November 10, 2011

eWaste and an Annie Leonard eNcounter

from "The Story of Electronics" by Annie Leonard and The Story of Stuff Project
But first, the encounter. I ran into Annie Leonard, creator of the Story of Stuff, at the dog park not long ago. Okay, less ran into and more sat near her. But, it was still apropos because we "dog-parkees" have spoken of her on more than one occasion. If you're not familiar with Annie, you can check her out in the NY Times, for which she has written, or in this feature in Time Magazine.

Annie first became the subject of park chatter when a couple of the dog parental-unit types were fired up over enviro/social justice issues. Chocolab Penelope's parental unit drives an electric car similar to Annie's, and since she happens to live in our neighborhood, he explained, we might notice her e-auto parked 'round the corner sometime.

Ever since, my black Jack (labra-dane prince) and I have walked the 'hood a plenty, hoping to sniff out an inkling of Annie's tiny eCar and quaint craftsman (which appeared in an SF Chronicle article in 2009). I always thought I'd have lots to bark at Annie if I spotted her. No clue about what exactly, but I thought it would be good to find out.

I got the chance to find out. I was howling away to this lab pup's owner about her friendly guy's confidence & thinking she looked so familiar (the owner, not the pup) familiar that I asked if she was a regular. Nope.

We carried on puppy talk a while when it hit me: "you're Annie," I blurted, as if we'd been introduced through friends. She looked at me, bewildered by the familiarity no doubt, and caught off-guard. "Yes - do I know you," she continued.  I explained that I meant to say "you're Annie Leonard" as a proper fan would've done. What I did not explain was that I had thought it better to act casual by purposely dropping her last name. EHHHHHHHHTT!!! Not my finest move. Nevertheless, she easily warmed and appeared to be more flattered than annoyed, so I babbled on again, trying to act casual, again. I'm still not sure how that went over.

By the end of the encounter, though, I had some encouragement and some tips on vermi-composting, which I needed--because in fact, I've given up own composting. Of late, I simply scurry off with my little food scraps pale in the dark of night to a neighbor's green bin (for city composting) . Why don't we have our own green city bin?...because we're supposed to be making our own compost, of course. But the fruit flies won the first round. Maybe, I'll give them a run for their money again in spring. Oh, and the neighbor's bin, that's V's. V knows I use her bin a bit, a bit of her bin that I've been in. But I still scurry in the night. With the recent shame of failure and all, it just feels right. (UPDATE: our home has now been successfully composting since summer 2012).

The other gift I came away with was the desire to revisit Annie's website. And I'm so glad I did. The SoS project has been producing new stories regularly.  I watched the Story of Electronics, then visited the learn more page. What useful information! Seriously, I've been saving up my eRecycling in an old trunk. But now I know more about what to do with it, and what will happen to it once I pass the eWaste on. Where we donate it matters. I didn't know that. Here are some other great, related links: e-StewardsDell Re-Connect, and last but not least, Make it Fair.

You're probably ahead of me here. But, I'll ask anyway. What's your eWaste plan? Does your home have a plan, or a little bin of batteries and an attic holding outlived equipment?

October 31, 2011

Bulk Recipe: Sinfully Good Fruit & Nut Granola

So, I've finally started doing more of my shopping in bulk. It feels very good and easier than I imagined, but alas, what held me back is just that I needed to get my house and routines organized for ZW shopping. I'm still only 60% of the way to the mythical land of organized, but that's far enough to start getting the benefits of bulk shopping. So, today I made one of my favorite recipes from all bulk ingredients: sinfully good granola.

Sinfully Good Granola - Fruit & Nut

DRY Ingredients
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup wheat germ (optional)
1/2 cup flax seed meal (optional)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
2-3 cup nuts: pecans, walnuts, almonds, cashews  (chopped, sliced or whole)
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons salt

WET Ingredients
1/3 cup canola oil (or similar)
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup water

1.    Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
2.    In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients.
3.    In a separate bowl, whisk wet ingredients. Pour wet over dry ingredients. Mix well.
4.    Spread a single layer in a large greased baking pan.
5.    Bake time: ~60min; stirring every 20 minutes.
6.    Allow to cool (20-30 minutes).
7.    Add 2-4 cups of your favorite dried fruits

September 29, 2011

"In the Bucket" List

Earlier this month, my dear friend Christine and I discussed bucket lists as we trekked Yosemite. And I mentioned that I think it's perhaps more important to take stock of what we have already done, experienced, accomplished and achieved. Or rather, I know that focusing on what I have done gives me perspective, while focusing only on what I would like to do feels not only overwhelming but skewed and, if I let it, can be a bit of a downer.

So to give myself a little perspective and a smile, I've decided to list what I've improved or changed on my ZW journey since May. I still have lots of room to improve, learn and grow. So I try to be gentle about what I haven't done yet or don't do well, but not so gentle that I forget where I want to improve and where I still have yet to go.

If you've read many of my previous posts, you'll find there's nothing new here; the list really is just a progress report. Some items are habits created and others are merely changes begun.

