Sunday, March 28, 2010

Homemade Cleanliness!

I am very much into making my own cleaning products and lotions, lip balm, etc.  I have been doing this for a number of years after realizing that I needed to ventilate my bathroom and wear rubber gloves while cleaning the bathtub.  On a common sense level- this did not seem good.

Once I began searching the internet for information about this, I found that a lot of people had the same concerns. Many sensitive populations, including children and any person with immune deficiencies are not capable of living comfortably in a house where common and popular modern cleaning products are used.  This has led to a grassroots movement to create safer alternatives.  Ultimately, this usually involves asking grandma what she used!

I have mentioned that I was further convinced to make my own cleaning products after learning that no products were approved by the Green Seal- that is, no popular "Green" brands had volunteered to let the Green Seal test their product and determine it to be environmentally safe.  Since then, I believe Simple Green has been added to the Green Seal list of household cleaners.  Perhaps there are more, but I've really come to enjoy making my cleansers, particularly since I can change the scents to whatever I'm in the mood for!

I have mentioned my like of Annie Berthold-Bond previously- and will do so again!  I have two of her books, and they are full of great recipes.  More than that, she gives good explanations to why certain ingredients are chosen, what her experimental process was, and how she came to like the recipie's she chooses.  Her foray into the market was driven by her child's immune system intolerance to available household cleaners in the market.  So, you know that what she recommends really is non-toxic and safe. Besides that, you can look up all the ingredients online and read about their interferences.  It helps that they're all words you can pronounce!

So last weekend I made a fresh batch of bathroom cleaner.  I got the recipe from her book Better Basics for the Home- which I highly recommend.

Bathroom cleaner:
1 tsp borax
1/2 tsp liquid detergent
1/4 cup white distilled vinegar
2 C hot water

Then I add:
1-2 tsp essential oil of your choice

Borax is available in the laundry aisle of any major store.  I like to use Dr. Bronners liquid soap as the "detergent" phase.  Dr. Bronners is environmentally safe, non-toxic, biodegradable, and cheap.  You can buy unscented, but I bought tea-tree oil infused because tea-tree oil is a known anti-fungal agent.  This is ideal for use in a bathroom.  I bought one large bottle at a healthfood store 5 years ago, and am still using it!  It's also fairly cheap, very comparable to any other large bottle of soap you would buy.  It is very important to use HOT water, otherwise the borax does not dissolve properly, and may clog your sprayer if you are using a spray bottle- which I do.  I actually found "green" spray bottles at wal-mart, they are recyclable!  I typically will add a small bit of the hot water, often brought to boil in a hot-pot first, just add enough to begin dissolving the borax.  Then give the bottle a good shake, then slowly add the rest of the water, shaking the bottle intermittently.

I have tried a number of different scents for the cleaner.  I started with Tea-Tree- for it's anti-fungal (read: GO AWAY MOLD!) properties.  It's a strong scent, and not for everyone, though I didn't mind it.  My husband hated it though, so I switched to peppermint.  Also kind of a strong scent- but I found it invigorating and cheerful.  Again, not a huge hit with the hubby.  He's recently been on a huge "orange" kick, and after a failed attempt at using orange essential oil in a candle (DO NOT use citrus oils in candles!  Their flash point is very low, and they are flammable- the whole candle catches on fire!), I put orange in our Every Day Household Cleaner.  Well come to find out he voluntarily cleaned the toilet with that stuff because he REALLY liked that scent!  One of the first rules of living with someone- anything you can do to get them to buy into helping you clean something- YOU DO IT!  I immediately made a batch of bathtub cleaner with orange scent!  Now, I still like to add an anti-fungal oil, and it turns out clove is a good one.  Oranges and cloves go quite well together (think poking an orange with cloves at Christmas!), so the overall cleaner is/was a big hit!

