Archive for the ‘part of a series’ Category

Make Time to Cook – a reminder from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I promised more posts spawned from my summer reading of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long. I have a notebook full of notes and am getting around to pushing them through the blog machine to get to you.

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Cooking at home seems to be a dying art. Even ‘foodies’ often have a schedule that is too busy for a meal cooked at home. Parents are leaning more on pre-made, processed food instead of cooking for their families. When I was growing up, we ate together. Even with a single parent, and 3 kids in high school we ate together most nights. I think that had a big impact on my relationship with my family. It was in those times that we talked about life (and laughed until our stomachs hurt). My two sisters and I learned how to sit at a table and have conversations about our lives. We were taught (much to our shegrin at the time) that mealtime is not to be interrupted by the telephone, television or any other activity. It was an activity in and of itself.

Even in my own life, that is not the case anymore. Too often, I grab a meal and eat it on the run. Or Mollie and I will have dinner while watching a movie. It so easily can turn into a regular occurence. Mollie and I do deliberately eat most meals together and I really enjoy that. We have implemented some of the things that Barbara Kingsolver writes about (page 128) in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Her list (with my comments) is below.

  • Cooking can be fun – Especially if you make it fun. Cooking can be a chore, but it doesn’t have to be.
  • Rely on variations of simple recipes – There are tons of variations of a cooked protein with vegetables. Get a cook book and explore. Mollie and I make our weekly menu on Sunday for the upcoming week. We both grab a cookbook and have to choose something new. It helps keep us out of ruts.
  • Save labor intensive (lots of prep) recipes for the weekend – My sister and her husband often use their weekends to prepare lunch foods for the week. They cook up a bunch of roasted veggies, or a soup that they can then use the rest of the week.
  • Start a routine – We have a history of making homemade pizza on Fridays. It takes Friday off the dinner menu each week.
  • Invite others to join in – For help and also to learn from them – The times that I have learned about cooking is when I have cooked with other people who know a lot more about cooking than I do. Either I was invited to cook with them, or I asked them to cook with me. Either way I always have an open ear to learn some new technique or recipe.
  • Cooking at home will be more healthy – You have control over every ingredient that you put in your meal. You also are in control of portion size.
  • Significantly cheaper – Once you are set up with basic ingredients in your pantry, home cooking is definitely a money saver. You can have a great (and healthy) meal that feeds a family of four for under $20 (probably under $10). You can’t get that at a restaurant (fast ‘food’ definitely doesn’t count).
  • Buy whole foods (produce, meat) – Instead of buying boneless/skinless chicken breasts, buy a whole chicken. With a sharp knife you can turn that whole chicken into 2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs, 2 wings, and a carcass that makes a mean chicken stock. To add to the cheaper point, organic free range boneless skinless chicken breast runs about $4.99/lb (at Trader Joes) and a organic free range whole fryer costs about $1.99/lb. So for the price you pay for 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (usually $6-$8) you can get at least one whole chicken. That whole chicken yields at least one (probably two) more meals.
  • It builds family relationships – Like I mentioned earlier, families are built around the kitchen table.
  • Teaches children manners and life skills – Because of family meals, I learned how to set the table, how to wash dishes, how to cook, how to shop for groceries, how to have a conversation and most of all to be involved with other people around me.

The trash in my freezer

A lot of what I learn is done as I go. I read, I research, and I experiment. I tend to get enough information to get me started and then go after it. This is something that I love. I love diving into new projects and figuring it out as I go along. However, while there are SO many aspects about self-education that I love, there is a inherent tendency to make a lot of mistakes. Making mistakes is part of the learning process for us all and I like it so much because I tend to find a fuller understanding as I problem solve. My indoor, turned outdoor, compost bin is a classic example of how self-educating can go terribly wrong and in the end become a really positive experience.

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This is a story of a series of innocent mistakes becoming one big disgusting mess, and how, with help, Kendall and I were able to save our compost from the trash and our trash from the freezer.