In the Bucket
Replaced my paper towel & sponge habits, implementing cloths for most all household uses.
Our household trash is slashed by half...that is, we're down to half a bag of refuse/wk on average.
No longer forget to bring my own shopping and produce bags into the store.
Almost automatically look for the non-plastic alternative for products.
Started making my own soaps, lotion, cleaners; find it less work than imagined, and enjoy it quite.
Think more about the importance of truly natural products (as a by-product ZW living).
Scrutinize all mail and request removal from mailing lists routinely.
Ask for minimal, eco-friendly packaging (shipping) or no packaging at all (when possible).
Contact sellers and manufacturers regarding packaging, chemicals and more in support of ZW.
Living with less & happy to have less clutter confusing and abusing me in my own environment.
Learning to let "things" go more easily, and find the habit addictive.
Educate myself online - those who've come before me are indispensable to my learning journey.
Spend less. Waste less. Enjoy more. Feel more inspired, and Create more.

Not Yet In the Bucket, aka traditional Bucket list
bulk shopping - not doing much yet (which leads to the next item...);
plastic-free shopping - have yet to nix all bagged items (like frozen foods);
composting - working on it but feeling more like a failure than an accomplishment so far;
disposing of disposables - I still frequently forget to bring and use my reusables--napkins, flatware and straw, when I'm out and about the town, and
lots and lots more - I have so much more to learn, try, perfect. So, I'm open to tips!

What's in your bucket?

August 22, 2011

5 Easy Herbs to Grow...and How

We hope this modest selection will grow in sufficient quantity to make a real difference in our menu selection, helping to balance our diets by encouraging us to create healthier dishes enhanced with fresh greens, and in our connection with the earth itself, by involving us directly in the grounded work of its natural cycles and rhythms. We also hope to reduce our food waste, as store bought herbs come in bunch sizes we can hardly use before they spoil, in spite of my failed efforts to try freezing various herbs. Gathered from a number of online sources, what follows are the essential data on nursing five of the most popular and easy to grow (we're told) herb varieties. 

These can each be grown, or at least started, indoors. They each promise to be easy, but then again, they hadn't met me before today, so I won't hold them to it. Regardless, I feel inspired, positive, and armed with great data. Will report on the progress of each in a couple months time, even if the result is decidedly less than herb-a-licious. Wish us luck.

And in the interim, if you have tips, tricks, or experience for better or worse, I could certainly do with hearing it. I am, after all, a newbie among a world of veterans, or at least that's how it feels from here.

annuals - complete their lifecycle & die forever in 1yr or less. But seeds produced may bring new growth the following season.

biennials - go to seed in 2nd year. complete their life cycle, never to be reborn. However, the
seed may bring new growth the next season.

perennials - leaves/branches may die, but the plant regrows/blooms each year.

arugula - annual but regrows from seed easily and is hardy. likes it cool. (heat causes bolting/seeding). flavor becomes stronger and stronger until it can be too strong/bitter for some by the end of the season in fall. at end of it's useful season allow it to flower. leave for weeks. once dead, remove dry stalks. the following spring new growth is likely. harvest outer leaves only and often if possible, to encourage regrowth. plant every 3-4 weeks  to ensure supply. germination 5-7 days. part shade ok. is sterile, so needs insects for pollination for self-seeding, therefore best to grow outdoors. once it has completely flowered and begins to brown, STOP water. allow it to complete its life cycle. Arugula Reference here.

basil - is a biennial. it is recommended to have multiple plants, at least 2 and never to take too many leaves off at once or the plant will not recover. it is best to pinch the leaf only not the stalk (you knew that didn't you), and to pinch off any little flowers as soon as you see them. Sow every 2 weeks throughout growing season in order to keep constant supply. requires more or less full sun 5 hrs a day or so if indoors (6-8 outdoors). harvest time: 10 weeks from sowing. mature height is about 4" tall. keep moist but not too wet. attracts bugs/slugs if kept outside. likes warmth. Germination ~7 days. likes good circulation, so coarse compost is good &/or rocks in bottom of plant pot for good drainage. Basil Reference here.

cilantro - an annual. grows 1-3 ft high. begin harvesting at 6" height. partial shade okay, but needs 8" deep pot minimum. sow every few weeks to ensure supply is constant. careful to keep moist but drained. Once it flowers, collect seeds for re-germinating or dry for spice use (will need drying). plant likes liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks. does not like to be repotted. Cilantro Reference here.

lavender - perennial. hardy but needs some care its 1st & 2nd seasons until it's established. Grows indoors or out. Full Sun. well-drained soil (not too wet), so allow soil to dry out between waterings (ex water 2x week, less in winter). Prune--cut back plant by 1/3 to half, either once flowering season is over, or just after new buds begin in new season, to keep the plant compact. fertilize every couple of weeks. PROPOGATION: take a few long 3-4" stem cuttings and place in moist pot, preferably in spring or indoors until the spring. From seed is more difficult to catch on and grow and should be done in spring. Lavendar References - multiple, no link

rosemary - perennial. propogates best from cutting. Seeds can be difficult to germinate and often don't grow true to their parent. It's possible to root rosemary in a glass of water, but a bit more effort will give more dependable results. Easy to care for once established. Rosemary Reference here.
1.     Snip about a 2 inch cutting from the soft, new growth of an established plant.
2.     Remove the leaves from the bottom inch and dip that tip into a rooting hormone. Rooting hormones can be found in any garden center.
3.     Carefully place the dipped end into a container of dampened, sterile seed starting mix. Choose a mix that says it is well draining, like something containing peat moss with vermiculite or perlite.
4.     Place the container in a warm spot with indirect sunlight.
5.     Mist the cuttings daily and make sure the soil does not dry out.
6.     In about 2-3 weeks, test for root growth by very gently tugging on the cuttings.
7.     Once your cuttings have roots, transplant into individual pots about 3-4 inches in diameter.
8.     Pinch off the very top of the cutting to encourage it to develop branches.
9.     Begin caring for your cutting as a rosemary plant.
10. Prune to keep the plant full and lush, shapely, etc.

