Archive for July 2010

Planning a Smudge Ceremony   4 comments

We’re about to move into our new house, but first, I want to have a smudge ceremony. The purpose of this smudge ceremony will be to expunge any lingering negative energies and to bless the house with our new positive energies before we actually move into the house. I understand that smudging is used for purification because it is believed that the negative energies will be cleared away by the smoke. I’ve never actually done this before, but I’m really looking forward to it. I just need to plan it first. I honestly don’t really know what one does at a smudge ceremony, but I do have practice at inventing my own traditions so I am going to start developing a smudge ceremony right here and now. (Feedback appreciated)

When I design or decorate, I tend to use the elements and the senses as a guide, and I think that both would be excellent guides for this ceremony. The senses are taste, sight, hearing, touch, and smell; the elements are water, earth, fire, wind, wood, metal, and spirit.

I guess the best place to start is the smudge sticks: I have three “mini sage wands”. {fire, wood, smell} I have also thought about using my Tibetan singing bowl in this ceremony, even though I don’t know how to make it sing, just gong. {metal, sound} I would like to invite friends and family over to be part of this ceremony. {spirit} We could open up all of the windows at the beginning to let the Delta breeze in all through the house. {wind} In order to involve taste in the ceremony, I think a picnic is in order (no furniture yet, so it can’t be called a “dinner party”). Given that I’m in the process of washing every possible surface in the house, I think the water element is covered even if it is not part of the ceremony per se. The only thing I’m missing here is earth, so I’ll scrounge up something glass or clay to serve as ash-catcher for the smudge sticks. The senses of touch and sight are sort of captured in the overall scheme, so I’m inclined to not do anything special for them.

Now the choreography. Well, we’ve been washing the place for a couple weeks now and will be doing so right up to the official smudge ceremony (and probably more afterwards as well), so I guess that’s the preliminary step (let me tell you, those buckets of water have certainly been getting rid of negative energy!). Lets start by opening all of the windows wide (even the kitchen windows that for some reason don’t have screens) to capture the breeze and bring it inside. I suppose that could be done before or as people arrive (assuming anyone actually wants to join me in my madness). Once we’ve got happy people to bring good spirits throughout the house, the actually smudging would start. I’m thinking: place the singing bowl on the floor in the center of the room first, ring it, and then walk with the smoking sage wand around the room waving the smoke all around. Question: does the hallway count as a room? After walking the house, it’s time to eat. Hopefully some of our friends and family will actually come and potluck it because quite frankly we don’t have the time to throw a party on our own right now (and which kitchen would we use?) Where to eat? The front lawn is dead and I don’t think we’ll get a chance to sweep out the back (or remove the rolls of old carpet, mirrored closet doors, pile of pulled tack strips, and other stuff that we’ve removed from the house and piled in the back), so it kind of has to be an indoor picnic. We can bring a few chairs over in advance, and some pillows for floor sitting; serve food from the kitchen counter, and eat on the tiled dining room floor or newly-corked living room floor. Dishes? We don’t yet have a garbage bin so disposables maybe not be a great idea. We could haul over our boxes of “nice” dishes before hand and then just stick them in the dishwasher afterwards. I think we’re stuck with paper cups, though. I guess they’ll help start my compost pile.

Posted July 31, 2010 by mayakey in home, spiritual practices

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Conscious Kitchen Challenge, Beverages   Leave a comment

One of the blogs that I read regularly, Ask An Organic Mom, is doing a conscious kitchen challenge to promote her new book. I’m taking the challenge and posting my results here. The first part was a self-exam, the second was about shopping, the third was fruits and vegetables, the fourth was meat, the fifth was seafood, and the sixth is beverages. I haven’t read her book, so the challenge is limited to what she posted in her blog. When I saw this part of the challenge I said “ooh, an easy one!”

