Friday, August 30, 2013

The Virtues of Trees

Eco-novice on the endangered urban forest.

Trees are on the decline in American cities. Large American cities are losing trees four times as fast as they can be replanted. In some cities only one tree is being planted for every eight trees that are being lost. Most of these trees exist on private property. We should all be concerned about the health of our cities' forests because trees are important assets that provide all kinds of invaluable services.

Trees Are Amazing!

Trees Combat the Greenhouse Effect. In one year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the amount of carbon dioxide produced when you drive your car 26,000 miles. A typical healthy tree can remove up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air every year.

Trees Clean the Air. Trees absorb odors and pollutant gases (nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone) and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark. They produce enough oxygen on each acre for 19 people every day.

Trees Save Energy. A single mature tree provides the cooling equivalent of five average room air conditioners running 12 hours per day. Trees also serve as windbreaks to save from 10 to 50% in energy used for heating.

Trees Cool Hot Cities. The collective cooling effect of trees reduces city temperatures 3 to 10 degrees.

Trees Conserve Water and Reduce Soil Erosion. Trees also reduce the amount of grease and oil transported to streams and oceans.

Trees in Cities Provide a Connection to Nature. They help create ecosystems that provide habitat and food for birds and animals.

Trees Are Good For Our Health.  Trees shorten post-operative hospital stays when patients are placed in rooms with a view of trees and open spaces. Trees also absorb and soften irritating noise from the urban environment.

Trees Increase Economic Stability. Apartments and offices with trees rent more quickly, have higher occupancy rates and tenants stay longer.

Trees Increase Property Values. Houses on tree-lined streets command prices that are 21 percent higher than houses in more barren areas.

Sources: Our City Forest and The Tree People.

We recently planted a tree in our backyard with the assistance and support of Our City Forest, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of trees in my metropolitan area. I feel so good about our decision to add a tree to our city's forest. I consider it one of the best "green" things I have ever done.

What can you do to protect and build your city's forest? 

  • Support strong ordinances for protecting trees (fines for illegal tree removal, etc.).
  • Find and support an organization promoting the urban forest in your metropolitan area.
  • Plant a tree! By carefully selecting an appropriate tree and proper location, you can avoid disrupting utilities or sidewalks, tree death, and other expensive mistakes. Consider consulting with an arborist before selecting and planting a tree.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Paleo Diet: A Study of Extreme Nostalgia

In the EcoYoga world often 'going green' is associated with a whole slew of health-related changes meant to be your body back to it's "natural" state. It's easy to get caught up in the whole "modern=evil" paradigm that so often permeates the environmental culture. Our world is going to crap due to pollution, which is caused by humans and technology. Therefore, technology and thus anything modern must be bad for us.

The Paleolithic Diet is one such example.

Firstly, I think it's important to clarify that eating 'Paleo' is a diet. And like any diet, it has severe restrictions that often aren't realistic as a permanent dietary lifestyle. "Diets" don't work, I am a firm believer in this statement and feel that it is more important to strive for balance and acceptance. There is a lot of evidence out there that also point out the problems with "dieting" and cyclical food restrictions.

If you have a balanced food bubble and haven't heard of the Paleo diet here is the Wikipedia definition:

The paleolithic diet (abbreviated paleo diet or paleodiet), also popularly referred to as the caveman dietStone Age diet and hunter-gatherer diet, is a modern nutritional plan based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that various hominid species habitually consumed during the Paleolithic era—a period of about 2.5 million years which ended around 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture and grain-based diets. In common usage, the term "paleolithic diet" can also refer to actual ancestral human diets, insofar as these can be reconstructed.[1]
Centered on commonly available modern foods, the contemporary "Paleolithic diet" consists mainly of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumesdairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils (Wikipedia).

Above and beyond this definition, many versions include fasting between meals (like hunter gatherers did) and practicing extreme physical exercise... as if hunting and chasing big game, prior to eating. Check out this NYTimes article on a group of Paleo dieters in NY.

I am certainly a fan of eating more fruits, vegetables and avoiding processed foods and refined sugars. That's not my problem with this "diet".