August 20, 2011

The 4 R's of Mail Consumption

from unjunkmail
In present day, I'm guessing a lot of us use idea one (below) to some extent, though some younger adults are especially resistant to opening their own checking accounts. I know because my little brother is one of them. Wait. So is one of my closest girl friends and she's, well, in her late-30s. Not having a bank account is akin to asking for a monthly headache. I can't imagine trying to pay bills without one, or how about applying for an apartment? Ironically, it's not a simple way to live in our society. One day I'll convince them of that. I hope.

1. Refuse Paper-Bills; Auto Bill-Pay. 
Yeah, this is the one I'm guessing you already use. Isn't it wonderful? Fluctuating bills still need scrutinized, so some folks may still have such bills on paper, but it's generally easier to view and harder to lose a bill that's online, and recurring same-amount bills, like rent or a mortgage, are a no-brainer as auto-pay candidates.

Sole Proprieters and even non-proprietors are eligible vendors, too---Did you know?
Do you also know it's easy to set up your friend in need or your sole proprietor landscaper as a bill payee? I've done it without a glitch. All my bank required was a name, bank account & routing information, and at least a week; auto-pay transactions to individuals are slower than other tiers of payees that may already do business with the bank. For example, when I pay my Chase card from my Chase checking account, I get the fastest pay option available: same day. But, if I want to pay a Capital One card from my Chase bank account, I may be waiting a couple of days or more, and setting up a new vendor that Chase may never even have heard of also takes a bit longer. So, always make sure you have at least a week to spare before the payment's due, even once they are set up. Oh, and the other good news; you only have to set a new vendor up once. Trust me, this comes in handy when it's been two years since you paid person X (assuming X's account info hasn't changed).
Image from

2. Reduce Junk Mail. 
Saves me time reading or sorting through it; saves me time weekly from running it to the curb. Saves the planet and makes me feel good.

DMA Choice (Eliminate Junk Mail)
This god-send from the Direct Marketing Association can nearly eliminate credit card offers, catalogs and magazine offers. It sends a request out to all major credit entities like Experian and Equifax, and it's free. So that it can be accurate and thorough about getting my name off lists, the https protected site does ask for sensitive information, but most is optional. Still, it's a reputable organization and the more info I'm willing to provide DMA, the better their efforts will be to help me. The entire process, including signing up for a free DMA account and requesting to be removed from all the aforementioned options, took less than five minutes.

The DMA site is so incredible; a person can even reduce her junk e-mail, register as a caretaker, or register that someone is deceased, in order to reduce unnecessary mail!

3. Reuse it. 
Yesterday I used some old newspaper as a tissue paper substitute for stuffing the bottom of a big gift basket (which itself was a new fiber trash bin doubling as the "basket"). Other days, I save paper as the upcoming winter's fire-starter.

The Re-use Trap
Saving paper and cardboard and other materials for future use is great, but don't fall into the trap of collecting much more than you can use in a reasonable amount of time. I've made that mistake repeatedly with boxes. It's an easy trap to fall into, and a hard habit to break. Do a regular sweep of the excess if you want to stay organized and feel on top of things.

4. Recycle. 
And you guessed it; the rest goes into the compost & what doesn't make it into the compost ends up in the recycling bin.

And finally, it may be more than you ever wanted to know or think about mail, but if you're at all curious, look up unjunkmail sometime. It has interesting ideas and information. And if you have some other creative ideas for taming the junk mail beast, please do share.

August 15, 2011

Personal Care Recipes: An Essential Arsenal

So, I haven't made jack in terms of personal care products. I'll let you know when I do, but I'm in the researching phase, so that I CAN make some truly good products. And what I'm finding is extremely encouraging. The key seems to be keep it simple (aka easy) and make it small & often (as needed) in order to avoid spoilage. Below is my new go-to list for the tasks to come. What have you tried that's worked...and not worked?

Make My Easy Body Lotion
Easy. A nice Body Lotion Recipe from Ready Made.

Here's a super Easy Liquid Soap Recipe from Savvy Housekeeping. It took me less than 10-minutes, including preparation. I used a sample size bar of soap (and using a cheese grater made soap flakes), a tsp of vegetable glycerin (optional), 2.5 cups of water, and a few drops of my favorite essential oils (optional). Heated 2-3 minutes until melted. Left to thicken overnight, stirring occasionally throughout the evening. The result: perfect liquid soap.

Shampoo Bars (the 100% natural variety)
Have you tried some--what do you think?

Okay, this one's not a recipe, just a recommendation; albeit, an untried one. I'm not yet sure I'll ever make my own hard soaps from scratch. But they sound like such a fab, natural and wasteless (or nearly) way to keep clean. Still, I've heard mixed reviews and I don't have my own two cents to add just yet. UPDATE: my first shampoo bar is called Egghead from Connecticut Natural Soaps (Etsy). It lathers great, though not as foamy as commercial shampoos, and left my hair feeling squeaky clean. I will update again after some weeks with my satisfaction rating.

Make My Hair Silky Conditioner
I couldn't find much in the way of conditioner bars. And what I did find wasn't good. So here's the next best thing: a site with a fantastic Hair Conditioner recipe.  And an adaptation of that Recipe <--here from Ready Made.

I was astonished to learn about the ease of finding guar gum & xantham gum and how fantastic they can be for DIY personal care products. I will probably adapt and adjust/tweak this recipe over time. But it looks like a FANTASTIC base.

