Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Although our holidays were good, and relaxing, I also felt a bit off. During the quiet, alone moments I feel an underlying sense of melancholy come creeping in. You see, this is my first Christmas since my very special grandmother passed away on September 24.

Grandma at home in Kentucky

Even though I can’t remember the last Christmas we spent together, the world, and especially the holidays, feel different now that I know she’s gone. Now that I can no longer call her. Or hug her. Her birthday was difficult as well; Grandma would have been 80 on December 17.

Grandma and Grandpa cira 1950 (my favorite picture of her)

We had a special bond, grandma and I. She always got me. She never judged, never criticized. She just understood.

Grandma and I.

Once you’ve had a bond like that, it’s really hard when it’s gone.

My one regret is that I didn’t adequately express to her how I felt when I had the chance. I tried, but the perfect words were not there. I did a much better job at her funeral. Somehow, I hope she could hear it, when I said these words:
Loray is my grandmother. Not only did she take care of me when I was little, while my parents worked, but she was one of the people who understood me best in the world. And, ok, she spoiled me rotten. She was the kind of grandma who wasn’t afraid to get down and play, or look silly, such as when we played dress up. She was the kind of grandma who always listened, really listened, no matter what age I was and respected my thoughts and feelings.

I was the reason she took one of her few jobs outside the home. When my parents enrolled me in pre-school so I could socialize with other children, grandma quickly became the pre-school’s cook. Which suited me just fine. Not long after, my parents relented on that decision.

Yes, grandma had a bit of a stubborn streak when it came to getting what she wanted. When my parents made a rule that she could only buy me presents on holidays, grandma soon started celebrating every holiday on the calendar and some that were not, including Groundhog Day, and the opening day of hunting season.

Grandma never met a stranger, because within a few minutes of meeting someone she would somehow have charmed their entire life story out of them.

When I think of grandma there are many other adjectives that come to mind: strong, feisty, caring, hard-working, and loyal are a few. She was an accomplished cook who made, among her many specialties, legendary lasagna that her family devoured even though she didn‘t eat lasagna herself. She always had time and patience to bake cookies with her grandchildren, even when we were so little we needed to stand on a stool to help.

Grandma Ray, as I called her, taught me many things. She taught me the importance of making time for family, friends, and to do our part to help make the world a better place. She taught me that it’s okay to have strong opinions and that you should stand up for what you believe in. She taught me the value of setting an example through your daily actions and how much more important that can be than the words you say.

Perhaps most importantly, grandma and grandpa taught me what true love really looks like, and that even after 61 years, it’s possible to still have and be in love with your best friend.

Loray is my grandma, and for that I am forever thankful. Her presence and love touched many lives and she will be dearly, dearly missed, but she will live on in our hearts. I love you Grandma, and I always will.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: The Non-Toxic Avenger

I greatly admire what Deanna Duke has done with this project and book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You. After being dealt two difficult blows, a son diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and a husband with a rare form of leukemia, Deanna didn't crumple into a ball of grief (which is what I probably would have done), she took action.

The book description sums it up best:

After coming to terms with the fact that the autism and cancer which had impacted her family were most likely the result of environmental toxins, author Deanna Duke undertook a mission to dramatically reduce her family's chemical exposure. She committed to drastically reducing the levels of all known chemicals in both her home and work environments, using the help of body burden testing to see what effect, if any, she was able to have on the level of toxins in her body.

I was surprised by how readable this book is; I finished it in only a couple of days. I mean, a book that discusses toxins in everyday life and their potential effects on our health isn't exactly my idea of fun reading. Duke somehow manages to make this an easy, yet still informative read, without leaving out the important details.

Duke really does examine many of the items we come into contact with on a daily basis, way beyond the amount of items I've even thought about having toxic potential, including jewelry, sun glasses, potato chip bags, and dental floss. The magnitude of just how prevalent toxins are in our modern lives are quite disturbing. But through testing Duke shows that it is possible to make a difference in our personal levels of toxin exposure.

It would be easy for me to become overwhelmed by the process of learning more about toxins in every day life, and not know when to make changes and when to let go. It would definitely be easy to let yourself get carried away. Although Duke is thorough, she is willing to let some things go, both for the sake of others' feelings, as well as the sake of her own sanity.

