A word about bleach

Bleach Bottle Image
Image via Wikipedia

I began this post on August 10, 2008, where I had recently posted a few items regarding cleaning: general house cleaning and whiter laundry. It seems that quite a few people are trying to find ways to make their whites whiter. As I look at the search terms, I noticed that often the search is ‘how do I make my whites whiter laundry’. The same old question that maybe has been plaguing our civilization for centuries continues to plague us now. How do we keep clothes looking good? For some people, tipping the balance into an eco-friendly home routine is pretty easy but for others hanging onto these old standbys like bleach is difficult to let go. Even in natural cleaning books, many suggest using bleach to kill germs and make whites whiter.

Remember a few things when considering bleach.

  • It is an acid, a very caustic acid and a poison.
  • It eats at clothing (and other things) a lot faster than alternatives like vinegar.
  • Vinegar we eat and is much safer for children and pets.

My original intention with this post was to summarize some scientific studies that displayed the horrors of bleach. Time, life, and lack of information in my searches made my original goal change. Now, I just want the post out of my draft folder! When this topic again interests me… hopefully it will be grand.

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Living on Credit

Levi's Cleanup
Living on credit sometimes means we have messes to clean up. The mess Levi cleaned up here was the size of about 1/4 of one towel. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Budget, budget, budget – crisis. It seems, today, everywhere you look, everyone is suffering from a budget crisis. Business, non-profits, families, single people, countries. What I found most interesting about this concept, right now, is the emotional stress it causes when not dealt with.

If you have 6 eggs, and you know you aren’t going to get anymore for 2 weeks, and you need an egg a day to survive – you’d probably ration your eggs. Some people, though, would rather risk the eggs, eat them once a day, and not have any for 8 days. It’s Aesop’s fablesthe grasshopper and the ant. The ant stores away, day after day, while the grasshopper plays. Then, winter comes, and the grasshopper is surprised. He has no food. The ant has enough food because he’s been preparing all spring, summer and fall.

When we live on credit: credit cards, borrowed money from friends, and lines of credit from the bank – we are playing the part of the grasshopper. I’m observing here. My husband and I are guilty of living on credit. We recognize it’s a problem, and are trying to have those hard conversations to stop it – but they are hard conversations.

I find it interesting how we are unwilling to have those hard conversations. We know what will happen, but in my case, I’d rather not give up my newspaper, netflix, and mobile phone. So, we live on credit and risk another windfall. We can’t plan for the windfall. We have to plan for the somewhat secure income.

I say somewhat, because hopefully we all know how risky even those secure jobs are nowadays. Unions on the chopping block in Wisconsin, so much rage, so much apathy, all coming up against each other – crashing. Egypt, Libya, Tunisia – this global unrest from the micro to the macro – and in some way – it stems from living beyond our means.

Sometimes, I think it stems from arrogance and lack of understanding. Like, when I try to piece together why the whole Northern American continent was basically clear cut in the 19th century. While studying sustainability at Portland State University, I took a sophomoric class in the university studies program. Our professor introduced this concept of short-sighted-ness with a story about shephards living on a hill. They all wanted to add just one more sheep to their flock – each. But, what happens when all 100 shepards add one sheep each? You have 100 more sheep! The hill can only hold so many, and if the shepards add another sheep to theri flock every year – at some point you’ll reach the carrying capacity of the hill.

The idea is that if you plan for the future, you will make wiser decisions for the group. Individually, or for families, the idea is that if you plan for your future you won’t be destitute and will be able to navigate tragedy with a stronger plan, or safety net. If government can help us out, I think that’s great. I also think, in a society as rich as ours, it should be a moral obligation. But, ultimately, we really need to say the buck stops here, and we need to plan for ourselves. So, it’s building within and building without. we need to make our own houses strong, strengthen our communities (that meas you have to get to know your neighbors), and have honest dialogues. Honest dialogues that recognize living on credit, while a luxury, isn’t the best course of action.

