Walkable City, Visible City, and 4 more book reviews

My brother got me two books about cities for my birthday–one fiction and one nonfiction, both great books with great covers! Here they are, along with reviews of the other books I’ve read recently.

Walkable City by Jeff Speck

I love living in a walkable urban neighborhood!  This book by a city planner told me a lot I didn’t know about what makes some cities thrive with useful, pleasant walking spaces and just how good for our physical, mental, environmental, and social health walkability is.  Every page made me gasp with some interesting fact or startling insight.  It’s filled with “rules” about how to make spaces work for us, yet it also emphasizes the need to get rid of regulations that create less-walkable areas, for example requiring off-street parking for every individual dwelling.  The real-life examples, from dozens of American and international cities, are fascinating.

If you live in a walkable place, this book will show you hidden details of how it works.  If you live in an unwalkable place, this book will teach you what to advocate in your local planning meetings or what to look for when you move.

Visible City by Tova Mirvis

Nina and Jeremy share a New York City apartment and two young children, but they barely see each other anymore.  Nina, a stay-at-home mom, is drawn to watching the older couple in an apartment across the street who look so contented together–but who is that younger woman on crutches who is suddenly in their home?  Jeremy spends most of his time at the office, trying to prove himself in a career that suddenly seems less important when he discovers the architectural splendor of an abandoned subway station and meets people devoted to exploring New York’s hidden places.  Separately, Nina and Jeremy get to know separate members of the family across the street, and their lives intersect in several very different ways as their neighborhood struggles with the construction of a huge new building. Read more of this post

How to Reduce Your Home’s Carbon Footprint

This is a guest post by Justin Havre, a Calgary native and owner of Justin Havre & Associates.

A home’s carbon footprint is its impact on the environment, measured in the amount of carbon dioxide released in the process of operating that home. Excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere traps heat, accelerating the process of global climate change.

Reducing the carbon footprint of your property is good for the community, for the world, and even for your pocketbook. Improving sustainability can also make a house more desirable to home buyers in the event the home goes up for sale. Knowing how to reduce your carbon footprint can help make your home a better and more functional place to live.

Insulate

Many older homes had adequate insulation at the time of construction but are no longer up to our standards. You can determine whether or not your home has adequate insulation by going into the attic and checking whether or not the insulation is above the floor joists. If the floor joists are visible, adding more insulation will make your home more energy-efficient.

Insulating pipes is another good way to save money and energy. Insulating the hot-water pipes helps keep the water in the pipes warmer for longer, reducing wear and tear on your water heater. For this task, simply purchase long lengths of self-adhesive pipe insulation that’s the right size for your home’s plumbing, then cut down the insulation to the right size and apply it to the exposed pipes in your home.

Use a Programmable Thermostat

Programmable thermostats ensure that your home’s HVAC system will only run as much as needed. Program the thermostat to turn down the heat (or to allow a warmer temperature before the AC comes on) when people are sleeping or not at home. This will save money and improve the efficiency of your furnace and air conditioner. Read more of this post

Acure Brightening Facial Scrub review

This is an honest review.  I received a discount on this product, and if you join Grove Collaborative using my affiliate link I will receive a discount on my future purchases there, but I was not paid to promote this product.  All opinions stated here are my own.

For the past two years, I’ve been buying some of my environmentally friendly household products through Grove Collaborative, formerly known as ePantry, a subscription service that sends your selected supplies as scheduled but allows you to adjust or cancel any order if you don’t need that stuff right now.  Here’s how to decide if a subscription service is right for you, and here are my honest reviews of 11 products Grove carries.  If you’d like to try it, please click here to get a $10 discount and get me credit for referring you!

Grove Collaborative often offers me a discount on a new product to entice me to try it.  That’s how I got Acure Brightening Facial Scrub.  This exfoliating cleanser is an alternative to those that contain environmentally damaging plastic microbeads and/or hazardous chemicals.

It has “argan extract + chlorella growth factor,” which does not sound appealing to me.  It also has “lemon peel granules,” which presumably contain the fruit acids that are supposed to be good for making skin look younger, as well as being a constructive use for lemon peels that would otherwise be compost or garbage.  “Walnut shell flour” similarly makes use of unwanted natural packaging, and it sounded good for exfoliating.  Overall, the list of ingredients didn’t contain anything objectionable, and I always appreciate when products disclose all of their ingredients.  (If you’re wondering about potassium sorbate, it’s natural and considered pretty safe.)