This book inspired me to make several changes, or plans to change, including:
  1. Ditch my teflon cookware.
  2. Ditch the PVC shower curtain - done!
  3. Switch to non-toxic deodorant - done!
  4. Switch from body lotion to coconut oil - done
There are a couple of changes Duke made, which albeit simple, I just can't make myself commit to yet: cutting out body wash and using bar soap to wash my face. While I know I don't need body wash (and as Duke points out it uses a lot of unnecessary plastic, not to mention the energy used to make and transport it), I enjoy it. I've switched from my once-loved Bath & Body Works brand of body wash, to Trader Joe's Tea Tree body wash which doesn't have any SLS or parabens. Still, I continue to use soap even with body wash, so it really is a waste. A waste that smells great and creates delish suds, but a waste nonetheless. I've tried using my Trader Joe's tea tree body soap on my face as well, but am not of the fan of the way it feels. Plus, whether it's my imagination or not, the Say Yes to Cucumbers face wash just seems to work better.

I do have one tiny criticism, which is part of the reason it's taken my so long to write this review. It's hard to say anything even slightly critical about someone I admire, especially considering what she is dealing with. I read Duke's blog and enjoy her writing style, which is why I was surprised that her tone was less spunky than I've come to expect. Some of the advance praise comments included in the book also mentioned how funny the book is. I don't know if I somehow missed the humor, but I wouldn't describe this book as funny. Nonetheless, it's still an enjoyable read, and I hope Duke lets more of her personality shine through in her next book.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Adventures in Coconut Oil

photo: SingChan

Well Internets, I've survived my first week of using coconut oil as a moisturizer and as a major component of my homemade deodorant. I've yet to send small children screaming at my pale flaky skin, nor have my co-workers been avoiding me any more than usual. I consider that a success. But let's dig a little deeper, shall we?

Oil Me Up, Baby
I have to give two giant thumbs up to using coconut oil as a body moisturizer. My skin feels softer and more smooth than ever. Plus, there's just something I enjoy using a moisturizer that is so non-toxic it's actually edible.

At first, I missed the creamy texture of lotion, but that was soon replaced with awe at the magic of coconut oil. Look, it's a solid! But wait, with a quick rub of my hands--presto, chango--I present you with, a liquid. Yes, I'm easily amused.

And, bonus, whatever was causing me to have a mad case of the itchies, has vanished since I started using coconut oil. I was concerned the oil might leave me feeling a little too slick, but that hasn't been an issue either. Application is simple, after drying off from the shower, I apply the oil one limb at a time. By the time I get dressed two minutes later any added oil has been absorbed. Easy, peasy.

Minty Fresh Pits
The homemade deodorant, on the other hand, has been slightly less successful. I used Crunchy Betty's recipe and smooshed it into an old deodorant container a' la this tutorial, which works great.

The good news is that I don't stink. The bad news? The new concoction stings a little. Using less baking soda might help with that. Or perhaps if I shaved my pits less than every day (sorry, not gonna happen). I'm still hoping the stinging will fade, but if not, I'll try reducing the baking soda in the next batch.

Another thing I'll be tweaking next time is the scent. Since I only had eucalyptus and spearmint essential oils on hand, that's what I used. Then for the next 24 hours I wondered why suddenly the entire world smelled like toothpaste. Finally, it clicked (genius!) and I sniffed my pits. Yup, they were minty fresh. I don't know about you, Internets, but I find it disconcerting to have armpits that smell like freshly brushed teeth. It's not bad per se, just disturbing. Like Pat from SNL. Or Lady Gaga.

Wussed Out
I did however wuss out on using coconut oil on my face. I've tried it twice, but since I've read opposing arguments on whether CO is comedogenic or not and I'm prone to breakouts, I've been loathe to push my luck.

I'm still waiting to see just how long the 16oz. jar of
Dr. Bronner's coconut oil I bought for $10 will last. Since CO has soooo many uses, I've been going through it more quickly than expected. I even went wild and crazy and actually cooked with it. It does pop up some might fine popcorn, let me tell you. I'll keep you posted on the cost-effectiveness situation.

What's your go-to natural beauty product?


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Decking the Halls

Like many things in my life, we're fairly mediumist* about Christmas around here. As I mentioned before, Christmas is the only holiday I enjoy decorating for. After years of trying to spread things out around the house, I finally realized that confining the decorations to just the living room suits me best.

The tree is three years old now, a bargain that the Boyfriend found. I love it because it provides that touch of Christmas, but doesn't clash with the usual color scheme.