What I think is really interesting, is the (in my mind) extreme reaction of anti-modernity and nostalgic assumptions of the "good ole times"... of 10,000 years ago. In an extremely well-written article on the history of the Paleolithic Diet, the author of this blog points to a more larger cultural reaction that has been happening since the early 1900's reacting against modernity and fantasizing "back to nature" wilderness human living.

Yes, modern humans are having difficulty with eating healthy and living well... but that does not necessarily mean that paleolitic humans were living all that well either. I wouldn't necessarily point to the invention of agriculture as the culprit for unhealthy living. Humans had a significantly lower lifespan and we're not quite clear from archeological records what the main causes of death could have been (ie diseases from nutrient deficient diets... like never eating whole grains, legumes or low fat dairy). There has been some recent evidence that humans during that time period did in fact have atherosclerosis (arteries clogged with cholesterol and fat).

I find it difficult when a proponent of the diet makes sweeping claims that eating habits (and implying lifestyle) was 'better' 10,000 years ago based of evolutionary "science". Evolutionary "science" also claims that women go through menopause because we were never meant to live or have a biological (and read: usefulness in society) purpose beyond child rearing... most women (and men) never lived beyond the decades of menopause. (ps, if you haven't guessed from my tone, I believe this is a load of huey- and there's some interesting alternatives theories to support women's role beyond menopause).

Ok, say you're wanting to use the Paleolithic diet as a "guideline" in healthy eating. Fine... but do you know what region of the world you'd like to emulate? Cuz each season and region would be different in types and amounts of food eaten. We also have almost no idea the ratio of fruits to vegetables that paleolithic humans ate in their diets.

(Read this Scientific American article for a point-by-point debate on the Paleo Diet).

Like all things green, and all things eating and health related, I am a huge proponent of moderation and realistic expectations. Perhaps instead of constantly fixating on elaborate fads, trends or changes, we need to take a step back and strive for Balance.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Trial & Error

School starting, Scout planning and soccer practices beginning. It's a fine time to add something new, right?

But I'm doing just that. The busyness of back to school means I have less time than ever to squeak in those extra errands. But it may just be what I need to get back on track.

Once a month, I'll share you some of the great finds and serious stumbles I make on my road to greener stewardship. And I invite you to send me pins, posts, links and ideas of what you'd in your heart want to try but just haven't been quite brave enough.

What I have been up to the last few weeks? Here are just a few things I've squeezed into my schedule.

I tried: Baking bread.

Yea. Baking. Really have time for that, right? But I am in love with the Five Minutes a Day concept... And I realized it's really easy to start your dough, run kids to practice, come home and then bake enough bread to cover two week's worth of sandwiches.

The verdict: Win.

I tried: Making dishwasher detergent.

Making dish soap was going to be a trickier task. Store-bought powdered recipes always seemed to clump up in our dishwasher. And I couldn't find a liquid recipe that had all the ingredients I needed.

I finally stumbled on a recipe that is simple: 1:1 Borax and baking soda. Had both of those. Whipped up 3 cups worth in 90 seconds. I use two tablespoons each load, and everything is coming out clean!

The verdict: Win.

I tried: Making homemade deodorant.

This I was least certain about. I stumbled on the idea on Pinterest the afternoon I ran out. The concept is simple: cornstarch, baking soda, coconut oil and a few essential oils. (I swapped lavender and Solace blend for the Whisper blend but otherwise followed the directions to a T). It makes slightly more mix than will fit in your standard deodorant container.  While it packs well, I felt it was really flaky when I put it on, and I felt the melaleuca (tea tree oil) smell was overpowering.

That and I truly haven't had a chance to put it to the real test: Honest summer weather (or, I confess, a workout). We've been blessed with dry 70s here, not humid or really hot. The 90s we've been promised for later this week may prove whether this idea really works.

The verdict: Postponed.

What ideas for greener living have you wanted to try but haven't? Post your idea here or send me an email at, and I'll share the results of them next month.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Furniture Turnover

Julia from Color Me Green reflects on how the unsettled New York City lifestyle lends itself to high consumption and turnover of furniture.