When I opened the tube, I was surprised to find that this facial scrub is black.  Well, dark greenish-gray, maybe.  How was rubbing this dark goo into my pores going to “brighten” my face?  I said to myself in a chipper voice, “That’s the argan and chlorella!” but this did not reassure me.  I pictured Argan and Chlorella terrorizing Tokyo.  I toned it down to a vision of earnestly-raised young vegan siblings named Argan and Chlorella.  I sniffed the open tube and realized that the scrub had a pleasant lemon scent.

That’s important.  Stuff I’m going to rub onto my face needs to smell good or at least not bad.  It’s right on and next to my nose, first thing in the morning!

So, I squeezed out a bit of the lemony-smelling stuff that looked like wet sand from a black-sand beach, and I gently scrubbed it on my forehead, nose, and chin.  (My cheeks are more sensitive, so I never try an exfoliant there until I’ve seen its effect on the rest of my face.)  It felt good!  Invigorating!  After rinsing, I felt much smoother.

After getting out of the shower, I looked in the mirror for evidence of “brightening.”  I actually saw a difference!  My pores were smaller–even after a steamy shower–and I looked a little younger and more awake than usual.

With subsequent uses, I’ve continued to be happy with the effect on my appearance and the way my skin feels.  I’m now using it every other day on my face, neck, and elbows.

The downside is that, because of the dark color, every bit of the scrub that rinses off me is highly visible, and it looks a lot like dirt or mildew.  I’m trying to be careful to get it all to go down the drain instead of onto the shower curtain or wall.  This also is a reason to make sure you rinse it thoroughly off your skin.  I’m finding that easy to do in the shower, but if you use it to wash your face over the sink, make sure you’re not leaving bits of black grit along your hairline!

Overall, I recommend this product if you want a facial scrub in a tube.  It’s convenient, but the tube will not be accepted by most recycling programs, and the stuff costs about $2 an ounce.  When I finish it, I’ll probably go back to using my very affordable, low-waste homemade facial scrub most of the time.  (I wonder if adding some kind of citrus oil would give me that pore-tightening effect?)  I might buy another tube of Acure Brightening Facial Scrub for special occasions and travel.

Here are all my favorite Earth-friendly hygiene products!

Visit Waste Less Wednesday and To Grandma’s House We Go for more environmentally friendly tips!

Every school needs a Jacob!

My three-year-old Lydia and I recently enjoyed a picture book from our local library, Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah & Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case.  Jacob is a preschool boy who enjoys wearing dresses from the costume box but is criticized by his classmate Christopher.  His mom is kind about his hurt feelings, but when he says he wants to wear a dress as his regular clothing, she’s clearly unsettled.  After an experiment with a towel toga and some more bullying from Christopher, Jacob steels his nerve to talk to his mom again–and she helps him sew a dress he really likes.  When Christopher complains about it at circle time, their teacher says, “Everyone wears what’s comfortable for them.”  She points out that people used to say girls couldn’t wear pants.  At recess, Jacob stands up to the bully, feeling his dress surrounding him like “soft, cottony armor.”

Lydia and I loved this story of bravery and being yourself!  It’s very gently yet vividly written, perfectly evoking Jacob’s desires and worries at a preschool level, not preachy and not over-explaining.  I’m especially impressed with the moment when Jacob’s mother is trying to decide what to say and Jacob feels like he can’t breathe–that’s all it says, but you can feel the tension, the importance of his mother’s reaction to him.  I also love what she says as they make the dress: “There are all sorts of ways to be a boy.”

Lydia likes pink and flowers and Hello Kitty, but she also loves trains and playing in the mud, and she likes to wear clothes handed down by her older brother Nicholas, like a blue T-shirt with a dragon on it.  She was surprised by the idea that girls “couldn’t” wear pants.  I pulled out a few of the pre-1960 children’s books we own and pointed out that all the girls in the pictures were wearing dresses.  We agreed that sometimes pants are more comfortable, and other times a dress is just the right “soft, cottony armor” for your adventures! Read more of this post

Recycling Coffee Bags with TerraCycle

We save money on fair-trade organic coffee by buying five-pound bags.  Larger bags also mean less garbage per pound of coffee, but those metallized plastic bags are still an environmental problem: Most recycling programs won’t take them, and they’re not biodegradable.