We started the compost bin for a lot of really good reasons, but I was squeamish of worms and this was the beginning of things going bad because it led to mistake number one, neglecting the bin. Mistake number two was adding too many food scraps into one bin. It is something that many of us try to do in too many parts of our life–try to pack something too big in a package that is too small. A few victims of this are the bikini, storage lockers, to-do lists, that super cute pair of shoes that is half off, and…my compost bin. I should have learned that when I was having to put my full body weight on the lid to get it to close that I needed to figure out a new plan. Instead I continued on and unfortunately so does the list of mistakes.

These are my mistakes listed out as best as I could list such a complicated mess:

  1. Overall neglect of the bin–I got really excited about starting and not so excited or into maintaining it.
  2. Adding too many food scraps to one bin.
  3. Our CSA share was too large for us to eat and we were regularly adding whole pieces of uneaten, rotten produce.
  4. Major fruit fly infestation from neglect.
  5. Standing liquid from the decomposing produce and rain water (which we hadn’t accounted for when we put the bin outside to save our apartment from the fruit flies), and not adding any newspaper to keep the moisture level in balance.
  6. We began turning it too often in a desperate attempt to do something to save it.
  7. Not enough oxygen circulation.

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So, what we ended up with was a bin with worms, standing vegetable/fruit/rain water, rotting food, fruit flies, maggots, and to top it off it smelled like feces. I don’t think it was possible for my compost to become a more nauseating bin of nastiness. We had just moved into a new apartment when the bin really started to go downhill. I was so embarrassed to be caught by my neighbors with the lid open, the foul fecal odor thick in the air, fruit flies swarming out all around me, and the swamp of rotting food; yet, out of pure determination I continued to open the lid and add my food scraps.

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The situation got so bad that Kendall gently said to me that he thought our compost bin was a goner. We talked about throwing it out and starting over, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. There was a Seattle Tilth brochure that Kendall had picked up a couple of weeks ago about composting and it had a hotline number to call. Each time I called I talked to someone who was helpful, kind, and patient. They really want you to succeed in composting and for it to be something that over time just becomes a regular part of your life.

Here is the information that they shared with me that saved our compost:

  1. Stop adding food scraps to our bin until we got the problem under control. We didn’t want to throw our food scraps away so we put them in a garbage bag in our freezer.
  2. We needed to buy more worms and start a second bin. We were adding too many food scraps and the worms couldn’t eat through it all. Now, I rotate bins. I will have one bin function as my active bin for a couple of weeks while the other one rests.
  3. We needed to drill holes in the bottom of both bins, buy 2 more bins to stack underneath the compost bins to catch the “compost tea” which would now begin to drain. All the food we were adding had a lot of moisture in it and so when the food started to break down the moisture left the food and was trapped in the bin. Putting the bin outside made the moisture problem worse because of how damp Seattle is. The worms stopped eating the food because they were drowning. Tip: When it is time to dump the bucket of nutrient-rich “tea” you can dilute it with water and use it to water your plants or your garden.
  4. Stop turning the compost so often. While this does speed up the composting, this process creates a lot of heat and, therefore, creating a perfect environment for larva (maggots) and other critters. Compost bins are little ecosystems so there are going to be some critters especially if you have an outdoor bin, but it should not be overrun with them.
  5. Start layering the compost bin with newspaper. The worms don’t like to live in the same place they eat. The newspaper layer gives them somewhere to go. This also helps with the fruit fly problem. Now I always make sure the food scraps are covered by a layer of newspaper. So, I either add it under an already existing layer of newspaper or add more if it is time.
  6. Go on a fruit fly killing spree. It is important to get the fruit fly population under control because they multiply so quickly. I went outside with my spray bottle of cleaner and a rag and killed as many as I could. It is also important to keep the outside of the bins and the “tea” bin really clean in order to cut off their food supply. So, for a couple of days or weeks you will just really need to be on top of it pristine. We started slacking before we should have and the problem came back. Can you tell we have a problem with follow-through?
  7. Crack open the lids a bit to let oxygen in. I open my lids in the evening for a couple of hours. This helps with the fruit flies, the smell, and the composting of the food. Oxygen is an important part of composting. Without oxygen decomposition will slow down as much as 90%.

