Archive for October 2011

Spirituality in the Secular Halloween   Leave a comment

I don’t know about you, but Halloween just may be near the top of the list of my favorite holidays. It’s just so much fun! This year, for various reasons, I’m being a little bit more contemplative about the holiday, though, and I’ve realized that even the secular Halloween that we celebrate is a spiritual celebration. Yes, I know that there is a religious connection in All Souls Day and All Saints Day, but let’s face it, we are talking about the dress-up-in-costume, carve-a-pumpkin, get/give/eat-candy minor secular holiday. (Although for the candy industry I’m sure this is not a “minor” holiday.) Our customs at and around Halloween-time are celebrations of community, creativity, sharing, connection with nature, and life/death. Sounds spiritual to me.

Especially in modern western society, how often is it not just acceptable, but encouraged, to go up to the doorsteps of friends and strangers where you are greeted with a smile and not a scowl or deadpan face? In the practice of trick-or-treating we do just that. We may not know our neighbors well anymore, but in this open celebration of community sharing, we can still connect on some level. Not only are our doors opened to trick-or-treaters, but we give out candy and other treats. I hate to say it, but modern western society is really bad at sharing and giving, except for when it comes to treats on Halloween. Also, while trick-or-treating or handing out candy, we actually notice each other, even if it is just to marvel at a particularly cute/scary/creative costume, or acknowledge with a smile or head tilt that we are engaging in a common activity. On any given day, we don’t notice each other. Our eyes slide over the people around us without a second thought. Or we people watch but without interaction, without the acknowledgement of what we have in common.

Not only do we connect with each other on this one night, but many seasonal/Halloween activities connect us with nature to some degree as well. We carve pumpkins, bob for apples, wander through corn mazes, decorate with corn stalks and gourds, and put (fake) cobwebs UP instead of cursing the real ones. Even as disconnected as we are from the cycles of nature and harvest, we retain these traditions. Hey, it’s better than nothing. Halloween also involves a lot of creativity, whether it be in creating a costume, putting up decorations, or carving a pumpkin. These are really life-affirming activities. I think that is probably part of the reason that there are so many of us who just love this holiday and think it is so much fun (even if musings like this don’t usually enter the mind)!

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Posted October 28, 2011 by mayakey in musings, spiritual practices

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Orange Oil Cleaner As Weed Killer   4 comments

One of the things that happens when you accidentally buy a case of 32-oz bottles of orange oil cleaner, is that you have A LOT of orange oil cleaner to get rid of. Even shipping a few bottles to interested friends and family hardly seems to make a dent in the volume. We typically use probably 1-oz in a year since most of our cleaning is done with just castile soap, vinegar, or baking soda (none of which are sensitizers like d-limonene, a sensitizer makes your body more susceptible to allergens and toxic chemicals). So a few weeks ago I read somewhere about using vinegar or orange oil cleaner to kill the weeds growing in the cracks and spacers in concrete, and I immediately thought it would be a great way to make some progress on our stash of orange oil cleaner!

Do you know what? It works.  It doesn’t actually take that much, but we have lots of concrete, lots of cracks/spacers, and therefore lots of weeds. Some of the weeds in the concrete are too large to pull out and repeated weed whacking just seems to make them tougher. But a dose of orange oil immediately shriveled them up and within days they were completely dead. It mostly worked on bermuda grass as well, although not all of the runners got killed. Since d-limonene is not a toxic chemical I don’t have a problem using it as an herbicide, and since it is extracted from orange peels I’m guessing that it is biodegradable so that there’s not a problem with harmful residues remaining on the concrete or contaminating storm water runoff.

Now there are two followup experiments: vinegar and time. Vinegar is cheaper, so if it works as well then it would be a better choice for anyone who didn’t accidentally buy a case of orange oil cleaner. And I’d also like to know how permanent of a solution it is. My guess is that any of it that soaks into the soil in the crack and stays will just help keep more weeds from growing for a while.