DIY'ers Best Friends: Reference Materials
Emulsifiers - Check out this great page on various natural Emulsifiers: the key to many a great homemade product.
Skin Deep - Skin Deep is a great site for learning more about cosmetic ingredients, including their potential for being hazardous to our health.
Borax - this natural wonder mineral can be used for everything from preservative (cosmetics) to detergent to emulsifier. While borax shouldn't be ingested, it is natural and less toxic than many chemicals used as preservatives.
Washing Soda - great for tough cleaning jobs. Per eHow, it is cheaper and easily made from baking soda (cook baking soda on a sheet at 400 F for 2hrs), let cool and store in an airtight container. Or, make liquid washing soda by boiling baking soda in water.

HELP: this page is heavy in web links. And we all know links are made to be broken. Please let me know if you notice any of my links are ever broken.

August 14, 2011

Seven Alternatives to Accepting Plastic Bags (when you forget your own reusables)

What happens when I forget or for some reason don't have my own reusable bags in the checkout? In the old days, say six months ago, I would come home with multiple disposable versions given to me by the clerk. 

The Problem: Absent-Mindedness
Frequently I would realize as the groceries or clothes were being bagged, that I had forgotten my own bag, and think "Damn it! Next time," and "what is wrong with me, why is it so hard to remember a bag?" Of course, all that's wrong is that I haven't developed the habit of remembering or incorporating the mindfulness of bags well enough. With me and many others, it's a process that takes time; quite a long time if you never make it a priority.

Usually, I'd want to stop the clerk, but s/he'd be practically finished bagging before I even had the thought, and out of some misplaced politeness, I didn't want to insult her by undoing her labor. Back then, if I remembered quickly enough, I would ask the clerk not to bag if I didn't have many items, or just to bag the essentials (such as multiple smaller items, so my hands would be available to carry the bigger items sans bags). Much of the time I had my own bags waiting in the trunk of my car. So there were a number of times I actually left my purchases on the conveyor belt and ran out to my automobile to get them, but that often backfired as you can imagine, losing my place in line. I always thought I'd be super speedy and sometimes was, but other times, the clerk was faster. And I tired of that strategy.

And unbelievably, about a third of the time that I had forgotten my shopping bags, I actually had one *right* in my purse that I kept for just such occasions. Unfortunately, I used it so infrequently that I almost never remembered it was there, even moving around it in a pocket when looking for my wallet or keys, because the neatly folded and zipped bag had become a part of the purse and no longer an object within it, somehow. I know. Some of you can not understand or imagine such mindlessness. Neither can I at times.

The Solution: A Rule
Finally, I made a rule. Since I always remembered that I'd forgotten my bags at some point during the checkout process, and though that wasn't really good enough, it was enough to effect small--shall we call it, starter change. I incorporated some of my old tactics and thought of some new ones, and made a rule to apply one of the these every time. Here are seven alternatives to outright giving in to having a half-dozen double-bagged disposables being handed to you at the checkout.

7 Alternatives to Accepting Plastic Bags (use in conjunction where possible)
   1 - Leave. If I remember before entering store, I may leave if I need to do a big shopping; or*
   2 - No Bag. If I need just a few items that can be carried, I'll request no bag; &/or
   3 - Skip some items. I may for-go all but a few items that can fit into my handbag; or
   4 - Unbag. If bagging has begun, interrupt & ask for un-bagging, overcoming politeness; and
   5 - Put some back. If in line with too many items to unbag, step out of line & put some back; or
   6 - Use a cart as a carrier. Request to use the trolley or hand basket & just unpack it at car, or
   7 - Do a Runner. last resort: run out to car & grab the often waiting reusables from trunk, even
        if it means waiting in line again.

*I have at times considered leaving stores and returning, but there's the issue not only my time, but added energy consumption/pollution, as I usually drive to do my shopping (an issue to be tackled in its own post some time in the future). So if I leave a store, I generally don't leave with the intent of returning immediately, but rather of waiting until I can make the trip more cost-effective (in other words, when I need to make a run in that direction for additional purposes). Obviously, if certain items are urgent, then I will do the shopping at that time that is essential and carry those items.

And it's working! I mean, I still forget my own bags at times. But I remember a lot more often. And for now, while I'm cultivating the habit of remembering, I can deal with forgetting on occasion as long as I have fail safe measures to rely on.

So Jay, I forget, too, probably more often than you. Thanks for the comment that created the idea to make this post. Hopefully, it will help some other newbies one day.

postscript. (to be removed once the issue is resolved.) 
To those of you who have written comments on any MWL posts, I apologize that I am still unfamiliar with blogger and seem to have difficulty with my responses reaching the commenters. Or perhaps that's a setting option for the commenters. I apologize in any case, because I simply don't know. I see these wonderful comments and would love to partake in a dialogue, but alas have difficulty doing so. If you know the answer, please shoot me an email at

August 8, 2011

DIY Toiletries....Infinite Possibility Homemade Body Butter

For readers who are well-acquainted with DIY toiletries and the like, I envy you. But I'm not like you; not yet. I've never been one to make much of anything myself (DIY). The ZW lifestyle is changing all that. But like many of us, I felt too busy. Isn't that what our culture is all about? Create overworked, overtired, overstressed masses that will in-turn rely on disposable, cheap and plentiful conveniences and be too groggy to think much about the insanity of the whole picture. Who has time to think about where all those disposable containers end up...surely the incredibly intelligent human species' ruling government bodies have already solved such fundamentally basic issues. So I don't need to worry about such things, or there wouldn't be a system all worked out for me to use and pay for...right?

