Friday, March 27, 2009

Earth Hour

Hmmm. *scratches head*

I don’t want to come across as a crank. Oh, who am I kidding? Those of you who know me know I have my cranky side. But, seriously … What do you guys think of Earth Hour?

Here’s my take. First, the pros. I am all for anything that highlights the need to make some real, substantive changes in our consuming lifestyle. (I almost wrote “consumptive,” but that makes it sound like we all have TB.) And according to this article, electricity fell by 5 percent in Chicagoland last year during Earth Hour, so one can assume that it did something in the short term to reduce noxious emissions and shine a CFC-friendly spotlight on conserving energy.

Alas, that segues neatly into the cons. The key in that last sentence is “short-term.” I hope more than a few people came away from Earth Hour last year thinking, “Wow, I kept the lights off for an hour and I didn’t die. Maybe I could do this for an hour every night, or make a commitment to use only natural sunlight during the day.” But I remain unconvinced. Statements, no matter how great or noble, remain only statements if they aren’t put into action (and, in this case, habit).

So I'm thinking that, by all means, if you are able, go for it and turn the lights off tomorrow. It will be a good thinking period, a good reflection on what we can all do to help the planet (and reduce our energy bills in the process). Think about how we can help the planet and our energy bills. And then, think about how you can take that energy and make it translate into action every day. Give the movement meaning.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Evil propaganda

Some of you are going to be mad at me. I can feel it. So I’m just going to say it, bluntly, much like a bandage getting ripped off.

Want to know one of my money-saving food tips? I’m a vegetarian.

I want to be very, very clear: I am not telling you you shouldn’t eat meat. I have chosen not to – and for me, that choice feels right and good in every way I can express. Not only do I find that my personal food choice centers me and reminds me that I am capable of compassion (something about which I must occasionally be reminded), but I feel better and healthier. I know that my personal environmental impact is minimized that much more. And it’s cheaper.

Is this the right choice for everyone? Well, judging from the number of people out there who eat meat, obviously not. Certainly I do not, and cannot, expect everyone to do as I do. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “If two people are thinking the same thing, one of them isn’t thinking.”

Here is my challenge. No, not a challenge. In the spirit of my laissez-faire attitude toward personal food habits, I’ll call it a suggestion. If you are a meat-eater, try eating vegetarian for just one day a week. Or two or three -- whatever your lifestyle might accommodate. Make sure you do this with your brain engaged. Include a protein source such as tofu or beans with at least two meals a day (three if you’re feeding children); and add something high in iron and B vitamins such as lentils, spinach, or kale. And make sure you heap on calcium-rich vegetables such as broccoli if you’re going vegan, especially if you’re a woman.

So do this for a day, and then look at your receipt. Do you see a difference? I can get tofu for $1.99 a pound, much cheaper than I can find chicken breasts. And it can’t be a bad thing, healthwise, that I do much of my grocery shopping in the produce aisle. Right?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Making your own laundry detergent

A number of people have asked how I make my laundry detergent. This is the bones of a recipe I’ve seen floating around the Internet, with slight modifications.

Why go to the trouble?

First, it’s hardly any trouble at all. Start to finish, it takes about half an hour to 45 minutes; and I tend to be slow and overly careful, so it may take you a much shorter time.

Second, the time is well worth the money you save. This makes about two gallons of detergent, and it costs a whopping $3.10. And that’s because I use expensive soap.

You will need:
* Borax, found on the laundry aisle of most grocery stores.
* Washing soda. This one's tougher, and do not confuse it with baking soda, even though it is made by Arm & Hammer. I find it on the laundry aisle of my local King Soopers, but that's the only place I can find it. carries it, but it's pricey; Google it and see if you can come up with a local source before you order it.
* A bar of soap. I like Dr. Bronner's, which drives the price up but I save overall so I justify it. You can use Fels-Naptha, also on the laundry aisle; Kirk's Castile, which I've used too; or Ivory if you are so inclined. The main thing to avoid is moisturizing soaps (for example, Dove).
* A pot. I have a really mangy soap pot dedicated for the purpose (also for making soap and for keeping a pot of water on the wood stove).
* A cheese grater.
* A bucket or bin with a lid capable of holding as much as three gallons. I got mine at Kmart for three bucks.

Start out by grating your bar of soap. Be careful as you get to the end; I hope I don't need to tell you. Right after we shot this photo, I grated my finger, which I had burned earlier that day. I didn't enjoy that.

Put your fun little soap shavings in the soap pot along with six cups of water. Melt them together on medium to medium-low heat, stirring continuously until the soap is melted. It kind of looks like toenails as it gets to the end. Pretend you're the bad guy in a fairy tale, making something "delectable" for lost children in the woods. Cackle. It will make your kids laugh.

Once the soap and water mix is running clear, pour in a cup of washing soda and a cup of borax. Add essential oils if you like them -- I didn't this time because I was using lavender soap, but feel free.

Keep stirring on medium to medium-low heat until the powders are dissolved and there's no grainy "spoon-feel" at all. You will notice it thickening considerably.

Add four cups of hot water to your bucket (which is what you'll use to store it), pour your cooked mixture in, and stir. I'm not sure what the science behind this is, why you need to pour the hot water in first, but the first directions I got said to do this and so I stick with it. Stir once the soap's in.

Next, you're going to pour in a gallon and a half of cold water -- I'm guessing this is to stop any "cooking" action this mixture is continuing to do. I use a repurposed 1.5 gallon bottle for this purpose, but any way you want to measure it will do.

And ... that's it. You're done. All there is is the waiting. You can use it immediately, or you can let it sit, and in about a day it will have thickened into a rather thick, gloppy, congealed and kind of fun mass. This photo was taken a couple of hours later and, as you can see, it's already starting to look very different.

To use this, I use a coffee cup and measure anywhere from a half to a full cup, depending on the size and filthiness of the load. It works pretty well, although obviously you don't want to let real stains sit too long without washing because it won't be much help there. And I had to rewash a couple of loads after a stomach bug ripped through the house (hence the minimal posting as of late). But, in general, I have been really pleased with this, and I hope you will be too. Enjoy!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Making your own counter cleaner

Why make your own counter cleaner? First, if you make it yourself, you have control over what goes into it, meaning you have control over its toxicity. Second, it’s a WHOLE lot cheaper than buying a chemical concoction at your local grocery store. Third, by making your own, you reduce packaging. I reuse my bottle. And I would probably have the vinegar on hand.

There are many, many recipes out there on the Interwebs telling you how to do this. This is my humble offering. There are more disinfectant ones out there (and I plan to try some of them and share/report back). Of course, you may tweak at will. But first, why do I use some of the ingredients I do?

Vinegar. Has anti-germ properties.
Peppermint tea. Provides an additional disinfectant.
Liquid soap. Adds a little elbow grease to the mixture.

Here’s what you need:

Liquid soap*
Peppermint tea
Two tea cups

First, put water on for tea. When it boils, pour it into your cups.

Let it steep. Resist the urge to stop and have a cup.

While it's steeping, measure out a cup of vinegar and pour into the bottle (this is where the funnel comes in handy). Add 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap (not pictured; the photo didn't come out. These things happen).

When the tea's ready, pour both cups into the funnel. You might splash some. It's OK. The good news is, it's counter cleaner. You can just wipe it up when you're done.

And ... voila!

* This isn't actually Dr. Bronner's liquid Castile soap -- I repurposed a bottle. I made my own. I'll show that off another time.
(All photos are c. 2009 Steven D. Dodds II)