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I am an Urban Homesteader

Heated & whisked
Making HOMEmade chocolate syrup in my (urban) home(stead). Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

I know what to do.

I know where the resources are.

I’ve written, somewhat extensively on the subject.

Today: I am an Urban Homesteader.

In 2008, I self-published my first of two books with Dr. Deborah Tolman. With her knowledge and know-how, my writing, editing, graphic design, and web skills – and with support from several other friends and colleagues, we self-published the Tolman Guide to Going Green. We published one for Portland, Oregon, where we both lived in 2008 and one for Asheville, North Carolina, where Deb has sustainable connections.

We took a systems approach to sustainability. How do you encompass natural processes at home? How do you make going green accessible in a way that the apartment dweller with the smallest income can still be green?

Also, in 2008, it was discussed by Kelly & Eric at Root Simple.

Shannon Hayes takes a feminist approach in Radical Homemaking.

It’s cliched and made fun of in Portlandia.

Cities, towns, neighborhoods all over the world are participating in Urban Homesteading.

What does this cheesy cliche even mean?

It means, take your home and make it green by thinking in full cycles, like homesteaders used to do.

Would you throw away that tin can if it would make a great Christmas Tree Ornament? No? Well, you just saved something from the landfill. Go green! You are an urban homesteader!

Would you mow over that grass or would you bag it and take it to the curb? What, your time is limited, and you don’t want to spend the extra money for the bag attachment (or you don’t have a bag attachment because you’re using a Reel Mower)? Well – congratulations! You have just participated in grass-cycling! You are an urban homesteader!

You (attempt) to grow your own greens all around your small urban plot or your apartment? You are really keeping it local! Go green! Congratulations you are an urban homesteader!

What, you make your own laundry soap because it costs less than a penny per load and your family must be frugal with those limited dollars coming in? Congratulations! You are an urban homesteader!

I suppose our cultural ideas of Intellectual Property say it’s okay to trademark words. But, I think it’s a terrible idea. Trademarking ideas in this day and age of collective consciousness is simply another way to make a game out of doing good. Sure, a part of me agrees that rules can force us into creativity and better answers to our world’s problems, but sometimes it’s just gone too far. Trying to trademark a name for something that was already published as a book? Can this even be done? Wouldn’t the copyright law on the book trump the trademarking of the concept? And, how close are we to Big Brother when we try to enforce this collective consciousness? Seriously? In this economy? Don’t we have better things to do?

So, today, sponsored by Take Back Urban Homesteading and Crunchy Chicken, is a day of Action. It’s a day to Take Back Urban Homesteading. Write about what makes you an Urban Homesteader in the hopes we’ll jam the blogosphere with our collective consciousness.

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A Food Revolution

Food - 1
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

The Organic Elite Surrenders To Monsanto: What Now? Now what indeed.

I have so many thoughts on this subject, it’s difficult to put into words. This is why I write (blog). To make sense of the senseless.

Bottled milk
Noris whole, organic milk, used in my hot cocoa made from my organic Dutch Process cocoa from Hummingbird Wholesale. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

I co-coordinate a food buying club. (I do not run it on my own, that’d be VERY hard and time consuming. We do this TOGETHER because together, it works a lot better.) In my food buying club, I am in frequent contact with people who have similar food desires that I do. We want our food to come from someone we have met, or can meet. We want to know what goes into our food, so for us it means knowing what fertilizers are out there in the animal feed or plant feed or whatever. We want to know are farmers are more than getting by, and we want to know they are paying their employees surviving wages. We want to know how things are picked and who’s doing the picking. We want to know what temperature our milk is pasteurized.

Chicken Leftovers
Taylor-Made Farms chicken. These leftovers yielded more than 7 cups of shredded chicken! I know my farmer. Do you? Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

We want to know all about our food. Why? Because we want to know what’s going in our bodies. We are horrified when we learn about all the chemicals in breast milk. We are horrified about all the environmental cancers. We are horrified that people cannot get access to fresh water because it is being bottled in their backyards and sold back to them. We are horrified at this pathetic mess of industrialization that coops itself as food. It is not food. It is poison. And we want no part of it.