Even when I was in denial, I always felt guilt. Sometimes it was too subtle to notice underneath all my day-to-day weariness. I would sort of slip in and out of consciousness about this issue of enormous magnitude. I consoled myself that I was better than many in terms of following the 3R's, but in reality, I was still smack in the middle of this zombie-herd mindset. As a result, most of the time I convinced myself that humankind and its governing bodies must have all this waste stuff worked out. I mean, we're not going to trash our very habitat, that would be inconceivably stupid.

Well, I have finally, permanently come out of denial. And in looking to end my addiction to convenience, I am seeking ways to eliminate, or far reduce, my dependence on packaging, especially of the unsustainable type. At this stage, I am still working on doing so with items I use routinely. Toiletries are high on this list.

The trick is that doing it myself has to be easy. Very easy. And when I began hunting for lotion recipes, I found that for most of them, I would need to be an amateur chemist, complete with all the equipment that implies. This wasn't appealing. Then I thought, surely there have to be ingredients out that that pretty much are the whole product; like shea butter, perhaps?

With some digging I found that there are some simple least there are for body butter, which is one item I find essential in maintaining my not-as-young-as-it-used-to-be body. I love body butter for my breasts, arms, and tootsies.

Following is the basis for a recipe that can be changed to infinity to create just the body butter you love. The idea is that you need just 4 simple ingredients (5 if you want a preservative), and three tools: a microwave (or stove), stainless or pyrex container and blender:

plant-based butter   (shea, cocoa butter or other plant-based butters of your choice)
carrier oil (such as apricot kernel)
fragrant oil (essential oils are best in my opinion)
wax (important but not essential in a pinch...but just go find your natural candle and shave a little)
preservative (ex. tea tree oil, thyme oil, grapefruit seed oil, bitter orange extract, honeysuckle flower exract)  - optional

So, fancy an easy body butter making experience? Try may just have all the ingredients you need at home already. And it takes only a few minutes of melting and blending until whip cream smooth. Be sure not to boil, but do cook for several minutes, long enough that the ingredients bind well, to prevent separation later. If you do not use a preservative, you may wish to store your new body butter in the refrigerator. But if you find the consistency harder than you would like, add more oil, or less wax (the next time) and experiment until you find what works best for you.

1/2 cup olive oil (since most homes have it on hand already)
1/2 oz essential oil (of your choice, or try a natural perfume or scent you have at home) 
1 1/3 cups shea butter (or other butter, how about mango butter?)
1 tbsp bees wax (shaved or granules. you can even SKIP this ingredient if you don't have it)
1/2 oz corn starch (optional)

And, if you don't have plant-butters lying around, you can order them online. Here are two sites than carry these products. (I don't endorse the sites or their products, just offer options for you to peruse). Be sure to ask for minimal, sustainable packaging.

The trouble with not using a preservative is that natural products go bad, often in weeks, accumulating mold and the like. There are some natural preservatives like rosemary oil, but alas, the effect is still much less than a synthetic like germall.  Most commercial products include such synthetic preservatives, or their stock would simply not make it to consumers cabinets. So, I find myself torn, but will err on the side of caution, and for my purposes choose natural alternatives, with the hope of not needing to make frequent batches and risk batches going bad before I can use them completely.

UPDATE 9/19/11: Borax is another possibility for use as a preservative. It is both natural and less toxic than many chemical preservatives, though it should not be ingested.

So that's it. 3-5 ingredients and a little melting and blending, et voila! And, all but one lying around your home just waiting for creative use. Once finished, just place into a small container you've picked out and enjoy...ahhh, the simplicity.

July 25, 2011

Experimenting and Learning: 4 (ongoing) steps in Zero Waste transformation

So where am I on my Zero Waste journey?  --Still learning and experimenting, of course!

For example, I tried going gung-ho (see my first couple of posts). I failed. By the time I came down with a summer flu, I had to admit that I simply wasn't able to commit to a near cold turkey ZW lifestyle. Primarily, this was because I hadn't yet finished adapting my home and I could no longer actively work on doing so, so I suddenly needed the heretofore "conveniences" that had once been merely superfluous.

But I have made LOTS of changes, and I'm psyched! Here's the latest on my journey...

#1 - Reading voraciously.

Below are some of the titles I've just finished or am currently reading:

  Green Guides Compost by Rachelle Strauss
  Walden (re-read) by HD Thoreau (Kindle version)
  The Joy of Less by Francine Jay (Kindle version)
  The Last Drop of Living: A Minimalist Guide by Robert Lee (Kindle version)
  The Power of Less by Leo Babauta (an audio read)
  Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (audio read)
  It's All Too Much by Peter Walsh (audio read)
  Luxury of Less: The Five Rings by Karol Gajda (Kindle version)
  Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez (focuses on financial minimalism)

#2 - Minimizing & Restructuring 
I started with the kitchen. Most items that we don't use regularly but that I know my husband isn't ready to part with, I packed up and placed in the attic. This opened up enough space to allow for the jars we'll use to buy and store food. It also provided the opportunity for me to make the kitchen more functional. Pot lids have their own basket. Storage Containers have their own basket, while their lids have a separate basket along side the containers. Cleaning cloths for various purposes were each designated their unique spaces. I've got a ways to go, but this was a great first sweep of the kitchen. It's at least twice as functional as before.

