Thursday, July 30, 2009

Laundry: the new way vs. the old way

Whoever said the only certain things are death and taxes must not have been in charge of the laundry in their home. In my house, it is absolutely a certainty that I will have to do some laundry related chore every day.

Because laundry is both universal and constant, the way we do our laundry can make a huge difference. There seem to be three different schools of laundry thought:

The Old-Fashioned Way: Most people don't do their laundry the truly old fashioned way--agitating and wringing it by hand--but there are still many people who make their own laundry soap, use natural fabric softeners like vinegar, and hang out the wet clothing to dry. I generally fall into this category, although I have been known to (gasp) buy laundry soap when time is short. I also use my dryer in the winter when the temperatures are below freezing.

The Cheap Way: These people use conventional washers and dryers and conventional laundry products. Obviously in the United States, this group makes up a substantial majority.

The Neo-Hippy Way: This crowd is not into extra work, but they are willing to be a little more green by spending some green. You know them by their state-of-the-art front loaders in museum quality colors. They tend to use Method and other greener cleaners. I'm not picking on these people; my parents and some of my best friends are among them.

Which is the greenest way? I think we can all agree that the middle route is the most wasteful in terms of water and electricity use. Between the old fashioned way and the neo-hippy way, well, it's hard to say. If you buy the front loaders because you sincerely need new machines, they aren't such a waste, but if you actually got rid of perfectly functional traditional machines to buy them, well, there's nothing green about that. No, the savings in water and electric don't even come close to the environmental cost of manufacturing that machine or transporting it across the globe. And when it comes to drying, even a front loader can't do it as cheaply as the sun.

The problem with laundry soap, chemical-free or not, is that it contains a lot of water (which is heavy to transport, thus requiring a lot of fuel) and must have packaging. When I make my own, none of my ingredients come in a plastic container. That alone makes it leaps better than the most eco-friendly detergent on the shelf, although I am not above buying them when being a full-time student/full-time worker/full-time mom leaves me without the few minutes it takes to throw together my own.

It's not that I'm hooked on standing in the heat dodging bees (allergic here!) while hanging heavy wet laundry on a line. It's just that I love it when the green decision is also the cheaper one. I never could pass up a great deal like that. Hanging out laundry and making my own soap cut my laundry expenses down to a few dollars a month for a whole lot of people. That makes it worth my time.

A little change in laundry habits can make a huge difference! Don't be afraid to try a new way and see if you can add one more green habit to your repertoire.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Modern Housewifery and the Green Movement

There was a time, just a century ago, when a typical housewife burned up to 9000 calories per day. They were up before dawn cutting wood for the morning fire and carrying water in buckets from a far-away well. Making pancakes for breakfast required collecting eggs, milking cows, and grinding wheat. I consider myself a productive person, but I don't accomplish in one day what these women did before their families even woke up.

The other day, I was reading one of my favorite homemaking sites. I realized that, unlike housewives of other times, the main duties of a modern hausfrau are cooking and procuring/managing goods. Sure, I clean, go to school, take care of my kids, and work when I can. However, the things that occupy much of my time are cooking, baking, organizing stuff, and making decisions about what new stuff my family needs. Like most women, like most modern people, I am not a producer. I am a consumer.

Americans are consumers on a mass scale, and that is why our food and consumption decisions are so important both politically and environmentally. It seems frivolous to micro-analyze every little decision, but those decisions will determine the type of consumer I am. Is local, organic lettuce worth a dollar more? Should I throw away my daughter's jeans with the blown-out knee, or can I find a way to make them wearable? Is it worth my energy to pick through thrift store racks when an organized Macy's is across the parking lot and doesn't cost a whole lot more? A lot of my life, and a lot of this blog, revolves around these seemingly insignificant choices.

In the end, my food is going to have a greater impact on the environment than my choice in cars. My decisions on what to buy will have a bigger effect on child labor in the third world than my voting. If you want to make a difference in your future quality of life, every consumer decision matters. Is it worth sweating the small stuff? I think it is.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Slow cooker sausage and beans

What's not to love about a slow cooker? There's nothing like coming home from a busy day to find dinner is already made. However, most crockpot recipes are not very 'green'. They tend to be meat-heavy and to use a lot of (expensive and unhealthy) processed foods like cream soups and canned beans. I have had to develop my own repertoire of crock pot recipes, and it has been well worth it! Here's one new recipe:

Slow Cooker Sausage and Beans

· 2 cups dried beans (I like to use a blend, like 1 cup pintos, 1/2 cup black beans, and 1/2 cup kidney beans)
· 4 to 6 links organic chicken sausage or other link sausage
· 1/2 cup chopped onion
· 1/2 cup canned tomato sauce
· 1/4 cup barbecue sauce
· 3 tablespoons brown sugar
· 1 teaspoon chili powder
· 2 tablespoons prepared mustard
· Salt and pepper to taste
· 1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple, undrained


Soak beans overnight (I soak mine in the crockpot to cut down on dishes). Place in slow cooker on high with water to cover, plus a few inches. Cook until soft, about 4 hours in my crockpot. Longer is okay, too. Drain beans, reservings about one cup of fluid. Add all other ingredients, along with the reserved fluid, and cook in the slow cooker on high for another hour. Serves a medium sized family. If I need to 'expand' the recipe, I increase everything except the sausage. Organic sausage is expensive!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday Menus

This week I found organic chicken sausages on clearance at Safeway for $1.99 per package. This led me to develop some fun ways of using them in this week's meals.