I recently moved apartments for the twelfth time since moving to New York City seven years ago. Living in New York City is to be haunted by the fear that there's no guarantee how long you can stay in an apartment, because you never know what kind of landlord negligence or rent increase or crazy roommate or crazy neighbors or breakup or whatever else will force you out of an apartment. All that moving around means (among many things) that I've made sure to pare down my things over the years, because the fewer things I have to move, the better. However, that only applies to my personal belongings like books, random files, memorabilia and other miscellany - which fit into about one box.

Furniture is a different story. The common rhetoric is that you don't buy as much furniture as an urban dweller because you can't fit as much furniture in a small apartment as you might in a larger home. However, New Yorkers tend to move a lot (although not as often as me personally), and each new apartment comes with different furniture needs, so you may end up going through a lot of furniture over the years.

For example, some apartments come with almost no cabinets or counter space (landlords putting the burden of expense on renters), which leads to buying kitchen carts and shelves, which I get rid of next time I move because the next apartment has lots of cabinets. But the apartment after that needs added kitchen storage again.

Likewise, we sold my boyfriend's bar table to replace it with my nicer dining table when we moved in together, but now that our new apartment has a separate kitchen and living area, we decided we needed a new bar table.

It's a little frustrating that belongings that worked fine before suddenly aren't enough to fill the nooks and crannies of a new apartment that call out to be decorated.

I've also had to shed a lot of furniture because of crappy apartment conditions. When I left one apartment with bed bugs, I threw out my mattress. We had to leave our most recent apartment because of mold, so we threw out our couches and all of our bedroom furniture (because of bed bugs as well as mold) and countless house things.

This time around, we are buying completely new furniture (lots of IKEA). It's sad, because most of our furniture previously were family hand-me-downs or used. I used to happily buy used furniture from salvation army or craiglist, or even take it off the street. Now that I have had bed bugs twice, I can't do it anymore. Although my environmental conscience would prefer to buy used, my peace of mind requires me to buy new.

It all makes me envious of people who have had the chance to just live in one home for years. Settling in place allows you to invest in furniture and decor that works for your space just once. I suppose, though, it also comes with the opportunity to hoard more than you need, or the desire to change things up after a while with new items.

What have been your experiences with moving or staying in place and how much furniture you've gone through?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Greening Back-to-School

The Climate Crusader is back-to-school shopping, and trying to go green in the process.

I know that in some places kids are going back to school today, or have already been back at school a week or more. Where I live, however, school doesn't start up until the day after Labor Day. This year, my daughter will be heading to grade three and my son will be starting kindergarten. This means that I'm currently in the middle of going over supply lists and shopping for the things my kids will need to see them through the school year.

Four Easy Ways to Green Back-to-School

Here are a few ways that I'm greening back-to-school this year:
  1. Make a List ... and Stick to It - Whether you're shopping for back-to-school, the holidays, or just the week's groceries, if you don't know what you need you can wind up buying too much of one thing and not enough of something else. I have learned this lesson the hard way more than once. In fact, I currently have three bags of organic tortilla chips in my pantry, but I'm totally out of my favourite salad dressing. One of the environmental three R's is reduce. By making a list and sticking to it, you can reduce how much you're buying, and save money as well.
  2. Invest in Quality Items - This one is a little tricky, but sometimes it pays to spend more. Well-made items often last longer. For instance, the backpack that I invested in when my daughter started daycare at one year old is still going strong, seven and a half years later, when many cheaper backpacks she's received have long since died. By choosing your big-ticket items carefully, and buying something that will last, you can save money in the long run and live lighter on the earth.
  3. Think Reusable - Packing a litterless lunch makes a big difference, because you're reducing the amount of trash that your child produces every single day they go to school. With my son starting kindergarten, that means a new stainless steel water bottle, and new glass and stainless steel food containers. I also really love cloth snack bags, because they're much less bulky than other reusable options, and they can easily fit into a pocket if your child is eating on the playground. Don't forget about straws and cutlery, while you're at it!
  4. Label Everything - During the last week of school in June, a whole year's worth of lost-and-found items were laid out in the hallway outside of the gym at my daughter's school. There were more sweaters, coats, water bottles, food containers and socks than you could count. All of the items that weren't claimed were donated to charity, which is great, but if they had been labelled in the first place they never would have wound up in that hall. By making sure your child's lost items can be returned to them, you're cutting back on how much you have to buy, which is better for the planet and for you.
What about you - how are you greening back-to-school?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Save Seeds, Save the World

Queen Composter shares the whys and hows of seed saving.