The bathrooms were next. Medicine cabinets were stripped of all but the essentials and those were neatly organized in small metal bins for easiest access--I hate digging on a shelf among fifteen other items and knocking three over to get to what I need. The grouping in bins eliminates this potential, makes finding items quicker and looks exponentially better to my weary eyes.

I then pared down cosmetics. I first determined what types of cosmetics I no longer wear or wear only rarely and targeted them for donation. I kept only what I use daily, and only ONE of each in the medicine cabinet.

The instant harmony and space this created feels fantastic. From here on out, I vow to buy exactly one replacement for any given used item. The vow is necessary because I have a tendency similar to many consumerists, I suspect. I tend to buy more than I need at any given time, so that I "save" myself time in the future or money if there's a sale. This ridiculousness has led to not only wasted financial resources, but to clutter---I had cosmetics that were years old and had still never been opened. 

Homemade Cleaners. I made my glass cleaner, wood cleaner, and baking soda scrub. I used the remainder of what was left (very little) in my existing "natural" store bought cleaners and simply added to them using simple available ingredients like alcohol, essential oils, vinegar, etc., as needed. They're working quite nicely.

The Memory Closet - Twenty years worth of photos, letters (the now defunct snail mail type, awards, report name it). I went through them all and about a dozen notebooks. In all I listened to my emotions as I viewed each item. If I felt nothing strong or nothing good, I recycled or disposed of it. In all, I eliminated about two-thirds of my heavy load. Needless to say, I feel lighter. And now I have another closet available for truly functional use!

Books, etc. - about a third of my books were boxed bound for the 2nd hand shop. And I've decided to use the Kindle for most future reading. 

I repeated similar actions with my hand bags and our other storage cabinets. I want my hand bags to be clutter free and ADD-proof. With the use of a smartly stocked purse insert, and some other techniques I think I achieved a good deal toward this end. The storage cabinets contained a lot of spares of items, such as toiletries. Those that I couldn't part with remain neatly stored, but I promise not to buy again until these are used in their entirety.

More on the minimizing process in future posts, but for now...moving on to

#3 - Bulk Shopping Lists - Bad times. I had such a miserable experience when attempting to shop entirely Zero Waste at the Berkeley Bowl West, that I did the only thing that could make the trip seem not wasted: I cataloged their entire inventory of bulk items on my hand held device. So at least I know what to expect in the future.

#4 - Recyclables Lists - I started a list of questions for my local recycling authority about what can and cannot be recycled with them and why---and their suggestions for where to go to recycle certain items which are recyclable but that they do not take. Did you know that Whole Foods accepts plastics #5, called their Gimme 5 program?

It was tough to start the wrangling in and sorting through everything that I own, and more than a little overwhelming (like the 20-year memory closet), but I'm enjoying the decluttering and organizing process now that I'm in a rhythym of removal. I can't express enough how amazing the free & organized spaces feel or just how much the simplicity continues to inspire.

June 13, 2011

Change: Slow to Immaterialize

My newbie posts to-date have been primarily preparation and inspiration. The actuality so far is much more incremental than I hoped. But since it's all in my control, why is it slower than I'd like? --Life happens. Company arrived, I fell sick with flu, and time marched on. I'm still not back to my pre-flu health, but the company has departed and I am again becoming excited about taking the next steps in establishing my less than wasteful routines.

And since this lifestyle isn't a fad, and beating myself up for not doing it well enough just yet isn't a healthy motivator (though of course I don't enjoy the feeling that I am not measuring up to living what are my standards for a less wasteful life), I consider it a step in the right direction just that my eyes are open, and change is in progress. It's not an if or when, it's happening! --Just slower than I'd dramatized inside and out.  I wonder whether I would have the wherewithal to be so stick-to-it-like were I otherwise fully employed and creatively and energetically spent? Worse. I wonder whether the desire would even have taken hold in such a regular lassitude. I honestly don't know. But don't get me wrong, I enjoy working...but until I have my house in order, I'm not ready to squeeze all of my juiciest energy anywhere else.

I also know it would be infinitely more difficult to set up the foundation of this or any new lifestyle while otherwise engaged (in work) in my life. So I'm grateful for my present homemaker station. Okay, homemaker isn't the right word, but I don't yet know what the right word is. Unemployed is far from right. I'm in search mode, the search to establish and create my home life to be the way I believe it should be, instead of continuing to exist in it the way I had bygone, due simply to the lack of available energy to make it any other way. So what will the week bring in changes...I certainly don't know and I honestly can't wait to find out.

June 3, 2011

Letters to Retailers - Use Sustainable Packaging---and I'll buy from You!

Write your retailers. Create the demand.  
(Bea Johnson taught me well)

I find that writing to retailers/wholesalers takes very little time, and for the tiny investment, I receive quite a compensation: the feeling that I am using my voice, shaping and promoting a sustainable demand, and living by design. The very act of writing a quick email infuses me with the resolve needed NOT to fall prey to consuming non-sustainable (or non-sustainably packaged) products.

I started with GlassLock and Dwellsmart. GlassLock...because they neglect to mention that their lids are made of polypropylene (for all I knew they were made completely from a type of silicone).

So, I vow to write my retailers whenever a product I wish to purchase is available only in non-sustainable materials or packaging. For now, I'm applying this to my repeat offenders, items I consume on a regular basis, such as foods, cleaning items, and other supplies that I know I'll need to purchase again and again. One-time buys such as computers are off the hook...for now. But if we who care create enough of a stir with the everyday goods, these one-off ticket items won't be far behind.

