This is the year

Archive for February, 2012

Week 9 Challenge: Challenge Car Culture

playtime traffic jam

Last week you may have noticed there was no post here on the blog. My family and I were struck down by a pretty miserable flu and I just never did get around to it. I am so sorry for that, but I am really thankful to those of you who posted on the Facebook wall and challenged each other in my absence! Please let me know how your litter-less lunches turned out.

I had originally planned to leave this week’s challenge for the warmer months of spring and summer but was inspired by the latest issue of Natural Life Magazine to bump it up.

This week is all about challenging our car-culture mentalities and getting creative at getting ourselves from point A to point B.

According to Stats Canada, Canadians bought 1,690,548 new cars in 2007, a number slightly higher but pretty much on par with statistics from 1987 and 1997. Check out page 16 of this document to see how much money we spend on cars, car parts, and gasoline. In 2010 it is estimated that 82% of Canadian commuters traveled to work by car while 12% took public transit and 6% walked or cycled.

We live in a car culture there is no doubt about that. In one of my original posts I pointed this out with the number of service stations and free parking spaces in relation to bus routes within a few blocks of my home. With the car culture being so thoroughly supported alternate modes of transportation are sometimes ignored, dismissed, or outwardly discouraged. For this reason it does take quite a bit of determination and creativity to live car free.

Walking to the grocery store in -20*C and loving it!

When I tell people that I don’t drive, or even have a driver’s license, the reactions range from shock to pity to concern for my safety. People offer me rides a lot, whether I ask for them or not. While there have certainly been times where my life would have been easier with a car, and times where I called in favors from family members with cars, for the most part I haven’t been all that put out by my lack of personal transport. Even in a city that boasts possibly the worst transit system that ever existed ever.

Yet in the survey of Canadian commuters in 2010 mentioned above, 53% of those surveyed considered public transit to be inconvenient while only 15% of those people had actually tried it. Our car culture is so deeply ingrained in us that most people have ruled out alternate transportation without ever even trying it.

There are two things I want to challenge you to do this week. First I want you to challenge your own dependence on personal transport if you use it; find ways to leave the car at home and to reduce your dependence on fossil fuels. Second, I want you to think about ways you could be challenging the car culture in your own community.

To challenge yourself there are many obvious and some not so obvious things you could do:

  • Take public transit
  • Cycle (I’ve seen a few brave souls on bikes in Saskatchewan this winter so no excuses! Haha)
  • Car pool
  • Walk (Again, it’s been pretty mild this winter so grab your boots!)
  • Explore your own neighbourhood. You may find you’ve been driving across town for services available down the street.
  • E-commute, try your hand at sticking around home by completing errands, tasks, or work over the net when possible.

Obviously I do a lot of those things already and I am sure a lot of you do to. For this portion of the challenge I am going to try going the whole week without accepting a ride from my husband or anyone else with a car. That sounds too easy. I am going to make that two weeks.

For the second part of this week’s challenge, here are a few things I will be thinking about this week:

Be heard: Tell your local government what changes you would like to see to make alternate forms of transportation more accessible for you. Maybe your area isn’t adequately serviced by public transit, maybe your neighbourhood has a low ‘Walk score‘, maybe your commute is too crowded and treacherous for biking and could use safer bike lanes. Get your letter writing cap out or clear some time for a town hall meeting, find a way to have your thoughts heard.

Get support: Find out if there is a group in your community already working towards making these needed changes. Here in Regina there is a group of cyclists called bike-to-work Regina encouraging more people to cycle. (I sadly missed their potluck meeting when I was sick last week, but I look forward to catching up with them in the future) In Seatle a creative group hands out ‘undriving’ licenses to raise awareness for alternate modes of transportation and have a little fun while they’re at it. Maybe your community has something similar. Find out what is out there and find a way to get involved! If there isn’t such a group near you, or one that fits what you’re looking for, call some friends and start your own!

Encourage others: I’ve decided that from now on when people offer me a ride I am going to turn around and offer one right back. They’ll say; “You’re taking the bus!? I can give you a ride!” and I’ll say “I am ok, but you’re driving, ugh, would you like to borrow a bus ticket?”

Instead of allowing everyone to look at my self-imposed car-lessness as a draw back I am going to treat it like the perfectly acceptable and totally wonderful experience that it is. Sometimes I get sucked into the car culture and act as though walking and taking the bus everywhere is a huge chore (sometimes it can be, but judging by the colourful language I’ve heard from people behind the wheel I imagine driving ain’t so great all the time either.) I shrug my shoulders at the pity and thank people for their generosity then say something self deprecating like “I made my car-less bed and I can walk in it”. But that’s not really how I look at it.