So, how do we get out of it?

Go local. Ask yourself now if Organic is more important than Local. The hierarchy should be, yes should be, LOCAL first. Why? Because you create food security and community. Food security lends itself to the local economy, while community overall helps us be less lonely and more connected to the things that matter.

Food nourishes. Food should nourish. Food is the center of our communities. Food holds us together. We can choose to live on pills, vitamins, protein bars, shakes (Thank you Aldous, our Brave New World is here), or we can enjoy ourselves. We can eat slowly, savor moments, tastes, and experiences. And, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.

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Daily Post: My Childhood Idols

A Hero is Part Human, Part Supernatural
A Hero is Part Human, Part Supernatural.

Suggested Topic: Who did you idolize when you were a kid?

No one. I always thought it felt silly to idolize someone on T.V. I wasn’t into sports, so why would I have a sports hero? In a class assignment, once, I chose my Aunt because she pushed herself through school as an adult. I guess that answer still remains, but I still like the idea of no one.

The no-one idea was given more credibility when I was in my early twenties. I was working at a not-for-profit (aka, non-profit) Health Maintenance Organization (aka Medicaid HMO) in Michigan. It would be considered a medium sized non-profit since there was over 50 employees. I smoked at the time, so I always got my federally-okay-ed breaks. Had to get my nic fix in. There was one gal who would often go outside for breaks, but not smoke. We’ll call her Suzette. Suzette was a saucy middle-aged woman who’s husband worked for another non-profit. My brain is telling me Red Cross, but it was more like a local Food Bank. His job was to pick up near-expiring produce from the local grocery stores.They were both very active, involved, citizens.

Suzette and I would regularly chat about family, life, work. One day, she told me how her eldest daughter got into trouble at school because she didn’t do a homework assignment to the teachers liking. The assignment was to pick a hero and write about the hero. Her daughter, who was maybe 15, picked herself. Suzette explained that her daughter wrote a very thoughtful essay on why idolizing others was silly and she’d rather look to herself to build herself up. The way it was explained, I thought it was fantastic. I find it ironic that our society, which sometimes claims Christian Morality – a tenant being there should be no idols (before God) – asks its youngsters to routinely identify and praise other idols! And here, this spunky teenager said NO and defended her claim – but she was chastised and punished for it.

Okay, so, whatever, learning curve for the kid. But, in answer to this question. The only hero I claimed as a child was my Aunt because someone born after me was able to articulate better why I don’t believe in idols. We all have good things we can bring to the table, so instead of idolizing one another, why don’t we simply learn from one another?

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Allergies, Asthma & Your Immune System

Farm Shot
My brother, his daughter, and The Farm. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

It was the year 2000. I was chatting with my favorite professor (or soon to be) after the MSU class. We did this occasionally. Since, I love idea swapping and learning all that I can, and my friend enjoyed sharing all the various things he knows, it was a good combination. We’d go to Crunchy’s. He’d have 2 or 3 beers. I’d struggle with one and a half. We’d talk all sorts of ponderings and meanderings in modern philosophy. Utah Phillips, Politics, the length of a cold, extra education from the class I took. The recurring themes: religion, environment, and how it all meshes with politics.

These conversations had a large influence on what I believe or choose to believe of religion and how I justify my understanding of it and especially the words within. These conversations also helped shape or give ideas and momentum to my environmental passions.

One of these conversations centered, albeit briefly, on the difference between allergy and asthma in city kids compared to kids who live in the country. Six or seven years later, I wrote about it for one of my final Sustainable Urban Development classes. The idea that we are building up our immune system by subjecting ourselves to “untidy” animals was and is fascinating to me.