Someone's on our side. Check out GreenBlue and their project, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. Recommend them to your retailers?!?!

Have you written your retailers...or, are you inspired to give it a try the next time you notice that one of them isn't packaging responsibly?

May 25, 2011

Dear DwellSmart,

You have a very nice site. It's visually appealing; I want to shop here! But I have a problem. I noticed that while you sell Soap Flakes, you do not sell the product in its sustainably packaged form (cardboard), rather you sell it in the plastic bag. Both are available in 1-lb quantities, so I'm curious as to why you've chosen the plastic version. I also wish to encourage you to switch to the earth-friendlier packaging upon restocking. If you do, I'd certainly buy from you!

Stephanie in Berkeley

May 29, 2011

Squeaky Clean - Homemade Natural SOAPS & Cleaners

I can't wait to make my own cleaners of all kinds. And I'm not super crafty or even a great cook. I am just curious about something that I know can not not only make a big impact on the planet, but which I also happen to know is easy to do. Most household cleaners can be summed up in two ingredients: baking soda and white vinegar...the wonder components of household cleaning. Check out Care2's homemade non-toxic cleaning kit.

In fact, I recently used this wonder-duo on some super stinky stale laundry.  I'd inadvertently turned my load on and left it on soak...for five days!!! It was only by accident that I discovered the rank laundry when my husband cracked the lid to add some items to what he believed was an empty washing machine. When he opened the lid, I nearly lost my lunch.

After re-washing the clothes, then sun-drying them, they were no closer to being saved from certain death, until I decided to look up online what could be done...and wouldn't you know it, good old tried and true baking soda and vinegar were the two most mentioned solutions. I tried them. They worked like magic. My clothes came out scent free. The first time.

What I find a bit more complicated is soap. Soap is something I use a lot of, and so it's a product that can really reduce my footprint, if I can cut down on both its packaging and harmful chemicals. I looked into soap nuts, which seem a might too gentle for my cleaning tastes, and into making my own soaps from acid and base----Crikey! I don't have the time for that--soap making is a very slow and arduous process. While it could be worthwhile, there are other hobbies I'd rather take up, like guitar or tennis. Neither am I convinced it's significantly more economical or demands significantly less packaging, save for the possible exception of professional soap makers.

What I have found, though, that I'm very excited about is soap flakes. Once harder to come by, Soap Flakes are again available in the USA in compostable cardboard packaging (but be diligent, as they're also found in plastic bag packaging) and can be found online or locally in bulk (if you're lucky) at places like Whole Foods Market. Soap flakes can be used to make just about any kind of soap that one may desire, from hand to laundry. It can be customized in concentration and scent. In short, soap flakes are my new best friend. Visit soap flakes site to check out some great recipes. If you try them and you love or hate them, or have in the past, drop a comment. Are they really more economical? Let me know what you know.

Happy cleaning!

08/2011 UPDATE:
I lost interest in soap flakes, though if I find them reasonably priced in bulk, I may go for them. What I've discovered is it's usually much cheaper and not that much more trouble to simply grate your own flakes from bar soap. Additionally, most of the soap flakes I found were packaged in plastic. So, making flakes myself is just plain preferable.

May 26, 2011

Cleaning and Living without Papertowels for a Change

I spent the day cleaning the house. I cleaned because family from the UK are arriving for a two-week stay.  Six hours worth of cleaning. Although, some of the time was invested as it was spent organizing, and that I'm happy about.

The cleaning part itself seems more like a waste of life energy, especially if it goes over 45-mins.  The first 45-mins once or twice a week are finely spent. Because the return on the investment is a nice looking home and the pride of being the maker of said nice looking home. It even gives my ADD a little thrill. But time beyond an hour or two a week cleaning house is just loss of life in my opinion.

Also, using old cloths to clean was FUN. It's much more encouraging than the bygone era of cleaning with paper towels (can you believe I did that? Oh, it's sad to think of it now.) Cleaning with paper towels uses LOTS of them, and is just unpleasant. 

So the guests arrive and life starts happening, water is spilt on the kitchen floor, a small pile of crumbs missed the trash bin, and my dog ate a steak bone, which the remnants of then needed picked up off the floor. In the past for all these occasions, a paper towel has been the go to weapon and the convenience. And in the frenzy of the moment (with guests) and not being "used to" dealing with these little issues in another manner, I felt somewhat helpless. I wanted to reach for the old familiar wasteful piece of paper towel. But I didn't. What I did was grab a lightly used piece of cloth (cut up old clothing) and attempt to remind myself that while this feels wrong...even wasteful, it's not. The reusable cloth towel *feels wasteful* --isn't that strange? My mind is so used to thinking cloth = use 1-time, then it's dirty and needs washing. And that process feels wasteful. But the reality, and I'm still telling my mind this, is that the cloth is not only not wasteful, but it shouldn't be used just one-time before washing. That's why I've created a gently used towel space in the first place. But I need training and repetition, lots and lots until I can create my new normal. But that takes time. And I won't lie, it hurts a little. I could see it in my husbands eyes. He wanted to reach for a paper towel more than once this evening. The stress of being thrown off your routine by outside factors, while also attempting to incorporate a new lifestyle change--ain't easy. But we did make it through. And we didn't use the PTs (we still have some in the cupboard awaiting a time of real need--like a gallon of oil being spilled).

May 24, 2011

The pain of ending one life...and beginning another.

