Wednesday, 29 May 2013

A Quiet Moment

Despite disliking being crazy busy, and despite disliking it when people say they are crazy busy, I have been crazy busy. Life with a job, three kids, two cats, family members with health problems, after school activities, yada yada yada.

As a culture we glorify busy. We cram our lives with things to do and places to go. We schedule our children's lives and join activities. We work and overwork.

Recently I haven't had much time for myself, but when my time became a bit more open I decided to not only get back into a regular exercise routine but find time to centre myself and meditate.

Nothing makes me more calm and centred than to spend time outside in a natural setting, particularly by  water. We live five minutes from the mouth of the Fraser River in Steveston, an idyllic fishing village. I enjoy going for walks and runs along the river bank year round. In the winter I love the foggy, frosty mornings; in spring I enjoy the fresh new green and flowers; in the summer I find peace in the golden sunsets; in the fall I love the crisp air and warm colours.
Along the river bank

My usual running route has been closed due to boardwalk reconstruction so I have been heading in the opposite direction along the river. One day I decided to stop and go exploring down on the shoreline to get a closer view of a blue heron. I rediscovered an amazing little beach and decided to sit on a log for a while. The sounds of birds, the lapping water and wind calmed me so I closed my eyes to listen more mindfully. Before I knew it I was meditating, which I have not done for some time.
The Earth's creatures living in harmony.

It is particularly difficult to find quiet alone time with three children, especially when even going to the bathroom is no longer alone time. I have wanted to do this for a while (one of my new year intentions this year) but because of my crazy busy life I just didn't make it a priority. Of course, much like exercising, it is precisely when we are busy and feeling stressed that we should make time for this.
The air is fresh and salty where the Fraser River meets the ocean.

I was out of practice and found my mind wandering constantly, but I always brought myself back to my breath. I particularly like meditating by water because ebb and flow of the water mirrors breathing. It makes it easy to remember to breathe mindfully when Nature is right there reminding me with her rhythms.
My new favourite meditation spot.

The effect of this brief moment was immediate. I felt calmer and yes, happier. I have since returned to this spot once a week when my youngest is in preschool, but I need to find the time in my regular life more often.

If it is important I will make time; otherwise I'm just making excuses.

Friday, 24 May 2013

How To Save The Earth While Drying Your Hands

One of my pet peeves is paper towels and paper napkins. I just don't understand why it is so hard to use cloth napkins or towels and wash them.

But using paper towel is unavoidable when using public toilets. I have no idea if air-blowing hand dryers use less energy than the production and disposal of paper towels, but often we don't have a choice. (I like to use the paper towel so I can use it to open the washroom door when I leave. Have you seen how many people don't wash their hands properly or at all after using the toilet?!)

A friend sent me this fantastic TED Talk on how to cut down on the amount of paper towel when drying hands.

Such a great idea! I'm going to show this to my daughters and my students at school.

Shake... and.... fold.

Thanks Betsy!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

How To Detox Your Shampoo

In my quest to green my personal care products years ago I started buying "natural" shampoo, as in shampoo free of fragrances, sodium layryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureate sulfate (SLES), and a host of other toxic ingredients linked to endocrine problems, cancer and reproductive issues.

I had varying degrees of success with "natural" shampoos and there was always an adjustment period for my hair. Some left my hair feeling unmanageable and difficult to style, others did not clean to my liking. The one thing they all had in common was the cost - very expensive. I am not one to shy away from paying more for natural and organic products, but I felt unsatisfied with the results and therefore they were not worth the added expense, in my opinion.

As with many things on my eco journey, being frustrated was the key to the discovery of something better for me. Store bought commercial products were either toxic or ineffective or expensive, so I began searching for a more natural alternative - making my own!
Before embarking upon my No Poo journey. 
I was in need of a haircut at this point.

The Internet is full of posts on the no-shampoo, otherwise known as the "no 'poo", way to clean hair. Basically it is using baking soda and water to clean hair and apple cider vinegar to condition and tone. I'm with you if you're saying yuck or this wouldn't work for your hair. That's how I felt and I ignored this way to clean hair for several years. Hair can be a big part of our identity and we all now how a bad hair day can put us in a bad mood (or is that just me?). 

Well, I reached my frustration point again a little over six months ago and decided I had nothing to lose. I decided that this wasn't so crazy. One of the main ingredients in dry shampoos is baking soda, so I guess this made sense after all.  I have read all sorts of different recipes for this method but much like my cooking, I go rogue and just eye-ball the ratio of ingredients. I have found that approximately 1:8 or 1:10 baking soda to water to be just the right amount. I used to use a stronger solution but this made my hair feel very straw-like. It is surprising how little baking soda is needed for this. For the apple cider vinegar I use 1:2 vinegar to water.
My ingredients: baking soda, apple cider vinegar and water. 

