Archive for October 2010

Pumpkin Stress Reliever   Leave a comment

I love Halloween. I definitely takes the cake (candy) as the most fun holiday. It is also a rare holiday in that the consumerism aspect (getting and consuming mass quantities of sugar), is equalled and maybe surpassed by the human aspect. Halloween involves creativity, time connecting (even briefly) with strangers, time spent with friends and/or family while trick-or-treating or partying, and lots of conversations about costumes.

Another thing that I look forward to every year is the unique stress-relieving qualities of the jack-o-lantern. It starts with letting the creative part of the brain go free to come up with a design. Then there’s the tactile experience of hollowing out the pumpkin, which involves slight physical exertion and plenty of textures and sensations. Same with the carving. I find that hollowing out and carving a pumpkin is one of the few activities where I am automatically fully present and where I experience with all of my senses. The laughter, the feel of the pumpkin beneath my fingers, the smell of the pumpkin, and the taste of the crunchy pumpkin flesh combine to make me feel happy and relaxed.

Once the carving is finished, there is still another stress relieving activity: cleaning and toasting the pumpkin seeds. I know some people hate the sensation of pumpkins seeds slipping along their skin in a bowl of water, but I find the sensation to be like a light hand massage. It feels so good, and I look forward to it all year. And then there’s the wonderful smell of the toasted seeds coming out of the oven and the taste of warm, salted seeds to cap it all off.

This year I reclaimed the jack-o-lantern process. Our old neighborhood was one of those places where a pumpkin left outside overnight will not last the night intact. Combined with the fact that I am allergic to squash (including pumpkin), and my enthusiasm was dampened and I gave up on carving a jack-o-lantern. In our inaugural Halloween in our new house, though, I couldn’t abstain. So I carved my pumpkin while wearing nitrile gloves to keep my hands from breaking out in a rash. I only had one tiny nibble of pumpkin flesh. I did the first part of the pulp/seed separation in gloves. But the gloves came off so that I could feel the seeds on my skin as I swished them around in a bowl. The smell of toasted pumpkin seeds nearly drove me nuts, but I controlled myself enough to avoid tasting in the hopes that in a few years my allergy will be gone. And I am at peace knowing that this year our pumpkins will be composted, not trashed.

Posted October 31, 2010 by mayakey in conscious living, musings, psychology

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The Baby Lawn   Leave a comment

Well the grass seed we planted a couple of weeks ago has sprouted and we’ve now got a lush green yard. Or at least that’s how it looks from a distance.

Up close it looks like a crazy green and brown patchwork. In some places the existing clump grasses and clovers went gang-busters with the daily watering required to sprout the grass seeds, resulting in dark green lumps. In the places where the tall fescues were already established the grass itself didn’t grow too much, but there are seed stalks a couple feet long waving in the breeze. In some places the fine blades of the newly-sprouted grass seed mix look soft and welcoming, if a bit sparse. In most places the weed seeds that were already in the soil took advantage of the moisture to create a carpet of lacy seedlings. And in some places my hand scattering was uneven and the dirt prevails. I suppose it is beautiful in it’s own way, but I’m still having a difficult time looking positively on the whole lawn-making experience.

Hopefully that lacy weed seedling carpet isn’t crowding out the grass. I’m not bothered by the seedlings themselves as much as the thought that if the grass doesn’t take, next summer we’ll be back at square one. There is some extra seed, so I’m thinking of just scattering it in the bare and sparse areas now that the rains have apparently started. The other thing that has been bugging me is that these are all cool season grasses. Maybe it comes from growing up in Albuquerque, but I prefer the look of warm season grasses. Unfortunately we were only able to find cool season grasses in the big box stores and the nursery we visited. There is a small patch of bermudagrass in the lawn, and I might try to propagate that around. I prefer buffalograss, but beggars can’t be choosers. Since the temps here in Sacramento can reach the 100’s for long stretches I find it crazy that warm season grasses are so hard to find. Then again, with 20 inches of rain a year that mostly fall during the winter, maybe the cool season grasses are better in this climate.