My mother grew up with nine other siblings. They lived on a 160 acre farm (80 acres on one side of the highway, 80 on another) with their parents, my grandparents. My grandfather worked at the Munising Paper Mill (until he retired), planted and sold potatoes “on the side”, and my grandmother tended the garden (although she hated it) all the while my grandfather was at work. Their garden preserved the family through winter with most essentials. My grandmother made 16 loaves of bread weekly. They milked their own cows and pasteurized the milk on the counter. They’d make their own butter, slaughter their own meat, preserve their own food. They farmed. One year, they shelled so many beans not only was the kitchen sink full but so was the claw-foot bathtub. There was always an assortment of cows, dogs, cats, and pigs. Less common in my growing up years were horses, poultry, and rabbits. All said, this is The Farm. The Farm is what I consider home.

When I was in fifth grade, I started to itch and loose my breath around cats. I had been 3 years away from my constant Home. Although we didn’t live with my grandparents, we were there nearly every weekend until we moved downstate when I was in 2nd grade. Someone told me along the way that body chemistry can change (dramatically) every 7 years. So, the question, always on my brain, was how can my limited farm experience lend itself to moderate to severe cat allergies. Now, this past summer (of 2010), I was tested for allergies. The doctor did a scratch test of over 40 common allergens to the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest. I scored a significant reaction on more than half. I have year-round allergies.

So, again, the question begs: what’s the connection? How much of an affect to our sanitized cities have on our reaction to the environment? Am I just an allergic person, written into my DNA? I always thought I came from stout, healthy people – but now I’m not so sure. I have two considerable immune issues that require constant handling. I think that’s fairly significant, even if I’m not overtly bothered on a daily basis.

I think I need a couple of more beers at Crunchy’s washed down with one of their burgers and my friend to ponder this one out.

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I’m in a Food Club

December Frontier
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

A what? I haven’t really blogged about it. It’s central to my life. It’s been important to me for several years. And, still I haven’t written about it. My family knows. My friends know. My new friends all know that I am in a food club.

So, what is a food club? A buying club, in its simplest form, is a group of people who buy wholesale, together. A food buying club is composed of people who buy food wholesale, together. A group, acting like a business (some formal, some informal) guaranteeing a supplier of a minimum order in order to get discounts. The labor is distributed, then, through the club. That is, the club’s members sort the orders, organize distribution, and collect and arrange payments.

A few years ago, I found myself in a completely different reality than I thought I would be: I was a wife and mother and could no longer afford to shop exclusively at farmers markets. I was priced out. The single lifestyle was suddenly replaced with diapers (cloth and disposable), onsies, insurance, and another person’s very different tastes. I was, like many moms I now know, just getting used to single life when I was surprised with change. I was getting my organic, local ideas figured out when I entered the world many already struggle with: how to balance those single dreams with family realities. In my case, it was “single, organic, local, sustainable” dreams with family ideals and budgets.

Portland Oregon from the east. By User:Fcb981
Image via Wikipedia

I am not unique in this query. The path I chose to find a solution might be a little different, but here in Portland, Oregon it is gaining traction (so much so, it’s now mocked, laughably, and boy I cannot wait to see it, in Fred Armisen & Carrie Brownstein‘s Portlandia).

Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon.
Image via Wikipedia

Portland is known for its food snobbery. It’s known for modifying everything when it comes to food. “I would like my triple espresso, non-fat, organic, fair-trade, dark-roasted, single-origin mocha please, served in ceramic or my own reusable mug.” Local, organic, vegan, fair trade, Certified, sourced, vetted, heirloom, non-GMO are all words of norm in this food world.

It’s mystifying and interesting and eyebrow raising, all at the same time.

I want access to whole foods. Probably, not too far off, but certainly not too far into, a Nourishing Traditions menu plan. I tend to think of things a little simply (in my mind). We’ve been eating a certain way for 10,000 years: bread, meat, fruit, vegetables, animal milk in cheese and yogurt (and more). We’ve grown seeds, cultivated seeds, saved seeds, and processed them fairly local until about 300 or so years ago when our lives changed quite dramatically with the Industrial Revolution. I am not a fan of vegan fair because from what I’ve seen it ventures too far into processed-food land, which is ultimately what I think I (we) should be moving away from (and into a more wholesome whole food way of living).