The first half of this challenge deals with water. And that’s what I drink mostly. At home I drink straight out of the tap, at sit down restaurants I drink water that is probably tap water, at serve-your-own-drinks type restaurants I get water from the water button on the soft drink dispenser so I think that is probably just tap water, at work I drink filtered tap water. We used to have those 5-gallon water bottles but just as I started seriously preparing for pregnancy and thinking that I needed to leave behind the convenience of the water cooler, the water delivery guy suggested that we switch to a new water cooler that gets the water through a reverse osmosis filter hooked up to our tap. (My concern with the 5-gallon water bottles was the plastic type; I think they are polycarbonate and hence have problems with BPA/estrogenic compounds.) I do plan on getting my water tested when we move into our new house, and I still need to download the water quality report, but I plan on continuing to drink tap water.

As for water bottles, I’ve really never gotten into the whole disposable water bottle thing. I do use the disposable water bottles for trips, but I’ve been carrying around a refillable water bottle since I was a freshman in high school. At that time it was a plastic water bottle. Then a few years ago I got a Sigg (which I thought at the time was stainless steel). Then when it came out that Sigg was shading the truth and their bottles are actually aluminum with a plastic coating, I decided I didn’t trust the company and replaced my Sigg water bottle with a stainless steel bottle from Green Bottle.

The second part of this challenge is “everything else”, which for me is pretty much just tea. I drink hot tea at work all day every day pretty much. I have 19 types of tea at my desk, including black, green, white, and herbal/medicinals. I insist on fair trade certified tea, and even some of my herbal teas are fair trade. Generally they are also organic; actually I think they all are organic. I’m currently getting ready to transition to almost all loose-leaf whole-leaf teas on the theory that there is less energy/material inputs than for bagged tea. At home in the summer I make sun tea, which is of course fair trade and requires no energy input for the brewing.

Every once in a while I will enjoy an alcoholic drink and I do have to admit that I don’t focus too much on organic in this realm. I’m allergic to barley and hence have to drink wheat beers. Since it is already a challenge to find beers that I can drink without getting a horrible stomach ache, I don’t complicate it further by insisting on organic. As for wine, my husband buys that as he’s the wine snob. For the most part I think we have California wines. I would be very interested in organic wine, but as I said I’m not the one doing the shopping. When it comes to hard alcohol and mixed drinks again I defer to my alcohol snob husband. We have some amazingly high quality liquors on our counter (especially Scotch and tequila)! I really could care less if they are organic because they are essentially artisan made goodness. When it comes to mixers, though, I start getting picky because I think high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) tastes disgusting and I don’t enjoy mixers made with HFCS. That pretty much rules out 95% of commercial drink mixers. Even tonic water contains HFCS! Instead I tend to buy juice and then never finish the bottle so it sits in our fridge for months and months and months and months (it’s actually amazing how long juice can last in the fridge; especially if you don’t mind a little fermentation). Not exactly a great choice, but I haven’t worked out a better system yet.

And then there’s the unmentionables: sodas. I think I’ve had one soda, maybe two so far this year, I can’t remember very well. I pretty much stopped drinking soda early in my high school years. And I’ve never looked back.

I used to make myself drink juice, but I gave that up. One should not have to force oneself to drink something that’s supposed to enjoyable. I don’t know why I don’t gravitate to juice, but I don’t.

Posted July 30, 2010 by mayakey in food, organic

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Receipts   1 comment

Good receipt news:

Yesterday I noticed that Home Depot appears to have switched their receipt paper to one that is FSC certified (Forest Stewardship Council) and contains a blend of sustainably harvested wood pulp and recycled paper. Ever since doing a year-long project on the FSC in grad school that logo always draws my attention, so I noticed it even in the grey printing on the back of the receipt dwarfed by the big “Home Depot” logo. What’s interesting is that that receipt was a return. The original receipt just has a plain backside. So they either just recently changed receipt paper or they just recently decided to start advertising it. Either way works for me. I’m actually so pleased that I just sent a message on their website applauding the use of FSC certified paper. Hopefully the receipts aren’t also coated with BPA.

