Archive for May 2011

Evolution of Spring Cleaning Products   Leave a comment

As I wrapped up my intensive final spring cleaning weekend yesterday, I was musing to myself about how the cleaners that I use for both weekly cleaning and spring/fall cleaning have evolved.

When I first started doing spring cleaning I was new to the world of citrus cleaners, and while I was just using a few drops of lemon oil for weekly cleaning, the commercial orange oil cleaner was my big gun for spring cleaning. Fast forward a few years and I learned that d-limonene, the active ingredient/extract from the orange rind to make the orange oil cleaners, is a sensitizer. That means that it is in a class of chemicals that are not toxic in and of themselves, but exposure to them can worsen the health effects from exposures to other agents like toxic chemicals or allergens. At first it didn’t really bother me. Since at that time I had also started using an orange oil cleaner for my weekly cleaning, I just switched to using a commercial “natural”, non-toxic multi-purpose cleaner for weekly cleaning and saved the orange oil cleaner for spring and fall cleaning projects. Then I started noticing that during both spring and fall cleaning I would have zero hayfever until I came home and started cleaning, and then I would spend the rest of the evening sneezing and blowing my nose. In order to avoid that rather unpleasant side-effect, my use of the orange oil cleaner significantly decreased.

Instead of the orange oil cleaner for spring cleaning I started using the same multi-purpose cleaner that I was using for my weekly cleaning. It sort of worked, except that it’s in a spray bottle and much of my thorough cleaning jobs are done using a bowl of water with the cleaner in it instead of spray-and-wipe. I find the bowl method much more psychologically pleasing since I get to watch the dirt go down the drain every time I empty and refill the bowl. So I started using castile soap instead for much of the cleaning.

Fast forward to today when almost all of the spring cleaning was done with castile soap in a bowl of water. The shower and sink tops were done with a lemon half dipped in salt. The oven was cleaned (very well and very easily) using a liberal dusting of baking soda and an occasional spritz of water over the course of an evening. That was the most impressive, watching the baking soda discolor as it did its magic and absorbed or reacted with the baked on crud (I don’t actually know how it works), and then with a wipe it was all gone with no annoying odors, elbow grease, toxins, or sensitizers. I realized that as far as the cost of the cleaners I’m now using the “big guns” for my weekly cleaners, since I’m still using commercial toilet bowl cleaner, scrub, and multi-purpose cleaner. I think it is time for a change. If I can do my thorough cleaning job with mostly water, castile soap, and baking soda, then why not my weekly cleaning?

2010 Water Quality Report   Leave a comment

Our annual Water Quality Report recently came in the mail. It’s a good document to get in the habit of reading. As an environmental professional, I always find these reports frustratingly skimpy on the data; but I’m guessing most people find them hard to read and would prefer to ignore them. Water agencies are required by law to collect a certain number of samples and analyze for a certain number of analytes. These reports are how they communicate that information to their customers. It’s how you can know that your water is safe, at least when it is in the distribution system. Lead or copper can get into the water in the pipes inside the building, but that’s not the responsibility of the water agency.

A short water quality report is a good thing. Water agencies only have to report detections, so the shorter the table, the fewer analytes were detected over the course of the year. Sometimes I think it would actually be good PR for a water agency to print in the background or in fine print in a corner somewhere the complete list of all analytes so that consumers can know what’s NOT in their water in addition to what MAY BE in the water. There are two major categories of analytes: those with primary Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) and those with secondary MCLs. Primary MCLs are health protective. Secondary MCLs are more aesthetic (i.e. taste, color, or odor). Some chemicals have both primary and secondary MCLs, in which case the primary MCL is naturally the most important one. For primary MCLs there is the MCL and the MCL Goal. The goal is the level below which there are no known health risks. Unfortunately it is not always possible to treat water down to the goal because of technological limitations and/or cost, so the MCL is set as the lowest level that is actually feasible while also being protective of health. Especially since I am trying to get pregnant I am very interested in comparing the detections to the MCL Goal, instead of just the MCL.

