Archives for April 2009

The Dirt on Conventional Cleaning Products

Please take a few moments to read the post on Healthy Child, Healthy World titled,

5 Secrets Most Conventional Cleaning Product Makers Don’t Want You To Know.

Chris Gavigan does an excellent job summing up the problems with cleaning products and the lack of regulation over them. It truly is a worthwhile and informative read.

Reuse. Even Better Than Recycling


If there’s one thing better than recycling, it’s reusing an existing item. While recycling uses less energy than creating something new, it still requires fuel for transport and lots of processing energy to complete. There are many things we use every day that could be re-used; all it takes is a little imagination.

I’m not crafty. I really wish I were, but even for the Martha Stewart-challenged of us, there are ways to reinvent the things we have. I’ve come across some interesting ideas lately and thought I’d share them with you.

Oxford Cloth or Flannel Shirt. New Use: Cloth Napkin. I hear these fabrics make great napkins. You cut out the sizes you want and either hem the edges or use fusible web and an iron to seal the seams.

Wine Bottle. New Use: Garden Hose Guard. Bury the inverted bottles in the ground at the corners of your garden beds.

Bath Towel with Frayed Edges. New Use: Bath Mat. This idea came from Nicki at Domestic Cents. She folded a towel in half and made a great bath mat by sewing the edges and adding a checkerboard pattern.

Cereal Box. New Use: Magazine Holder. A few cuts is all it takes. Check out some simple instructions here.

Egg Carton. New Use: Earring or Craft Supply Holder. These are great for sorting small items. I’ve also cut them in half and used them as paint trays for my daughters — 6 colors each and they’re easy to hold.

Tissue Box. New Use: Plastic Bag Dispenser. Stuff the box with plastic bags (the ones left over from your days before reusable grocery bags) :). It makes them easy to store and retrieve.

Junk Mail. New Use: Craft Paper for Kids. My kids are into scissors lately. They will cut a piece of paper to shreds and move on to the next. At this point, they don’t care what they are cutting. Junk mail is great for this and other little art projects. Once the kids are finished, I recycle the bits.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. What are some things that you’ve found new uses for?

Photo Credit: evelynishere

10 Things for Earth Day!


Happy Earth Day, Everyone. It would be great if  every day was Earth Day, but we can’t overlook the impact of even small starts. Today I want to suggest 10 things that are easy to commit to (or re-commit to) this Earth Day.

1. Recycle. If you’re not doing this already, please start. Lots of communities have curbside recycling service, making it even easier.

2. Turn off the faucet. When you brush your teeth, when you’re washing dishes, anytime water doesn’t have to be running to get the job done.

3. Remember to use those reusable bags. Keep them in your car. Fold them up and store them in one larger bag to make it easier to remember.

4. Reuse what you can; donate what you can’t. Get creative. Try to think of new uses for old things. If you truly have no use for something anymore, donate it if possible. Try Goodwill or The Salvation Army for household goods and clothing. Donate eye glasses through drop off locations at Lens Crafters and The Lions Club.
Use to learn more about where to donate electronic equipment.

5. Reuse grass clippings by adding them to your compost pile, or using them as mulch around plants and trees.

6. Go for the least amount of packaging possible. Buy in bulk when you can. Choose products that contain recycled packaging materials when available.

7. Use fewer disposables. Cut back on paper napkins, cups, and plates.

8. Get a reusable water bottle to replace all those plastic bottles.

9. Plant something. Even if it’s just some tomatoes. They do very well in pots if you have limited space. If you’re not into tomatoes, consider an indoor herb garden. Any food you grow yourself not only tastes better, but is better for the Earth — no emissions needed to get it from a far away place to your table.

10. Play outside. Turn off the television, video games and computer and have fun outside for a while.

If these ten things don’t work for you, spend a little time on Earth Day thinking of at least one thing you can commit to. Choose anything that works for you, but choose something. If everyone, everywhere did just one thing, we’d make great progress towards a greener, healthier world.

For more ideas and information, check out Planet Green’s Earth Day Resolutions and the Earth Day Network.

Photo Credit: wot nxt

Safer Alternatives to Teflon


We’ve probably all heard about the dangers of plastics, especially about the problems with heating foods in them. (If you’d like more information on why plastics are harmful, click here). While there’s been speculation for some time that the nonstick coating, Teflon, might be problem, recently, a study in the Human Reproduction journal confirmed some very real concerns with the product. This study established a link between PFOA, the chemical in Teflon, and reproductive health in women. According to Enviroblog (the blog of the Environmental Working Group), “PFOA is [also] linked to birth defects, increased cancer rates, and changes to lipid levels, the immune system, and liver.”

So, if Teflon is bad, what should we use?

On The Stovetop:

Stainless Steel. Stainless is considered very safe. Used properly and coated with a little oil, it is possible to reduce sticking in a stainless steel pan. Because stainless alone is not a very even conductor of heat, it’s best to go with a tri-ply version that has an aluminum or copper core, like these:

Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Stainless Steel Cookware – great ratings on Amazon at a reasonable price.