For several years, I collected coffee bags—our own and those discarded by friends, co-workers, my church, and people attending various events at church who saw my flyer on the bulletin board and tacked their bags to it—until I had enough to pack a box very full, and then I mailed it to the Netherlands, to a company that was making tote bags out of coffee bags.

That was pretty cool, but trans-Atlantic postage is expensive, and then the company began struggling economically, reduced production, and told me they didn’t need more bags.  I’m not sure if they’re still in business now.  But I never stopped collecting bags.  I needed another way to recycle them.

TerraCycle specializes in recycling unusual items that are difficult to recycle because of the multiple materials used in one item—things like juice pouches, toothpaste tubes, and three-ring binders.  Read more of this post

Why My 12-year-old Is Riding Public Transit Alone

I’m nervous posting this because of the freakout when Lenore Skenazy let her 9-year-old ride public transit alone.  I don’t want to be the next “America’s Worst Mom”!  But I think it’s important to talk about how to approach children’s independence safely and gradually so that they learn the skills they’ll need as adults.

Nicholas is 12 now.  He was 11 last summer when he started riding Pittsburgh city buses by himself.  His father and I think he could have handled it just fine when he was 10, too, but his day camp required that an adult sign him in and out every day until age 11.

Nicholas has been attending this day camp at the Carnegie Museum of Art & Natural History since he was 5.  He used to go every week as his summer childcare while we were working.  Now that he’s old enough to keep himself occupied while his father works from home, he only signs up for the week-long camp sessions that interest him most.

I used to work 4 blocks away from the museum, taking public transit to/from the bus stop right outside the museum.  It was easy for me to drop off Nicholas on my way to work and pick him up on my way home.  But the summer he was 9, I was on maternity leave until late July, and he wanted to attend some weeks of camp anyway.  Baby Lydia and I got an early start practicing getting out of the house on time, in order to drop off Nicholas by 9:00 each morning and pick him up at 3:00!  (When I wasn’t working, he didn’t stay for the optional “post-camp” until 6:00.)  We enjoyed the daily outings and sometimes did other things before heading home.

Last summer, I was between jobs.  My feelings about time were very different from maternity leave; I felt constantly busy and stressed about job-searching and trying to catch up on all those projects that are hard to do while working full-time.  It was a great relief to hear that Nicholas was excited about finally being old enough to sign himself in and out of camp!

We prepared carefully for his first solo bus trip.  Here are the details to consider and the ways they worked out for us: Read more of this post

That Time I Bought Ladybugs by Mail

Years ago, Daniel and I made friends with this guy named Vinnie who lived in one of the apartments over the garages behind the cluster of rowhouses where we were living at the time.  His apartment was small and shabby, but he’d chosen it because it had a large yard, and he loved gardening.  In the winter, he brought a lot of his plants indoors in pots.

Unfortunately, one winter his plants became infested with aphids and scale insects simultaneously.  Vinnie tried spraying them with various homemade concoctions, but nothing was working well enough, and the plants were dying.  Somehow a farm-supply catalog had made its way into his urban home, and he noticed that the catalog said ladybugs would eat these pests.  You could buy them by the pint.

Vinnie is a person who stubbornly resists The System: He likes to work informally as a landscaper rather than having a “real job,” he’s often lived without a telephone or a bank account, and he’s never had a credit card.  That’s why he asked me to order his ladybugs from the catalog.  I used my phone, my credit card, and my address, figuring I would take the bugs to Vinnie when they arrived.

A week or so later, I came home from work, and my housemate said, “You got a package.  Why is it labeled LIVESTOCK?  It’s not very big.”  The package was a small wooden crate containing a canvas sack.  When I held it up to my ear, I could hear tiny moving noises.  I explained to my housemate, and we speculated about how many ladybugs are in a pint–that crate might be small by human standards, but it was very much larger than a ladybug; there must be hundreds in there or thousands….

