Posted by: ecoacts | July 29, 2009

Being Wise In The Laundry Room

Believe it or not, I’ve owned my home for 7 years and have not had a washer & dryer. There is a laundromat down the street and for $1.75 I wash one load a week – that includes my husband’s clothes as well. When you have to carry your laundry, I think there is an incentive to really consider whether that shirt is dirty enough to go into the wash. Jeans can be worn several times. If you hang your towels out to dry in the sun, they don’t get that musty, icky smell after just a few uses. When you don’t have to save up coins to start the washing process, you probably don’t have much sense of what you are paying per load and that can lead to excessive use too.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine called me to say she was getting a new washer and dryer and wanted to give me her washing machine. Reuse is divine intervention! Her machine is only a couple of years old and is in good shape. So, I decided to go ahead and bring in a contractor to repipe our tiny mud room to insert the machine. I have to admit, I’m pretty excited about this new addition. But I worry that I will fall prey to the habit of throwing small loads in every few days just because I can.

You may be wondering why the dryer was not included. Well, we line dry our clothes in the spring, summer and fall. Living in California allows us to do this. And I don’t live in one of those communities that outlaws this practice, which I think is ridiculous. (Have you ever noticed how “quaint” clothing hanging on lines in European cities seems? People will take photos of the items strung from a high window across an alley way. But in America, it’s considered “trashy.”)  In the rainy winter season, we hang the clothing on racks and place them over a couple of heat vents that we are already paying for. It might take a day or two but it saves money and energy. Installing a dryer meant permits, new circuit breakers, new gas lines, etc. So I decided it would be just fine to invite the washing machine into my life but to keep my solar-powered drying system.

So next week the wainscoting will be taken apart, the pipes will be enlarged, and I will be put to the test to see if I can stick to my one load a week discipline or not. What would it take for you to reduce your laundry to one load a week? If that seems impossible – how about reducing the number of loads by 50%? Give it a try. See where you might be going a little excessive. In these times, saving a little money and energy is a good thing.

Posted by: ecoacts | July 8, 2009

Worry Free Dish Soap – Read All About It

Best little dish soap in town!

Best little dish soap in town!

The products we use in our homes can have an impact on our air, water and food. The other day I was in Target, of all places. I stumbled across this dish soap and was instantly in love with the fact that the label includes a longer list of what it DOESN’T have than what is actually in it!

I am particular about dish soap because I don’t have a dishwasher. I hand wash my dishes and then pour the used water into my garden. It’s important that the water does not contain toxic chemicals since much of my garden is edible.

J.R. Watkins has been around since 1868. It is non-toxic, biodegradable, and is not tested on animals. It’s also made in Minnesota!

The ingredients include: Purified water, coconut oil derived surfactants (the stuff that makes suds), salt, natural coconut oil. THAT IS IT!

This dish soap  does NOT contain: ammonia, animal ingredients, benzene, boron, butyl cellosives, chlorine, dyes, ether, formaldehyde, isopropanol, kerosene, mineral spirits, perfumes, petrochemicals, phosphates, phosphoric acid, propylene glycol, sulfuric acid.

It is a guilt free, worry free product. It is highly concentrated – just a tiny dab cleans up a pile of dirty dishes. I love the smell too (green tea & aloe)!

It is encouraging to see that our big box retailers are providing alternatives. So look at the labels, compare your normal brand with others nearby – you just might toss that brand loyalty out the window in return for a brand that is loyal to your health and the planet! Remember, every purchase = a vote!

For more information on J.R. Watkins products go to:

Posted by: ecoacts | June 29, 2009

Talking About ECOACTS on blogtalk radio

In case you want to hear a little about the book before you buy it, check out this morning’s group discussion on blog talk radio!

Posted by: ecoacts | June 2, 2009

An EcoActs Birthday Reflection

Today is my 42nd birthday. Given my family history, it is likely I will live at least 42 more years.