As the summer begins to wind down, I am taking plants out of my garden that are finished to make room for my winter garden. However, I will be leaving several plants in to let them bolt, or go to seed, to save for next year’s garden. This will leave my garden looking somewhat brown and shaggy in parts, but that is a compromise I am willing to make to save seeds for next year.

Seed saving is an important environmental act for several reasons:
  • It saves energy: reducing store bought seeds that are shipped and packaged
  • It saves seeds of plants that have grown well in a particular area and have a better chance of succeeding next year.
  • It saves money. 
  • It saves heirloom varieties as a living link to the past, as well as keeping a wider variety of food alive than the supermarket carries.
  • It helps farmers maintain independence from agri-businesses like Monsanto with their patented seeds and terminator seeds.
  • It can be a social experience, with seed exchanges and clubs in communities. In my community there has been an annual seed swap. This can be a great way to connect with local growers and share tips and ideas.

I am somewhat new to seed saving so this year is an experiment for me. Here is what I have learned so far:

  • Leave a few plants to develop seed pods, or in the case of plants like tomatoes or squash, leave a few “fruit” on the plant to fully mature, well past the eating point, then harvest seeds at the end of the season.
    This was my mustard with the mature seed pods starting to dry at the top,
    and more green pods lower down. It grew to over five feet tall!

Dry Method of Seed Saving:  (this year for me it is my herbs, mustard, carrots, peas)
  • When the seed pods are dried (lighter in colour or going brown), collect the pods and spread the seeds out to dry further.
  • If the seeds are very small, harvest them from the pods by rubbing and shaking them in a plastic bag, which should separate them from the pods.
    So far I've collected chive, cilantro and mustard seeds. They are dried and in envelopes now. 

Wet Method of Seed Saving: (from fleshy fruit like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers)
  • Separate the seeds from the flesh, then soak seeds in warm water for a day to sort the good from bad seeds (good seeds sink) and to remove the protective coating on the seeds.
  • Or place the seeds in a sieve and wash with a blast of water to remove all the pulp and coating on the seeds.  
  • Spread seeds on a mesh surface or cloth to dry.

A few more tips:
  • Store the seeds in an envelope and place in the freezer for a few days to kill off any viruses. They should be good for two to three years.
  • Don’t be silly like me and forget to label the envelopes!
  • Don’t save seeds from healthy plants that had late season problems. Just before my mustard seed pods were ready to be harvested many of my plants developed powdery white mildew. I was able to save some before it was too late, but I was so disappointed because I would have had two full envelopes of seeds to save.
I'm experimenting with replanting these carrot cuttings after seeing an idea on
Pinterest: new carrots will not grow but hopefully they will flower and go to seed.

The fun part of seed saving for me is to just leave the plant alone and watch it complete its life cycle. Just as it is fun to see what our food looks like when it is growing, I like seeing what happens to the plant after it is past it’s eating stage. The different seed and pod shapes and designs are fascinating.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Buycott: An app review

Mindful Echo is always looking for ways to make living green just a little bit easier...

I'll admit it: I'm one of those people who are forever with their cell in hand. It wasn't always this way. In fact, for years I was deliberately not purchasing a cellphone since I really, truly detest talking on the phone. It wasn't until I started grad school and moved into a house without a phone line, that I was forced to take the plunge.

My dad had joined me on the trip from Fredericton, NB to Windsor, ON to help make sure I wasn't going to be living in too much of a hovel, since I had rented the room sight-unseen. While the dining room converted into a bedroom did lack a bit more than I was expecting (a closet, windows that open, a fourth wall), it wasn't until I asked the landlord what the phone number of the house was, that I discovered the predicament.

"What? Aren't you like 20? Don't all you girls have cellphones now?" He was a real charmer, by the way. "Well, there's no landline in this house. Guess you'll have to get one."

I looked at my dad. Maybe I could just walk to the corner payphone once a week to check in? Please?

So, that was the beginning of my slippery slope into cellphone addiction. Seven years and three phones later, I'm an iPhone-carrying, app-using, technology-loving, instrgamming, speed-texting, e-mail-checking, tweet-a-holic. And you can pry my phone from my cold dead hands. (Though, I still don't use it for actually talking on.)