I now have two very healthy compost bins and couldn’t be happier about it. This has been such a great learning process for me and the care I have put into restoring it has even managed to create an affection for my worms and the role they play in keeping my ecosystem balanced and healthy. The biggest thing that I learned is that composting isn’t difficult, but that it is important to keep the contents in balance–if it is too wet, then, make it drier with drainage holes and dry newspaper; if it is too dry, then, add wet newspaper; there needs to be a balance between the worms and the food scraps; and just like all of us it needs room to breathe.

Having a compost bin doesn’t take a lot of work. However, it does need to be maintained and whenever I have begun to slack on this I am revisited by old compost problems.

Oh, and after canceling our CSA and going to the Farmer’s Market instead I found a new farmer who is starting a compost pile and would love to take the trash in my freezer off my hands!

I hope none of you are in need of saving your compost bin, but if you do and are able to be patient and give it a little extra care for while it is possible to rescue even the most hopeless bins.

Troubleshooting your compost

Compost piles are relatively easy, but when they are not properly maintained and cared for you can definitely have a nasty situation on your hands. If you are having any problems with your compost here is some helpful information for you (I hope). Some of this is information that I have just gathered while reading and talking to people about composting but quite a bit of it is from the city of Seattle’s website.

Any sort of overpowering foul odor is a sign that something is not quite right with your indoor or outdoor composts.

First of all NO animal products except for rinsed out egg shells should be composted. That means no dairy, meat, fish, etc. Smelly composts are caused by too much water, no air, or the addition of meat or other animal products.
Smelly compost solutions:

  • Mixing fresh grass clippings with stalks or brown leaves to help air get in.
  • Keeping the pile as moist as a wrung-out sponge, but not soggy.
  • Turning wet or soggy piles to let air in.
  • Keeping animal products out of worm bins.
  • Add some sawdust, dry leaves, wood shavings, or newspaper if it is too wet.
  • It could also be that there are not enough worms for the amount of food scraps that are being composted and therefore the food is rotting before it can be composted by the worms. If that is the case, you should add additional red worms to your outdoor compost pile or start a second bin if you are indoor composting.

If you are having problems with bugs (fruit flies and fungus gnats):

  • Add sawdust or wood shavings to your compost and then continue adding a layer after each addition of food scraps to your bin/pile.
  • Keep food scraps in a container in the fridge until you are ready to add them to your compost.
  • If fruit flies or fungus gnats get in your house (they multiply really quickly) a great remedy for this is to put a low bowl out with a apple cider vinegar, water, and dish soap. Within 24 hours this usually clears up any fruit fly/gnat problem I have.

Basic compost information:

  • It is important that you use red worms for your composting.
  • The lifespan of a red worm is 2-5 years, they breed quickly, and compost large amounts of food.
  • It takes 2000 red worms to eat one pound of garbage per week (red worms multiply quickly so you don’t have to start with 2000).
  • If your compost is indoors it needs to be in a covered worm bin for composting and if it is outside it can be in a pile. The pile outside works because the sun, oxygen, and worms work together to compost the food scraps and yard waste. The indoor bin works because there are enough worms to eat through the food scraps and it being enclosed keeps out any animals.
  • Both indoor and outdoor composts need to be turned and when there starts to be a good collection of soil it can be removed. You will know that your scraps are done being composted because it will have an earthy smell.
  • It’s OK to compost vegetables and fruits, bread, grains, spoiled food, coffee filters and tea bags, eggshells, fruit from yard, and food soiled paper or cardboard (It is possible to compost more than just this, but it takes more a little more investment than these simple composts).
  • DON’T compost meat, fish, dairy (these attract rats) or pet waste.

City of Seattle’s Guide to Composting at Home.

