Cleaning Up My Life

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Like many folks, I took health and well-being for granted in my younger years, and being raised in the middle-class American Midwest, I took many “modern necessities” for granted, as well; frozen dinners, soda pop, all manner of automated gadgetry to make life ostensibly either easier or more convenient.

As it turns out, a lot of it is complete bullshit.

As I read through the common chemicals and absurd ingredients on many items in the typical American’s household, I am increasingly aghast. What started this? When did it become completely okay to fill us full of chemicals and by-products through our food and products we put on our bodies?

More importantly, why did we, as consumers, let this happen?

I am no conspiracy theorist, honestly; if I had a decent photo editing program, I’d knock out the subtitle and just leave the sheeple part, but when I stop to think about it, the government is allowing all of this to happen. Corporations are riding roughshod over us every stinkin’ day. Peter is right – they’re not looking out for us as much as we might think. We have to take responsibility for what goes into and onto our bodies.

But seriously – how did it get this bad?

My first suspicions are these: 1.) They needed a place to dispose of by-products that would also make them money. Hey, we’ve got this black substance left over from manufacturing paper. It smells kind of like vanilla… let’s sell it as Imitation Vanilla Flavor! (Seriously.) 2.) Preservation. We can’t have things spoiling on the shelves, oh no. In order for everyone to be able to find absolutely everything absolutely all the time, we have to overproduce EVERYTHING in mass quantities. Of course, some of these things will sit on the shelves for A Very Long Time, and we don’t want lose the money for them. Thus, they must survive the ages, and to survive the ages, they must be chock-full of preservatives. 3.) It’s cheaper to use plastics and petrochemicals than it is  to use Real Ingredients. No further explanation needed there.

I honestly wonder how far back this goes… dishonesty in sold wares probably goes back just about as far as salesmanship does, but when did companies begin putting total toxins into our food and products?

Perhaps most importantly, what can we do to get this crap out of our lives? How do we empower ourselves and take charge of our immediate environments?

I suspect most of us have at least a tiny, nagging suspicion that we are out of sync with our bodies and with the world. How many of us spend our days in a climate-controlled building with no connection to the outside world? How many of us go home to a climate-controlled home and do something completely unrelated to Real Life? I sure do – both of those things.

For years, I didn’t really question the labels on anything – it was for sale, surely it must be safe, right? The FDA protects us from toxic tomfoolery and things that will eventually kill us if we eat them or use them in our homes… right?

Those of us who have the luxury of not being radically affected by the toxins in our environment sometimes dismiss them. Others, such as people with severe allergies, MCS, asthma, and other disorders aren’t as lucky and must make immediate, radical changes. Sometimes, they try to enlighten the rest of us, often to no avail, because we don’t suffer as they do. Surely, they must be overreacting. Surely, they are simply sickly or weak in some way, while we are stronger and more resilient. These chemicals aren’t attacking us, and if they are, we are surely winning.

Right?

No. Wrong.

Has anyone been paying attention to the prevalence of cancer in our society? Depression? Autoimmune disorders?

The toxins are just killing us more slowly, in less obvious ways.

So how about we stop that?

We may not be able to change the world right quick, but we surely can make a huge difference in our own lives.

One of the first things I did in this regard was to give up eating meat. It’s not something I’m going to preach about, but I’ll gladly discuss my reasons why. I recognize it is a big choice, a personal choice, and it’s not for everyone. It was hard, but going vegetarian was, comparatively, a cake walk compared to this gluten allergy I’ve recently been diagnosed with, because I wasn’t doing it for myself – I did it in protest of factory farming, I will not participate in or passively condone the atrocities conducted upon my animal friends . The sacrifice of giving up meat and all meat-containing products helped other beings, and helped the environment; it wasn’t about me or my health.

Giving up gluten is almost 100% about making myself healthier, which makes it more difficult. I am not having acute, impossible symptoms, either. It’s about the long-term and the eventual rewards. But it’s also a great opportunity to improve the overall… wholeness of my life. The simplicity. The back-to-nature-ness.

