Trying Soap Nuts + A Giveaway!

soap nuts green eco-friendly laundryIn my efforts to make doing laundry greener, I’ve tried a lot of things. I gave up dryer sheets. I’ve used eco-friendly detergents than I can count. I’ve hung my laundry to dry. However, until recently, I haven’t tried soap nuts.

I’d heard about soap nuts from a lot of different sources. Some people swear by them, and others are more lukewarm. I’ve considered trying them myself, but since my husband does the laundry and he prefers detergents that more closely resemble conventional options I hadn’t taken the plunge. When Ken McGowan of Sinfully Wholesome got in touch with me about a review and giveaway, I decided it was time to make the leap. I let him know I’d love to try some out, and not long after they arrived in the mail.

Soap nuts are actually not nuts, they’re berries that grow in Nepal and India. They contain a natural surfactant, which means they can be used as a cleaner. Using them is simple – you put 5-6 soap nuts in a small cloth bag and throw it in the laundry. It works for 5-6 loads, which is about how much laundry my family does in a week. You don’t need to remove it for the rinse cycle, which is good, because trying to remember to take the soap nuts out would be challenging. When you’re done with the soap nuts, you can steep them in boiling water overnight to make a household cleaner. After that, they’re compostable.

soap nuts sinfully wholesomeThe soap nuts I received were organic, and they came packaged in a bag made from handmade Nepalese Lokta paper, which is harvested from the self-regenerating Lokta bush. Nothing else is added – no colours, fragrances or chemicals of any kind. The berries themselves are non-toxic – in fact, Ken says you could eat them, although they don’t taste that good. They’re also good for people with allergies, and can be used in any kind of washing machine. From an environmental standpoint, the upsides seem pretty clear. I gave my husband the run-down on how to use them, and we gave them a go.

soap nuts review giveawayThe soap nuts do seem to work, in that our laundry was definitely cleaner after washing than before. The clothes smelled good, as well. The soap nuts do leave a slight residue on the clothes. This is touted as a natural fabric softening effect, but my husband found it off-putting. Also, he found it a little difficult to locate the bag of soap nuts amongst the wet laundry when removing it from the washing machine. In the end, I was more impressed than he was, which was not even a little bit surprising to me. My husband is a skeptic, especially when it comes to cleaning clothes. I would use the soap nuts all the time, but he prefers something that comes with a dispenser.

In the end, the most accurate opinion of soap nuts is probably going to be formed by trying them. To help you out, Ken is giving away two 500 gram bags of Sinfully Wholesome Soap Nuts. There are enough soap nuts to wash 150-200 loads of laundry in each bag (which is another upside to cleaning clothes this way – it’s actually very affordable). The giveaway is open to Canadian and US addresses. Just fill out this form before 9:00pm Pacific on Friday, November 22, 2013 for a chance to win. For an extra entry, subscribe to Sinfully Wholesome’s mail list. Good luck!

The contest is now closed.

What about you – have you tried soap nuts? What did you think? I’d love to hear!

One Green Thing: Organic Grocery Delivery

One Green Thing Strocel.comToday I’m tackling my One Green Thing for September. This month it’s all about shopping online. But first, I’ll talk about turning down my thermostat last month.

The temperature noticeably cooled in the later half of September in Vancouver. While it’s a gorgeous and sunny day today, we’ve had a number of mornings when I’ve felt compelled to dig out my winter coat in the past few weeks. There’s a dusting of snow atop the local mountains, and it’s getting dark earlier. This means that when I turned the thermostat down from 22 Celsius / 72 Fahrenheit to 20 Celsius / 68 Fahrenheit, I definitely felt it. I did a few things to help me adapt. I put a basket filled with blankets by the TV, and I’ve been keeping a blanket on my computer chair. I also bought myself some slippers, and dug out my sweaters. At this point, I’m pretty much acclimatised, and I’m feeling confident I can make this change permanent.

organic food grocery delivery enviro-mama carrots

This month I’m changing the way I grocery shop. I’ve recently taken on a new obligation on Sunday mornings, which is making it difficult for me to get to the farmers’ market regularly. However, I don’t like the idea of buying all my food at the regular grocery store. Instead, I’ve decided to try, my local organic grocery delivery again. I used their service when Hannah was little, but I was still visiting the grocery store and farmers’ market weekly. Shopping at so many places became too expensive. In the years since I’ve used them their selection has expanded, and my hope is that I’ll be able to skip weekly grocery shopping by using them.