I went shopping today. The trip was supposed to be a prep-my-life-for-wasteless-living trip, and I was ridiculously excited to get to the shops and gather my ZW necessities. Unfortunately, I was too excited.

It is absolutely an addiction and a high for someone like me to be in shops with limitless options. I even found myself eyeing things that weren't ZW to start my ZW lifestyle. How much sense does that make? And it's made more difficult by the fact that the line becomes finer and finer the closer one gets to actually acting in a wasteless or zerowaste manner; until of course, one sorts these issues out for oneself so as to never ever have to deal with them again, if at all possible.

Reusable Bags--not always an ecologically sound choice
An easy example is reusable shopping bags. Sound great. They are great. But they're not all created equal.  I'm not just talking about differing sizes, or the fact that some stay open and others are forever floppy by design. Some reusable bags are made of plastic, or poly-something-or-other which is an awful lot like plastic, or perhaps you find a lovely great big canvas tote, only to find inside the manufacturer has taken the liberty of coating the bag with that's right, plastic!--to waterproof the item, or even just to make it look "cooler."

Breaking the Addiction to "Normal" Consumption-Mode
These types of choices make my head spin. And yet they are still very tempting to me. I'm just a beginner after all, and now realizing that it will be a true process of learning and of learning to let go, in order for me to free myself of convenience mind. My materially and convenience-addicted mind says, "how do I know that that barely noticeable lining is actually plastic, and even if it is, how do I know it's the common non-biodegradable variety and not some new generation compostable plastic." The addiction wants my convictions to remain unconscious. But no more. The truth is that really, when I step away from the pretty bag I know the best answer is to avoid temptation, avoid purchasing anything questionable.

Transitioning off the Invisible KoolAid
But having said that, I am going to need to define for myself what I will and will not accept in a product. Then, I'll modify as I become more entrenched in purposeful living. For now, I'm going to start with not allowing my convictions to sleep, but still be gentle with myself. Changing a lifetime addiction to convenience and to blissful ignorance is not going to happen overnight.

May 23, 2011

Designing Wastelessness (Step 2: Family Agreement)

Okay, it was scary, but I did it. I had "the" talk with my husband. The decision to live a zero waste lifestyle yourself is one thing, but involving the family is crucial to success, when you share space. I knew Jack, our super-cool labradane mix, would be an easy sell, but my husband is quite a strong character.

And it's tough because we've never seen eye to eye on environmental issues nor on how individuals can effect responsible environmental change. So I was nervous. Really nervous. I didn't want to come off as too extreme or dictatorial. I wanted my passion and enthusiasm to be catching. Turns out, it is!

We stumbled a bit through the beginning of the conversation, as Alan didn't want this change to feel unilateral or dictatorial. But the more we talked, the more it became clear that my husband had also been wanting to make some changes for the better. So here we go! I'm sure our visions differ, but the important thing is we know to tread lightly, use kindness and understanding and to look for solutions when issues arise and friction heats up.

I'm not sure the details of the discussion are relevant or helpful, but if you're curious, let me know. I couldn't be happier with the result. We're now a newly committed zero waste family. Let the fun begin.

What are your obstacles to change?  Or, share your secrets of relationship success with change...

May 22, 2011

A Lifestyle Less Wasted (Step 1: The Decision)

Today is the first day of my "wasteless" life. After weeks of frenzied searching inspired by examples of zero waste efforts, weeks I spent under the perceived impression that I could do nothing of the sort save for a resolution to compost here or a promise to spend less there, I finally knew I could live a waste less lifestyle, too.

During the weeks of skepticism, I told myself it must take too much time & energy to be so diligent, not only to live such a conscious lifestyle, but to BEGIN it. Besides, it would be too expensive to change everything about how I live, right? But then last night as if "let there be light" commanded, I simply woke up and realized I could do more. Of course, I could. And once I realized it, the belief took on a life of its own. My light bulb went off when I uttered "I can give up paper towels. I just won't buy them anymore" (two months ago the very idea would have been heresy.) Then within seconds, I made the same decision about plastic containers, and in less than 24-hours I wanted to start bulk shopping instead of continuing normal, (ie prepackaged ) shopping. And making my own cleaners? fun! Suddenly, I'm excited about every aspect of this new lifestyle. And I feel reborn! What could be more creative than consciously constructing my very own lifestyle, liberating me from the one I've been invisibly controlled by my entire life. And I can't help but be healthier--giving up what will surely amount to a substantial amount of processed, prepackaged junk food in favor of simple ingredients and cooking. So, I've decided to start now and dive in to 0%, or as close to it as I can get. Not everyone would decide to go all out all at once, but it's the right decision for me.

Today, I spent the afternoon clearing kitchen space for the new jars I have arriving soon. I also dedicated  space to "clean" cloths (cut up old clothing), and a space for lightly used cloths (used but clean enough to reuse before washing). I'll be using these instead of paper towels. And I chose to dedicate my simplehuman plastic bag dispenser to store used cloths, since I'll no longer be needing it for plastic!

I'll also chronicle my waste less journey on this blog, using it as a space to discuss progress, challenges and as a simple guide to how I'm doing. I'll also share the tips I find on living as close to zero waste as possible, as cheaply as possible.

Tip #1: Wholesale Jars (for the ZeroWaster jumping in all at once). 
Wholesale jars are the way to go, if you're starting 0-waste at 100-percent. The site I used is They have a site for wholesale ($150 min order) and retail pricing (less than $150). On my jars purchase, I averaged $3.75 per canning jar including shipping! A 65% savings over sites like