Bad receipt news:

Whole Foods uses receipt paper that contains BPA (at least the store in Superior, Colorado does; see the recent Environmental Working Group study). Aaargh! I really wish there was an alternative to having to shop at Whole Foods. The Co-op is twice as far away as Whole Foods, so that’s why we shop at Whole Foods, but I’m getting sick of only hearing bad news about that store. At least the receipt that was tested had less BPA on it than receipts from Safeway, Chevron, KFC, McDonalds, and the US House of Representatives Cafeteria.

When I saw an earlier study about the presence of BPA on receipts that suggested that receipts could potentially cause more exposure than BPA in food containers, I pretty much heaved a big sigh and shrugged my shoulders. I handle the finances so I handle pretty much every single receipt. That’s not something that’s going to change. So there’s really nothing that I can do about this source of exposure. I can’t practically avoid it. At least by using a stainless steel water bottle and reducing our canned food consumption I’ve reduced my overall exposure, but it’s frustrating to find another major source that is completely outside of my control. This is exactly why I am such a strong believer in the need to apply the Precautionary Principle on a national/global scale. And I think I’m going to write a complaint message to Whole Foods.

Ugly receipt news (at least to me):

I am overrun with receipts. Luckily most of them are small, but there are a lot of “oh yeah” purchases in this process of getting our new house move-in ready.

Posted July 29, 2010 by mayakey in advocacy, environment

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Refrigerator: Check   Leave a comment

This weekend we got our new refrigerator. There was some frantic research scrambling on my part at the last minute, but I’m kind of proud of myself. Lesson learned: companies do NOT make appliance shopping easy. Real lesson learned: advanced research is not all it is cracked up to be (yeah, I know, most people don’t have to learn that lesson).

As I mentioned previously, I started the research back in June by downloading the Energy Star refrigerator list, which is reeeeally long. To help narrow it down I measured the inside of the fridge in our rental. I calculated approximately 15.5 cubic feet, so I assumed that our fridge, which is too small for us, was a 16 cubic foot refrigerator. Since all the buying guides advise buying the smallest practical size for the best efficiency, I decided to shop in the 18-20 cubic foot range. Then I spent weeks massaging the spreadsheet, looking at models online, and slowly filtering it down to my top 4 models. When we went to look for those models in the stores we found: none of them. We resigned ourselves to buying online, but before I did the purchase I decided to double check the size of our current fridge. We looked up that model, which is discontinued, and discovered that we are currently squeezed into a 17.9 cubic foot fridge. So at the last minute I had to start my research from scratch in the 20-22 cubic foot range. This time I didn’t really narrow down the list (just removed models with door dispensers, manual defrost, non-reversible hinges, and brands not available at Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Sears) and instead printed out the five pages so that we could rank all of the models in the stores.

At the start of my research I spent three weeks or so pondering “bottom freezer is more efficient” and “top freezer is more efficient”. For years I have seen mention after mention that the green choice is bottom freezer units because they are more energy efficient. So imagine my surprise when the Energy Star website says that top freezer units are more efficient. I put my spreadsheet nerd-iness on the case and in the end my conclusion is that I think both statements may be correct. To start: all refrigerators must meet federal minimum standards that are determined through a formula that takes into account the size and style of the unit among other things. Apparently the formulas set lower energy usage for top freezer models than bottom freezer models, and side-by-side models have the highest energy usage. I have no idea why this is the case. But in effect it does mean that for two units of the same capacity, the top freezer model uses less electricity. I noticed, however, that bottom freezer models have larger freezers. I calculated top freezers to be 20-24% of the total volume, while bottom freezers are 30-33% of the total volume. A larger freezer will mean more electricity usage for the entire unit, and may therefore skew the results. Top freezer versus bottom freezer is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Maybe when I keep hearing that bottom freezer units are more efficient, they mean the energy efficiency of the mechanical systems not the entire unit. If you compared a top freezer and bottom freezer model with the same proportion of freezer/fresh food capacity, how would they stack up?

To add more confusion: in the 18-20 cubic foot range the 80 most efficient models are top freezer models, but in the 20-23 cubic foot range 7 of the top 10 most efficient models are bottom freezer models. This made my head spin and I didn’t know how to proceed. Luckily for me I’m married and my husband is learning how to handle me.