Posted October 24, 2011 by mayakey in environment, gardening, resource use

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This Is The Year Fair Trade Halloween Chocolates Make a Break   2 comments

For the last several years, around this time, I have had the frustrating experience of searching for fair trade mini-chocolates to give to trick-or-treaters. But no more. I followed a link GreenAmerica sent in one of their emails, and found that they had updated their chocolate scorecard to include whether a company has bite-sized candies. There are now several companies selling mini-bars or bite-sized foil wrapped chocolates, and some other more expensive halloween-themed chocolate candies. Plus, in acknowledgement of the large percentage of people who dislike dark chocolates, there are now fair trade mini milk chocolate candies. There are also of course several places from which to buy reverse trick-or-treat kits. So for the first time I think I can encourage people to consider buying fair trade for some of their halloween candy and/or reverse trick-or-treat. (Reverse trick-or-treat is where the kids give a piece of chocolate glued to a postcard about fair trade back to the people giving them candy.)

Check out the chocolate scorecard and GreenAmerica’s website for more info on fair trade. I tend to have a big issue with advertising or product plugging, but fair trade is important enough that I’ll encourage you to check out websites for Divine Chocolates, Equal Exchange, Coco-Zen, Sjaak’s, and Sweet Earth Chocolates. They are still a bit more expensive than what you get at the grocery store, but that’s for better candy, a better economy, and a better world.

Posted October 11, 2011 by mayakey in advocacy, fair trade, shopping

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Weather, We’re Just Along For The Ride   Leave a comment

I know a lot of people complain about “weather”, when it’s extreme, or quickly changing, or just not suiting the mood. Two weeks ago it was 100 degrees here in my part of Sacramento, and now it’s pouring down rain and in the 60’s. That tells me that it is indeed fall, and that it’s time to get ready for the wild ride of fall (similar to the wild ride of spring). It’s a waste of energy to be upset about weather, in my opinion. I’d much rather revel in each day and accept the blessings of sun, or shine, or heat, or cold. (Confession: I have a hard time enjoying wind.) But then again, I’m the crazy person who does not want sunny and 70’s all the time but that was in seventh heaven spending winters in Michigan and summers in New Mexico. Hot weather is my favorite, but I love crisp winter days and nights and the sound of rain falling. Does anyone else love weather of (almost) all kinds?

Posted October 5, 2011 by mayakey in musings

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Wait, My Refrigerator Uses Less Electric Power Than An Old Fashioned Lightbulb?   Leave a comment

So I started this post to list out some of the interesting results that came from my energy audit, but it quickly changed into something else. I figured it would be easier to talk about appliances in terms of watts, not thousands of a killwatt-hours per hour, so I did the conversion. Then I stared at the list for a while thinking, “Wait but didn’t we used to commonly use 40- to 100-watt lightbulbs? My refrigerator uses 46 watts! How on earth can a big refrigerator use less electricity than a little light bulb? Really?!” No wonder lighting is often separated out from appliances in statistics. In fact, the only appliance that I measured to be more than 100 watts was our washing machine!

Speaking of the washing machine. I measured 3 loads and they all came out to 110 W per load. Out of curiosity I compared that to the Energy Star EnergyGuide. According to Energy Star, our model washing machine is projected to use 130 kWh per year based on eight wash loads per week. That calculates to 312 W per load. Is that discrepancy due to use of only cold water? I always thought the energy savings from washing with cold water was energy savings at the water heater, not the washing machine. More research will be done…

So what were the other surprises?

  • Cell phones are pretty efficient! Our two cell phones averaged 0.07 W, which is less than 1 kW for an entire year. This is less than the doorbell and digital alarm clock.
  • But Dust Busters are not. At 3.3 W, that’s comparable to the cable modem and router. And that’s just for keeping it charged, and not having been used prior to measuring the electric consumption. The battery charger, keeping a few AA batteries ready to use, only used 2.5 W.
  • The TV uses more electricity (63 W) than the refrigerator (46 W). It’s an old TV, so I don’t know how modern TVs compare.
  • A Playstation 2 (8 W) uses more electricity than a DVD player playing a DVD (10.6 W). But the cable box uses twice as much (16.5 W)

Posted October 1, 2011 by mayakey in energy use, home

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