As an eco-conscious person, I cannot help but reflect on the impact my 42 years has had on the world. Like many people, I hope that my existence has had a positive impact on family, friends, community, etc. It is an obvious aspiration. But today, I want to consider what I have taken from the earth in order to ensure my existence. I’d like to give praise to the myriad plants, animals and people who have given something of themselves in order to keep me alive and/or satisfied.

When I was in Borneo some years back, I helped a group of women living in a rural community harvest rice. I can only say that these puny women made this back-breaking work look so much easier than it is. Once the rice has been cut from the stalk (an itchy, hot, and insect-ridden day) it needs to be thrashed. Yep – beaten as hard as one can possibly beat something. Although rather cathartic, blisters, sore muscles, and tinges of nerve damage were the greater part of my experience. Why do I bring this up? Well, that night I ate the usual fare of vegetables and rice. I can tell you that not one grain of rice was left on my plate.

From that day forward, I looked at food in a totally new light. Everything I have put in my mouth since I was born had to be produced by human or machine. Much of it required long hours and arduous work for very little money. Most of it is consumed in a matter of minutes without any regard for the effort. Due to my experience in Borneo, saying grace before eating actually makes sense to me. Not necessarily to thank God for providing this meal; but to thank his devoted servants who continue to provide me with calories, nutrients, and sometimes, decadence.

The bigger message for me is this…It is important to be mindful of our food. Being alive means we start taking resources and producing waste from day 1 and we don’t stop until the lights go out. If we all devoted even one day to acknowledge what went into the food we eat, I think the world would somehow be a little better. I think we would slow down and enjoy what we are eating or drinking. Our senses would relay the inherent gifts the food provides and we would be satisfied to a greater degree. We would need less to feel more satiated.

I want to add a twist to this. This morning, my husband and I celebrated my birthday by having chocolate old fashion donuts and coffee for breakfast. This is truly rare since donuts are not the healthiest food on the planet. But wow did we appreciate them! We sat outside in our garden with our donuts on our swiss-dot saucer. We took a moment to stare at them in anticipation and appreciation. We each had a hot cup of coffee  – fair trade organic from Nicaragua. We each took a donut and broke off a chunk of the edge…a ritual I insist on doing whenever I eat a chocolate old fashion. All the way around, breaking off the chunks and letting the chocolate melt in my mouth. Finally the smaller inner ring is all that remained. I paused to sip my coffee and just stare at this delightful last bit. It was a naughty, decadent morning…and I treated that donut with as much reverence as I did the last grain of rice from Borneo.

Posted by: ecoacts | May 15, 2009

How Much Water Is Used To Produce Food?

When we think of water conservation, we generally think about the water we personally use to take a shower, wash our clothes, etc. What we often don’t think about is how much water it takes to create all of the products and foods we use. 70 – 80% of water use comes from agriculture. So it is only logical that part of water conservation should include consideration of the types of foods we eat.

I recently spoke at the Water Conservation Showcase at the PG&E building in San Francisco. As a follow up to that event, we were provided with more resources. The data on the link between food and water was particularly interesting to me. I have repeated some of the information below. This is not to suggest we all resort to living the life of a bunny rabbit; but it does give us perspective. The leap in water usage to create beef is pretty astounding.

It takes 1,500,000 gallons of water to produce the food consumed each year by the average U.S. Resident. 


– National Park Service 


Water required to produce some foods: 


Food Gallons/Pound 

lettuce  – 23 

tomatoes – 30 

oranges  – 49 

apples – 49 

potatoes – 60 

cantaloupe – 80 

milk – 96 

orange juice – 98 

corn – 168 

plain yogurt – 176 

white bread – 198 

avocado – 220 

white sugar – 224 

soybeans – 240 

tofu – 244 

brown rice – 256 

pasta – 288 

white rice – 400 

eggs – 573 

chicken – 815 

cheese – 896 

almonds – 1280 

pork – 1630 

butter – 2044 

beef – 2500-5000 


Sources include the Water Education Foundation, University of California Agricultural Extension & 

Ecological Integrity: Integrating Environment, Conservation and Health edited by David Pimentel 

Posted by: ecoacts | May 7, 2009

New York Governor Bans Bottled Water

Following the footsteps of San Francisco and many other cities, New York has decided to stop purchasing single-serve bottled water for its governmental offices. This warms my heart because it means many people are starting to get it.