I find riding the bus to be meditative, even (especially) with my toddler in tow because it’s the only time we are still and there’s nothing to do but wait. I like that I am almost never late for anything because the bus gets me there 10-20 minutes early. I love taking long meandering walks around town completing errands that others find stressful because of the hassle to find parking or load kids in and out of seats and boosters. I like that traveling without a car makes simplicity and minimalism really easy because hardly anything is really worth lugging back home when you already have 30 pounds of toddler strapped to your back. I love meeting new people and I love giving my son the chance to interact with such a variety of characters. I love the whir of my bike peddles and the feeling of the wind when I pick up speed along a good stretch of bike path. I really want to get a happy little bell for my handlebars and maybe a trading card to click in my spokes.

I like not having a car and I am going to make sure that people know that. Instead of adding to the idea that I am somehow handicapped by my lack of personal transport I am going to tell people about the benefits and encourage them to try it.

the view from my bike

That’s all I got for now. I would really like to hear your thoughts on challenging car culture!

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Week Seven Challange: Beauty

Last week when I was searching for recipes to make my own household cleaning products I happened across quite a few recipes for home made beauty and hygiene products. I have to admit that while making my own household cleaners had been a casual ambition of mine for a while it had never occurred to me to try my hand at grooming products. Perhaps this is because I don’t wear make up, or use hair products other than shampoo, and I am not really all that into body washes, or lotions, or perfumes, or shaving creams, or bath bombs. I am low maintenance girl, saver of time and money and expert ignorer of the commercial beauty standard! I would wear a cape but then I’d have to dry-clean it.

At this point you’re probably asking yourself what I DO use if I don’t use any of that stuff. Well, I have shampoo. I have conditioner for special occasions. I have soap, I have toothpaste and I have deodorant. That is all I feel I need and as it turns out each of these products has an eco-friendly and/or natural and/or home made alternative and this week I am going to try them out.

I know simple isn’t really for everyone when it comes to grooming for a number of reasons and I really want to make sure that this challenge applies in some small way to everyone out there so bare with me. I am not asking everyone reading this to throw their make-up-bags to the curb but I am going to ask that we all take this week to think about what’s in them.

I remember reading an article about toxics in cosmetic products a few years back that estimated the U.S beauty industry rakes in about fifty billion dollars per year. Fifty billion dollars in revenue selling mostly unnecessary items containing countless chemicals packaged in shiny disposable plastic containers. Environmentally speaking the whole thing is rather concerning so it really does deserve a bit of reflection on our parts.

Reduce your media: I am low maintenance girl, and yet every time I pick up a beauty magazine I find myself lusting after ‘fun colours’ and ‘hot shades’, wondering if the skin cream on page 6 really could lessen the look of my cellulite and if my scars and stretch marks are really that noticeable. This happens because that is what those magazines are designed to do and the industry puts a lot of money into figuring out how to do it well. So stop reading them. Problem solved.

Well, at least part of the problem anyways. Who ever you are, male or female, young or old, there is media out there that would have you believing that the way you are simply isn’t good enough. That media is everywhere. You can’t exactly close your eyes every time you drive by a billboard but you can choose to limit all the other ways this media makes it into your life.

Simplify: Once you’re done exposing yourself to media designed to tell you how much help you need to be presentable it doesn’t take long for you to stop being critical of yourself and start being critical of the cosmetics you may not actually need. If you take a look at all the things in your cosmetics case and decide that you really do need all of them, skip to the last suggestion here and think about making a few items instead of buying them.

Hygiene v beauty: Good Hygiene is important. I am not by any means denying this fact. There is without a doubt a minimum standard that must be met for hygiene out of respect for yourself and those around you. But there are some things we think of as hygiene necessities that are actually beauty standards and in my opinion commercial beauty standards are not so important. Example: Whitening toothpaste and other products. Clean teeth are important for your health, unnaturally white teeth are not. Another example: Shampoo and conditioner. Your scalp is technically self cleaning, and while regularly washing away dirt and debris is good hygiene, chemically stripping away your hair’s natural oils and then replacing them with chemicals to make it shiny and smooth is not.

If you are looking for ways to simplify and are having trouble deciding what is necessary; write down your daily grooming routine and sort each item into either ‘hygiene’ or ‘beauty’ which list is longer?