My ornaments are pretty much the same every year, consisting of ones I've had since I was a little girl (including some my mommy made, like this wreath ornament, thanks mom!), to ones I bought more recently to add some color, to gifts received more recently.

While most of the decorations are confined to the tree and mantle area shown above, there are a few small other touches here and there, which generally consist of me adding a little something to the usual decor, like these ornaments in the vase.

But no room is complete without the most important accessory, a happy cat. The cats LOVE the tree, Alex (shown above), most of all. They don't bother anything, but rather use the tree as one giant kitty scratcher. It's hilarious.

Do you enjoy decorating for the holidays?

*mediumist = My new term to define my lifestyle, which is somewhere in between your typical consumer-oriented American and your hardcore minimalist.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review: The Story of Stuff

Piggy gives this book high marks for comfort

If you're at all like me, you may have assumed that since you've seen The Story of Stuff video, reading the book would be redundant. But, friends, that couldn't be further from the truth. Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff is probably my favorite so far in the green/environment genre.

First, let's talk about Leonard's writing skills, shall we? Tackling the consumer product life cycle in detail, and being able to do so in an entertaining way? That takes skillz people. Yes, that's right, she's so badass she has not just skills, but skillz! I mean I actually wanted to read this book every night; I looked forward to it even.

Reasons to like this book:
  • You like stats? This book is chock full of them. Like, for example, did you know it takes 98 tons of materials to make a single ton of paper? Yikes! Here's another one, in the US alone we consume more than 80 million tons of paper. We consume 1.6 million metric tons of paper, or 30 million trees, one our books alone. All joking aside, that's pretty sobering.

  • Need some motivation for your next green step? Maybe I'm just a slow learner, but Leonard manages to explain our current environmental crisis more completely and more accessibly than in any other book I've read. No, I really never thought about, or learned about the mind-boggling number of resources and energy it takes, not to mention the pollution created, to make a single aluminum can. Understanding the full scope of the problem makes me even more motivated to do something about it. In fact, after I read this book I finally ditched my PVC shower curtain for good.

  • It's accessible. Want an easy-to-read, entertaining way to explain climate change and our environmental crisis to your mom, your kid, your grandma or crazy uncle Lou? This, I would say, is your book. If this book doesn't motivate people to care, nothing will. Everyone in the United States, and heck, anyone who buys stuff should read this book to make sure we all understand the full impact of our present unsustainable lifestyles.

  • You like solutions? Leonard's not claiming to have all the answers, but she definitely lays out ways we can and must collectively change every step of the production cycle, from extraction to disposal, and beyond that our entire lifestyles and values. Leonard notes that while such huge challenges such as changing our entire lifestyle and economic model, aren't things we can tackle through individual action, greening our personal lifestyles can be a motivational force for us and others. For this, she includes some green steps we can each take. Most of these you've probably heard of before, but reminders are always good. I personally need to ditch the teflon nonstick pans (I'm hoping Santa will help with this). She also recommends investing in the economy you want by buying local, union, fair-trade, etc. Definitely something I'm trying to get better about.
The final ruling: 5.0/5.0

Obviously, if you've read this far you know I'm a big fan of this book. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if you're only going to read one book in the environment/sustainability genre this year, this should be the one.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Frugal Inspiration From the Felines

I could learn a thing or two about frugality from an unlikely source: my cats. Sure, they may be freeloading bastards, but they are also surprisingly green.

They are great at reusing and re-purposing things. Why bother buying them a fancy commercial pet bed, when they prefer to sleep on piles of dirty laundry, in baskets of clean laundry, or even in an old box covered with plastic.

Seriously, I haven't been able to get him out of that box since I brought it out yesterday afternoon. But this is an improvement from not being able to get him out of the basement laundry basket, at least I see him more these days.

Why bother buying cat toys when they have more fun chasing a dropped piece of paper?

So in the spirit of homemade being better than store-bought, I'm trying a couple new green steps of my own this weekend.

I'm almost out of moisturizer, but instead of forking out big bucks for non-toxic store-bought brands, I bought a jar of Dr. Bronner's coconut oil, and have already been enjoying it. According to my web surfing coconut oil has a million different uses, including homemade deodorant, hair conditioner, treatment for athlete's foot, makeup remover, lip balm, cooking oil, etc.

I'm also diffusing essential oils instead of buying more scented candles or those toxic plug-in air fresheners that I've been trying to wean myself off of.

Going greener has sometimes been a very slow process for me, but at least I'm moving forward, step by step.

What was your last green step?


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