Posted October 30, 2010 by mayakey in gardening, home

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No Love For Baking Soda As Toothpaste   1 comment

The type of contact cleaner that I use has finally started selling small containers small enough to meet the liquid restrictions for carry-on luggage, so for my trip this last weekend I thought I could actually avoid checking any luggage. Since that 3 oz liquid restriction went into place I’ve had to choose between checking luggage or wearing my glasses for every trip, and for the sake of my own comfort that usually means I check luggage. But it’s such a hassle!

As I was packing my carry-on for this trip, I realized that toothpaste is also part of the liquid restriction, and I didn’t have a small tube of toothpaste. Or rather, I didn’t have an acceptable small tube of toothpaste. I do have the ones the dentist hands out, but I find those disgustingly sweet and not an option. Would I have to check my bag because of one measly tube of toothpaste?! No of course not! There’s another option: baking soda.

Yep, that’s right, in order to carry on my luggage I decided to go retro and try brushing with plain old baking soda for the weekend as an experiment. It’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly than buying a throw away tube, and some people think that it works just as well.

Well, it doesn’t. Quite simply, toothpaste works better than baking soda alone. I’m not even talking about the superficial taste issue (granular salty taste vs. minty freshness), I’m talking about the actual brushing experience and clean-mouth-feeling. It’s harder to brush with baking soda, or at least it’s impossible to get away with taking shortcuts. And while right after brushing my mouth felt just as clean (if a bit salty), within a shorter time period my teeth felt grungy again. Flossing was an absolute must because baking soda does absolutely nothing for the area between teeth, just the flat surfaces and gums.

Not that I was contemplating switching over to baking soda permanently, but would I do this again next time I travel? Yeah, I think so. A baggy of baking soda is a much easier travel companion than a stainless steel tube that gets banged up and wrinkled. So for short trips by myself I could do it again. Of course, avoiding the liquid restrictions by carrying a small plastic baggy of white powder has potential other complications. I guess I need to find a better container, and preferably a non-disposable container.

Posted October 28, 2010 by mayakey in frugal living, personal care, simple living, travel, unshopping

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Unplugged Weekend   1 comment

I’m back now after a short vacation. I haven’t posted in a few days because I was enjoying an unplugged weekend. I flew across country for a cousin’s wedding, and decided to leave my computer at home and keep the TV off in the hotel room. This was a long weekend dedicated to spending time with friends and family, and catching up on my reading in-between. Unplugged weekends are a rare event for me, as I am guessing they are for most people. When I’m home, the temptation of the TV and the computer is huge, and when I’m in a hotel for some reason I cannot resist turning on the TV and channel surfing. This weekend, though, I pulled it off. Granted, I did watch the end of the Giants-Phillies game 6. However, I was hanging out at a bar with my cousins and my uncle “enjoying” the karaoke while I watched the game, so I don’t think it counts.

Unplugging can feel so good. There’s a certain amount of liberation in the act of just walking away from the digital stimulation and constant digital communication, even if it is just for a short time. A few weeks ago we had a wellness challenge at work to reduce TV watching. For a real challenge I could have made myself go two weeks without any TV, but I just didn’t want to. I did, however, average only a half hour of TV per day for those two weeks, and boy did it feel good. I suspect that a typical week would be an average of about 1 hour a day for me, but I haven’t actually tracked that in a couple of years. The computer is even a bigger temptation that the TV for me, especially since I started reading blogs. I can spend hours on the computer working with spreadsheets, doing email, reading blogs, playing games, looking at/working with photos, and much more. It used to be downright painful to leave my computer for a week to go to my mom’s house for Christmas. We’ll have to see what happens this year that I have a laptop.

Posted October 26, 2010 by mayakey in musings, simple living, travel

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Belated First Flush Warning   Leave a comment

This past weekend I was driving at the very beginning of a rain event, and it inspired me to write this post…only I didn’t get a chance to write it for a couple of days. We are all told that we need to be a little bit more careful when driving in the rain, but sometimes I think that the message is too general and doesn’t highlight the dangers of a first flush rain event. While I was driving this weekend during the first rain in a few weeks, I felt my tires skid twice, and I was very glad that I was paying extra attention to my driving.