Chicken Leftovers
Chicken leftovers. Sure, I should have picked a prettier picture instead of the what yielded 7 cups of shredded chicken, but this was a meaty bird. 7lbs, 7 cups of leftovers = lots of leftover chicken fried rice = YUM. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

But, what does that mean? My husband and I try, every year to tend a garden. Every year we learn something, fail at something, and succeed at something. We are no where near being able to sustain ourselves from our own toils and labor in the land. So, we need to outsource. I would rather not outsource overseas. My sustainable studies have taught me in order to have a secure food shed I need to source my food locally. Anyone ever consider a 100-mile diet? Some folks in Vancouver, B.C. did – and they found it’s HARD. Compromises have already been made, banana anyone? But, how can we make these compromises friendlier to those who produce food and to those who consume it?

By knowing your farmer. By knowing your distributor. By ceasing to rely solely on the supermarket and taking your (my) dollars direct to the producer. I was interested in more organic spices, personal care, and grain. Bob’s Red Mill is in Milwaukie, Oregon, the next suburb over, in the same Metro region, within the same Urban Growth Boundary. I called and found out they work with un-incorporated groups. The catch? We had to meet the minimum: 500lbs. I can’t store that much grain. One 50 lb bag of flour will last 6-8 months, so I couldn’t do basically 3 years worth in my house! But, if I found some people who would buy with me…

And the seed is planted. In 2008, I knew I wanted to build a food buying club.

The urban growth boundary edge at Bull Mountai...
Image via Wikipedia
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Community

Only Group Shot
Our Sustainable-Tuscan-PSU Community. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

It was either 2005 or 2006. I was taking my first Urban Studies & Planning course, Film and the City. It was a sort of introductory course to Urban Planning through the eyes of film. The first movie we viewed was a Chinese film called Shower. This film introduced the concept of community and how design works with community and how community changes as design changes. There were many other levels to the film, but it was first, for our class, an introduction to this concept of community.

Los Tres Imanes
Image via Wikipedia

As a film class, one-page write ups and group discussion were par (for the course, ha ha). I was either 27 or 28 at the time of this discussion. My other classmates, or the ones in the discussion group, were in their early twenties. (It’s amazing to me how the difference of 5 years in your twenties means a lot.) We were asked, after having viewed the movie, how we would define community.

I suddenly found myself in a disagreement with my discussion group on what community is. I feel that we have many different communities. We have communities in which we select: church, certain social groups, classes we take, work place communities, and so on. Then, we have broader groups, our neighborhoods, cities, states, nations. When I was arguing for these micro communities, my classmates disagreed with me. They suggested that this idea of community was too narrow and didn’t allow for diversity. For example, I could have chosen to live in an all-white neighborhood and that would have been too singular in what I heard them arguing to actually be defined as community.

I cannot remember their exact words now, four or five years later. But, if that was truly their argument, I still, to this day have to vehemently disagree with their concept of community.

Garden City diagram
Image via Wikipedia

What is community then? I still believe a community is simply the circle of people with whom we surround ourselves. Whether it be our street, our neighborhood, our work place, our school, or our churches. All these places have different people, offer different things, and they serve as a community for us. A community of living, of economy, of knowledge, of spiritual growth – whatever. It’s still a form of community, and we sometimes turn to those in that community for assistance. We could look for neighborly assistance, as in, “Please, could you watch my house while we’re on vacation?” to study buddies to prayer circles. All forms offer some support if we choose to lean on them for that support. All forms can offer fun, learning moments, teaching moments, conflict and resolution.

