Saturday, May 30, 2009

Green Housekeeping

Green Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck has proven to be a book packed with tips, tricks, and practical advice on how to approach cleaning, mess, and clutter in the household. She tackles her subjects in neatly written chapters that deal with clutter, kitchen cleaning, bathroom, bedroom, general cleaning, air quality, hazardous materials, and gardening. The index at the front is most helpful as allows for easy flipping to a topic of choice.

Her reasons for writing such a handbook are compelling, in that the chemicals we use in our everyday cleaners carry a host of side effects for human and environment. She begins her book with an introduction that cites a variety of studies that have shown that as we've evolved how we clean, we've introduced a veritable whirlwind of chemicals without fully testing them. One simple example of concern is an EPA study that "looked at a set of 491 chemicals found in commonly used consumer products and found that only 25% of them had been tested for toxicity." (p.6) Sandbeck points out that in the United States chemicals are considered innocent until proven guilty, a practice that is working against us for health and humankind.

Sandbeck proposes simple solutions to many of our cleaning and life problems that induce us to grab for a container on a grocery shelf. Examples fo a few simple things I've learned form the book include:

Mosquito Control - She evaluates our different common options for mosquitoes and shows that most all of regular treatments are either harmful to us; Sandbeck states Deet has been shown to cause agitation, weakness, disorientation, ataxia, seizures, coma and death in children and bug zappers actually zap insects that aren't mosquitoes while exploding the bug bacteria up to six feet away. A solution she proposes is a repellent called Bite Blocker made from soybean oil available in Europe or using the essential oil in catnip, shown to be 10x more effective than DEET. I'm outdoors all the time with kids, and frequently have to use a mosquito product!

Laundry - I was happy to read that somebody else feels like we need to lower our laundry standards. Since our grandmother's time we've actually increased the time we spent washing because we wash too much! She has an excellent segment on what actually is toxic in our detergent selections with alternatives for use as well as information about how often we should actually wash things.

Floor Care - Floor care is a thorn in my side as I have hardwoods and carpets. Well, let it also be known that I have two small children and hate to vacuum as well. Per Sandbeck I should be only using a dampened cloth and not wet mopping - but I don't know if I can live with this one. My little one has a penchant for messy eating - and I seem to really need to mop. She has good suggestions on products, technique and frequency.

Carpet Care - I was fascinated to learn about Snow Cleaning for Carpets. If you live in an area with very cold weather you can experience snow cleaning each winter. Roll your carpet up and stand on end, let cool down (garage maybe?) before trying. Unroll and place pile side down on clean sugar snow. Beat the back of the carpet with a broom or stomp on it until the snow beneath gets dirty. Move to a clean patch of snow, and continue until the snow appears clean. Sweep all the snow off the rug, roll up and bring inside. Interesting!

I do highly recommend this book, and also found it easy to use as well as read. It has a general index in front, extensive index in back as well as a wonderful bibliography and link list. I found that she has information on a huge range of cleaning issues and will be using this as a resource in my home. Recommended with 4 out of 5 stars, and happy cleaning!

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I'm a terrible eco-blogger this week in forgetting to post my roundup! I'll break tradition and offer a Thursday roundup and hope that all can forgive. We've had and graduation and Memorial Day brain lapse, and I think somehow all holidays always seem to fall on the last week of the month, my week. No grousing there, but I do want to offer up a paltry excuse for forgetting.

So what is on your shelf? Any new reads? Any titles to share? It isn't too late to share! I'll be posting my review up shortly.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Book Review: Why We Buy

I caught a snippet of a recent TV interview of Paco Underhill, the author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. I was immediately intruigued and I checked out the book from the library. My hope was to gain an understanding of some of the psychology of why I buy stuff -- so I'd know how to better avoid buying stuff. I'm afraid that's not what the book was about at all.

The main thrust of the book is intended for retailers who wish to increase their sales. Underhill runs a consulting business with some big-name clients and he helps them figure out how to sell more stuff. I found many of the case studies interesting, even amusing. He talks about the problem of "butt-bump" in which retail sales racks are placed too close together and people get jostled as they look at the merchandise. People don't like that. Some things should be obvious, but he addresses practicalities such as the fact that shoppers have only two hands and the retailer has to provide a place for shoppers to set things down when necessary.

After the novelty wore off, I found the book pretty boring. Underhill's whole focus is how retailers can make it easy for people to buy more stuff. It was written in 1999, so the chapter on internet sales was woefully out of date. I gave up on the book before I finished it. I hesitate writing a negative review, but sometimes it's nice to cross off a book instead of add it to a list of books to be read. I'd give this book 1 out of 5 stars unless you own a retail store, in which case you just might want to read it!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday Roundup

Rather than reading new books recently, I seem to be revisiting old favorites. Recently I had the privilege to hear Greg Mortensen (3 Cups of Tea) speak at a local event. It was fun, and the musical ensemble was the only western group who play a certain type of Pakistani music. I hear that when they play in Pakistan, they draw crowds of 15-20 thousand.

