Social and Environmental Inspiration

In the past month, I’ve been traveling — it is summer, after all — and reading a great deal, both on paper and online. I’ve stumbled across some dedicated environmental groups and thought I’d share my findings. If you’re looking for inspiration to start your own neighborhood project or just want to throw a few dollars at someone with a great idea, visit a link or two below.
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Cutest (and Most Enduring) Reusable Bags

People ask me where I bought my reusable bags. They really do, all the time. That is, those who are not annoyed and/or threatened by them. I’m not sure where I originally found Envirosax, but at the time they were a tiny Australian company exporting handfuls of bags to the US at very dear shipping prices. I bought myself a bag o’ sacks — it’s a real thing — and then dozens more for everyone on my shopping list that year. The thing is, they were adorable! Sweet, printed florals or bold, sweeping graphics gave each bag purse potential. While the company has bloomed, I, along with the original recipients of my holiday 2005 buying spree, still carry the bags from my first Envirosax order. That’s how durable they are, and mine have been sorely tested with everything from heavy canned goods to weekly farmers market runs. One bag has holes poked through the center after a loose artichoke prickled through two years ago and he’s still going strong, though I’m careful about the artichokes these days.

This year I supplemented my fraying, tired collection with two newbies from Envirosax. (Now that I live in the country, I need a few extra bags for stocking up.) Yes, there are plenty of other reusable bag manufacturers. But I like to adopt the second and maybe even fourteenth cousins of my current bags and think of them all giddily catching up on family business when I’m asleep.

If I think about how many plastic bags I’ve avoided by using these five bags on nearly every outing for the past four years, I’m proud of the tiny dent I’ve made. I’m down at least 1,040 bags, at five bags per week. Scoff if you must, but it’s more than a few bags.
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Paper Towels — Necessary Evil or Expendable Disposable?

There’s a war going on between my husband and I about the importance of paper towels. Occasionally, I’ll admit, it’s a relief that he wipes his grimy car-parts hands on the disposables rather than my fresh white linens. Even when he’s washed them three times, he leaves a gray trail of grease after he changes the car’s oil. Ew. I reach for them myself, too, after weeding the garden or planting a few things, using the edge to dig dirt from under my nails. And there’s nothing better for gross cleanups like pet mistakes — not using cloth for that!

While there many reasons I like to use paper towels, I realize it adds a bit of volume to my trash over the course of a year. I’ve done a few things to cut down on that without erasing paper towels entirely from my grocery list.
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Whitening Teeth on the Cheap

I don’t know about you, but I’ve completely bought into the hype of teeth whitening. Several of those Crest kits have been used, plus specialty toothpastes and gels, plus a few of those mint-flavored ampoules — all to keep my pearly whites a radiant shade. As I pondered the latest solution, a $100 month-long kit with guaranteed results, I felt a mixture of inadequacy and stupidity. How white is white enough, anyway? How much money am I willing to spend on brightening my smile? Well, okay, a bit, actually. When I notice that all the other teeth in my photos make mine look yellow, I start up the shopping again. Hmmm. With a sigh, I replaced the kit on the shelf.
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Too much produce? Impossible. . . right?

- Too much produce?

I’m produce crazy. Really, I am. I pick up a CSA delivery from the co-op on Mondays, then visit a Wednesday market in a neighboring town for bakery goods, followed immediately by a bike ride to our town’s market three blocks away. I am also growing loads of veggies, if I can keep the snails and slugs away long enough to form actual vegetation. My husband brings me eggs from a co-worker’s chickens, and I nab local milk and tofu at the co-op. There’s even a third market I visit once a month for fresh cheese, honey and any organic meat my husband requests. All in all, I’m feeling pretty lucky about my bountiful surroundings this summer.
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Rabbit-proof Gardens

Grrr. I admit it — I was angry. Walking along the gardens that flank my porch, I was aghast to see all my hard work transplanting seedlings and starters had been ravaged by pests. And large pests of the fuzzy bunny type chew straight down to the core. Squash, zucchini and cucumber were indistinguishable without leaves. Totally armless, stick figures of tomatoes, eggplant and pepper waved in the wind. I had to start again, losing weeks from my growing season. What could I do to keep the rabbits from eating my second efforts?
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The Gardening Begins

It’s planting time in Kansas! Okay, so it’s been planting time for a while, but I don’t have my own tiller. I had to wait out a few rainy weeks before my parents could bring theirs across from Missouri and dig up my patch. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) I’d already started seeds indoors using egg crates (pictured). I still have plenty of things to start from scratch, but the lettuces, radishes and carrots will take no time to sprout.
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White Vinegar and Baking Soda

Vinegar is a natural sterilizing agent, and white vinegar’s clarity is preferred for cleaning. With similar acid content and purpose, it can replace lemon juice in most cleaning solutions, and essential oil may be added to mask the scent. Vinegar has thousands of household uses. Visit to see some of them.
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Non-toxic Products—Worth the Scrub?

With spring around the corner, I find myself stuck aboard the cleaning wagon. When I first started making homemade cleaning products, I’d occasionally find it challenging to get an area completely spotless. It can be frustrating to scrub twice as hard, when a chemical-laden spray used to eat through the grime in seconds. Using all the tips I’d learned, I was always able to get it clean, but not without some effort.

The good news is that there’s an easy way to spare myself the intense, muscled scrubbing:  the monthly onceover. When I stay on top of things, revisiting each room weekly, the cleaning isn’t more than a basic wipe. Such a relief.
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More Cleaning Essentials

Nontoxic recipes for home-cleaning come together easily for daily use. You may already have most of the ingredients on hand, as well as various re-usable bottes, spray-top bottles, glass jars with screw-top lids, salvaged old t-shirts and sponges. Add a little elbow grease, and your home is sure to shine.

Some newer ingredients now available to homemakers are tea tree and essential oils, both used in the disinfectant spray recipe below. Many local co-ops, apothecaries, and organic foods stores are now selling a variety of these strongly-scented oils for both homeopathic and everyday use. Tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant with antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. Essential oils are costly, but just a drop or two adds a lovely scent to any cleaning supply recipes, entirely masking the use of vinegar. Oils range in scent from classic lemon to cinnamon to summer berry.
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