After dinner, I took the crate up to Vinnie’s place.  He was excited.  He immediately got some tools to pry open the crate.  Then he lifted out the bag, ignoring some folded papers that were underneath it in the crate.  One end of the bag was bunched together and secured with a twist-tie.

Naturally, Vinnie untwisted the twist-tie to take a look at his new beneficial insects. Read more of this post

A Tale of Two Toothpastes

As a VIP member of Grove Collaborative, I get a free item or special deal every month or two.  Recently, we’ve tried two new natural toothpastes.  Based on our 20 years’ experience trying natural and Earth-friendly hygiene products and cleaning products, here’s our evaluation of these two minty mouth-cleaning options.  This is an honest review.  We received no compensation other than a discount on these products.

Click here to get $10 off your first Grove Collaborative order and earn a credit for me!  Click here to learn more about how Grove works and whether it’s right for you.

JASON Powersmile Antiplaque & Whitening Toothpaste (Powerful Peppermint flavor) is indeed powerful.  It’s aggressively minty, similar to Altoids candy.  It will clear your sinuses!  But we don’t actually like the taste, which also prominently features stevia.  I’m very sensitive to fake sugar, and while stevia is not actually an artificial sweetener, the fact that it tastes super-sweet but has no calories can trigger a metabolic reaction that makes me feel nervous and queasy.  That’s a reason to avoid stevia-sweetened foods, but since I’m not swallowing toothpaste, my reaction is only psychosomatic and fades within a few minutes after rinsing my mouth.  Still, who wants to feel icky even for a moment after brushing teeth?  Not me! Read more of this post

Horses don’t dance in the bathtub.

Lydia, three years old, informed me that this is NOT called a soap dish.  It is a soap bench.

You can see her point.

Immediately after this pronouncement, she stood up and started dancing.

MAMA: Don’t dance in the bathtub.  It’s slippery.

LYDIA: I am just showing you how horses dance. (slips a little; casually rests her hand on the cold-water knob for stability)

MAMA: Horses don’t dance in the bathtub.  Too slippery.

LYDIA: Do horses not like slipping?

MAMA: Horses are very afraid of slipping.  If a horse falls down, often it can’t get up again.  Horses are strangely fragile that way.

(Lydia looks worried, sits down, and starts playing with cups.  She waits until she is out of the bath and out of the bathroom to show me again how horses dance.)

I’m glad that worked!  We didn’t have to get into a big power struggle about sitting down in the bathtub.  The susceptibility of horses to irrepairable breakage when they fall is one of the more disturbing things I’ve learned about life here on Earth, but in this situation it was useful to know!

A Look At Climate Change And The Questions That Surround It

This is a guest post by Neil Stawski of ClimateWise.co . Mr. Stawski believes we aren’t doing enough to protect our planet. He created ClimateWise.co to educate the public and encourage people to take action.

High water!

image via Pixabay by Hermann

Global warming, climate change, fossil fuels, and greenhouse gases: all things you’ve probably heard about in the news in recent years, and all things that are extremely complicated and hard to understand, especially when there is so much information–and misinformation–spread.

Among the many questions surrounding these topics is the question of what we can do to help stop these changes, and whether or not we can reverse them. Unfortunately, because there is such a gap between what we do and when we feel the effects, it’s nearly impossible to reverse climate change. We can only hope to slow it down.

What we can do, however, is educate ourselves about climate change, learn how to suss out the facts from the opinions, and implement some changes in our own lives that will benefit the Earth for future generations.

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding climate change, as well as answers agreed upon by some of the most experienced scientists in the world.

What is the difference between “global warming” and “climate change”?

Global warming is a term used to indicate the massive rise in the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere over the last several decades due to the increasing use of fossil fuels, which contain carbon dioxide that traps heat. Global warming is a symptom of climate change, which encompasses all the global issues affected by the rising temperatures. These issues include melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and the possible extinction of many plant and animal species.

If global warming exists, why do we still have cold winters?

Global warming is taking place over a period of time, across the entire planet. Although the average temperature of our atmosphere is rising, we will still have cold winters and even snow and ice storms due to changing weather patterns.