All-Clad Tri-Ply Bonded Dishwasher Safe Stainless Cookware – All-Clad has been the industry standard for quality, long-lasting stainless cookware for years. If you want to go higher-end and make a one-time purchase, this is the way to go.

Ceramic. Ceramic cookware is fairly new to the scene and offers nonstick properties without the peeling, flaking surface. I have a set of ceramic lined stainless skillets and have been very happy with how well they perform.

Zwiling J. A. Henckels Spirit Ceramic Skillets

WearEver Pure Living 3.5Qt Pan

Cast Iron. When properly seasoned, cast iron is virtually non-stick. These pans may also be good for your health because they increase the iron that is absorbed into your food as it cooks. Instructions on seasoning and cleaning cast iron pans (which is easy to do) can be found in a variety of places; here’s one.

Lodge Cast-Iron

Porcelain Enameled Cast-Iron: If you’re not interested in seasoning your pan or in cleaning it with salt, porcelain enameled cast-iron is an excellent option. These pans, like standard cast-iron, should last a lifetime. There are several manufacturers of porcelain enameled cookware, two are below.

Tramontina Enameled Cast-Iron

Lodge Enameled Cast-Iron


Glass or stoneware are your safest bets for baking. Both Pyrex and Kitchen Aid are good options.

I use a combination of stainless steel, cast iron and enameled cast iron at my house. I’ve stopped using Teflon altogether. I’ve heard some arguments that regardless of the dangers, so little of the “bad” chemicals are released during cooking, that Teflon is essentially safe. I say, why chance it? If there are other options available that work as well, if not better, I feel safer using those.

Photo Credit: Chris Campbell

Saving Money? What For?

moneyThere’s so much information out there about how to save money (it’s certainly one of the things I focus on here). It’s understandable; these are hard times and we need to keep as much of our money as we can. Most of us have found ways to cut back on our spending, to shave a few dollars off of our monthly expenses, and to realize even bigger savings by shopping around for auto/life/ homeowner’s insurance or some other large expense. So we’re saving money; but what for?

In my own race to save as much money as possible and to get the best deal on every purchase, I’ve lost sight of what I’m saving for. Yes, we automatically save for retirement through our plans at work, but the savings I’m talking about go beyond that. If I save $20 on an item I purchase, what am I doing with that money? Is it going towards a dedicated savings goal, is it simply building up in my checking account, or is it being sucked away on another purchase I wasn’t nearly as careful about?

What I’m realizing is that if we don’t have savings goals, we’re not maximizing the savings we’re realizing through frugality and comparison shopping. For years we’ve had a very vague “emergency fund.” I came up with a completely arbitrary number for the amount I want to have in there. The problem is, my husband and I have never sat down to discuss what emergencies we’re trying to cover with this account. Our jobs are as secure as any jobs can be in this economic climate. We both work in industries that are highly unlikely to go under, even during rough times. But I also realize no one is immune to job loss. So what’s become important is to identify just what sort of emergencies we’re hedging against so that we can save the proper amount of money in this emergency fund to meet those goals.

Other than our emergency fund, we’re looking more specifically at other savings goals. We know we want to set aside money for another car. Our newer car is a 2006 Toyota Sienna. Our other car is a 1994 Toyota Camry. Since both my husband and I work, and we don’t live in an area with public transportation, it’s likely we’ll need to replace the Camry sometime in the next few years.

We also want to set aside money for our daughters’ college educations. And some money in a vacation fund. Eventually, we’d like to re-work our kitchen, and that, too will require a chunk of savings.

The problem with saving money blindly, as we’ve been, is that none of the goals stand a chance of ever being met. And without solid goals, it’s impossible to maximize the savings we do have.

I’m certainly (and obviously) no financial expert, but it seems to me the next logical steps are these:

Emergency Fund: Determine exactly which emergencies we wish to cover with this fund (things like possible job loss, home and auto repair) and decide on a specific amount to keep in this fund.

Car Fund: This is an inevitable expense. We simply need to determine the amount per month we are able to put towards this goal.

College Savings: We want to help our children with college expenses as much as we can, but we also don’t think it’s necessary to save the entire amount before they graduate from high school. Again, we’ll need to decide on a specific monthly amount to put towards this goal which will likely reside in a 529 account.

Kitchen Fund: This will come last as it is the least necessary at this point. However, once the other savings goals are met, we should be able to ramp up the amount we’re putting into this fund.

This sounds like a lot, but I’m talking small amounts right now. It’s not like we have hundreds and hundreds of dollars left over each month after paying our expenses. But, our expenses are less than they used to be. We comparison-shopped our way into an annual savings of around $600 on auto and homeowners’ insurance, we’re consuming less than we used to, we’re growing some of our own food, we’re making more of the things we use (laundry detergent, some cleaning products, liquid hand soaps) we’re getting rid of a lot of our stuff via ebay and a yard sale. All of these things combined will contribute towards our savings goals.

Also, with the new federal economic stimulus plan, most workers will see a net increase of approximately $50 per month in their paychecks. I’m going to try to make sure this money goes towards a savings goal rather than simply disappearing because of a lack of planning.

What do you think? Do you set savings goals? Do you also find that it’s easier to make progress when you do?

Photo Credit: borman818