Still, what is community? I am busy. I have a lot of interests. I cannot afford to spend my time randomly. While I appreciate random encounters for those teachable, fun moments, I have chosen to spend my time with certain people. Family and close friends. From there, I reach out to my church community, my food community, and a local mom’s group. With this local mom’s group, I subscribe to a daily email list, and have thus far attended one event. Many of the moms overlap with my food community.

What does community do? Community is there for you when you need them. Today, I hope I was there for a fellow mom. I’ve seen her name on this list a million times. I have met her exactly once, to the one event attended and organized by this mom’s group.

Today, 8 days before Christmas, she was in a car accident. No one was injured, but who’s to say how the family mini-van will fair. Although I had a front row seat, I actually didn’t see anything. I still can’t believe this happened. That I didn’t see anything. I had no helpful detail of information to share. It all happened so fast. SUV turning, me dazing, crash, call 911, tow truck pulling through, cop following, hanging up since 911 isn’t needed. Recognition. I know her. Parking the car, hazard lights on. Validation. Rolling window down, stating her name. Yes, I know her. So, I did the only thing I could think of to do. I got out of the car and gave her a hug. I only told her that I was a part of this mom’s group.

I got back in the car, went to a fellow mom’s house, she wasn’t home. She’s usually good at organizing these things, so I called her first. By “these things” I mean care packages. She was a little unsure of what to do, so I later phoned the Queen Bee of the mom’s group. She advised the other mom to call her insurance and began organizing an evening meal, while working.

Community. That’s what community is.

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Sharing is not Intuitive

MSU Old Botony
When I attended MSU, there was a "Butterfly Garden" behind this building. I had French in the building to the east. It was a 15-minute walk from my dorm, which I did twice a day, three times a week, generally by msyelf. I didn't even share walking! Image via Wikipedia

Levi, you have to share. LEVI, you have to share. Levi, please give a toy to the little girl. Levi, if you and Elliott cannot share, the toy is going to go away. You have to SHARE.

Sharing. Sometimes, a several times a day lesson. Sharing. Something that as adults we still struggle with. Sharing. Something we try to impart onto our children with barely a grasp of how to it when we’re grown.

This whole concept of sharing never ceases to amaze me, as a parent. I never thought much of it as a young adult except that we create rules to order sharing. For example, when I was a college freshman at Michigan State University, we had a roommate who created a bathroom schedule based on class schedules. She did this in the first day we were suite-mates. Little did she think of was when people skip classes, or in general life intervening to mess up this order. After about two weeks (maybe less time) the bathroom schedule was useless and we had to go back to knocking and asking questions (non-violent communication would have been helpful here!). We had trouble, as adults, sharing the bathroom. 5 women in one suite with varied classes, study styles, party styles, etc – and we couldn’t communicate our needs to use a schedule or not use one. We couldn’t share.

My husband and I own one gifted (that is free) television. We also own a few computers. One, I paid for several years ago. The other, the laptop, was paid for cheap then swapped for a better working model. We also purchased an eMac a few months ago, cheap, from Free Geek, a local non-profit that educates, reuses, resells, and rebuilds computers and their parts. Why do we have three computers in this house of three? Because we can’t share. My husband needs to look up his tools while I need to do food club stuff and check my email. We’ll even let Levi play with the computer, but he has a tendency to explore by deleting our settings, so it’s easier to not share and let him use this eMac.

We set an example, as adults, of separate toys, separate rooms for use, separate this and that. It’s no wonder, when we get our kids together, they too have a hard time sharing.

I think I get it now. Most parents will probably say, “Duh,” if they were to hear my realization – but sharing is not intuitive. We have to be taught, and continue to learn that lesson – to share. I used to believe we are innately good, and now I even question that. We are innately selfish, because we have to be. We have to cry when we’re hungry, tired, or need to be changed. We simply pass this pattern onto perceived needs, like playing with a particular toy. We have to learn to use our words through repetition and discipline. And, maybe, if we’re fortunate/lucky/disciplined, whatever, we’ll realize as adults that sharing isn’t so bad after-all.

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