I hope this is helpful to those of you who need it. Don’t give up on your compost pile. Composting your food makes such a positive impact and creates really healthy and fertile soil.

Why we need to conserve water: The Earth’s water

I very briefly explained the water crisis in the introduction. I will use this post to give a more thorough view of the worldwide water situation. As I said before, there is always the same amount of water on earth. The following numbers and percentages can start to get a little confusing, but I have tried to make it as straight forward and easy to read as possible. For those of you who are visual learners (I definitely am) there is a diagram below which should be helpful.

The water that we all need to meet our basic needs comes from fresh water or water that does not contain a large amount of salt. Many of us may remember learning way back in elementary school that seventy-five percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. Well, 73.125% of the Earth’s surface is covered by salt water and salt water cannot efficiently be converted into fresh water. This leaves us with fresh water making up only 1.875% of the Earth’s surface.

However, we don’t have access to three quarters of the Earth’s fresh water because it is currently in the form of glaciers or permanent snow cover. You might think, “Hey, let’s just harvest the glaciers and permanent snow cover (psc) and increase our supply of fresh water”. Unfortunately that is a bad idea for many reasons. The main reason being that they are part of our delicate ecosystem and causing any more damage to them than is already being done by global warming would be devastating to the overall health of our planet. What we are left with after salt water and glacial/psc water are taken out of the equation is surface water (rivers, lakes, etc) making up 0.0056% of the Earth’s surface and underground water, which we have some access to through the use of wells, making up 0.46%.

Diagram of the surface of the Earth

Most people don’t realize that even before any other variables are factored in, the amount of fresh water on Earth is small and limited and the amount we have access to is even smaller. However, the current water crisis is not the result of water scarcity, rather human beings severe mismanagement of it.

Based on the World Water Development Report, “[t]o ensure our basic needs, we all need 20 to 50 litres of water free from harmful contaminants each and every day.” Roughly that is between 5 and 13 gallons per person.

I am going to focus on three situations which are taking place at the moment, all of which are putting a strain on our water supply. The first is that water all over the world is becoming more and more polluted and/or increasingly contaminated with infectious waterborne diseases. Waterborne diseases “are responsible for 80 percent of illnesses and deaths in the developing world, many of them children”. The second problem is that while the amount of potable water available is decreasing, the amount of people that need water is rising because of growing populations around the world. The final factor contributing to our crisis, is that in several communities fresh water is being used faster than it can be replenished.

In the next post I will discuss the problem of water contamination.

Why we need to conserve water: The introduction

Whenever you look at environmental documents aimed at letting people know what they can do to help save the planet it always includes a list on “ways you can conserve water”. I see these lists everywhere; most of them say the same things and they are really good ways to save water. However, none of them tell me WHY I should save water. I am wired in such a way (my husband, brother, and basically everyone that knows me would call it stubbornness) that I can’t (and won’t) do something unless I think there is a good reason behind it.

Well, it turns out there are good reasons to conserve water. This is a complex subject because of its many facets, but it is all very important to know. I will try to organize it the best I can. I have heard some people refer to potable water as the next vanishing commodity. There is always the same amount of water on earth and it comes in one of the following states: liquid, ice, or gas. While it is true that the actual amount of water never changes; the amount of potable water is steadily declining. Potable water is defined as water which can safely be ingested by human beings. Here in the United States, for the most part, the municipal water which readily flows forth from our faucets is potable water. We use this water not only to drink, but also for washing our dishes, our hands, showering, watering our plants, filling water balloons, etc. This abundance of potable water in many ways has lead to a false sense of security for a couple of reasons. First, there is a general mentality that we can polute water as much as we want because we have come to believe in these, almost magical machines, that will “filter” all contaminants. It also contributes to the inaccurate belief that everyone in the world has access to some source of clean water.

Because there is so much information, I’m writing a series of posts to talk about these issues. I hope to look into the problem and also offer some ideas for how we can all positively affect the current worldwide water situation.