Make it: Just like last week the main reason I want to make my own grooming products is to avoid the nasty ingredients that seem down right impossible to avoid in commercial beauty products. Check out David Suzuki’s Dirty Dozen and the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to learn more about what can be found in common store bought products.

 

What are your thoughts on beauty and cosmetics? What steps could you take to clean up your hygiene routine?

Week Six Update

My home made all purpose cleaner and new microfiber cloth. Also featured: The table top lawn from last week's challenge!

I realized only after I wrote this week’s challenge that after I made a bunch of homemade cleaning solution I would actually have to clean something in order to test it. I kind of forgot about that half of the equation and totally slacked off until Wednesday afternoon when I realized I was having people over on Thursday and should probably make the place presentable!

The first solution I made was an all purpose cleaner: ¼ cup of vinegar in 2 liters of water with a dash of baking soda added as per directions I found on the internet. I feel kind of dumb that I went ahead and did this in a too small container and not over the sink. Apparently the science portion of my elementary school education was lost somewhere in the last 20 years. Oops. The good news is I was able to use the ultra foaming action of baking soda to get in all the little cracks of my bathroom tiles! (I believe the scientific term for this kind of accidental discovery is,Eureka!) This mix also worked just as well as the store bought cleaner I replaced with it on pretty much everything and it left no lingering vinegar smell like I was worried it would.

I’ve also picked up a few micro-fiber clothes to replace the disposables in my cleaning kit. I’d been hearing a lot about them for quite a while and while I was skeptical I brought it up to my husband who works in a mechanics shop and instantly seconded all the praise for these clothes. Apparently they are used on everything in the shop and so he brought some home and I have to say I am totally convinced. They pick up everything and instead of just tossing them in the garbage they go to the laundry instead.

The third thing I want to tackle is the hideous carpet in my apartment. It’s old, as most cheep apartment carpet is, and it was already in need of replacement when we moved in three years ago but with a vacancy rate of .05% when you find an affordable apartment in a good neighbourhood with a working dishwasher and a balcony large enough for a small container garden you force yourself to overlook things. But I digress; the carpet in my apartment was already gross before there was a toddler living here, so you can imagine what it looks like now. There’s even carpet in the dining area. Gag. I have found a recipe for ‘heavy duty’ carpet cleaner: ¼ cup each of salt, borax, and vinegar, which is meant to be left on stubborn stains for a few hours then vacuumed away. I am trying to devise an easy way to do this to my entire home after the toddler goes to bed, but a few smaller areas may have to do.

I’ll be sharing more recipes and photos on the Face Book page on the weekend so keep an eye out. How is your ‘spring’ cleaning going this week?

Week Six Challenge: Clean Up The Way I Clean Up

I know it’s not exactly spring but since last week I was focusing on keeping the winter blues away I’ve been looking for spring-like things to do in my spare time, like spring-cleaning, to trick myself into thinking spring will come sooner. Of course it was so warm today the snow in our yard was melting and I can see grass so maybe it’s working on some weird mind over matter level or something?

I started this year with a challenge to myself to de-clutter my life. I have done this and I am really happy with the results. I don’t miss a single thing we gave up, even the things I had trouble letting go of, in fact minimalism has become a new pastime. Moments of boredom often result in me looking around for things that don’t need to be here and every week there is more and more to give away. The best part about the whole thing is that my apartment is suddenly a thousand times easier to clean. Looking at my cleaning kit, though, I feel like it leaves a lot to be desired. I have plenty of products that are labeled eco-friendly, but I always have to wonder to myself how many of them actually are.

One brand that I rely on heavily earned praise from a lot of people I know for listing all of the ingredients in their products right on the package and supporting many worth while organizations dedicated to preserving natural resources and ecosystems. I was totally sold by this and immediately switched over to said brand as my other cleaners started to run out. But until yesterday I never actually used the information on these labels to find out what was in the products I was buying. Any company who broadcasts that kind of thing can be trusted right? Sort of.

As it turns out, while many of this brand’s products are on the level there are also some that are really no better than the brands I was buying before. The only redeeming feature of my toilet bowl cleaner for instance was that it did not contain any dyes or perfumes, but the rest of it was pretty toxic all on its own. I had a similar misadventure regarding carpet stain remover a while back.

Aside from the chemical products I’ve been using there is also the matter of paper towels, disposable sponges and chemical laced scouring pads. I am not proud of the amount of these items that I use despite the fact that I know so much better. They are an addiction, and now that I’ve taken steps to reduce some of the other waste we produce this addiction is staring back at me from the trash bin quite clearly.