A first flush rain event is the first rain event after an extended dry period. In stormwater sampling, 3 days is often considered the minimum period of time between rain events to qualify a rain event as a first flush event. In dry conditions stuff builds up on the road surface. Stuff like oils. Here in Sacramento where we have a very dry season and a rather wet season, we’ll have months with no rain and during that time a significant amount of oil can build up on the road surfaces. You don’t have to be able to see the buildup for it to be significant. At the very beginning of the first rain event, those oils slick on top of the fallen water. Ever noticed a slight sheen on the water running off of a street or parking lot? That’s the oil buildup. The layers of oil and water don’t have to be very thick to reduce the friction between your car tires and the road, and without enough friction the tire spins freely and you skid.

The most dangerous time to be on the road during a rainstorm is the very beginning. Starting when the street barely looks wet is when roadways are the most slippery. The danger is compounded by the fact that most of us don’t drive more carefully at that time. I think we don’t get the “drive careful” signal in our brains until the windshield wipers are on, or at least I find that to be the case often for myself. Not that it’s really safe to drive in pouring rain, either.

So be careful out there, especially if you’re on the road during the very beginning of a rain event.

Posted October 19, 2010 by mayakey in environment, musings, travel

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Compost Trials: 5-Gallon Bucket   11 comments

A word of advice to anyone who wants to try using a 5-gallon bucket for compost: it doesn’t work all that well.

My compost journey started early this summer with a free 5-gallon bucket from work. We’re going through a couple of buckets a month at work, so rather than throwing them away we’re finding other uses for them. I though the bucket would be a perfect small compost bin since the lid already had a large hole where a pour spout had been and it would be easy to turn the compost by rolling the bucket. Unfortunately, the lid had to be sawed off in order to open and clean out the bucket. Buying a new lid kind of defeats the whole purpose of trying a free compost bin. I tried laying cardboard over the top but it didn’t help keep moisture in, so I tried using a scrap of translucent plastic that used to be in the kitchen light. That works to keep moisture in the bucket, but there’s still no way to roll the bucket around on its side to turn the compost.

With a plastic scrap covering the top of the bucket, there’s no way for the compost to aerate. The bucket also needed drain holes. So I got a nail and hammer and started punching little holes along the base for drain holes. That went well. But when I tried to punch aeration holes along the bucket sides, I ran into difficulty. It’s hard to punch holes in a 5 gallon bucket! At least part of the problem is that the plastic flexes. In any case, I gave up and resorted to manually aerating the compost with a long-handled trowel on a “daily” basis. (Um, maybe every-few-days-basis would be more accurate.)

As a result, the bucket compost is dry on the top and saturated on the bottom because I can’t effectively mix the compost. Don’t get me wrong, the compost is definitely composing. There’s still lots of activity in the bucket. But it is smelly, and it is small (1 bucket holds about 2 weeks of organic matter for us, and it is too small to heat up.)

So far, I would not recommend this strategy to anyone. It might be different with a lid, but without it is definitely not ideal. I’m going to see it out as an experiment, though. What I do recommend 5-gallon buckets for are holding bins. Don’t have time to take care of your compost during the week? Use a bucket outside to get it out of the house where the bugs can start working at it in the meantime. Gardening? Drag a bucket along behind you to collect your trimmings.

Posted October 16, 2010 by mayakey in gardening

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Chloroform-Free Showers   1 comment

I got a nice surprise this weekend when we went to the hardware store to get grass seed. While we were there I figured we could swing by the showerheads and find out if they have any filters for chlorine. Filtering the shower for chlorine is something that has been on my pre-pregnancy list that I’ve been dreading because I hate shopping. I figured that we would end up going through several showerheads in an attempt to find one that would satisfy both my husbands desire for good spray and my desire for low flow and chlorine filtration. In order to rule out “easy” I wanted to check Lowe’s to verify that there are no “easy” chlorine filtering showerheads available. Guess what? I was wrong! Yay!