Green Accoutrements for Green Yogis: Part Three

Last but not least, the following are of course not necessary to enjoy a good yoga practice but they each bring additional benefits. Candles help to focus the mind and remind us of our inner light. Eye pillows are used during savasana to help us relax, quiet the mind, and shut out natural light. Essential oil is used as aromatherapy (works with our sense of smell to bring healing to the body, mind, and spirit), usually at the end of the practice.

Candles:
Pure Luxury Atelier Organic Soy Candles

Lumia Organic Soy Candles

Eye Pillows:
Viva Terra Herbal Animals: “We’ve filled these soft, friendly organic cotton critters with organic lavender and other herbs.”

Wholistic Planet Organic Eye Pillow

Kate’s Caring Gifts Organic Eye Pillow

Barefoot Yoga Silk Eye Pillow with organic flax seed and lavender: “Filled with organic flax seeds, scented with dried organically grown lavender that works as a mood tonic, antidepressant, sedative and detoxifier.”

Essential Oil:
Florapathics Organic Living

Young Living

Green Accoutrements for Green Yogis: Part Two

You cannot very well go to yoga naked! Well….some places you can, but for those of you who choose to get your yoga on while clothed, the following organic clothing will get you started. Also, if you are riding a bike, walking, or talking public transportation to get to your yoga studio a good yoga bag makes the trek a little more graceful.

Yoga Bag:
Shubha Organic Cotton Yoga MatShuba Organic Cotton Yoga Bag: The bags are made with organic cotton with solar powered electricity and two of the four bags you can choose from are made with “a fair-trade 100% organic cotton design by socially resposible company Harmony Art Organic Design“.

Clothes:
WOMEN
Blue Canoe Organic Sheer Tops: perfect for Bikram/hot yoga.

Blue Canoe Camis and Tanks

Blue Canoe Fitted Yoga Pants

Prana Organics (tops and pants)

Eco Fleece Hoodie Wrap: Perfect for Savasana.

Innerwaves Organics, Maui Tops

Innerwaves Organics, Maui Bottoms

MEN
Prana Organic Momentum Short

Prana Organic Momentum Pant

Prana Orgnaic Tree Box Ringer: “All profits from the sales of this ringer T will be donated to the Conservation Alliance. The chest is water-base printed with an abstract tree design, and contrast topstitch detail is added to the neck and sleeves.”

Patagonia Organic M’s Go-T: “Go-T’s look and feel like a cotton T-shirt but have an important distinction: They manage moisture with the effectiveness of Capilene?. The cotton/polyester fabric is light and airy, dries fast, and feels skin-friendly. 70% organic cotton, 30% polyester with a moisture-wicking finish.”

Innerwaves Organics, Maui Bottoms

Green Accoutrements for Green Yogis: Part One

Everything a green yogi needs for his/her green earth-lovin’ practice.

Eco Yoga Mats

Mats:

EM4 4 mm Yoga Mat: “Eco Yoga, a UK-based company, has created a natural mat that does not contain any PVC. The mat has a pure rubber underside that grips the floor and a jute fabric/rubber mix on top. The fabric gives a highly durable, tactile and pleasantly natural surface to work on. They are machine washable and biodegradable. And these mats are the new benchmark in performance. They are extremely grippy, non-skid mats, tested and recommended by the most discriminating users!”

Intent Vinyasa Yoga Rug: “Eco-sensitive yoga rugs made with certified, hand picked organic Egyptian cotton, known to be the softest and most durable cotton in the world. Traditional yoga rugs are made with conventionally grown cotton which consumes approximately 25% of the insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides used in the world. Conventional farming devours a pound or more of pesticides and fertilizers to produce enough cotton for a single yoga rug.” They are also fairly traded.

Organic Yoga Towel: Helpful for keeping your mat from turning into a slip-n-slide.

Agoy Earth Yoga Mat: “The earth mat, made from a revolutionary synthetic form of rubber, is not only beautiful, it?s also free of PVC, Phthalates, toluene, heavy metals, latex and natural rubber. Plus it?s decomposable.”