Becca says: Check out this cartoon explaining why “what used to be normal now feels too cold.” Read more of this post

Compost Blanketing the Sahara

Last night, Daniel and I were talking about what might happen with Africa in this century.  It’s an interesting question, considering that Africa has an unusually young population, many unstable governments, metals that are hard to find anywhere else on Earth, significant presence of both Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, and very uneven distribution of resources.  All kinds of things could happen there!

Daniel had an idea that had never occurred to me before, which I think is fabulous!  We haven’t fully explored the science behind it (and we can see some potential pitfalls) but as an idea for what Earthlings could achieve if we tried, I think this is really inspiring.

The Sahara Desert covers almost as much land as the United States but is habitable to less than 1% as many people.  “Huge areas are wholly empty,” says the Encyclopedia Brittanica, but there is archaeological evidence that more people lived there in prehistoric times.  The Sahara has grown over the course of human history, partly because of climate change and partly because of unsustainable agricultural practices.  This is the region of Earth where human beings first developed agriculture.  This land fed people for thousands of years, but now it is used up, dried out, blowing away.

Is that just what happens?  Do we live in a place until we use it all up and then move on?  What will happen when we run out of places? Read more of this post

5 Book Reviews

Here’s a sprightly introduction to my reviews of the books I’ve read in the past month.

The God We Never Knew by Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg is a theologian and Biblical scholar who admits that he got well into his adult life and graduate studies before he realized that his understanding of God was warped by assumptions he’d picked up as a child in church.  He proceeded to explore and learn more about God.  He explains how God is in everything and everything is in God.  Because God is always and everywhere present, “…we are already in relationship whether we know it or not,” so prayer is not a magic spell addressed to a distant genie but is simply “consciously entering into and nurturing a relationship with God.”  He explains how this God is easy to reach yet heartbreakingly easy to ignore, describing his own surprising realizations that he’s “forgotten” to pray for a few days in a row even while he’s writing a book about God–that makes me feel better about my own lapses!

A debate over inclusive language brought him a startling insight: Read more of this post

The Dishwasher Ladybug

Many things in our home previously belonged to our relatives.  I claimed many books, dishes, pieces of furniture, and framed artwork from my grandparents’ homes after they died.  Daniel’s parents and grandparents have given us household items that they don’t need anymore but that are still useful.  Making use of these things in our home is a way of running them into the ground while also triggering memories of old times in another house and, in some cases, of people who aren’t with us anymore.

Daniel’s cousin Mike and his wife Barbara hosted the extended family for Thanksgiving for many years.  Barbara had a flair for decorating and a fondness for ladybugs.  In the breakfast nook of her red-and-black kitchen were shelves displaying the ladybug-themed gifts people kept giving her.  After Barbara died, Mike offered us our choice of ladybug stuff.

One of the items we brought home was a plush ladybug with a magnet in its belly.  It’s cute, but we found it didn’t work very well for holding shopping lists and so forth because it covers such a large area that you can’t see the paper.  It was just a decoration hanging on the side of our refrigerator for several months.

Meanwhile, we were using our dishwasher, which has an LED that illuminates when the cycle is complete and stays lit until you turn it off or you open and close the door.  It’s a convenient reminder that the dishes in the dishwasher are clean and need to be put away.  If we opened the dishwasher to grab just one spoon or something, we’d carefully push it almost closed but not latch the door, so the LED would stay lit.

This worked just fine until our daughter Lydia started walking.  She would grab the edge of the dishwasher door as a handhold, and if it wasn’t latched, it would swing down and bop her on the head!

ladybug magnetNow we needed a different visual cue to show us that the dishes were clean.  Many people use a magnet…and we happened to have this magnet that needed a useful role!

Over the past two years, Daniel and I and our 12-year-old son have adapted to this new house rule: When you open the dishwasher to take out a clean dish but not put away all the dishes, put the ladybug on the door.  When you have put away the clean dishes and the dishwasher is ready to collect dirty dishes again, move the ladybug back to the refrigerator.  Simple!

Of course, the plush ladybug hanging near floor level proved irresistible to our toddler sometimes.  We had to teach Lydia that it’s okay to play with the ladybug, but you need to put her back in place when you are done, because she is doing her job.  She is a helpful insect, not unlike the real ladybugs we see in the garden.  Lydia gradually became so responsible about keeping the ladybug on duty that I can’t recall when I last reminded her.