Backing up a bit, you might be wondering why I want to filter chlorine out of the shower water. You might be wondering what chlorine is doing in the water in the first place. Well, the chlorine is there because it has to be. Water agencies/companies are required to maintain a certain concentration of free chlorine in the water all the way to your tap. The purpose: health. Chlorine is a disinfectant. Even now that many water agencies are switching to other less toxic/dangerous primary disinfection methods, they still need to add chlorine so that the water remains clean all the way to the tap. That’s all well and good, but when we heat the water up for a warm/hot shower, that chlorine volatilizes. I remember that in the human exposures class I took in grad school we did the calculation for how much chloroform we are exposed to during a hot shower, and I remember being astounded by the answer. On top of the inhalation of chlorine vapors, our skin absorbs a lot of chlorine when immersed in water as well. Looking back over my course notes, I found a peer reviewed article about chloroform that mentions a study that calculated 40 micrograms of chloroform inhaled and another 40 micrograms absorbed through the skin during a 10 minute shower.

Doing some post-purchase research into the chlorine-filtering showerhead that we bought, it does not work like a carbon filter that adsorbs the chlorine, but it works through a chemical reaction (a redox reaction) to convert the free and combined chlorine into chloride, which does not vaporize and apparently doesn’t get readily absorbed by the skin (I’m not positive about that, though). I’m assuming that most showerhead chlorine filters will use something like this rather than the bulky slow carbon filters that you would put on a sink faucet. According to their website, the filter media can be disposed of easily by dumping it on the dirt in your yard or garden, and then the filter cartridge is recyclable. That’s pretty cool. It’s a 2.5 gallons per minute showerhead, so it doesn’t really qualify as low-flow, though. I still need to actually measure the flow rate to verify. In any case, the showerhead that it is replacing is one of those rain style showerheads that use a lot of water. Oh, and it was cheap, only $26.

All in all, this was an awesome surprise. Pros: chlorine filtration, no long difficult shopping process, cheap, disposal by compost and recycling, and my husband is happy with the spray. Cons: not really low-flow, and packaged in a plastic clamshell. When we get around to dealing with the other bathroom, I might get a separate chlorine filter so that we can also have a low flow shower head. We’ll see.

Posted October 13, 2010 by mayakey in home, personal care, pre-pregnancy, water use

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Bye Bye Weed Patch   Leave a comment

The big project this weekend was (re)seeding the lawn, and boy am I feeling it. In an odd way this project was/is both horrifing and exciting to me. I’ll start with the good.

When we moved into this house it had been vacant for about two years. That means two summers in Sacramento with no watering. We were told by the neighborhood kids that at some point the weeds got overwhelming and someone mowed it all down, but other than that there was no maintenance done. As a result most of the area was just a dirt patch with a few patches of grass, and there were a large number of woody-stemmed weeds that only got worse when we moved in and started watering. Since we closed on the house in July, there was nothing to be done at the time but trim the weeds. Surprisingly, despite my desire for beauty the aesthetic hasn’t bothered me that much, probably since we have all the pretty rose bushes near the house. But I still know that a completely unmaintained yard has got to be really bad feng shui, and is especially undesirable right now since we would like to foster good luck and bring good things (specifically, a healthy baby) into this house. Plus, I figure that our neighbors would prefer we not have a dirt and weed patch, and I want good relations with our neighbors. So it is exciting to try to turn the blank dirt canvas into a something living. (Oh, yeah, and my dad bred a sick love of yard work into my soul.)

So why am I horrified? In general I hate lawns. Some lawns have purpose, and I have no problems with them; but most lawns just sit there looking boring and bland, consuming excessive water and synthetic fertilizers, and not supporting local ecosystems. It horrifies me that I am ON PURPOSE actually planting one of those monstrosities. A big huge expanse of boring grass that sucks up water. Not only that, but since we’re planting from seed I am actually having to water DAILY, instead of my usual weekly watering. The mantra in the back of my head that I am using to get myself through this is “it’s just yard gesso”. It’s not a permanent lawn, it’s the first step in figuring out the landscaping. Part of it will likely stay lawn so that I have somewhere to hand wash my car, and because I’m afraid that no lawn would hurt our resale value in this water-guzzling part of the world. But we will put in a shade tree, and hopefully some low-water use native plants, maybe edible plants, some flowers maybe… The purpose of the grass is basically to give us a living canvas on which to work. The dead canvas is rather uninspirational.