In our case it is somewhat comforting to know that the only regulated organic compound detected was dibromochloropropane (DBCP). This is on the one hand comforting to know since our water agency is situated right on top of an area with significant groundwater contamination from AeroJet. I have several coworkers who work with local water agencies to protect their well fields from these groundwater plumes. On the other hand, however, I am not pleased to see that there was at least one sample where DBCP was detected at a concentration several times above the MCL Goal. To be completely honest, it doesn’t worry me that much, though. I still have no plans to filter our water at home. Just because one sample (ok, I don’t know how many) over a two year period was above the MCL Goal and below the MCL doesn’t mean that I’m getting constant exposure to that chemical. And the MCL is still considered health protective. For all I know they may have turned off the well with that detection anyway. It may be contrary to my devotion to the precautionary principle to not want to filter my water now, but I’m looking at it from a cost/benefit side. A carbon filter for our drinking water wouldn’t provide protection from the exposure through skin and lungs in the shower. Right now the cost of a whole house filtration system is just not high on the wish list. I’d rather replace our 19-year-old sofa so that I’m no longer exposed to any fire retardants and other chemicals in the exposed foam.

On top of these regulated substances, there is unfortunately also the issue of unregulated contaminants and emerging contaminants, but that’s a whole different topic for another post someday.

Compost Trials: 5-Gallon Bucket Update   1 comment

As I wrote previously, the first experiment with composting that I did when we first moved into our house last summer was a 5-gallon bucket. To summarize: I thought it would be perfect since I had access to free buckets, and would be able to roll them easily to turn the compost. Unfortunately the free buckets did not have usable lids, which meant no rolling. Additionally, I had difficulty with getting drainage right.

Over the winter I left the bucket to sit and completely ignored it. I thought of turning the compost a few times with a trowel, but since the compost was growing a nice crop of an unknown plant I thought that might be more trouble than it was worth. This weekend I finally checked in on this experiment and I now deem the lidless 5-gallon bucket composter a complete failure. The easy stuff is degraded, sure, but there’s still plenty of easily identifiable bits of plant matter and kitchen waste. I’m inclined to guess that even if I had been more diligent over the winter it wouldn’t have made a difference since it is too small to generate sufficient heat, and many of the bugs were probably killed before I got enough drainage holes drilled.

I still think the original concept would work. A 5-gallon bucket with a lid and plenty of holes drilled in it should be a halfway decent composter for someone with limited space. The lid should help it stay moist and trap heat, and enable easy turning-by-rolling. Since I was interested in the “free” thing for this experiment, though, I’m declaring the experiment over. Now that the new car is paid off, buying a not-free composter (aka Expensive! sheesh) is within sight.

Posted May 23, 2011 by mayakey in gardening

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Be A First Rate Version Of Yourself   Leave a comment

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.

Judy Garland

Posted May 19, 2011 by mayakey in quotes

Training for Pregnancy and Labor?   4 comments

When I was a kid (or maybe a teen) I remember my dad once saying something along the lines that he wished more women would prepare for pregnancy and labor as if they were training for a marathon and not a walk in the park. I don’t remember the context, but I do remember that it was a statement that made a lot of sense to me at the time. While it is a perfectly natural event, it’s a physically and mentally taxing event. Now that I’m in the midst of trying to get pregnant, that statement of his keeps ringing through my head. It still makes sense to me, but I wish I could ask him what he really meant. I’ve got my interpretations, which follow, but I’m curious what his intended meaning was.

“Nutrient-loading”: In preparation for a big race, an athlete needs a diet that provides lots of calories, and specifically lots of easily-burned carbohydrates (aka “carbo-loading). During pregnancy a woman needs to load up on vitamins and minerals so that there are no deficiencies for the developing baby.

Physical endurance: While baby-me may have wanted to get out of the womb and on with life, I know that most women labor for more than 4 hours, and even if much of that time is non-strenuous, I can imagine that having a high endurance level, like a long distance runner, would be really useful.

Muscular development: I have not been through labor yet, but I can well imagine that it is an extremely physical experience that really taxes muscles all through the body, but especially in the abdomen. And wouldn’t toned abdominal muscles (even if much of that is lost during the pregnancy) make it easier to push the baby out? Runners need to strength train the whole body with special attention on the legs, is the same true for pregnant women but focusing on the abdomen? On more than one occasion I’ve heard it said that belly dancing is great to prepare muscles for labor. I’ve never been able to fit belly dancing lessons into my schedule, though. This will definitely be a topic that I bring up with my midwife, eventually, whenever we actually get pregnant.