The primary reason I’m making this change is convenience. I am not a fan of grocery shopping. However, it is an eco-friendly change as well. The delivery service ships the groceries in reusable bins. They source local, organic and sustainably-produced products. They purchase carbon offsets for their delivery truck, and recycle a lot of difficult-to-recycle packaging like the plastic bag my daughter’s dried cranberries come in. When you buy something from them, you know exactly where it’s coming from, which is more than I can say for most produce at the grocery store. While I will miss being able to visit the farmers’ market each week, this is the next best thing.

My big questions are how much switching to grocery delivery is going to cost, and whether or not I’ll really be able to skip the grocery store. I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I’m enjoying being able to shop at home, in my pajamas, whenever I want.

If you’d like to get in on the act and take on One Green Thing of your own, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to grab the button from this post if you’re blogging about it, and spread the enviro-love.

One Green Thing: Put on a Sweater!

One Green Thing Strocel.comToday I’m tackling my One Green Thing for September. This month it’s all about handling the colder weather. But first, I’ll talk about preparing my garden for winter last month.

In early August, I said that I would start my winter garden. I placed an order and got some over-wintering seeds, as well as some cover crops. I’m still in the early stages, though. There are some plants still to harvest in my garden, and I’m slowly working through what I have and getting ready to plant my fall crops. I’ve laid the groundwork, though, and I’m feeling good about it.

one green thing put on a sweater

With September here, there’s no denying that fall is on its way. The days are a little shorter, the mornings and nights are a little cooler, and the weather is a little wetter here in Vancouver. My plan is to try to reduce the amount of energy I’m consuming in the winter months ahead. I’m doing this in two ways. The first – and biggest – way is that there are renovations underway on my sunroom right now. In fact, literally as I type someone is banging away eight feet from where I sit. The result, hopefully, will be a more energy-efficient home, which will lower my energy bills. The second way I’m targeting energy consumption is a little more achievable. I call it put on a sweater.

My thermostat has gone up and down over the past number of years. At the moment, it’s up again. I’m planning to reduce it by a few degrees. If I’m cold, I’ll try putting on warmer clothes. I also took an old basket we have kicking around and I’m using it to hold blankets in the living room, so if anyone’s cold while they’re sitting and watching TV they can put one on. It’s a small thing, but hopefully it will make a difference over the course of the winter. I’m also considering knitting myself a shawl – if you know of a great pattern for worsted weight yarn, please let me know!

How do you keep your heating bills in check in the cooler months? Leave a reply and let me know! Also, if you’d like to get in on the act and take on One Green Thing of your own, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to grab the button from this post if you’re blogging about it, and spread the enviro-love.

Podcast: In Search of a Greener, Groovier Lunchbox with Lori Alper Podcast Better Back to School Brigade Lori Alper Non-Toxic LunchboxesDid you know that toxins may be lurking in your child’s school lunch? It’s true. While a litterless lunch is a greener way to go, not every water bottle, food container and lunchbox you buy is perfectly safe. For instance, do you remember the controversy around Sigg water bottles a number of years ago? When everyone started to become concerned about BPA in plastic water bottles, Sigg benefited big time. When it came out some time later that their water bottle linings contained BPA, many people felt betrayed. I myself owned one of the BPA-containing bottles, and I was pretty cheesed about it.

My point here is that it’s not always easy to tell what’s green, and what’s greenwashing. That’s why I’m re-sharing my interview with the fabulous Lori Popkewitz Alper of Groovy Green Livin with you again. I first met Lori in person at BlogHer 2011 in San Diego. In this photo I’m standing on the far left, and Lori is standing on the far right: Podcast Lori Alper

Lori is a fellow green mom, and I have admired her for a long time. I particularly admire the work she’s done to highlight our exposure to toxins, and advocate for change. She’s started two petitions that have garnered widespread attention. The first is aimed at Proctor & Gamble, and it’s called Tide: Get Cancer-Causing Chemicals Out of Laundry Detergent. The second is aimed at Disney, and it’s called Disney: Get toxic chemicals out of Princess and Spiderman lunch boxes. Podcast Lori Popkewitz AlperDuring our podcast, Lori and I discussed her own journey to greener living, and what motivates her. We discussed the petitions and why she started them, as well as the awareness that she’s raising. By pointing out the toxins our kids may be exposed to in the products they use every day, Lori is helping to ensure that people can make better decisions. When you don’t know what the dangers are, you can’t avoid them. When you know, you’re empowered, which is why I admire Lori so much. If you’d like some tips for making better choices of your own, Lori shares some of those during the podcast, as well.