The homesteading. It’s the new black.

This gluten thing, while also benefiting the environment, is hard, because it’s pretty much about me. I’m primarily the one affected by it, and giving it up is only all about selfish things, like wanting to have energy and normal skin. I know eating whole foods will be better for me, for the local farms from whom I buy a lot of my produce and for the environment as a whole. So, I gave it up cold turkey two weeks ago and I haven’t relapsed yet. I want to see what not eaten gluten might be able to do for me. I am still skeptical, but I’m giving it my best shot.

What I am not skeptical about, however, is how much good replacing nasty chemicals in my house can do for Mike, for me and for our environment. I can’t think of anything currently in my cleaning cupboard that probably couldn’t be replaced with something homemade and far less toxic, even the ostensibly eco-friendly stuff. I’m not willing to throw away perfectly usable existing products, wasting them and dumping them into the landfills, but I’m not replacing them as they run out. I may end up Freecycling them, though, to get them out of the house.

Being your typical, left-leaning, tree-hugging conservationist/environmentalist-type person, reducing my personal impact on the planet is always at or near the forefront of my mind. I’ve really ramped up these efforts in the last 6 months, and wanted to share some of these things with you. I’d love it if you would pass this link along to your friends, family and readers, as well.

The stuff here is all pretty stinking easy to do. It’s not always cheap, but it’s really not difficult. Too, what price tag do we put on our health?

I mentioned yesterday I would share some links to homemade replacements for cleaning and personal hygiene products. Not all of these would be appropriate for MCS sufferers, but for those of us with a bit more leeway in our lives, they are at least a step in the right direction.

Personal hygiene:

Deodorant: Awhile back, I posted about My Great Homemade Deodorant Experiment. Following this post, I mixed up coconut oil, baking soda, corn starch and some lavender oil into a thick paste and began slathering it on my underarms once in the morning and once at night. The stuff works great, but I had to cut the amount of baking soda in it because it was sanding down the skin in my pits. Even with the reduced baking soda amount, it still works well. I use the Crystal Body Stick Deodorant first, let it mostly dry, and then apply the coconut oil paste. Generally, I have absolutely no pit odor at the end of the work day. However, my pits are once again flaking and irritated, so I’m going to rotate back to the three-ply deodorant method for a few days and cut the baking soda amount with more coconut oil and cornstarch again. The three-ply method works just as well, but is fussier: Crystal stick, Nature’s Gate Organics Fruit Blend Deodorant, Grapefruit & Wild Ginger, followed by a dusting of corn starch. I’ll be getting a powder puff to make the starch application less messy. Some days, I just do the salt and the starch, and that seems to work fine, as well.

Toothpaste: Currently, I’m using Tropical Traditions Cinnamon Teeth Cleaner. It only has natural ingredients, and an interesting cinnamon/clove flavor. When that’s used up, and my regular toothpaste is gone, I’m going to make my own dentifrice. The Tropical Traditions stuff is nice and appears to be all-natural, but the only way to be absolutely certain is to make it myself.

Shampoo: Four or so years back, I gave up shampoo and conditioner for a few months because I didn’t like the idea of all the chemicals I was dumping onto my scalp. I had a couple of friends try the baking soda and vinegar method, and it seemed to work great for them. It didn’t work so well for me, and thus, I reluctantly went back to commercial products until a couple of months ago. I still have to use Head & Shoulders a couple of times each week for pernicious flakes, but perhaps that will clear up after my body detoxes itself of gluten. For the main shampooing, though, I’ve been using a Tropical Traditions shampoo bar (scroll down a ways on that link, their web design is awful,) and it does a good job cleaning my hair. Initially, the patchouli scent seemed too strong, but it’s faded down quite a bit over time. It cleans without stripping.