Greg Mortensen was remarkable in his un-remarkableness. If you've read the book, you know all about this extraordinary man who is making such a difference. (If you haven't read it, check out the reviews from our sidebar.) To see him in person and to hear him speak, you'd think he was just an ordinary middle-aged businessman who could stand to lose a couple pounds. He is an unpolished, not particularly charismatic speaker and he comes across as completely average, except that he really believes in what he's doing. It's amazing, and maybe the point, that someone that normal could achieve what he has. They announced at the event that a bipartisan group in the Senate has just nominated Mortensen for a Nobel.

Fans of The Tightwad Gazette will appreciate that recently I accidentally fell in love with a pre-1900 farmhouse with attached shop. We're crazy, but my husband and I are actually considering it.

Lastly, I have published my book! I'll talk more about it next month, but if you're curious, check out The Purple Elephant.

So how was your week?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Book Review: Seedfolks

Time began in a garden. So too did community, according to the beautiful novella, Seedfolks, by Paul Fleischman.

Seedfolks documents the journey of an inner city empty lot, clogged with old refrigerators, bed springs and beer bottles, from trash pit to community garden. Various members of the community garden - all from different backgrounds, ages, ethnicities - tell how they came to be involved in the garden and what it meant to them. Some find new life in the garden, new purpose. A pregnant teen mother uses it to come to terms with her child while a young man leverages the garden to court an old flame. Some find business opportunities and others sanity.

A short book, Seedfolks is just what the doctor ordered. And just what my blogging cohort promised me it would be. The global crises we face - climate change, mass extinction, an ocean of plastic - are often overwhelming and even paralyzing. The answer, for me, is to instead focus on what I can affect. To build local connections, to make changes that empower one's self and one's community, and to build hope. Seedfolks offers all those three things in abundance.

The book is appropriate for older children but I think adults would treasure it just as much. I give it 5 out of 5 stars and urge you to check out a copy from your local library and then get growing - a garden, a community, a home, anything.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Monday Roundup

The library continues to be one of my favorite places but I still don't have a green centered book to report on. I've thumbed through a couple but didn't bring them home. Maybe this week will be different.

How about you? Any new reads carried home from the library, borrowed from a friend or picked up at the bookstore? Or any new reviews you've posted that we should all know about?

Let us know.

In any event, I hope you're taking time to literally stop and smell this perfume scented season. It's one of the most fragrant I can remember.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The New Farmers' Market - A book review

If you're involved in founding, managing, promoting, or selling at a farmers' market, The New Farmers' Market is a MUST read! It came to my attention when a friend and market vendor suggested I read her copy. Somethings, she told me, I'd want to skim through, but she was convinced I'd like this book.

She was right! There's a section in this book for just about everyone. The New Farmers' Market is divided into 3 sections
  1. Selling at the market
  2. Starting, Managing, & Promoting the Market
  3. The New Farmers' Market (embracing the community and expanding the vision)
Touching on everything from obtaining insurance, to pricing strategy, to writing a catchy market newsletter, this how-to guide is full of practical ideas including tips from market vendors all over the U.S. Whether your market is large or small, new or established, you're sure to find inspiring ideas to reenergize your market team.

Personally, my favorite section was on promoting the market where I found a host of suggestions on bridging the knowledge gap between market and community. My favorite is for a monthly market newsletter. Fellow Friends Volunteers, guess what's we're doing next?

Look for The New Farmers' Market in your local library, or better yet, buy a copy to be shared among your market vendors, volunteers, and staff. The market of your dreams is only one book away...
Recommended: for anyone looking to work with a farmers' market
Rated: 5 out of 5 stars (for page after page of fabulous ideas)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Botany of Desire

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed both of Michael Pollan's newer books, The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defence of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, I was eager to delve into Pollan's past to discover his many other insights into the wonderful world of food. I was not disappointed.

The Botany of Desire is the historical recounting of four plants that for Pollan represent mankind's greatest desires: sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control. However, rather than use the four corresponding plants (the apple, tulip, cannabis (aka marijuana), and potato) merely as symbols of desire, Pollan takes us on a journey to discover how our desires compliment and compete with those of these four plants on an evolutionary scale; in other words, how we have co-evolved.