Using a cue like this helps us conserve water, energy, and money by running the dishwasher only when it’s full.  Because we eat different things from day to day, we have different amounts of dishes, so it’s hard to predict when the dishwasher will be full.  Many people have told me they run the dishwasher every night after dinner so that they can put away the dishes before bed and always have clean dishes in the morning and no confusion about what’s clean or dirty–but that’s so wasteful!  It’s also more total work to put away a smallish number of dishes every day than to put away a larger number of dishes every three days or so.

(I’d just like to mention that last summer, I proved to myself that I usually do, too, have time to empty the dishwasher now and get it over with: I put on the Genesis song “Abacab” and emptied the fully-packed dishwasher and even scrubbed that one dish that didn’t get clean before the song was over = 7 minutes, 2 seconds!)

Lydia just turned 3 years old.  The evening after her birthday, I filled up the dishwasher after dinner and turned it on.  Daniel told me that when he and Lydia came into the kitchen a while later, she immediately noticed the sound and said, “The dishwasher is washing.”  Then she took the ladybug from the refrigerator and put it onto the dishwasher.  She has learned the rule!

Our ladybug is very helpful in the household routine, and it also brings a little bit of Barbara’s ladybug-loving legacy into our daily lives so that we remember her fondly.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Link Party and To Grandma’s House We Go! for more home tips!  Visit Be Clean Be Green With Kids for more ideas for family cooperation to save the Earth!

6 Ways to Unclog a Toilet without a Plunger or a Plumber [Infographic]

It happens to us all at some point: When we least expect it, our normally reliable toilet lets us down.

A few flushes and a poke with the toilet brush often will be enough to get things moving again, but when that isn’t enough, here are some great suggestions to tackle the problem easily with a few different methods–depending on the tools you have at hand.

Check out this great infographic put together by Legendary Home Services for the details:
https://www.legendaryhs.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Plumber-Phoenix-6-ways-to-unclog-a-toilet-without-a-plunger-or-a-plumber.jpg

So, unless you’re fairly sure your toilet is broken, we recommend giving these methods a try!  But a quick word of warning: Don’t try flushing repeatedly if the drain is still blocked, as there is only one place for the water to go, and that’s all over your bathroom floor.

Notice that none of these methods requires any dangerous chemicals!  Click here for The Earthling’s Handbook’s tips on green cleaning for your toilet and everything else in your home!

Go Green in 2017: Clean Up Your Hygiene Routine!

Happy Earth Day!  What is your Earth Day Resolution?

I hope you’ve already switched to greener cleaners and started drinking better milk, and now you’re ready for something new!  There are many ways you could change your habits to reduce your environmental impact.  Let’s talk about the stuff you use to clean and care for your body.

You might think that the Food & Drug Administration is responsible for making sure (in the United States) that any product marketed for putting on or in your body is safe.  Unfortunately, that’s totally false.  The FDA does no pre-market testing of personal hygiene products and does not require full disclosure of ingredients!  (The term “cosmetics” used in that article does not mean just lipstick and nail polish; it includes more necessary products like shampoo, deodorant, and sunscreen.)  Even when a product causes serious injury to consumers and the FDA does intervene, it’s not allowed to issue a recall (that’s a voluntary action by the manufacturer), and other products using the same dangerous ingredients can remain on the market.  Cosmetic companies aren’t required to tell the FDA if consumers report that a product hurt them.

This means that when you buy, say, baby wipes for your newborn, they can contain just about anything, and the package may not tell you what fibers are in that soft towelette or what chemicals are in that sweet-smelling liquid.  The same is true of most personal hygiene products that don’t make enough medical claims to be classified as drugs.

Not only are your personal health and safety at risk, but many hygiene products also are bad for the environment.  Some of the chemicals common in body wash, deodorant, moisturizers, makeup, perfume, and nail polish are known to cause cancer or disrupt hormone production even in people or animals who don’t use them directly but consume water or air polluted with these chemicals by the user or by the factory.  A common ingredient in sunscreen washes off swimmers and kills coral reefs.  Here are 7 ingredients to avoid.