This week’s challenge is all about cleaning up the way I clean up.

Make my own: Not long ago I tried to cut soy out of my son’s diet because I suspected an allergy and found out the hard way that the only way to insure I knew exactly what was or wasn’t in any of our food was to make it myself. The saga with the listed ingredients on my cleaners and the green washed carpet cleaner has driven home that the same can be said for pretty much anything.

The nice part about making things yourself? It’s almost never as hard to do as you think it’s going to be, and you always save a TONN of money. So how bad could it be? Armed with an industrial sized jug of vinegar and a few other ingredients I plan to conquer the grime in my apartment.

Added bonus: because I don’t have to worry about toxic chemicals in my home made cleaners I can have the toddler ‘help’ me with this project. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Make myself an UNwanted poster. I imagine that there will be the occasional mess I may want to clean up with a store bought cleaner and when that happens I want to be ready to face the toxics aisle with confidence. I am starting HERE in my research but I won’t claim to have read enough to put together a complete list of ingredients I want to avoid. When I do I will make sure a copy comes with us each time we shop.

Choose unscented. There seems to be quite the market out there for making people believe that for something to be clean it needs to smell ‘clean’. The reality is that clean things have no smell at all and that ‘clean’ smell that’s being sold is the smell of complicated chemical cocktails that are not particularly good for you or the environment. If you’re not into making your own cleaners like I plan to or if you are having trouble deciding which ingredients to avoid in store bought products, I would bet that simply cutting out the perfumes would go a LONG way.

The trouble with this is that actually finding a product that doesn’t contain any perfumes is much harder than one would expect so make sure you leave some time around your next shopping trip to really search.

Avoid disinfectants. Disinfectants, referring to product and cleaners which include antimicrobial ingredients, are their own special breed of toxics in my opinion, but according to everyone else they’re simply pesticides. Pesticides that kill both good and bad microbes without distinction, some of these pesticides are known to be carcinogenic, and all of them are, by definition, poison. I am all for the use of disinfectants in hospitals and maybe public washrooms, but in your home they are probably not necessary and they can reek havoc on natural ecosystems.

Whenever I talk about the fact that we don’t use disinfectants I get at least a few raised eyebrows. I’ve been asked if we get sick a lot, I’ve been asked if that means my home is dirty, I’ve been told my child couldn’t play with another child because of it. But honestly, if you are skeptical just look into it a bit and at least think about it (here’s an easy starter article). For the record: my family hardly ever gets sick, my housekeeping skills are passable though certainly not perfect, and I am obviously no longer friends with the germ-snob.

Unfortunately, like unscented cleaning products, finding cleaning products that do not contain any of the common antimicrobial chemicals is getting more and more difficult but finding products that do not contain these chemicals could go a long way in limiting the impact your cleaning habits have on the environment and your own health.

Reusables: There are plenty of really convenient products out there that people rave about but many of them are, or have components that are, disposable. This week I am going to be trying some reusable alternatives, many of which can be made with a little know how, and plenty of which can be found fairly easily. However I also want to remind myself that before Sw*ffers people got along just fine with a regular old broom and so can I.

 I am really excited to get started on this project. I’ve wanted to try my hand at making my own cleaning products for ages and this is the perfect opportunity to do so. Have you made your own cleaning products before? Any tips for a beginner like me?

Week Five Update: Short But Sweet

The sun came back out this week, as did a groundhog who supposedly said something about spring being on it’s way so I am feeling about a bit better about the tail end of winter.

My lap lawn has been planted and my son and I check it almost hourly for sprouts, nothing yet but hopefully soon. I used a small kit that included a planting medium and container, it looks as though it’s mostly some kid of vermiculite and fiber mix and I have to say I am missing the look, feel, and smell of good old earthy potting soil.

Oliver and I at the Regina Floral Convervatory (Photo credit: Rhonda Young-Pilon)

Daily nature walks have been daily and delightful, play groups and meet ups have been great and we’ve even made some new friends this week. I also remembered about a little place here in town where we had our photos taken by a friend not to long ago: The Regina Floral Conservatory is like a little slice of summer warmth in the middle of the wind-blown winter prairie and we have plans to visit on Monday.

I have also been incredibly productive without the pull of the television sucking us into the couch. I’ve started a few projects, written posts for other blogs that have been due for ages, caught up on house work, had countless fun conversations with my suddenly-articulate toddler, filled my freezer with quick and easy meals, completed mundane tasks I’d been putting off in regards to my business. I am pretty much on fire.

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