I often use my phone for making shopping lists so that I easily can access what ingredients I need to buy at the grocery store. While I generally have a set-list of items that I purchase on a trip (dictated by what arrived in my weekly meat, veggie, and egg CSA), I'm also always on the look out for sale items (who isn't?). However, I've also been trying to stick to my convictions and avoid brands that do not align with my values. While I can easily remember the worst (Nestle for water privatization issues, among other things) sometimes it's difficult to remember all the companies I'm trying to avoid. It's totally easier to just support the brands I believe are okay...but what about that new box or shiny package that catches my eye?


I have to say, I'm finding this app pretty useful. Here's their product description:

When you use Buycott to scan a product, it will look up the product, determine what brand it belongs to, and figure out what company owns that brand (and who owns that company, ad infinitum). It will then cross-check the product owners against the companies and brands included in the campaigns you've joined, in order to tell you if the scanned product conflicts with one of your campaign commitments.

What I like the most is that the boycotting, or "buycotting" is entirely self-directed. The user determines what issues are important to her and selects the campaigns in which she would like to participate. Once at the store, just scan the barcode using your smart phone and the app will tell you if it's on your list of products to avoid, or if there's no purchasing conflict with any of your campaigns. Though, ultimately, the purchasing power still remains with the individual. The app is just providing quick access to information.

The two main campaigns that I'm participating in are "Say No to GMO- Monsanto Products Boycott" and  "Avoid Big Tobacco." They're both issues that I want to be conscious of and conscientious about my related purchases. I've found that Buycott is making it easier for me to do so. If you're looking for similar help, I definitely recommend this app. And bonus: it's free.

No smartphone? No problem! There are so many websites that can provide similar information. And there's nothing wrong with making a list of products-to-avoid with a plain ol' pen and paper. (Alternatively, you could just remember them with your brain...something I've not been able to master!)

Some of my favourite sites for this type of info are:

Ethical Consumer
The Council for Canadians

Happy shopping!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Six Ways Gardening Can Save the Planet

From the bean of Green Bean.

I love to garden.  In some ways, I live to garden.  It is nice to think that all that time and energy I spend can amount to something positive for our planet.  Here are six ways:

1) Reduce Your Output: Put less in those garbage cans that go out to the curb every week by reusing what you can in your garden.  Take a second look at twigs you've pruned from your fruit trees and turn them into bean teepees or raised beds.  Use eggshells and coffee grinds for homemade miracle grow.  Turn broken dishes or old window blinds into plant markers.  Used tea bags, egg shells or toilet paper rolls find a second life as seed pots. And, of course, compost!  As a result, there is more space in the landfills and less gas used by garbage trucks.

A raised bed made of cardboard box (to keep weeds out), covered with compost 
and surrounded by garden twigs.  This is its third summer. 

2) Reduce Your Input:  By reusing you end up needing to bring in less.  Who needs bagged compost when you make your own?  Who needs bamboo sticks for bean teepees when old branches do the trick?  For my last two raised beds, I skipped store-bought redwood for raised beds and instead cobbled them together using sticks, pinecones and rocks. More and more, I propagate and grow from seed so that I don't need to bring in potted starts from nurseries.  Old leaves or cut grass is more effective mulch than chipped wood brought in from a big box store. Less driving, less shipping, less plastic, more fun.

Bean teepee made of pruned tree branches.  Prettier, cheaper and 
more eco-friendly than bamboo sticks.

3) Save Pollinators: The news on honeybees and native pollinators is bad and it should concern any of us who like to eat.  Scientists have identified two main triggers for bees' sharp decline: chemicals (pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides) and lack of food.  You can take a small step toward helping pollinators by planting flowers (preferably natives or bee friendly varieties) and skipping the chemicals.

A California native bee.  Any one know what kind?

4) Re-Create Lost Habitat:  It is not just the bees who are having a tough time.  The average population of common birds are down 68% over the past 40 years.  Climate change, wind turbines and cats (try to keep kitty inside) are all major contributors to the decline of bird populations.  However, one scientist opines "the top three threats to birds overall are habitat loss, habitat loss and habitat loss."  Help make a dent in that lost habitat for birds, bugs and small mammals by creating a wildlife friendly garden.  Plant natives.  Take old branches and turn them into brush piles.  When feasible, leave dead trees up and create some sort of water source - even if it is just a bird bath.