Sunday: Pork ribs, potato salad, canteloupe

Monday: Slow cooker sausage and beans, spinach salad

Tuesday: Super baked potatoes (with cheese, chives, and of course, sausage), honeydew melon

Wednesday: Slow cooker 'baked' ziti with marinara and sausages, green salad

Thursday: Spinach, garlic, and cheese omelets, corn salsa

Friday: Roasted veggie sandwiches on ciabatta, I'll throw what's left of the sausage on there if any's left, roasted potato wedges

Saturday: Black bean/multi-colored pepper fajitas, spanish rice, miscellanous fruit salad
Recipes to follow!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Guest Blog: Bill Hawthorne on Green Living and Health

Green Living: Improving Health Today and Tomorrow

Much attention has been paid in recent years to what seems to be a growing environmental conscience in the United States. Going green used to be considered expensive and a luxury for those who could afford the trend. Now it appears that we are learning that not only is adopting more environmentally conscious attitudes good for our economic situation, but also our….health?

Yes, if we dig a bit deeper we can see that dirty industries and backwards policy is actually harming the health of the earth for our children and the health of her inhabitants today.

How Does Environmental Policy Affect Public Health?

There are two levels of health consequences associated with dirty industry, both direct and indirect. The direct consequences are examples like increased asthma rates in areas with high smog indices. Chlorofluorocarbon release into the atmosphere has shown to decrease the filter of direct sunlight on the planet, resulting in more concentrated ultraviolet light reaching the surface of the earth. Perhaps it is no surprise then that in countries with depleted atmospheric gas, skin cancer rates are among the highest in the world.

The indirect health consequences are harder to see immediately, but closer examination reveals that these are, in fact, perhaps the most hazardous. Bi-products of dirty and backwards industries, such as coal and oil processing, include cancer causing substances like asbestos and benzene. A U.K. study conducted in 2002 indicated that coal and oil industry workers are at a much higher risk of developing mesothelioma (associated with asbestos exposure) and leukemia (traced to benzene and heavy-metal exposure). Dr. Valerie Rusch among many other doctors who specialize in this area understand that these are substances that can be directly traced to antiquated pre-regulation equipment in industries whose environmental hazards are even more inherent.

Can we really afford to continue on the path we were on before? Investment in clean industry means not a healthier planet for our children and grandchildren, but also a healthier place for us to live today.

--June 25, 2009 Written by Bill Hawthorne with the maacenter

Friday, July 24, 2009

Duck! The Boomerang's Returning!

You don't have to duck. Just me. Because, yes, two of my older kids are returning home for a while. Due to real estate situations, their apartment is no longer available (or it won't be in a few weeks at least).

I love that they feel comfortable enough with me to fly back into the nest when times are tough. I love that I am still their step-mommy, even though one of them is literally two of me. On the other hand, things are getting a little crowded in the Sage Mommy home, and the last time they both lived here, our electric was like twice as expensive.

Here are a few tips for dealing with not-empty-enough-nest syndrome:

1. Make them chip in. Luckily, my kids both have jobs, so I plan to charge them whatever is a reasonable amount of rent for one-third of a bedroom (yeah, we'll be back to three in a room :-O ) plus electric and such.

2. Make them do chores. Lots of them. As I recall, older kids can double the housework load with their constant snacking in the living room and excessive towel use. I'm already making their chore lists. Now that they are adults, their to-do lists will look more like mine than before.

3. Repeat after me: "this is not a frat house". I don't know what went on at their old house, but I have an imagination. And none of it will be happening here. This is a family home, and only traditional morals are allowed. No girls, no monkey business, and any kegs will be confiscated to be later shared with the cooler members of the local homeschool community. You know who you are.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Can WalMart Ever Be Green?

They think they can.

I'm not an eco-perfectionist, and I'm not going to pick on WalMart. We've all heard it before, and they must be doing something right because millions of people still work there and millions of people still shop there. However, I think even the most devoted WalMart shopper would balk at calling them green.

Consider: nothing gets to a WalMart without being carted over thousands of miles of blacktop. That's if it didn't have to be flown here before hitting the trucks. That $4 t-shirt may have more miles under its belt than Ferdinand Magellan.

Consider: undercutting local companies until they die away, then jacking prices up once there is no alternative is the WalMart policy. It's not an accident--it's how they operate.

Again, I'm not hatin'. Obviously millions of people approve, and that is their business. However, Wal-Mart is now trying, at least superficially, to 'go green'. They offer a range of 'green' products. Okay, I don't know exactly why a plastic bottle of toxic cleaning chemicals is now green--maybe that's its actual color. WalMart also is stepping into the realm of organic cotton products and other popular green accoutrements. It doesn't make them green; it makes them aware of the issues of their times.