However, I have very fine, very long, curly hair. It tangles up if I turn my head slightly one way or the other, so after washing it is a nasty, snaggled mess. I desperately need something to condition it so I can get a brush through it after I wash it. Thus…

Conditioner: Initially, I tried applying coconut oil to my hair and scalp once a week and allowing it to sit there whilst I took a bath. However, it’s very difficult to rinse or wash out with my hair, and the next few days after the treatment, I looked all greasy. Yesterday, I received my order of Rainwater Botanical’s Dead Sea Salt Spray. I’ll try it tonight to see how it works. It it ostensibly all-natural, but does contain Naturaguard (a fatty ester to inhibit microorganisms.) It smells fantastic, very coconutty. [It worked pretty darned well, actually.]

Bath Soap: I’m currently using One With Nature and a few soaps from various Etsy sellers, but am very keen on making my own soap, too.

Facial cleaner: I use a blend of two oils to clean my face. Seriously, that’s it. Oil Cleansing Method. My skin is the classic “combination skin,” but I err on the side of taking care of the dry skin; thus, I use more olive oil than castor oil. In the tub, I put it on at the beginning and rinse it off at the end, and in the shower, I put it on at the beginning, wash my body and rinse it off before I wash my hair.

Hand soap: Currently, I’m using Tropical Traditions lavender coconut soap in a liquid pump. It cuts through pretty much everything, instantly.

Household cleaning:

Not being an obsessive housecleaner by even the wildest stretch of the imagination, I don’t go through household cleaners with any great speed at all. I probably have containers of Soft Scrub and Scrubbing Bubbles from 1995. Much of the time, I don’t use any chemicals for cleaning – I wipe things down with a damp cloth and call it good. However, for certain tasks, some form of cleaning agent is required.

Laundry detergent: Currently, I’m using Earth Friendly Products Ecos laundry detergent, but when this bottle runs out, I’m going to try making my own, following this recipe: Planet Green. Grating a bar of soap doesn’t sound like much fun to me, so I’m going to try it using liquid castille soap and see how that goes. Bear in mind Borax is not an uber-healthy ingredient, but at least it is naturally-occurring. Similarly, be aware of the properties of washing soda. My personal choice is to give it a try, because I think they are likely healthier (and cheaper, simpler) options than commercially-available products. I have used Seventh Generation detergent, and both the ECOS and the 7thgen products work very well. On the whole, I’m quite pleased with their performance – I just want something even simpler. I have read about people using products like Soap Nuts with great success, as well.

Kitchen & bathroom cleaners: For the kitchen, I plan to simply mix up a bottle of 1:1 vinegar and water. It’s quite surprising what that combination will take care of. For stubborner items, there is always our friend Baking Soda Paste. Basic home cleaning recipes here: Organized Home. Lemon juice can also be a powerful cleaner. Once, when I still lived in Seattle, I accidentally left the windows on my two-year-old Ford Ranger cracked a good inch or so. On both sides. I wasn’t driving the vehicle at the time, instead using a Trooper. The truck sat for weeks, and I eventually decided to sell it. The first prospective buyer came to look at the truck. We opened the doors and found every square inch of the interior covered in yellow mold. Naturally, the buyer politely walked away from the sale, and I desperately searched for a way to clean the truck. As it turns out, a strong combination of water, lemon juice and salt took care of it all. I saturated the entire interior with the solution, let it sit for a few days and then took a hose to it all. It worked like a charm! After everything dried back out again, it smelled lemony fresh and there was never any mold trouble in there again.

Carpet stain remover: My awesome friend Lori showed me this recipe in 2005, and I’ve used it ever since: 1 cup water, 1 cup white vinegar, 1 cup rubbing alcohol. Pour on stains, scrub with a white towel and cover with the damp towel for 24 hours. For especially tough stains, it may need to be repeated once dry. The only thing that even comes close to this is Nature’s Miracle enzyme cleaner.

Dish soap: I have not yet looked into making my own dish soap, either for the sink dishes or the dishwasher dishes, but it can’t be hard. Here – let’s do it together.