5) Increase Biodiversity: Plant many different kinds of flowers, fruits and vegetables - including natives and heirlooms.  For instance, I have 8 varieties of apples in my yard (yay for 5-in-1 apple trees!)  Each variety requires different chill hours so some years I get more from one tree and some years more from another. I usually always seem to have a good amount of apples.  Besides, more diverse landscapes support more bees, more wildlife.  Diversity is a very good thing!

6) Get Inspired: All of these things can make a difference - especially if your actions inspire friends, family, neighbors.  Unfortunately, I believe that that we are past the point - climate change-wise - where individual actions will suffice.  Getting out into a garden, hearing the buzz of dozens of different pollinators amongst my flowers, tasting the first pear or tomato of the season, watching for baby birds, all of those things, though, inspire me to get involved more.  To make that call to my representative, to write that letter, to sign all those petitions and even go to a rally or two.  Getting out into a garden makes me realize just how much I want to fight to preserve this magic for all of our kids.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Going Grey: Some decisions are more than simply "environmental"

EcoYogini takes a look at the connection between Feminism and the Environmental Movement...

We often try to write about topics here  that are connected with environmental living. What's interesting, and as you surely know, often our environmental choices and challenges aren't simply the result of trying to make the planet or our health better, but implicate other social movements, paradigms and even the political reality of our country (wherever that may be).
(Susan Hersh, Ford model, celebrating grey hair. Photo credit: Suzanne DeChillo NYTimes)

A really great example is the Queen Composter's recent post: "To Dye or Not to Dye" about her (and many women's) difficulty with dyeing grey hair.

It's a fantastic and honest post on a topic where double standards remain glaringly obvious. Take a second to go check it out and come back here to comment and share.

The first time I realized that despite my youthful and passionate claims of feminism and celebrating the wisdom of aging that I would find greying challenging was when I was completing a placement mid-Master's at a Montreal rehab hospital (Speech-Language Pathology dept). One of my supervisors had the most gorgeous, shiny bob... all grey. I automatically assumed she was in her late forties early fifties.

She was in her early thirties. Once I got beyond her hair, it was obvious. She was pretty and the rest of her features were late twenties, early thirties- but the grey hair aged her. At that moment I knew I would struggle with letting my hair go grey... and this was years before I became a full-fledged eco-warrior.

Unlike other difficult eco-choices, the challenge in deciding to go grey doesn't have to do with debating the eco-health benefits of going grey or not (hair dye is toxic), an (in)convenience (it's easier NOT to dye your hair) or cost (cheaper to go natural) but has to do implicitly with the social and cultural pressures inherent in our Western society for women to remain youthful looking in order to be a) considered a valuable part of society and b) attractive and worthy.

And yes, men do have some pressures with regards to remaining youthful, with increasing numbers dyeing their hair and wearing makeup- but like all aspects of body image and objectification of women, pressures on men are considerably less and the double standard remains. I'd also go so far as to say that we shouldn't celebrate the creeping 'equality' of youth-pressure between the sexes, but be alarmed that our society continues to move towards venerating external youth over wisdom.

Interestingly, in the past year there has been a wave of famous women and even some murmurs of a "fashion trend" towards long grey locks. For some more interesting reads check out:
"Grey Hair as Fleeting Trend or Social Statement" at Huffpo
"Not Selling Gray Hair Short" at NYTimes
"Face it, Going Gray is a Fierce Act of Bravery" at Jezebel

Overall I see this "trend" as a positive thing, and recognizing that our want to dye our hair is more social conditioning and less a true "choice" (like makeup, thinness and wrinkles) is the first step in moving towards change.

This post, and Queen Composter's post has helped me take an honest look at my own perceptions around grey hair, body image and aging. My Intention: once those grey and white hairs peek through, I am going to actively work at NOT dyeing my hair. I'm fully aware this is going to be difficult and I am allowing myself the grace of caving, but I am going to try.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

To Dye Or Not To Dye

Queen Composter is learning about the health and eco effects of hair colouring. 