A press release from the governor’s office points out critical facts:

  • Bottled water is wasteful and requires large amounts of energy to bottle and transport. 
  • Over 450 million gallons of oil are used to transport water from bottling plants to stores. 
  • In the U.S., plastic water bottle manufacturing uses 17 million barrels of oil, producing over 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution. 
  • 80% of these bottles (4 billion pounds) end up in garbage incinerators or landfills. 
  • 3 out of 4 people drink bottled water on a regular basis even though many bottled water products are just filtered tap water.
  • For each gallon of water that goes into a plastic bottle, 2 gallons of water are used to make the plastic bottles and to filter the water. 

What is our obsession with convenience that overrides all rational thought? I have seen people – friends – buy crates of bottled water for a party even though they are completely aware that it’s really not smart. It’s easy.

Would it be so hard to fill up a few pitchers with tap water and lay out some tumblers or cups? At the very least, just buy the large jugs of water – the kind you can set at the edge of the table and pull the built in spigot to deliver water.

When are we going to stop making convenience our number one priority? Why not settle for the triumphant sensation of overcoming the urge of laziness knowing we did something smart for our pockets and our planet!?

Posted by: ecoacts | April 30, 2009

Own Your Food – Grow Some of Your Own!


Bean Plant

Bean Plant

You wouldn’t say I have a large yard. Nevertheless, there is enough space for a few fruit trees and plenty of sunshine. So this year, I decided to take the plunge into vegetable growing. It turns out, you don’t really need a great deal of space for some plants.

I have 6 potted tomato plants & 3 large barrels of lettuces. Containers are helpful if you have a yard with sunny and shady spots. As summer rolls around I will need to move my plants for their optimal sun/shade. I planted pole beans in a variety of little spots around the garden. I had this old wrought iron headboard that I’ve been dragging around the country with me for the last 20 years and I finally found a great use for it! I know, it sounds tacky – like something you’d see in a trailer park. Believe it or not, it is beautiful…even my sophisticated neighbors have said so!

So my little bean plants are starting to wrap their arms around the iron posts. In a few months, I hope to not only have this covered completely; but I have also crocheted strings of jute and strung them from the rafters in front of our bedroom window. My hope is that I will create a green, gorgeous sun shade to prevent our bedroom from heating up this summer! I’ll keep you posted.

Here’s the deal. Even if you have a balcony, just grow something. It’s so rewarding and it is a tiny bit of work. Don’t forget to use your grey water to water the plants. Hand wash dishes in a bowl, so you just pour the water directly (make sure your detergent is nontoxic and biodegradable). When you boil pasta or make hard-boiled eggs, save the water and use it on your plants!

If you have children, put them on the green team to help plant and care for your veggies! They will appreciate the harvest too.

Posted by: ecoacts | April 21, 2009

Avoid Cypress Mulch, Save Louisiana’s Forests

Mulching your gardens is a great way to prevent water from evaporating from the soil. It also helps control weeds without having to use chemicals. But what if those giant bags of mulch you are buying were part of a clear cutting rampage on Louisiana’s Cypress forests? Does it really make sense to cut down a tree in order to grow  a little clump of flowers? Of course not!

Cypress forests are part of the critical wetland ecosystems of the south. Louisiana has no laws in place to protect them. It is estimated that about 20,000 acres of Cypress forests are clear cut each year. And we thought this was only happening in the poor, “primitive” areas of the Amazon…we are allowing this to happen in our own backyards – and we are supporting it every time we buy a bag of Cypress mulch from Lowe’s or Home Depot.

Need another reason to protect these wetlands? The Cypress forests also act as a natural defense from hurricane winds.