I also decided to make my own lotion last weekend.  I do this a lot, typically just making unscented versions.  I always use the Cinnamint lotion recipe (without the cinnamon or mint oils) from

But the website wouldn't load last week!  So I googled around and found this gem of a blog:

I made the lotion and it is awesome!  It has the consistency of body cream from bath and body works.  I bottled a bunch of it unscented, then I tried to re-create the Bath and Body Works Orange-Ginger scent in the remaining amount.  Word of advice- ginger is surprisingly strongly scented!  And B&BW doesn't really scent their product with much ginger.  I had to compensate by adding a lot more orange, but it all worked out.  I might add a little less glycerin next time, as it has a bit of a sticky feel to it.  Also, unless you want to make at least 4 large bottles of lotion, I would recommend cutting that recipe in half.

By the end of the weekend we had a very citrus-y household!  It's a delightful way to go!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Update- Food, Food and More Food!

WOW- it's been SOOOO long since my last post!  In my defense, I am RIDICULOUSLY busy.  Finally things are dying down, so I have some time to post.  I have had a number of potential post topics mulling around in my brain, but given my long absence, I think I'll just give an update on my efforts.

First of all, my biggest obstacle still remains food. After going to the Green City Market downtown, the following weekend we went to the Kenosha farmers market, at the Kenosha Harbor.  Since I live in the North suburbs, Kenosha is really not all that far away from me, not any further than downtown Chicago anyway.  That market was pretty good. Not as crowded, so you get more time to chat with the farmers. We bought some apples, and got a good tip that storing apples in the 'fridge in a plastic bag helps keep them fresh for a long time.  We bought these heirloom type that are good until July- which we didn't get to test because we ate them all!  We also bought some shallots that last for 14 months, and they are still lasting.  Finally, we bought some AMAZING bacon! The bacon was cut from the shoulder, which is PRIME!  It was so delicious, and I am not even a bacon fan!  The great thing about buying local is that I can buy meat without feeling guilty.  I know the pigs are not given antibiotics, they are not kept in tiny crates for their entire life, they are fed a healthy diet, and they are local, so very few food miles go into their overall life and delivery to my plate.

After the Kenosha market we stopped at a WI grocery store known as Woodman's.  They are known to have incredibly low prices, but another cool thing is that they support a lot of local farms.  For some reason it is really hard to find local cottage cheese and yogurt at these farmers markets, despite the abundance of regular cheeses like cheddar.  Woodman's had WI cottage cheese!  They also sold MI frozen blueberries, and lots of all kinds of other local foods.  It was very exciting!  My regular grocery stores, like Dominick's and Garden Fresh, which undoubtedly are "local"- they don't exist in MO or IA for instance, but they really don't stock local foods.

Ok, so then I went on vacation.  This was pretty bad for my carbon footprint.  Really, I was visiting my mother, who lives in FL, so it was a vacation of necessity (helps me feel better about my flight footprint anyway!).  We ended up eating out a lot, generating a lot of trash, and driving all over the state.  Here's the good news: we drove a Prius, and I bought local foods and brought them back with me to Chicago.  STRAWBERRIES!  ORANGES!!  It was awesome! I had summer fruits in the middle of winter, here in chicago without adding to the degradation of our climate!

Back at home, we really didn't have time for the markets anymore, so we did more "regular" shopping.  HOWEVER, we have made changes- we buy organic as much as possible, and tried to reduce buying foods with packaging. For instance, we don't eat cereal for breakfast anymore, which is  HUGE deal for me!  I am addicted to cereal.  But we made the switch to oatmeal, from the big cardboard tube.  It's also a lot cheaper- but since one box of cereal lasted 1 week, and one tube of oatmeal lasts a month, it's also a HUGE reduction in packaging. Especially since cereal is double packed in plastic and cardboard.  I flavor it with my MI blueberries, honey or sugar and cinnamon.  After a while I stopped missing cereal.  Oh, plus we don't have to buy as much milk or soy milk, which also reduces packaging, and saves a ton of money.  Organic milk and soymilk are expensive!  So now we just use less of it, and it's been great!