I have never been a high maintenance person, but as I have moved toward a “natural”, eco-conscious way of life, I have gradually moved away from commercial personal care products. I now wash my hair using baking soda and vinegar (no ‘poo), I wash my face with honey and moisturize my skin with coconut oil. I only wear make-up (“natural” non-toxic) on special occasions or for the days I work outside the house. Despite being a sweaty person, I have challenged myself to stop using antiperspirants and commercial deoderants, and I haven’t used perfumes for years. I don’t share these to brag or pat myself on the back. I am trying to convince myself that if I can do these, then I should be able to let go of one more thing.

I have an eco confession to make. There is one area that I am struggling to go au naturel.

My hair is beginning to go grey and I have been dyeing it, as in commercial, salon quality, harsh chemical dye. The last time I dyed it was almost five months ago, with a semipermanent colour that washes out more quickly than permanent hair colour.
The grey hairs aren't very noticeable in this photo, but I see every single one.

Like many women, my hair has been my vanity. People have always commented on my shiny, full hair. My hair is very dark, almost black, which highlights every little white hair, at least in my mind. The texture of my hair is changing and all of the white hairs in my already thick hair are wiry and standing straight up in the air. When I dye my hair it returns to a smooth, even colour and texture, making it more manageable.

I have been thinking a great deal about why I am resistant to going grey naturally. I know that I am definitely a product of our society’s beauty standards that being (or looking) young is associated with desirable and attractive. I feel washed out and tired when I look in the mirror and see the white streaks, which to some people are not noticeable yet (mostly underneath and visible when my hair is in a pony tail). My husband, however, likes the grey, and finds me attractive. That should be all that matters, right? Maybe I am struggling with accepting the ageing process and my own mortality. What message am I sending my young daughters about my body and ageing?

If confronting my thoughts and attitudes about greying hair isn’t enough, perhaps learning about the health risks and environmental costs of dye will change my mindset about dyeing my hair.

Permanent dyes contain chemicals too numerous to list, but it is phenylenediamine (PPD), which helps bond the colour to hair, that appears to be the most concerning. PPD, which is strongest in the darker dyes, is a toxic irritant that can cause skin irritations and allergies, asthma and other breathing problems and reportedly in some rare cases, anaphylaxis. There have also been links to rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately even non-permanent and “natural” hair dyes can contain PPD. The links to cancer are not as clear or conclusive. Some studies have found an increased risk of bladder cancer in people with high exposure to hair dyes (not able to process the chemicals through urine efficiently).

As someone who is trying to avoid artificial fragrances, I can’t help but think of the irritation to my body when breathing in the smell of the dye for days after colour treating my hair. What about the left over substances that are washed down the drain and into the water system, or thrown out and sent to a landfill where they will leach into the ground?

After learning more about the impacts of hair dye, I have a few options available to me:

  • continue to dye my hair with semi-permanent hair colour: I have basically elminated this as an option after learning more about the health effects of dye
  • try “natural” hair dye from health stores: they also contain PPD, and will still contain strong odours, so I will probably not chose this option either
  • try henna: this is a favourable option, especially after looking at the ratings of some henna options on Skin Deep from the Environmental Working Group website. Most are rated 0 (low hazard) on a scale of 0 to 10 (contrasted with most popular hair dye brands in the store which are rated between 6 and 8 – moderate to high hazard).
  • go cold turkey, stop dyeing my hair and let it go grey naturally: I am tempted to try this for a while longer to see how I feel about it and reevaluate in a few months. 

 I am curious if anyone else struggles with this. If you feel the need to cover your grey hair, what do you do? Do you dye your hair, grey or not?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Writing my Green Bucket List for Summer 2013

The Climate Crusader is trying to make the most of what's left of summer.

Today is a holiday in most of Canada. Here in British Columbia, where I live, we're enjoying the BC Day long weekend that traditionally marks the halfway point of summer. Before the season slips away, I want to make the most of it. This why, today, I'm compiling my green summer bucket list.