How easy to assume that mankind has manipulated nature throughout his history, yet Pollan hypothesizes that these plants have taken their turn in manipulating us throughout the millennia as well. Could it be true that are but a pawn in the evolutionary scheme to spread the seed of living things that have existed far longer than we? Pollan remarks that although we are in awe of the wolf, it is the "domesticated" dog that has it's every need met by man. Have we domesticated the canine, or have they domesticated us?

Perhaps his deepest insight was the idea of perception. Deeming ourselves the grand masters of the universe, we falsely assume we manipulate it at will, choosing for ourselves which forms of life are valuable and which are not. But stepping back into the larger picture, we must ask ourselves if this is fact or simply our perception, which can be greatly misguided as we see but our own egotistical interpretations of what is and is not. How beautiful though that for some 250 pages, we can delve deep into the world we so rarely consider, what Pollan refers to as "the plant's-eye view of the world;" a world that is far more vast, wonderful, and inspiring when we "imagine a very different kind of story about Man and Nature, one that shrinks the distance between the two of us, so that we might again begin to see them for what they are and in spite of everything will always be, which is in this boat together."

Recommended: for the environmental philosopher in all of us.
Rated: 4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Monday Roundup

For the first time in my life, the arrival of spring has taken on a new image - the allure of the harvest. Beautiful isn't it? This year's first tomatoes. My garden inspired me to read the book I'll be sharing with everyone later this week, but what about you? What books are you reading? Are you finding inspiration in your latest eco-read?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Soul Currency: Investing Your Inner Wealth for Fulfillment and Abundance

I'm your average American right now, struggling with a downturn in financial income and housing related issues. But I honestly refuse to participate in the emotional frenzy and other emotional stresses that surround our national pulse. I've become extremely aware that the focus on trying to be Greener both in ways, means, and outlook as radically altered my perspective on issues like finances, frugality, and life outlook. I think that I've realized that "going greener" isn't just about buying the right products, it is about making the right choices and choosing my attitude.

With that mindset going, I snatched Soul Currency: Investing your Inner Wealth for Fulfillment and Abundance by Earnest D. Chu off my Library's new book shelf. Right now I'm seeking books that green my attitude as much as much actions - and this seemed to fit the bill. As you begin to explore this book one realizes that Chu doesn't write necessarily from the platform of a preacher, teacher, or self-help guru but rather one that has made millions as the founder of nine companies, lost millions and lived off the help of friends only to make much more money back.

Chu explains the term soul currency in his introduction in that "It's a medium for exchanging value. Like money, soul currency can be shared, traded, donated and invested. But unlike money, it is not a symbolic object. It is spiritual energy that resides in everyone." (p. 3) But take heed, this isn't a book only about spirituality, moreso it is a work about finding spirituality in ourselves to encourage the flow of soul currency in our lives to heal other peripheral issues like work satisfaction, compensation, life investment.

Chu incorporates the studies, quotes, and philosophy of everybody from Budda (quote: Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart give yourself to it) to Studs Terkel (quote: Most people's jobs are too small for their spirits) as he weaves information about the fabric of the American working life together. Statistics and studies he brings into play show that most of us are only a paycheck or two away from hardship, and many people trade their job satisfaction in for job security when possible.

Chapter four, on Eliminating Counterfeit Currency is the best chapter in my opinion. To me it related very well to the current economic crisis and how much of America has hedged their bets on creating a currency that is false, and doesn't lend itself to satisfaction in many respects. The sub chapter on downsizing your false beliefs about success and money was important - and perhaps what many of us are doing now was we try to return to some of the simple pleasures in life, and step outside satisfaction based on acquisition that ultimately only leads to stress.

Now for the downside of the book, that in my opinion I felt just kind of "meh" when I read it. I think I'd do a disservice if I raved about every book that I read or reviewed. For many of the points in the book I felt like I'd get a greater level of enlightenment to just read the parts of Budda the author liked to quote rather than just reading what the author had to say about the quotes. He seemed to have a great love of pulling out case studies to illustrate his concepts, but I have little faith in reading case study parables and liken them many times to the likes of Dr. Phil. Just didn't really work for me in that respect.

My eyes seemed to glaze over at several points of the book - and I felt like his salient points were made in the chapters and sub chapters rather than the text of the book. Under each sub chapter there was usually an excellent nugget such as "when you invest your spiritual capital in positive ways, you make a choice to live in a world of possibility rather than limitation and fear." (p. 201) The excellent point was the Jerry McGuire moment of "you had me at hello," but everything else written beyond that pivotal statement was filler rather content that kept me engaged.
All in all it was an interesting read, and his concepts are profound though the rest of the material didn't work for me on many levels. Can I be so crass as to suggest a bullet pointed Cliff Notes for Soul Currency? I'd rate it as a 2 out of 5 for Green Readers.