Last week we actually ordered from which turned out to be pretty awesome!  This company basically goes to markets for you, and brings you tons of local foods, and organic foods.  They will also include things that are not local, but are with organic partner farms.  This was helpful for my husband, who can not give up his banana addiction (though he blames this on our rabbit who also loves banana treats).  It was super convenient too!  They delivered right to our door, much like peapod.  prices were largely reasonable, though some things were pricey.  But at least they have everything you want, and all as good for the environment as you can get.  I can't say I'm totally pleased that we bought bananas, but at least they were organic (which seems to be IMPOSSIBLE to find otherwise!).

OK, but here is my bone to pick with organic/local farmers- packaging!  They are just as addicted to packaging as anyone!  At these markets it seemed impossible to get them to NOT put their potatoes in a plastic bag that then goes into my re-usable bag.  I'm used to the clerks at Garden Fresh acting like I'm a martian when I hand over my cloth bag, but et tu farmers market, et tu?!  And then these eggplants we bought from freshpicks- they came individually wrapped in plastic!  What the Fruit!?  I have seen this a lot lately- individual packaging of ORGANIC foods- not the pesticide laden foods, the organic ones!  I guess maybe it's because they don't have preservatives soaked into their flesh, so they get packaged to make them last longer.  But this goes against the grain of my being!  I buy organic because I care about my impact, adding a layer of plastic wrap kind of negates the lack of pesticides!

Packaging is problematic in nearly every aspect of purchasing.  We found some 100% recycled toilet paper, and were pretty excited.  Bought one of those big packages with something like 48 rolls.  When we got home and opened it up to put it away- it turned out to be 12 individually wrapped packs of 4, all bulk wrapped in a big plastic package!  At least the plastic was recyclable, but COME ON!  I've never bought toilet paper like that before!

My personal demon with food remains eating out.  I notice the waste a lot more with eating out now than  I ever did before.  I like to go out for coffee.  Both of my favorite places almost always use styrofoam.  Cutting back even a little bit can reduce a lot of waste that is not at all biodegradable.  I like to go out to lunch frequently too.  I have found some restaurants that serve local foods, but they are a bit far away for me to get to on a lunch break.  One restaurant I like a lot also has committed to using compostable plastic for it's to-go packaging!  Wow Bow is the restaurant, it's cool, interesting asian food and they have great hibiscus tea!  It's so cool that they use COMPOSTABLE plastic, not just recyclable, but compostable!

One other thing I've been doing is giving up soda.  I gave it up for Lent, and it is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I have no idea about the carbon footprint of soda- but i've been imagining it's high.  It's pretty much all chemicals, and energy intensive, produced in a few large factories, shipped all over the world, requires refrigeration, and largely comes in plastic bottles.  So, I thought it was a good idea to give up, but was struggling, so I made it my Lent sacrifice. It's been hard, but I think it's having a good impact.  99% of the time, I just replace it with water from the drinking fountain in a reusable cup.  In the beginning I was drinking more coffee- something else I'd like to give up- but now I just drink water.  3 times I've bought bottled lemonade or water in place of soda, so the waste was not offset, and probably a lot of the production was not offset either.  But overall, I think it's been a really good move.  I think it will also be easy for me to keep up with after Lent, and then I can work on the removal of coffee from my diet . . .

Still haven't bought any clothes!  Well, I bought one t-shirt when I was in FL, but that was a souvenir from a show we saw, so I don't count it so much.  Even if you do count it, it's only one shirt for the entire year so far, pretty good!  Overall, my consumption has decreased.  I have been successful in using re-usable containers and re-using ziploc bags instead of using them up and throwing them away.  I'm also using hankies instead of kleenex!  I thought this would be a huge roadblock, but it's pretty easy- though I haven't been able to convince my husband yet.

In fact, my husband is one of my biggest obstacles!  Despite his obsession with energy efficiency, he never puts clothes on the drying rack and always uses the dryer!  He always forgets to bring the re-usable bags into the store, he can't stop eating bananas, and he won't use a hankie!  It's OK though, because I know I slip up a lot too. I have to give him LOTS of credit for doing nearly all of the grocery shopping too, so I don't want to criticize the way he does it.  Somehow though, we have to get over these humps . . .

So that's all for now, we're doing pretty well here- and now that it's spring, you will start to hear about my plight with bike riding to the train!