For more information, you go the Save Our Cypress Coalition.

Posted by: ecoacts | April 10, 2009

What is in my water?

Everyday, I am super aware of how much water I use. My husband now fills the sink with hot water to shave rather than letting the water constantly run from the faucet. We both time ourselves to attempt to take 5 minute showers (the time goes faster than you might think! – Try it). I just planted my summer veggies and so now I am saving water from the kitchen sink, the utility sink, even from the doggie’s bowl. All of the used grey water goes to the garden. 

These are all things I know I can control. It’s not easy but I can cut back, reuse, get creative. What keeps creeping into my psyche as I drink water and bathe in it is…What Is In My Water? Today, I received an email from CLEAN WATER ACTION that made this concern so much more real! Here is what the article said:

The Clean Water Act originally called for our nation’s water bodies to be fishable and swimmable by 1985, a deadline that passed – unfulfilled – more than a generation ago. Through Poisoned Waters, Smith reveals that the greatest threats to our waterways could be coming from our medicine cabinets, broom closets and backyards. The chemicals in many every-day products – such as deodorants, skin creams, soaps and prescription drugs – are known as emerging contaminants, and could be responsible for America’s six-legged frogs.

Tune in to FRONTLINE’s Poisoned Waters on April 21, and dive below the surface to explore the issues of water pollution and environmental protection in the United States. Poisoned Waters premieres Tuesday, April 21, 2009 from 9 – 11 P.M., online and on television. Tune into your local PBS station or watch online.

Posted by: ecoacts | April 2, 2009

Take A Long, Slow, Deep Breath

The first chapter of ECO ACTS for Mommies starts with breathing. The fundamentals of the personal need to take long, slow, deep breaths could not be more timely. We learn that stress and fear can cause our system to “freak out” and our natural response to these emotions is to hold our breath, breathe quickly, and breathe shallowly -using only the upper part of our lungs. This is a vicious cycle because the lack of oxygen and the signals that are sent through our nervous system tells us danger is near. So stress elevates.

This past week has been a true test of my ability to walk the walk, breathe the breath. The world economy, national news, and local tragedies (the shootings in my hometown Oakland, CA) leave me stunned. At the same time, work could not be more critical. As program director of a non-profit, I tend to take ownership of our cause and try to do everything in my power to keep us moving forward. Uncertainty about our future is simply a fact. To add to my load, I am planning to stand in front of dozens of family members I have not seen in years to lead the funeral service for my grandmother in a few weeks. I live the farthest away and I’m likely one of the busiest people in the family; so it just made sense for me to be the one to draft and deliver the eulogy, right? Honestly, it is an honor. I want it to be a great opportunity.

I find myself getting completely wound up by the tasks swirling around me. Even my dreams have been wild, colorful and exhausting. So, it seems that the knowledge I’ve acquired and shared with “ECO ACTS for Mommies” readers is oh so timely. By adhering to proper breathing, we can turn all of the tasks on our list into celebrations versus stressors. Each morning, I take a few minutes when I first wake up to take slow, deep breaths through my nose. I hold it to the count of 4 and then slowly release the breath through my nose again. I focus on the feeling of my lower lungs deeply filling up, expanding my abdomen, and then slowly pushing the air out.

Sometimes in the middle of the day, I catch myself talking quickly, gulping air, and I just stop. I reassess my breathing and adjust it to slow down. I breathe through my nose. It seems to help.

I take a pilates class and I like that the instructor guides us to inhale through the nose. She takes a slightly different approach and suggests that students exhale through the mouth. I think that’s fine. It allows people to really get the air out quickly while doing exercise so they can inhale at the right time.

So, if you have not tested your own breathing pattern yet – do it. If you cannot remember to do so, set an alarm or put a sticky note on a mirror (in the bathroom, on your review mirror, etc.). Try to take 4 or 5 breaths inhaling through your nose and then exhaling through your nose or mouth. Make sure your are taking a big enough breath to cause your tummy to slightly expand. See if it settles your mind and your body.

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