Mat Cleaners:
Vermont Soap Organics Yoga & Exercise Mat Cleaner: “Crafted from certified organic vegetable oils and botanicals. Free of synthetic chemicals: artificial colors, fragrances, preservatives, alcohol and detergents. Cruelty and animal byproduct free. Not tested on animals. Safe for skin contact and sensitive individuals. Certified Organic and USDA Approved.”

Jo-Sha Wipes: “Our wipes are made of a high quality, soft, wood pulp based towelette that is biodegradable. The outer packaging is 100% recyclable….[and] contain no alcohol and no harsh chemicals. The pure essential oils we use are naturally anti-bacterial, naturally anti-septic, and naturally astringent.”

RAW yoga mat freshner: “RAW utilizes zero synthetic chemicals in its products. The ingredients are 100% natural and organic using only grade A essential oils and living herbs, fruits, spices, and plants when available.”

Props:
Blue Lotus Yoga Organic Bolster: “They are handmade and stuffed with cotton and kapok. No foam is used at all. It is a natural fiber bolster that provides a softer surface while maintaining support and comfort.”

Blue Lotus Yoga Organic Zafu

Barefoot Yoga Eco Friendly Foam Block: “The new eco-block is made from the highest quality, non-toxic material with no chemical odor. To make these blocks, no halocarbon gases (e.g. CFCs, HCFCs, HFCs) or volatile hydrocarbons (e.g. pentane, isobutane) at any stage in the production of any of its polyolefin foams are used. Eco blocks are manufactured using a high pressure nitrogen gas process which produces a pure, chemically and biologically inert material.”

outdoor compost tip

If your compost pile is starting to stink or get flies in this hot weather you may need to add more grass clippings or leaves to it. Also, nightcrawlers help your compost breakdown faster. They should come on their own, but if they don’t you can buy them.

Products That I Like: Part Two

I thought about putting pictures up of my lavender bathroom (bathtub, toilet, sink, floor, and tiles ALL lavender) but thought better of it. You will just have to imagine what it looks like in all of its CLEANish lavender glory and filled with the following products. I have included a brief review of the products that is somewhat objective, but keep in mind that most of these are products that I regularly buy; so, I am more than likely going to have positive things to say about them. If you have used any of them and would like to write a different review let me know and I will be happy to add your review to the post.

I have included prices for some of the products but please remember that prices may vary depending on where you buy it and where you live.

Hair Care:
* Aveda Shampure Shampoo 8.5 fl oz/250 ml for $9.00

Lathers well and smells great. I personally really like that it leaves my hair feeling really clean and without build-up. It is definatly better for people with oilier hair rather than dry hair.

* Aveda Shampure Conditioner 8.5 fl oz/250 ml for $9.00

Because the Shampure Shampoo leaves my hair so clean, and I have a tendency to have frizzy/wavy hair already, this conditioner is not strong enough for what I need. It smells great (obviously smell is important to me!) and would be a great for people who need a light conditioner.

Body:
* Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap 4oz for $3.33

This is good camping soap. I don’t think that I would want to use it everyday because it tends to dry my skin out a little. I also have not been so bold as to try the other 17 things it can be used for. Have you?

* Earth Therapeutics Tee Tree Oil Foot Repair Balm

I am not a huge fan of this foot balm. I have had it for 4 years and it is mostly full. I should probably throw it away or give it to someone who likes it. I am not even sure why I don’t like it; so, this is pretty much not going to be helpful.

* Tom’s of Maine Unscented Natural Deodorant 2.25 oz stick about $3.99

This deodorant is great! I hate wearing deodorant and this one goes on very light and I feel safe that I am not sending my neighbors into negative sensory overload. I am a runner and have a tendency to work up a good sweat and a good stink, so it is no empty compliment that I think it works well. This deodorant doesn’t keep me from sweating and actually is not supposed to. Because it is unscented, it is also great for those of you who enjoy ‘leave no trace’ camping.

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