One of the most horrifying hazards found in hygiene products is microbeads, tiny pieces of plastic that increase the scrubbing effect of a facial cleanser or toothpaste.  They are too small to be filtered out of water, which means that plastic microbeads accumulate in our oceans and in the bodies of fish, and we’re drinking them ourselves, with unknown effects.  The environmental audit committee of the British parliament estimated that a person who eats six oysters has also eaten 50 particles of microplastics.

A great reference for checking the safety and environmental impact of your favorite products is the Environmental Working Group’s database.  It’s not perfect–they’re excessively worried about natural fragrant oils, in my opinion–but it gives you a lot of information to help make your decisions.  If you’re curious about a product that’s not in the database but that lists its ingredients on the label, you can search the ingredients in the database.

My family has been moving toward safer, more natural, less Earth-destroying, affordable options in hygiene products for about 20 years now.  Here’s what we recommend for many commonly-used types of products.  Many of our favorites (as well as other green options we haven’t tried) are available from Grove Collaborative; click here for $10 off your first order! Read more of this post

Why we had Banana Bread and Black Bean Soup for Easter dinner

We’ve never established a traditional Easter dinner for our family.  Partly it’s because we don’t eat lamb or ham, but the biggest reason is that for the past 15 years I’ve been heavily involved in the Easter celebrations at church.  The Easter Vigil service is late Saturday night, followed by a festive reception, and then there’s the Sunday morning service, followed by another festive reception!  As hospitality chairperson, I’m in charge of recruiting people to bring food for the receptions, organizing the array of food, setting up, and cleaning up.  Also, I’ve often read one of the scriptures in the Easter Vigil service, and this year I was a chalice-bearer (serving the Communion wine and, unexpectedly, lighting 14 candles–but that’s another story).

After all that, not only am I tired and burned-out on food management, but we’re not coming home hungry after church!  We eat during the reception, and then there are always some odds and ends left on the serving platters that are easier to eat than put away.  We don’t need another meal until Sunday evening.

We do have to eat then, though.  The extent to which I had planned that meal was thinking, “I’ll bake the last two sweet potatoes, and we’ll eat them with…something….”

I ended up not baking the sweet potatoes. Read more of this post

Darwinian Gardening

Tomato plant and squash plant in a pot, in the garden among morning glories, irises, spearmint, etc.

I’m writing a 3-part series on composting over at Kitchen Stewardship; here’s how to get started with my composting system using 3 ordinary flowerpots, and I also mention two FREE composting systems my family members have used. Here, I’m explaining my general approach to the garden I nourish with my compost.

The idea and the name of Darwinian Gardening come from my mom, who devotes a section of her large garden to “the survival of the fittest,” with lovely and sometimes surprising results.

You could just fertilize some soil and then see what grows there, being totally hands-off about it.  Mom and I intervene a little.  The basic idea is to plant the seeds you have and encourage the plants you like, to grow a uniquely beautiful garden that’s environmentally friendly, inexpensive, and low-maintenance.

I don’t have a big garden like my parents do.  My front yard is about 12 feet square.  My back yard (not shown in these photos) is on a cliff and very shady, so we struggle to keep anything growing there to control erosion.  One of my favorite things about Darwinian Gardening is that many species of plants intertwine, creating lots of variety in a small area.  My garden may be tiny, but there’s a lot to see here!

Morning glories, lamb’s ears, and purple vine working together to choke out “weeds.”

My garden combines things I planted on purpose with things that just showed up. Every spring, I plant whatever seeds I have, root cuttings from my potted plants, and maybe buy a few bulbs or seeds or seedlings.

A lot of my plants “grow like weeds” and are essentially invasive species, but I don’t consider them “weeds” because I like them!  I only pull up plants I truly don’t want, like poison ivy and burrs.

However, my most enthusiastic plants sometimes choke out other plants that I want to grow, so I intervene by digging them up and moving them to a bare spot.  Morning glory vines twine around other plants and block the sunlight; while I’m supervising my kids playing outdoors, I patrol the garden and carefully unwind morning glories from the other plants and wind them onto things I don’t mind them growing on. Read more of this post

Streamlined Task Juggling: Getting things done when working from home

This is a guest post by Ben Stallings (Becca’s brother), a Web developer and permaculture designer in Emporia, Kansas.

