cast Iron Isn't Sticky After All

I have been so surprised and delighted with my new cast-iron frying pan. I picked up a cheap one at Ikea for $10, then looked online for some good tips on how to season it properly. Bingo! Instant non-sticky, non-chemically goodness. And I even get to wash it with soap!

The impetus behind this completely out-of-character purchase (since I've been known to complain a lot about my in-laws' cast-iron pan whenever I've made scrambled eggs with it) was a tidbit I picked up from reading Green For Life by Gillian Deacon. She mentions that non-stick coatings are made of VOC's (volatile organic compounds, like formaldehyde), and I swear, every time I cooked with my pretty, expensive non-stick pan, I could smell the ugly chemicals leaching into the air and the eggs. Ugh! (Over-reaction? Maybe.) How could I eat that? How could I let my kids eat that?

Not long after that, I happened to come across an Ikea catalog, which I picked up to see if they had any cute curtains. I discovered the frying pan instead and figured that for $10, I could surely give the hated cast iron one more chance. After all, our safety was at stake.

And, what do you know?! I love it. (If it weren't for my husband's teasing me over my sudden change of heart when he'd known all along how well cast iron worked, I'd love it even more.) Properly seasoned, the eggs slide right out, the omelettes flip perfectly, and ... well, that's really all I've tried so far. But still. I'm a convert.