Google search: homemade dish soap

The first result is a good one: How to Make Dish Soap. The next one includes a dishwasher detergent recipe, as well: Natural Homemade Dishwashing. It’s as easy as that. There are a metric bazillion websites out there with excellent ideas – we’re not forging a new path! We have the ability to use tribal knowledge.

Air fresheners: Why do people use these? Stop it! They’re terrible for you.

Food:

Going vegetarian meant using slightly less frozen/pre-prepared foods, but I still had many conveniences as more and more companies began offering vegetarian options. With the gluten allergy, my choices are cut down considerably, and that’s going to end up being A Good Thing. The more I cook, the more control I have over what ingredients are present and the healthier the food is likely to be for me, for Mike and for the environment.

Water: I don’t enjoy drinking water. Whether it’s water from our well, bottled water or city water, I’m just not a fan. When I do force myself to drink it, I use a BPA-free, stainless steel Klean Kanteen.

Tea: I’ve given up coffee for the time being, thinking dumping a bunch of acid and the other things in coffee into a healing gut was probably sub-optimal. So, for the caffeine/warmth, I’ve taken to drinking a lot of tea. At home, I drink caffeine-free herbals, and at work, Irish breakfast, Chai, and other caffeine-containing blends. I picked up The Tea Spot Steeping Mug, 3-Piece Handcrafted Ceramic Tea Mug with Infuser & Lid, 16-Ounce, color: Red Rock from Foods for Living in East Lansing, and I love it. It makes loose-leaf tea at work completely handy.

Kombucha: I had never even heard of kombucha until a few weeks ago. Phawk and Barbara both drink it, and after they recommended it highly, I tried it. It is a fermented tea beverage containing many probiotics. The first sip was simultaneously unpleasant and delicious. It’s unlike anything I have ever had. Subsequent sips got yummier. It’s a sour, vinegary, sweet, tangy, fruity, sometimes flavored fizzy tea beverage that is said to promote good health. It is also expensive as hell, running between $2.75 – $4.00 for a 16-ounce bottle. I bought a ton of it the other day, enough to last about 2 weeks and enough to try all the flavors of the GT’s brand, but wondered “can I make this stuff myself on the cheap?” As it turns out, yes! One can either purchase a pre-grown mother for faster (and more expensive) results, or one can culture one’s own mother. There are a ton of sites out there, but here are some I’ve used: How to grow a kombucha SCOBY (non-video); How to grow your own kombucha mother (video). Mine is still only in its first week, so I have a way to go. Once it matures, I’ll be following this great video tutorial series. She covers bottling and flavoring as well as the actual making.

Milk: We recently purchased a cow share from a farm in St. Johns. This means we own a small portion of their herd of dairy cattle and are subsequently able to receive raw, organic milk. We have been to the farm and have seen the barns and milking equipment. We met the farmer, toured the facilities and it’s all really wonderful. Buy purchasing our 2 gallons of milk per week from them, we are supporting a local family dedicated to organic, sustainable farming. We’re also getting pesticide-free, antibiotic-free, growth-hormone-free whole milk. While this may not do wonders for our cholesterol levels in the long term, it sure is yummy and feels good to have.

Kefir: I tried kefir for the first time a few days ago. Interesting. Like kombucha, kefir a cultured, probiotic beverage but it is cultured from milk, rather than tea. I was a bit hesitant after opening my purchased bottle – the idea of fizzy dairy was a bit unsettling. Its consistency was thicker than I would have expected, but I tried it, just a tiny bit. Mm! Tasty! The bubbles translated as a tingly sensation and there are tiny little probiotic grains that make it the tiniest bit crunchy, but not in an unpleasant way. It’s really interesting and tasty.