However, they are actually leading the green movement in one arena: labeling. The way some stores label healthy choices, WalMart is going to start labeling green(er) choices. I don't know exactly what will make something a 'green' choice among the many choices in those crowded aisles, but if it gets more everyday people to buy into environmentalism, I guess it can't hurt anything.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

one is silver and the other gold...

...make new friends and keep the old. So goes the song, at least. Making friends is something I seem to do without trying, and I love it. I love having a posse. I'm not even a particularly outgoing or interesting person, but I seem to collect interesting people the way some people collect those naked little troll dolls.

Anyway, I recently threw a birthday party for my daughter, inviting two 'old' friends and one 'new'. It was really a revelation to me, for two reasons:

1. I am a totally different person in different social situations, and it is never so obvious as when I try to 'blend' friends from different settings. At school, where New Friend met me, I am edgy, sarcastic, and brainy. I dress in trendy clothes and make fun of things. My California coastal accent creeps back. My homeschooling friends, on the other hand, usually see me with kids, and thus they see the quieter, gentler Emily. The one who wears long skirts and talks in grammatically correct sentences. I never realized I encompassed these two very different Emily's until I was standing at my daughter's party at a total loss as to how to act. Is this normal? Maybe it is a reaction to the stark contrast between an academic setting and a more kid-friendly environment.

2. At some point, Mrs. Hannigan and Mrs. March, along with a handful of others, became 'old friends'. There was a point when my group of friends in Redding were the 'old friends' and the homeschooling mommies were nice people I hang out with because my friends are so far away. However, now they are not just friends, but 'old' friends. (Notice the quotes--none of you need Botox or anything. That's not what I mean by 'old'.) Anyway, I've became close to a handful of really cool women here, despite the fact that we never see each other and we have very different backgrounds.

This brings up interesting questions. What makes someone an 'old friend'? Is it going through trauma?--those of you who have been reading here for a while know what I mean by that. Is it that they are interesting enough that I wonder how they are doing even when we don't see each other? Who knows. I'm probably the luckiest person on the planet when it comes to meeting awesome people.

The other question: with student Emily being so different from mommy Emily, both of which are different from career chick Emily, what will Dr. Emily be like? How many more personalities do I have lurking in there?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Don't <3 Papaya

Maybe I've just had bad luck, but every papaya I've tried has been kind of gross. Even my kids won't eat it. I'm not too hot on papaya flavored things, but they don't repel me the way the real fruit seem to. Am I doing something wrong? Is there a secret to making papaya pallatable?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday Menus

Locally, we are getting out of the greens and berries phase of late spring. Farmer's market stalls are full of a huge and colorful range of vegetables as well as every fruit you can imagine. Now is a good time to incorporate those veggies into stirfries, pasta dishes, and quiches, and serve every meal with a plate of sliced local fruit. Being green has never so easy!

Sunday: (instead of Sunday dinner, as we returned late from visiting Thomas the Tank Engine in Snoqualmie) Banana whole wheat pancakes with miscellaneous cut up fruit

Monday: Kung Pao chicken with pan fried vegetables and noodles, sliced papaya

Tuesday: BLT's and watermelon. Whole grain bread, of course. That makes the bacon and mayo healthy, right?

Wednesday: Red Curry chicken with stir fried vegetables and rice

Thursday: Vegetable quiche with homemade ciabatta and sliced fruit

Friday: Pasta primavera with leftover ciabatta made into garlic bread, green salad

Saturday: Hot dogs roasted over our fire pit, along with chips, marshmellows, and fruit salad

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Following Your Passions

I just thought I'd throw it out there. Even if you are a mom, you should have a few passions, a few happy thoughts you can carry in your heart when the laundry piles are high or you're trying to figure out how you will buy this week's groceries with the negative sixteen dollars you have left in your budget. This weekend, I decided to indulge one of my passions. I've been a fan--a full-blown, trivia-reciting fan--of Tori Amos since I heard her for the first time eighteen years ago. This weekend, I finally made it one of her concerts. I feel so refreshed, like I can face my life again. Here's the song that was one of the highlights for me. I wish I had a recording from my exact concert, but this one will have to do:

If you don't know what exactly your passion is (no, husband and kids don't really count), find it!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Cheap and Healthy Dinner: Dal

Tonight I made dal (an Indian lentil dish) and naan for dinner. It was so good, and I think it's because I inadvertently used a new recipe.

I usually make dal with a recipe that includes various curry spices, like cumin, turmeric, and ginger. Today, I realized I was missing a few key spices. Rather than run to the store, I subbed a little red curry paste. So here was the recipe, all three ingredients:

'Haven't Been to Fred Meyer in Weeks' Dal

1 cup red lentils
3 cups water
1-2 tsps red curry paste

Simmer until done.

Now, wasn't that easy? I served with homemade naan and sauteed chard from my mother's garden. Altogether, it was less than three dollars for my huge crew. Super healthy too! Just make sure your significant other likes the smell of curry, because red curry comes out your pores. I rather enjoy it, like an exotic perfume. :-)