Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why I'm Going Green

Since I don't have any new recipes or updates for you, I figured now was as good a time as any to explain why I've been cultivating what could possibly be described as an obsession.

It all began once upon a time...okay so in elementary school. I had just learned about deforestation and the dire straits the rainforest was in, and I was worried. So I made my mom drive me all over town so I could post homemade "Save the Trees!" signs on light posts. Now I realize that was a bit hypocritical, seeing as how I was writing these heartfelt messages on paper (non-recycled, most likely), but hey, my heart was in a good place.

My parents also helped me "adopt a whale," (I believe from WWF) so I would get regular updates on "my" whale and information on how to help save them all. Not that I did much but stare at the pictures and revel in how cool I was to have a whale.

As I grew up I was still interested in the environment and all that good stuff, but teenage conformity won out over good intentions, and for awhile I wasn't interested in much more than sports and school and dating and learning to drive.

Then, in my junior year of college, I took a nutrition course taught by a wonderful, passionate professor who opened my eyes to the importance of what we put in our bodies. I ended up taking two more of her classes and falling in love with the knowledge and insight I gained. I even wanted to change my major (which would have involved transferring schools...again) except I have a pretty great fear of all things math, and organic chemistry was looming ahead like a jack-in-the-box with an evil grin, just bouncing around and taunting me. What? Those things are scary if they have an evil grin.

So I continued with my English Lit degree and graduated with a 3.9 GPA (no chemistry, as you can clearly tell) and got married and moved away from home to live a big-girl life. When my husband and I moved home two years later, we were ready to start a family. Unfortunately, Life had other plans, and I had a miscarriage in October. Now I have no intention of dwelling on this here, because I'm still not completely over it, but I do want to say that of all the terrible, horrible, painful things that were caused by that loss, something good came out of it. And I can only now admit that.

First, I started working out again on a regular basis. I joined a gym (to make sure I would actually do it, since I was paying for it) and got involved in group fitness classes (which I had never done before because I am embarrassingly uncoordinated at times) and began friendships that would keep me coming back for the comradery and support. Not only does this get me in better shape for my next pregnancy, but it's a form of cheap therapy.

Second, I went back to my nutrition information from college and expanded. Not only did I want to be aware of the food I was putting in my mouth, but all of the other products that went on or near my body. And once I started down that path I realized just how much I didn't know, and I started sucking up information like a sponge. In fact, I'm finding it hard to stop. Just today I practically cleaned out my library's green living section because I have a need to know everything.

I started this blog as a way to track my progress and have the ability to see all the changes I've made (as well as to help me remember all the information I've accumulated). But there's a second reason I'm writing. I've recently come upon a gold mine: extra time. In my new role, I have found the time and energy I never had while working full-time outside of the home. And what better way to use that time than to do the research, testing, and experimenting that needs to be done so you don't have to? I know not everything works for everybody, but I hope that you can at least get some ideas that work for you. And at the very least, I have the space I need to track my green journey.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Step 4: Hair Care

It's been a few weeks, but I finally feel confident enough to write this sentence: I have found my new hair care routine. (Yay!)

I used to use shampoo and conditioner each and every day. My hair is long (a few inches past my shoulders) and had a 24-hour life cycle: if it wasn't washed routinely, it got greasy like that (snap).

It took a lot of trial and error, and more than a few days of gross hair, but I finally figured it out. I began by going all-out No 'Poo (such a stupid name for a movement, but I guess it's catchy) and using only baking soda mixed with a little water to clean my hair. I was worried about it being too dried out and tangly so I added some olive oil. Bad idea. I couldn't get it out of my hair for days. Plus, the baking soda burned my scalp (not terribly but in a "hey my head feels really hot" kind of way).

It didn't seem to matter how I used the baking soda - dry, pasty, or completely watery - nothing worked and my hair was disgusting. Plus, I missed the suds of regular shampoo. It's something you don't even think about until it's gone, but how else are you supposed to know you got all of your hair clean if you can't feel the suds everywhere?

I wanted to give up just so I could feel clean, but I was dedicated to keeping toxins out of my hair and my drain. So I tried again.

This time I bought some liquid castile soap (Dr. Bronner's seems to be the only one in town) and mixed 1/4 cup with a 1/4 cup of water. Suds! Beautiful suds!

The shampoo is very thin, but not much is needed. It's actually light enough that I could spritz it on my head with a spray bottle. That half cup will last me at least two weeks, and I'm still shampooing every day (although I think I could probably get away with skipping a day every now and then, which is huge).

Now for the conditioner. The shampoo works well to clean, but it leaves my hair tangly. All I need to use is 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (ACV) with 1 cup of water. Shake, and pour over hair. That's it! At the beginning I did this rinse twice, but now (after about a week) I only need to do it once. The rinse leaves my hair smoother and de-tangled. I can easily run a comb through it after I get out of the shower, and to be completely honest that was not always possible with my regular conditioner.

ACV doesn't have quite the smell that white vinegar does, but it's still definitely there. However, the smell dissipates as the hair dries and is completely gone as soon as my hair is dry.

After starting the castile soap/ACV rinse regimen, my hair was back to normal in about 3, maybe 4 days. It's soft and shiny again (one of the main things I was worried about before I switched). And what's even better is that my hair does not get greasy as quickly. I can easily go 36 hours without washing my hair, sometimes longer. It would be nice to not have to wash it every day, but since I'm using products that are good for me and the earth, I don't really have a problem with it (not to mention it's cheaper; I got a quart of organic ACV for $2.50!).

Now, there are a lot of reasons and information out there about going No or Low 'Poo (I'm sorry, that's just what it's called), and I'm going to let you all do your own research since this post is so long already. But, from my own personal experience, what I'm doing is totally and completely worth it. It's cheaper, healthier, and safer. Triple win!

Wikipedia actually has some really good information.

Nature Moms has some tips about washing with baking soda, and also why you should discard your regular shampoo.

Here, if you scroll down, you'll find info on what's all in your shampoo.

What's so bad about shampoo anyway?

How ACV works.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Step 3: Floor Cleaner (or All-Purpose Cleaner, Part 2)

Now, I know I said you could use the all-purpose vinegar/water solution to clean your floors, and you can. However, if you're looking for a cleaner with a little more scrubbing action, I suggest you try this one.  So far I've only used it on our linoleum floors, but you could also use it on toilets, walls, countertops, or whatever you feel like.

The original recipe (from the Eco Chick's book) calls for 1 cup white vinegar, 1/2 cup baking soda, and 1 gallon of water. Since I was using an old 1 gallon milk carton, I halved it.

The fun part of making this is watching the baking soda and vinegar react (at-home science experiment!), and also a really good reason to halve the recipe because that baby would overflow like nobody's business.

The good news is that the baking soda neutralizes the vinegar odor, so your olfactory senses won't be put out every time you scrub your floor. Plus, a little goes a long way, so I still have most of that batch left to use whenever I feel like it. Handy and affordable. I like it.