Green Summer Bucket List

Here's what I want to do with the sunny days that are still ahead:
  • Forage for wild blackberries.
  • Go swimming in a lake.
  • Plan my winter garden (thanks to Queen Composter for her great tips!).
  • Spend less time in the car, and more time walking or cycling.
  • Open the windows and enjoy the sounds and smells of summer evenings.
  • Harvest the corn, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, blueberries and the rest of the bounty my garden provides.
  • Make jam.
  • Take my kids on lots more nature walks.
  • Spend more time on the playground.
  • Turn off the computer more.
  • Plan a greener back-to-school.
  • Eat meals made up of food from my garden and the local farmers' market.
  • Freeze blueberries.
  • Dry herbs.
  • See how many days I can go without putting on socks or shoes.
  • Prepare for the fall rains by buying a rain barrel so that I don't have to use as much drinking water on my garden.
  • Visit the library often, and finish off the summer reading club with my kids.
  • Use the whole bottle of Green Beaver sunscreen I just bought.
What about you - what's on your green bucket list this summer?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Winter Already?

Queen Composter shares ways to start a winter garden.

With the warm, golden days of summer in full swing no one wants to think about winter, but gardeners, like the fashion industry, must be working at least one season in advance. In the coming weeks I will be turning my attention to my winter garden. Actually, winter gardening is a bit of a misnomer, as it usually means a late fall harvest or an early spring harvest of an overwintered garden.
I found this beet, along with a few others, in my garden this spring
when I was cleaning up and preparing my garden. I planted them
last August and forgot about them.

A winter garden is a wonderful way to continue to have local, in season produce throughout the year. Depending upon where you live, it does require planning, but it is well worth the effort. My winter garden in past years has been limited, but I cannot express the satisfaction I felt at Thanksgiving and Christmas serving Brussels sprouts harvested from my garden that morning.
I have friends who call Brussels sprouts "green balls of death" but I like them
because they are a tradition in my family. This photo was taken Christmas morning.

A late fall harvest garden is a great way to start. I have planted many of the late spring vegetables that I enjoy. Beets, peas, carrots, lettuce, mustard, and other cool shade loving plants do well in the late summer and fall weather.
These are great cool weather plants and will be ready for a
fall harvest if you start them now.
Because I am a lazy gardener and I haven’t cleaned up my raised beds where the spring and early summer plants are finished, we have planted many of these vegetables in my daughters’ new mini-raised bed or in containers. These plants do not require anything more than thinning of the seedlings, weeding and watering.
My daughter's mini garden with lettuce, carrots, beets
and kale that we planted two weeks ago.
These fall harvest plants can be easily planted in containers and spaces of any shape and size. I have even seen an ingenious way to seed carrots in a spiral shape around a circular container. If you have wanted to get started with vegetable gardening and missed out in the spring, now is your chance to get going.
My broccoli growing in a container, planted two weeks ago.
The overwintered garden with an early spring harvest requires a bit more planning and preparation. I live in an area with fairly mild, wet winters (Pacific Northwest) so I do not need to do much to protect my winter garden from harsh winters.
One of three Brussels sprouts currently in my garden. Can you see the little sprouts
 starting to grow on the stalk? They are very slow growing and should be planted in the spring for a winter harvest. If you plant them now they will be ready in the spring.

I will be seeding hardy plants this coming week (should have done this a week or two ago, but remember, I’m lazy), making sure that the area gets at least some sun during the winter months. Once the weather begins to turn in the fall I will mulch around the plants with leaves or straw to protect them from freezing. I may cover some of the plants with plastic sheeting attached to hoops for additional protection.
These are hardy plants that will survive in cold weather.
In colder areas cold frames may be needed to protect the plant from extreme cold, which require carpentry skills or money to purchase premade frames. 
A cold frame in the lower right and hoops ready for plastic sheeting on the beds.
Image source: Linda N. on flickr
If you are like me and lack both skills and money, plant next to a home or building for warmth or plant in containers and bring them up next to a building and under an overhang. Just a word of advice if you try this – plastic cracks easily in the cold as the water in the soil freezes and expands, so try wrapping the containers to keep them warmer.

Vegetable gardening can be intimidating, and the information about it can be overwhelming, but honestly, to begin is very easy: just some dirt, some seeds and some water. If you have wanted to get started, jump in and try it now – it’s not too late! Just imagine how you will feel when you are enjoying a zero-mile diet when everyone else is buying imported produce.


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