We ended up buying a bottom freezer model that is Tier 3 so it has essentially the same efficiency as a Tier 1 top freezer model. (To qualify for Energy Start the unit must be at least 20% more efficient than the federal minimum. Tier 2 Energy Star models have to be 25% more efficient, and Tier 3 models have to be 30% more efficient.) No door dispenser, but we did get an ice maker. And the model was on sale, too, so it didn’t cost too much more than a top freezer model.

Posted July 27, 2010 by mayakey in energy use, home, shopping

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Flooring Choice #2: Cork   3 comments

Our second decision in the replacing-the-flooring journey was a little bit more of a challenge. What would be the best option for the living room and hallway? Because of the proximity to the front entrance and the traffic patterns in the house, carpet is not an option for the living room or the hallway. But to accommodate the various activities in the living room, we want something soft and padded, and something that would be an acoustic dampener. Also, the existing tile in the adjacent entry and dining room is fairly elegant looking, and we want to have something complementary and similarly elegant in the living room in hopes that it will boost our resale value when we sell the house down the road.

More tile? Not soft or sound dampening; plus we would never be able to match the existing tile. Wood or bamboo? Again, not soft or sound dampening. Conventional laminate? Not soft or sound dampening, plus there’s an issue with offgassing of formaldehyde and VOCs. Vinyl? Not on your (my) life. Natural linoleum? Not the elegant look we are going for.

What’s left? Cork! I discovered cork as a viable flooring option years ago when I realized that the floor of Stanford’s Memorial Church was cork. Until then I couldn’t figure out how cork could be used as a floor because I imagined a bulletin board lying on the ground and could not figure out how to keep it clean or how it would not fall apart quickly. My husband had the same thought before we actually looked at cork flooring samples. Cork flooring is actually ground up cork bark mixed with adhesives and compressed into sheets (so it is technically a laminate flooring). Patterns and stains can be added on the top layer, which means there are some gorgeous cork floors out there. The cork tiles still have the springy-nature of the cork bark, so it is a good compromise between hard and soft flooring options. It is also a good compromise for acoustic dampening (maybe that’s why they use cork tiles in Memorial Church). As a plus, cork is a thermal insulator like carpet. I bounced around online for a while reading reviews of cork floors and it seemed like I mostly found rave reviews with a handful of lukewarm ones. I found very few negative reviews.

As far as environmental benefits, cork can be used for LEED credits for sustainable materials and recycled materials. It is considered a sustainable material because cork is the bark of the tree and the tree doesn’t need to be cut down for the harvest. Cork flooring is made from the waste material left after making bottle corks, which sort-of makes it a recycled product. (It can also be made from recycled cork stoppers, but I don’t know how common that is.) Since it is a laminate material there is some risk of off-gassing due to the adhesives, but the floor that we are buying is GreenGuard Indoor Air Quality Certified, so it is low-emitting for volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, and phthalates. Not perfect, but pretty good.

So a floating cork floor it is! Think conventional laminate floor with the tongue-in-groove joints, only it’s a fiberboard sandwiched between two layers of cork. Theoretically I can DIY this, but I don’t think I could manage doorways and the bay window in the living room. Instead, I talked to the contractor that is going to install all the flooring about letting me help.

Posted July 23, 2010 by mayakey in environment, home, shopping

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What I Mean By Conscious Living   2 comments

Recently I looked at my list of categories and tags and realized that this blog looks like it is all over the place with no focus. I decided that maybe it would be a good idea to attempt to describe what I mean by “conscious living” to explain why my tags are so diverse.

The short description would be: It’s a license to over-think everything.

For the slightly longer description I’ll go to the dictionary. The first definition of “consciousness” in the the dictionary is “a: the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself; b: the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact; c: awareness, especially concern for some social or political cause.” By conscious living I mean all three of those parts, really.

The first part of that definition is for me the most important. I desire to be very will in touch with myself, which I feel brings peace and contentment. I crave inner quiet and peace, and yet I find this aspect of conscious living to be the most difficult. It is easy to get caught up in the rush of the mainstream world and deny/ignore what the self (body, mind, heart, spirit, and intuition) say and need. This is definitely a journey not a destination!