Whether you’re a fellow green mom, you want to learn a little bit about how you can reduce the toxins your kids are exposed to in their school lunches, or you’d like to be inspired by someone who’s working hard to create change, you’ll want to listen to the podcast:

I’m working on some new podcasts that I’ll be recording in September. I’m really excited about some of these! Subscribe to my podcast in iTunes and you won’t miss a minute.

Shopping for School Clothes

better back-to-school brigade david suzuki's queen of greenWe’re in the last few weeks of summer vacation right now at my house. While I know some kids are back at school already, mine don’t head to class until the day after Labour Day. At the moment, I’m simultaneously trying to make the most out of what’s left of summer, and preparing for the return to school. This means – at least in part – doing some back-to-school shopping.

I’m lucky because I don’t have to buy school supplies for my kids, at least not directly. I pay for a box of supplies for each child, delivered directly to the school. I like this solution because it’s easy, but also because I’m convinced that it’s probably greener. When my child’s teacher says she needs seven duo tangs, she gets seven, instead of the twelve I have to buy because they only come in packs of six. Ditto for notebooks and pencils and so on and so forth. Plus, I’m not driving from store to store trying to track it all down.

Most of my shopping right now is for clothes and shoes. There are three things I’m doing to outfit my kids for back-to-school without breaking the bank.

back to school
Heading off for the first day of school last September

Greener Back-to-School Clothes

  • Buy Less Stuff – This is the biggest thing that I do to reduce the impact of my back-to-school shopping. There are a few items my kids really do need for back-to-school, like indoor shoes that fit. The rest of the stuff doesn’t actually need to be purchased now. By waiting until my kids actually need something before I buy it, I’m reducing my consumption and spreading the expense around.
  • Shop Used – You can find great used kids’ clothes, at least some of the time. By heading to my local thrift store first, I can reduce the environmental impact of my shopping and save money. I have more success with some items, like pants, sweaters and dresses, and less success with shoes and shirts. Still, even one or two items bought second-hand makes for a greener back-to-school.
  • Choose Quality – For the things that need to be bought new, I try to choose quality over quantity. I would like to say that I only buy organic cotton, locally-made, sweatshop-free clothes for my kids. That wouldn’t be true. But by buying better-quality pants and shoes I can make them last longer, reducing my consumption and saving money in the long run. For example, the high-quality backpack I bought my daughter seven years ago is going strong, while the cheaper ones we’ve been gifted with have all long since died.

Buying less and shopping second-hand isn’t exactly the most sexy way to be green, but it’s certainly the cheapest.

Now that my daughter is eight years old, I involve her in the back-to-school shopping as well. She has strong opinions about what she likes and what she doesn’t like. I want her to use the stuff I’m buying, and I want her to feel good in her clothes. If I pay for a pair of shoes she never wears that ends up being a waste of energy and money, so I make sure to get her input. As she hurtles headlong into her tween years, I anticipate that she will only become more involved in every shopping decision I make for her.

How do you green your own back-to-school shopping? And do you bring your kids with your, or leave them at home? I’d love to hear! Plus, bonus points, by leaving a comment you can be entered in a fabulous giveaway for some seriously sustainable swag:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

One Green Thing: Winter Gardening

One Green Thing Strocel.comToday I’m tackling my One Green Thing for August. This month it’s all about planning my winter garden. But first, I’ll talk about my commitment to local eating last month.

At the beginning of July, I said that I would eat 10 local meals over the course of the month. Partway in, however, I decided to switch things up. I realized in pretty short order that I was eating a lot of local food, but not necessarily all at once. For example, I’d have some fresh blueberries with breakfast, some cucumber and cheese at lunch, a snack of a fresh peach, and potatoes and a salad at dinner. None of those constitute an entire meal, however, that’s nothing to sneeze at local food-wise. So, instead, I decided I would eat at least three servings of local food every day. I found this more manageable, and on many days I got as high as five or six servings, or even more. I call this a success, because I did increase the amount of local food I ate over the course of this month.

plant tunnel winter gardening

The view inside my plant tunnel

Now it’s August, which is the height of summer. Talking about my winter garden feels a little premature, on the surface of it. However, just as I plan my summer garden in the depths of winter, the dog days of the summer are the best time to think about what I may still be able to grow in the colder months. I’m going to give a shout-out to the fabulous Christy of Eco Journey in the Burbs for the inspiration she gave me in a post over on the Green Phone Booth.