“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – snap! The job’s a game!” –Mary Poppins

I work from home, and my wife doesn’t, so I do most of the housework as well as home improvements and managing my own work schedule. My clients rarely have fixed deadlines, so it’s usually on me to find the motivation to do my work and stay on task. Friends who don’t work from home often tell me that they wouldn’t know how to “juggle” work tasks along with housework, or that they’ve tried and failed to do it, so I thought I’d share my method.

Where I’m coming from

But first, a little background. I was a die-hard workaholic in high school and through most of college. If I took a class, I wasn’t satisfied unless I got an A on every assignment. If I joined an extracurricular group, I attended every meeting, and I showed up on time or early, and I resented those who didn’t! Then, over spring break of my junior year of college, I visited a friend in a small city in Mexico, and during his workday we took a two-hour lunch break (from 2-4pm, the famed siesta). Noticing my anxiety at the slow pace of the meal, he explained: “In America you have the Protestant work ethic, which says to go to heaven you must work hard. In Mexico, we have the Catholic work ethic, which says to go to heaven you must live well.”

That conversation caused me to question my approach to school, and later to work and housework. It made me ask, Who am I doing this for? What are their expectations? What do I hope to get out of it? How might I meet everyone’s goals, working smarter instead of harder, and leave more time for “living well,” whatever that means?

I had a breakthrough when I stopped getting my satisfaction from completing tasks and started getting it from making progress toward my goals. In school, I stopped worrying about how I did on any particular test or project or class and instead looked ahead to how each task was getting me closer to my longer-term goals. After college, I took a part-time job that paid barely enough to survive on, cutting my living expenses to levels I can barely imagine now, so that I had ample time to explore the city and soak up everything it had to offer. I’ve followed a similar approach in my career ever since: I rarely bill more than 2 to 4 hours a day to clients, which is barely enough to pay the bills and stay mentally abreast of the work, because I have too many other things I want to do with my time! Read more of this post

A Robot’s Cookbook, Chapter 3

See Chapter 1 for explanation of this unusual recipe collection.

HAM WITH EGGS: Take a few pickled walnuts, flattening through the mutton the same weight of buttered paper through a quart of herbs.  In a Belgian manner, take the liquor; mix the pan, adding pepper torn apart from the paste and all the threads.  Cut the dinner breads over the juice of this way.

PINEAPPLE À LA BOURGEOISE: Braise your gooseberries and let it all in cream, if you can garnish as it was burnt.  Shape the yolks of eggs after the yolks of crumbs remain.  Butter each layer of brown sauce for twenty-five minutes.  Meanwhile, take in sprigs of cauliflower and toss them out.  Let it aside to make cheese on a good green tuft.  Add a ball, salt, pepper, salt, and cold meats.  Open a layer of rich sauce.  Decorate with salt and a thick bechamel sauce and gelatine (melted).  Boil up and roll the liquor in a little boiling water.  Take the juice of well and bake till ready to be early for an English “dinner-party.”  Beat up two minutes, bind the other.  Let it taste like this; let stand in an earthenware pot three turnips, then fry in the sieve, and rub them in the top, leaving the oven.  Put all with a clean cloth so thinly that way.  Then return the dish as anchovies preserved fruit.

SAFFRON RICE: This is excellent with pepper and three sticks of tomato.  Break the neck that I wager you have, and mix it salted.  Take a little mushroom ketchup.  Serve dry boiled, pour in water, drain to moisten them all together and work in two pats of four leeks, a quart of one fish not too much liked, and a small chipolata sausage.  What a fireproof case for a good cream!  Mix all skin for two cabbages.  Trim some hard-boiled eggs.  Add sufficient quantity. Read more of this post

Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion review

I received a free sample of Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion to review.  This is an honest review of my family’s experience with this product, which we probably wouldn’t have tried if we hadn’t been offered a free sample.

Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion is a gentle moisturizing lotion made without mineral oil, petrolatum, parabens, phthalates, or formaldehyde.  It’s made from 98% natural ingredients, including organic coconut oil that is harvested without damaging orangutan habitat.  All ingredients are listed on the label.

My daughter Lydia is the youngest in the family, at two and a half, so she was the first to try this lotion.  After her bath, I rubbed it into her arms and legs, which tend to get dry and flakey in the winter. Read more of this post