Produce: Mostly, we buy organic. I’d say about 80% of our produce is purchased either from the farmer’s market or from the organic section of the grocery store. Some items (potatoes and apples) I won’t buy non-organic, after recently having read this article: 7 Foods So Unsafe Even Farmers Won’t Eat Them. Once we get tomatoes out of our garden this summer, I won’t be using canned tomatoes, either, opting instead to freeze and can them myself in glass jars. I will be planting a large garden in the spring, and I hope most of our produce will come from there. Not having gardened since I was in grammar school, however, I can see where things might go horribly awry.  We compost everything possible, although not very well. One of the plans is to get a composting bin, and also to let the chickens do some composting for us when they arrive.


[The future garden, currently under 87,000 pounds of snow.]

Butter: I have been using Brummell & Brown’s spread since I discovered it back in the mid-90’s. It’s delicious, relatively healthy and trans-fat-free. Last week, I checked the label to make sure it was also gluten-free. Much to my total chagrin, the damn stuff isn’t vegetarian! It’s got gelatin in it. I obsessively scoured labels when I went veggie, but never thought to check my damn butter spread. Once this tub is through, I need another alternative. Since we have whole, fresh milk, we can make our own butter, and I plan on doing so more regularly. In a nutshell, one just puts it into a food processor until the buttermilk separates from the butter solids, then one squeezes out any extra liquids. Using something like The Butter Bell will help keep it soft and preserved. I’ll also probably be using various homemade yogurt spreads.

Yogurt: The other day, I found this yogurt maker (Miracle YM75 Yogurt Maker) at Foods for Living. I’m very stoked to try it out – it looks like it came straight from the 70’s, very much like the yogurt-maker my mom had. Can’t wait! Many commercial yogurts have gelatin in them, and those that don’t are more expensive. We have a small surplus of milk, so I’m going to use it for yogurt. And maybe kefir.

Meat: We buy Mike’s meat from Creswick Farms, a western Michigan, family-owned, organic, humane farm. Their whole roasting chickens are enormous (about 5 pounds each) and Mike says both the chicken and the steaks are really, really good. The animals get to have normal animal lives, and I’ve talked to the owners about their slaughtering methods, which are very humane. It is not cheap or convenient to get meat from them, however; they drive their delivery truck around to various southern Michigan delivery points once per month, and everyone meets in a commuter parking lot somewhere to receive their orders. In my view, more than worth the trouble.

Eggs: When spring gets a bit closer, we’ll be ordering four or five day-old Red Star chicks. Initially, they’ll live in the basement, but will move out to a chicken house and yard we’ll be building in the coming months. Chickens have it pretty bad in the food production industry, and while it’s usually possible to source them from local farms in the warmer months, it’s hard in the winter. Plus, I adore chickens – I hope we’ll enjoy having them around. They’ll do a great job breaking down our compost, too!

Cumulatively, I think all of that will make a sizable difference in our lives, and on our little portion of the Collective Carbon Footprint.

What have I missed? What are things you’re doing?

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5 responses to Cleaning Up My Life


  1. I love seeing everything you’ve been doing!

    You can make your own yogurt without a yogurt maker. I tried it a few weeks ago in the crock pot and as long as you’re going to be home every couple hours (good weekend recipe) it’s super easy and no special equipment needed.

    If you can make kambucha (something I haven’t tried quite yet) you can make yogurt.

  2. Sarah

    Ugh, I’m soooo jealous of your future chickens! I MUST come see you soon, and then again when you get the chicks. And then come with you to the dairy farm to play with wet cow noses. 😀

  3. I share a lot of your concerns about food as well. A lot of the issue can be blamed on the modern, consumerist, disposable life style.

    Have you watched Food, Inc. or read any of Michael Pollan’s books?

    Also, if you care about the environment at all quit using plastics as much as possible. http://www.vbs.tv/watch/toxic/toxic-garbage-island-1-of-3

    We are destroying this planet.

  4. Barbara

    Gluten – free: You go girl! The first 2 weeks are the hardest. The next milestone is 2 more weeks. Keep at it!

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