To help me get started, I recently placed an order with West Coast Seeds, both for some plants that will likely grow well during the cooler months (lettuce, beets, carrots) and some over-wintering varieties that I will plant now and harvest in the spring (broccoli, cauliflower, onions). I already have a small plant tunnel, so that I can shelter my sensitive plants from the harshest weather. This year I decided to buy some rye as a cover crop, as well. In past years I’ve collected and laid down leaves, but I’ve had mixed results so this year I’ll try this instead.

I’m lucky to live in a part of Canada that has very mild winters, so year-round gardening is possible. My hope is that by growing food in every season, I’ll be able to further reduce my food miles at a time of year when I otherwise might be eating a lot of imported fruit and veggies.

Do you plant a winter garden? I’d love to hear about your experiences! Also, if you’d like to get in on the act and take on One Green Thing of your own, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to grab the button from this post if you’re blogging about it, and spread the enviro-love.

Singing the Dishwasher Blues + Homemade Cleaning Products

Sometimes, in life, you learn things the easy way. Other times, you learn things the hard way. On Thursday night I learned things the hard way.

It all began innocently enough. I had run out of dishwasher detergent – but I remembered that I had an old sample of Sunlight somewhere under my sink. I dug it out, popped the little packet in the soap dispenser, and started the dishwasher while I washed the pots and pans by hand. Normally I prefer to use greener dishwashing products, but when someone sends a free sample my way I’ll use it, especially when I’m out of my regular detergent. No biggie, right?

Once I finished up with the handwashing, I turned around to wash the kitchen counter. That’s when I saw it: a big soapy puddle spreading out beneath the dishwasher. It was huge. Had I accidentally put regular dish soap in the dishwasher? I’d always heard that doing that would lead to a mess like this. But the soap had come in a neat little packet. Dish soap for handwashing doesn’t come in packets. I grabbed the bag the sample had come in, and that’s when I saw the words LAUNDRY DETERGENT in all caps across the top. This is when I learned – the hard way – that you should never put laundry soap in the dishwasher.

I called for my husband, who came running with towels. We sopped up the mess and drained the dishwasher, then ran the rinse cycle. Then I ran a super-hot wash with baking soda, and another rinse cycle with vinegar. At the end, my dishes had never been cleaner. However, they smelled like ‘Spring Splash’, whatever that means. I don’t use artificially-scented laundry soap anymore, and I’d forgotten how strong they smell, and how long that scent lingers.

I recently attended a local blogger event put on by Aspen Clean. Aspen Clean is a Vancouver company that sells green cleaning products and offers green home cleaning services. The evening featured yoga, food and the chance to try making our own homemade cleaning products. We made all purpose cleaner, glass cleaner and tub and tile cleaner. I don’t love the all purpose cleaner – for most of my cleaning around the house I just use castile soap, and I found that it works just as well or better than my homemade spray. The glass cleaner was good, and I’ll likely keep using it. However, the tub and tile cleaner really knocked my socks off. I normally just use baking soda for any scouring I do, but this worked much better. I am sort of smitten.

green living homemade cleaning products tub and tile cleaner

Here’s the recipe for the tub and tile cleaner:

Tub & Tile Cleaner

2 cups baking soda
1.5 Tbsp castile soap
20 drops essential oil (I used lavender, but you could choose whatever you enjoy)

Mix the ingredients well and store in a reusable container. Aspen Clean was kind enough to provide me with a shaker bottle, and I find that it works very well, but failing that I’m sure a glass jar or even an old yogurt tub would work well.

After my dishwasher fiasco, I’m considering making my own dishwasher detergent. I found some recipes online, but I’m still debating which one to go with. This is where you come in. Have you ever made your own dishwasher soap? I’d love to hear what worked. Or I’d be happy to hear your stories of dishwasher disaster. I can’t be the only one who’s managed to flood their kitchen floor with soapy water, can I?

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