Here's my No Poo method:

  1. Wet my hair as usual.
  2. Squirt the baking soda / water mixture onto my hair, being careful to tip my chin up to keep it out of my eyes. 
  3. Gently rub my scalp, massaging the mixture around. There is no need to work it down to the ends of the hair.
  4. Rinse hair with water.
  5. Squirt the apple cider vinegar (ACV) / water mixture onto my hair, again being careful to keep my chin up. Trust me on this! Vinegar in eyes really stings!
  6. Leave the ACV in for a few minutes. Rinse thoroughly.

This was taken several months after beginning my No Poo journey.
Other than a haircut my hair looks largely the same. I am pleased!

I like how soft the ACV leaves my hair and I really don't mind the smell. Then again I use white vinegar for most of my cleaning so I am used to it and now associate it with cleanliness.

Some people have said that their hair takes time to adjust to this and they find their hair feels greasier initially, especially if they wash their hair frequently. I have always limited washing my hair to at most three times a week (usual one to two) so I didn't notice any adjustment at all. In fact, I loved how my hair felt from the very first time. I know this isn't the case for many people so I was prepared for the worst.

Some Tips:

  • I use a peri-bottle, like the ones mothers receive in the hospital post-birth, because they are easy to squirt onto my head. Initially I used jars to pour the mixtures onto my head and this did not work well (went all over my face because difficult to control). I purchased additional ones here at Luna Pads.
  • I leave the ACV in my hair as long as I would commercial conditioners, if not longer. I wash at the beginning of my shower, go about my business, and rinse when I am finished. 
  • I have found that if I use too much baking soda or leave it in my hair too long it leaves my hair feeling like straw.
  • When mixing in the water I like to use warm, almost hot water to avoid a cold blast to my scalp while I'm enjoying a warm shower.
I use no poo to wash my three daughters' hair as well and they now prefer it, although they can still be lured by the fun designs, colours, scents and characters on shampoo marketed to kids. 

The only caveat I have is that I may need to do a deep conditioning treatment on my hair, and the same thing with my oldest daughter's hair, which is very thick. I'm going to try doing leave-in conditioner with coconut oil next time I wash my hair. 

Benefits of No Poo:

  • non-toxic, which was my main concern trying this
  • affordable: I buy my baking soda in the bulk section and although ACV can be somewhat expensive (especially if organic and unpasteurized) I am currently trying to make my own
  • easy to make with ingredients found around the home

I'm happy I've made one more step off the consumer treadmill by making my own shampoo and conditioner with ingredients I have around my home.


I have since experimented with using coconut oil to deep condition my hair and I can report that it is working well. Every so often, when I feel that my hair needs it, I massage a small amount of coconut oil into my scalp and hair. I leave my hair wet and put it into a bun or pony tail for the day. The next day (or the next time I wash it, as I sometimes leave my hair like this for days) I wash and dry my hair as usual and my hair is silky soft.

Occasionally I use the tiniest amount of coconut oil (less than the size of my pinky nail) in my dried hair because I have very wavy (frizzy) hair that needs lots of taming.

I use coconut oil for many other purposes as well.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Greening Mother's Day

Mother's Day has always been a bit of a problem for me.

I don't want my children to feel forced into doing something nice for me just because the calendar says they are supposed to do it; they should be free to do so whenever they feel like it. I have tried over the years to do this for my own mother; thoughtful little gifts or cards at random times, helping her by running errands when she is unable, giving her hugs and telling her I love her.

Then again, let's be honest and admit that much like Valentine's Day, we often don't tell someone how we feel about them or do thoughtful things for them unless we are reminded. 

Mother's Day can cause a lot of grief for people as well. They feel the need to buy expensive gifts, jewellery, flowers and fancy cards with rhyming sentiments written by someone else. There are mothers' expectations (yes, I have them too) that are all too frequently dashed by reality, and we all know that expectations are often the root of unhappiness. 

I have always felt that the thought that went into the gift, regardless of the gift itself, is the most important part. I don't want a store bought card from my daughters. One of my interests is card making so I understand the effort that goes into making them for others. In fact, I inwardly cringe when I see one of my homemade cards get tossed to the side or even worse into the recycle bin. I keep every homemade card I receive (even if just for the inspiration to make one of my own). I don't care if my daughters' cards were printed on a computer by their teachers and they merely coloured it for me. They are excited to give it to me. 
The card I have made for my mother this year.