The second and third parts of the definition are entwined in my thinking, and they make up the most active part of what I refer to as conscious living. I try to think out everything that I do so that I maximize benefits to myself, the people around me, the people directly or indirectly affected by my actions, and the biosphere in general, while minimizing negative effects to the same. That means thinking about how my life affects those around me, doing a lot of research, thinking about the webs of connections, and constantly navigating fields of gray (see what I mean by “license to over think”? no rational person would choose to live like this).

I sometimes think that the different parts of the definition of consciousness actually conflict with each other. Is it really possible to strive for it all? I don’t know but I’d love to try.

Posted July 20, 2010 by mayakey in conscious living, mission

Truth Day – I’m Doing Too Much   1 comment

Today (yesterday) was a truth day. That’s what I call the first day of menstruation when I am forcefully made aware of problems in my life that need to be resolved. This was an interesting truth day. Usually they fall into two categories: hunky-dory and “I need a cry and a hug please” downer days. I like the hunky-dory months best. Not just because the day goes by okay, but also because it means that I don’t have any personal blockages at that time. I’m not as much of a fan of the downer days (who is?). The biggest problem with the downer days is not the day itself, it’s realizing that I have a personal blockage that I don’t want to fix. If I wanted to fix it, it wouldn’t get stuck. My recent personal blockages have mostly been communication based. Learning how to walk that thin line of not nagging and not martyring when communicating with my husband has been kind of like pin ball using downer days to make me realize when something needs fixing. (Although it is comforting to know that I can’t accidentally self-martyr; I’ll realize it at least when I get the downer day.)

This month, though, was both a hunky-dory day and a downer day. The day started bad. Dizzy, nauseous, wobbly, exhausted, draggy, and near tears. That was my morning. It was great. The personal blockage: I’m doing to much. I’m trying to work full time without using my vacation time before we move, scrub a new 1,500 sq.ft house top to bottom, deal with getting the house move-in-ready (locksmith, A/C tune up, electrician, phone, address change, refrigerator, …), and deal with getting new floors in place in time. I know that I’m not going to get a day to relax for a couple more weeks, and I promise that I will take at least a couple of weeks to just enjoy our new house after we move. I sat there at my desk feeling down this morning and not seeing a way out. All of the solutions that I thought of led to other, sometimes bigger problems. So I resigned myself to having a really bad day for the next couple of weeks.

Then at some point I realized that I was fine. I had energy, a smile, felt fine, and instead of feeling near tears I could feel my core of inner strength. I don’t think I’ve ever had a half-downer/half-hunky-dory truth day before. Analyzing it like I would a dream my conclusion is that I’m really happy right now because I’m realizing a dream of being a homeowner. Life is beautiful right now. Life is awesome right now. But my body gave me a warning shot: I’m pushing myself too hard right now and cannot sustain this pace for too much longer. Apparently my body and my subconscious are looking forward to moving into our house as well, they don’t want to stop the preliminary work, they just want to make sure I take a personal vacation after the move. (I promise.)

Posted July 17, 2010 by mayakey in conscious living, psychology

Flooring Choice #1: Carpet   2 comments

The first decision in the replacing-the-flooring journey was the easy one: wall-to-wall carpeting in the bedrooms. Both my husband and I much prefer the feel of carpet rather than hard flooring under our feet when we get out of bed. We want that area of the house to be soft and padded, with good acoustic dampening, and cozy looking/feeling. An area rug is just not satisfactory in the bedroom. We originally also planned on putting wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room but the floor plan and traffic patterns in this house made us re-think that decision and decide to stick with carpet in the bedrooms only.