Mental endurance: I would imagine that some of the mental tricks that athletes use to keep themselves going through a tough event would be really helpful for a woman going through labor. I mean, isn’t labor basically an athletic event, just without the competition and with a really great reward at the end?

Those are my interpretations of my dad’s statement, but since I’ve never been through pregnancy and labor before, I’d really love to get feedback from those who have.

Posted May 16, 2011 by mayakey in pre-pregnancy, pregnancy

Late Spring Yard   Leave a comment

The lawn weeding project is done, so now I can re-focus on the life and beauty side of gardening.

primrose in morning light

oak sapling reaching to blue sky

dewy seedheads

red rosebud after a rain

feathery grass

dandelion close-up

Posted May 12, 2011 by mayakey in gardening, photos

Passing On The Recycled Hose   Leave a comment

This weekend we had to replace one of our garden hoses (although I’m planning on just cutting off the split end and keeping the part that still works fine), and I amused myself by perusing the hose shelf at the hardware store. There are lots of choices out there! Two in particular stood out to me, as my eye is generally caught by “green” claims even if it is often to dismiss them as greenwashing. The first was the hose with the “lead safe” mark on it, and the second was a hose claiming to be made from recycled materials. Oh, there was also a hose specifically stating that it was a vinyl hose. The other hoses don’t say what material they are made of, except for the rubber hoses, so I can’t say if I managed to avoid getting a PVC hose. Since I purchased the “lead safe” hose, I’m fairly certain that it is not vinyl, or at least not the part in contact with the water, since lead is sometimes an additive in PVC. The hose that concerned me the most was the recycled one. It didn’t say if that is recycled plastic or recycled rubber. If it is recycled plastic, it might be okay; but if it is recycled rubber, I want to stay far from that hose. Recycled rubber might mean tire rubber, which means trace amounts of petroleum compounds, lead, and other heavy metals. Yuck. This is foresight that kids drink from hoses, no matter what parents say (I think I remember even drinking from the hose as a teenager when I really knew better), so I want the hose that does not need to have a Proposition 65 warning on it. While I can’t do anything about bacterial growth in the hose (and wouldn’t even consider an anti-bacterial hose if someone paid me a boatload of cash to use it), I can avoid toxics. Sometimes buying recycled is not necessarily the best choice.

Posted May 9, 2011 by mayakey in gardening, shopping

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Sacramento’s First Native Plant Garden Tour   Leave a comment

This weekend was the first (that I know of anyway) native plant garden tour for Sacramento, put on by the Sacramento Valley chapter of the California Native Plant Society. Hopefully there will be another one next year, and it will become a regular thing. The lack of native plant/xeriscape garden tours in the Sacramento area has been one of the things that has really bummed me out since moving here. Having grown up going on native plant or xeriscape garden tours, and eco-home tours, with my mom I can say that they are a vital part of the movement. These garden tours are showcases, inspiration, education, and community all in one. The tour this weekend was free, but they can also be a form of fundraiser.

Many of the pictures in my head that I draw from when planning my landscaping come from all those tours my mom and I enjoyed in my teenage and early twenty-something years. Seeing something in place is much more memorable than looking at a picture. Unfortunately, all of those pictures were from New Mexico, so while the structures are still applicable, the plants less so to the grasslands of California’s Central Valley. Since I’ve been really struggling to figure out plants and an overall look for the third of the front lawn that will be converted to native plants, I was hoping that this tour would help provide not just inspiration but plant list help.

The tour itself was ok, but not fabulous. Several gardens on the tour were in the early stages, and the plants had not been in the ground for more than a year. Several gardens were also really small, as in only a few plants. Thankfully there were also a handful of established gardens, or it would have been really depressing to think that native plant gardening is so far behind in Sacramento. It does inspire me very much to get my yard converted, because apparently the real-world education about how beautiful xeriscape and native plants can be is desperately needed here.

Posted May 1, 2011 by mayakey in environment, gardening

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