But I'm sure many mothers have received colossally horrible gifts for Mother's Day. I believe one year I  gave my own mother a plant from the school fair. She was very hurt when I said, "It was free Mum!" because of the off-hand manner in which I gave it to her. I wonder how many mothers will receive "World's Best Mother" mugs this year that will sit on a shelf gathering dust or "job coupons" that will be unused.

Knitted dish cloth for Mother's Day
This year my job-share partner and I taught our students how to knit so they could make dish cloths for their mother. I love how hard all of them worked on their knitting, many taking it home to work on the presents. I hope their mothers appreciate the gift, regardless of the holes and dropped stitches, because of the time that went into them. I feel good doing this activity with my students because it promotes reusing rather than disposing. Paper towels and napkins are a particular pet peeve of mine (energy in the processing, bleaching, energy in the transport, one-use product).

My Little holding the begonia she planted for me.
Two of my daughters have given me their Mother's Day gift already. My youngest planted a begonia for me at the preschool Mother's Day Tea (a much loved tradition) and my middle daughter, Banana Girl, gave me a potpourri of plants she grew in kindergarten. She was so thrilled to give it to me because she knows how much I enjoy vegetable gardening. It has beans and nasturtiums in it to name a couple. I love the idea of living plants for Mother's Day.
Beans, Nasturtiums and cat grass from my kindergartener.

I am not a fan of the family Mother's Day brunch. I prefer to spend the day with my girls and husband doing an outside activity that I enjoy. The David Suzuki Foundation has a 30x30 challenge to inspire people to spend thirty minutes a day for the month of May outside and this is perfect for Mother's Day! Last year I wanted to visit the U.B.C. Botanical Garden Greenheart Canopy Walk, but that had to wait until later in the summer. In previous years we have gone on family bike rides or to Stanley Park. This year I will be spending the morning at a gymnastics meet for my oldest daughter but if the weather permits I would like to go to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island in Ladner (we can actually see Westham Island from the river bank here in Steveston).
At the UBC Greenheart Canopy Walkway with my girls.

For Mother's Day this year, I hope more people try the following:

  • make rather than buy
  • give a living plant rather than cut flowers
  • get outside and enjoy time together as a family

However you celebrate Mother's Day, have a great weekend.

Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, 4 May 2013

It's Easy Being Green

Although Kermit the Frog thinks it isn't easy being green, I think it can be simple to make ethical choices, like reusing instead of throwing away and planting something to eat.

For our belated Earth Day celebration my class harvested our classroom garden.

We grew the plants in recycled two litre plastic pop bottles. I was inspired by several Pinterest ideas for this project such as this one. We cut the pop bottles in half, turned the top opening section into the bottom half, which served as a water reservoir for our self-watering planters. As our class windows are north facing I chose a variety that grows well in cool, damp, low-light conditions and as you can see from the photos, they thrived.

My students learned about optimal growing conditions, variables that affect growth and patience. I enjoyed watching them come in each morning and head straight to their plants to check on them. 

Despite about a third of the plants not returning to school after our two week spring break we had enough to make a salad for thirty people. The students were so excited by eating something they grew that we immediately planted new seeds for the next round of our classroom garden.

One of the problems with parties and food with a class of thirty students is what to use to serve the food. Obviously I won't buy disposable plates and cutlery, and using paper towel isn't ideal either. In the past I have asked students to bring their own plates, cups and cutlery from home, but many forget.

In late 2012 I entered a contest to win reusable party supplies for the classroom at the EcoMom Alliance. I commented on our class goals to be more eco responsible and how we were studying about our connection to nature with a unit from The David Suzuki Foundation. The sponsor of the contest, Surf Sweets, generously provided everyone who commented with a Preserve pack of reusable plates, cups and cutlery. 

The Shareware they sent arrived just in time for our belated Earth Day party salad. Although I am trying to find alternatives to plastic for serving and storing food, sometimes plastic is expedient. I am impressed with the quality of the Preserve Shareware. They use recycled plastic to create #5 plastic that is completely recyclable in the end. They are BPA and melamine free, completely recyclable and use less water and energy when making their products.

We used the small plates and forks for our Earth Day party, and I love the sea of green around the room as we enjoyed our salad. Now, and for years to come, we can have class parties that will not involve creating waste, and the set can be shared with other classrooms. 

My students have seen how simple it is to grow their own food. They know how important it is to reuse what we have. It is easy to make little changes and I hope they continue on this path.


I would like to thank Surf Sweets, Preserve and EcoMom Alliance for the gift of the Preserve Shareware for my students.