We are going to be installing a wool carpet on a natural hemp/cotton backing with rubber adhesive and jute secondary backing made by Earth Weave. I’ve seen plenty of mentions lately about carpet made from recycled plastic as a green choice but had no desire to go that route. The recycled plastic carpet is a wonderful idea from the standpoint of reducing waste to the landfill/incinerator and putting that “waste” material to good use, but those carpets are otherwise pretty much the same as conventional carpet. By that I mean offgassing of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) used in the backing and the chemical waste from making the carpet. Also, at the end of it’s life the recycled carpet has to go to a landfill or incinerator, whereas our wool carpet is biodegradable.

Wool carpet has some additional benefits that other forms of carpeting don’t have. I have the first on good authorities, but we’ll have to see about the other to over the next few years.

  • Wool is naturally flame retardant. (super bonus for bedrooms!)
  • Apparently wool is easier to keep clean than synthetic carpets because the inherent crimp of the fibers keeps dirt and spills at the surface longer than relatively straight synthetic fibers.
  • Apparently the texture lasts longer in wool than synthetic carpets because the crimp is inherent to the fibers.

Carpet does have cons, but they can be moderated a bit. I mentioned some of the cons in my post about removing the old flooring from the house.

Con #1: Carpet traps particulate matter and contributes to poor indoor air quality.

For this reason carpet is not a good choice for high traffic areas. The more traffic, the more particulate matter gets tracked in, ground into the carpeting, and kicked back up into the air. In this case, the bedrooms are not near any of the entrances to the house and can be considered low traffic. (the living room and hallway are at the front entrance though, that’s why we decided against carpet there) Additionally, we sort-of have a “shoes off at the door” policy in our house that at least reduces how much dirt gets tracked around. In my Human Exposure class in grad school we learned just how dramatically different the air quality is (based on particulate matter) in a house with a shoes-off policy compared to one where shoes are allowed throughout the house. Thirdly, we (meaning my husband) have a standard practice of vacuuming the carpeting every week already, so we should be able to keep our new carpet from getting too dusty/dirty and worsening our indoor air quality.

Con #2: “Conventional” carpet offgasses VOCs, which contribute to poor indoor air quality.

So we are buying a “chemical-free” wool carpet. Conventional carpet uses VOCs in dyes, glues, and stain protection, but we are buying an undyed wool carpet with hemp/cotton and jute backings and rubber adhesive. No VOCs, no problem. We will be using a pure wool carpet pad. Again, no VOCs, no problem. It’s a bit more expensive but we can afford it (barely) so we get to go for the ideal.

Posted July 16, 2010 by mayakey in environment, home, shopping

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Green Sacramento   1 comment

Sometimes shopping around is a good idea, but I have to admit I make a lot of purchases without doing so. When I find a company that caters to the LOHAS market (lifestyles of health and sustainability) and/or is a local small business that provides exactly what I need, I tend to skip the shopping around part and just purchase from that company. Cost is an issue for us right now, given that we just bought a house, but supporting local small businesses is also very important. In this particular instance I am talking about shopping for our new flooring. Green Sacramento LLC is a small business dedicated to environmental friendly and non-toxic home building and decorating supplies. They have managed so far to survive the recession and downturn in the housing market, and I feel strongly about purchasing our flooring from them because I am very happy to have a place that caters to people like me. Rather than having to hunt through walls of carpet looking for the wool carpet on a natural fiber backing with no VOCs, we went to Green Sacramento and that is the only type of carpet they carry (granted, there aren’t many color choices, but that’s ok). It is nice to sometimes be able to go somewhere that has products I can buy without needing to do extensive research beforehand. Yes, we could probably get the same or similar flooring at national chain stores for a cheaper price, but we would have to spend more time shopping and researching, and we may have dealt with salespeople that were not knowledgeable about the “natural” flooring options. There are times when buying from a national chain store makes sense, but when you are looking for something specific and unconventional, need assistance with the selection (and the entire process of having it installed), and have a local small business that is eager to cater to you then that is just the way to go, even if it costs a little more.

Posted July 13, 2010 by mayakey in shopping

We Live   Leave a comment

We live we love
We forgive and never give up
Cuz the days we are given are gifts from above
And today we remember to live and to love

“We Live” by Superchick

Posted July 10, 2010 by mayakey in quotes