Hence Saturday was devoted to dethatching (thank you for helping and making me go inside, sitting down, and getting water before I passed out honey!), scarifying, scattering, covering, and watering. And now I’m hoping that the seeds sprout and live so that I don’t have to do those latter actions again.

Posted October 10, 2010 by mayakey in gardening, home, water use

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Ready for Trick-or-Treaters, Maybe   Leave a comment

We’ve got our mini-chocolate bars, we’ve got a tub of pretzel bags. We might just be ready for Halloween (well the trick-or-treating part anyway).

For the last several years I have been buying fair trade mini-chocolate bars to give out for Halloween. Since we have to order them online it means that we can’t be last minute on our Halloween candy. The fair trade thing is really important to me as a part of my “conscience living”. Buying fair trade is all about economic empowerment. It ensures that the people who produced the product received sustainable living wages, and usually other social benefits. Fair trade products are also often organic, to protect the workers. The list of products that may be certified fair trade is constantly growing: chocolate, tea, coffee, sugar, bananas, sports balls, vanilla, rice, flower, and crafts. I insist on fair trade tea, chocolate, and sugar for myself; and it just seems wrong to me to be cheap with non-fair trade stuff for other people. So I pay a little (ok, a lot) more to special order mini-chocolates made from fairly traded chocolate and sugar. This year we bought from Equal Exchange, and I’ve bought from Divine Chocolate in the past. What I really need to start doing is putting a suggestion in the box at Whole Foods to sell the fair trade mini-bars in their stores for Halloween, because ordinary people won’t jump on the bandwagon until the candy is easily available in stores.

While I have insisted for the last few years on Halloween chocolates made from fair trade chocolate and sugar, I’ve been stymied when it comes to non-chocolate Halloween goodies. I have not been able to find candy made from fair trade sugar that I can hand out to trick-or-treaters. So we get the typical bag of “conventional” non-chocolate candy to supplement the fair trade chocolate. It really bugs me. But this year we’re trying something different. On a recent trip to Costco we discovered that they have tubs of Halloween pretzel bags. Perfect! An end-run around the fair trade sugar problem! So we’ll be handing out bags of pretzels and mini-chocolate bars. …And probably some non-fair trade sugar candy as well, since I think we should have bought two tubs of pretzels in order to have enough stuff… Oh, well.

Posted October 7, 2010 by mayakey in conscious living, fair trade

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No More Excuses, Just Do It   Leave a comment

I declared the month of October to be “No More Excuses, Just Do It” month for me. You know how sometimes you have to really focus on something that you want to change to get momentum for the change? You know how it’s harder to regain a good habit than it is to lose a good habit? Well that’s what I need to do, and I’m sick of internal excuses.

The relatively easy stuff that I am focusing on this month is regaining the good habits. During this whole move process I did manage to maintain lots of good habits, like eating a vegetable snack instead of crackers in the afternoons; but I also had to drop some good habits. Some things had to be dropped from my regular routine in order to have time to clean the new house, take care of transferring utilities etc., select and install the new flooring, pack, move, unpack, and take care of the little things that come up during a move. What got pushed aside? Running, strength training, meditating at night, and getting to bed before midnight. Since I was getting to bed late, I was having trouble getting up in the morning and not getting to work before 9, which then made evenings feel frantic. As soon as the unpacking was mostly done I started running again because the urge was so strong, but everything else is still a struggle to get back.

The more challenging stuff that I want to hit hard and make some changes are the lifestyle changes that I’ve been “trying” to make, but failing. These include journalling regularly, and not eating dinner in front of the TV. They were both goals from last February that I have not been able to meet yet. Not meeting them has become a psychological burden because they are important to me and I am upset with myself for not committing.

So, without further ado:

I, Maya Key, hereby commit, during this month of October 2010, to do the following:

  • Wake up with my alarm (7ish) and actually get out of bed
  • Get to work well before 9
  • Leave work by 5:45
  • Restart my strength training regimen
  • Not eat dinner in front of the TV
  • Meditate for 10 minutes every night
  • Get to bed by 11 or 11:30
  • Journal on weekends or as needed

Posted October 6, 2010 by mayakey in goals, psychology, spiritual practices

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