Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Oprah's doing it, so you should, too

Another "love her or hate her" personality, Oprah Winfrey is making sure we know how to reduce our carbon footprint.

I have mixed feelings. I have a little of the Oprah love myself, and I even drool a little during her "Favorite Things" episode in all of its material-laden glory. Overall, I think she does good things, or at least does her best to do good things. Just don't ask her about hamburgers.

Just to get that scary (but hilarious) picture off of the top of the page

I bring you Real Simple's articles about green living:

Stuck in the Middle with You

Lest you think we're getting too preachy and high-minded here at NSDH, I'd like to bring us back to middle ground. The idea behind Not-so-Dirty Hippies is to encourage small lifestyle changes for the greater good (ergo, the not-so-dirty part). I'm afraid that making drastic, sudden changes is not an approach that works for the long haul. (Think extreme dieters who end up gorging on a Big Mac.) I've sometimes been accused of not having a "medium button," and the first week or so of blogging is probably a good example of that. But since moderation is key to all of these changes, we'll try to keep that in mind as we write.

Take, for example, baby care. When my son was born, I was obsessed with the safety of the plastics that we use to feed and entertain him, and I researched BPA before it made national headlines. Also, I proudly continue to breastfeed my son. But, we also use disposable diapers, without much guilt, after reading a NY Times magazine article that basically equalized cloth and disposable diapers from an environmental perspective. Although I can't really see the environmental or social justice reasoning behind it, the choice not to vaccinate children seems to have gained a "hippie" following. We chose to vaccinate our son according to the schedule recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. (For more information about why we vaccinate, please see this, and this, and this.) I "wore" my son in a sling when he was an infant, but he also rode in a stroller. We co-sleep some of the time, but not all of the time. Our son eats homemade organic food almost exclusively at home, but he's also tried Cheetos and (clutch the pearls) a McDonald's cheeseburger or two. I can't tell you how much Ibuprofen I've given him (sanctioned by our trusted pediatrician) to reduce teething pain and swelling. I suppose this is why a recent facebook quiz rated me "about as crunchy as Jell-O."

We don't make these decisions lightly. But we also know that it is important for our sanity, and also for our continued commitment to our priorities, to moderate our behavior so we can stay in this for the long haul.

Some of our lifestyle choices are expensive. Organic food, for example, is often more expensive than conventional food. So, we reduce consumption in other areas: we don't have cable or satellite television, and we don't subscribe to a DVD service. (This particular choice has come with the added benefit of more interaction as a family.) We don't belong to a gym in the warm months when we can walk for exercise. We don't go on expensive vacations. We have one desktop computer for the whole family (no laptops, no smartphones). We cook and eat almost all of our meals at home. We embrace hand-me-downs and other gently used toys, books and clothing. Are these sacrifices worthwhile? For us, they are, and they often lead to unanticipated benefits. And obviously, each family must choose what they prioritize for themselves.

Many "green" choices can come with economic savings, of course. As the price of gasoline continues to rise, walking or bicycling becomes an increasingly attractive alternative. In our community, recycling is free, while we pay for trash service by volume. So, we have a cost incentive to recycle. (Lucky us! But before you start patting my community on its proverbial back, know that kitchen waste cannot be composted here.) Our use of reusable shopping bags comes with cost incentives at two of our favorite grocery stores. Our cloth napkin use has drastically reduced our paper towel consumption. Of course, cloth napkins cost money. (In my case, they were sitting in the cabinet, wrinkled and out of use, but they had to be purchased at some point.) Our beloved squeegee was not free, nor was the milk frother we use for our coffee (to replace the coffee creamer that was purchased in addition to milk, that often went to waste). But the cost savings of using these items in the long run will more than make up for their cost. And we are not immune to consumption and accumulation of goods: I love the video monitor I have set up in the nursery more than anyone should love a material thing, and I have a Very Special Relationship with our washer and dryer.

This post was brought to you by the nail-biting session I had over compost last night. I didn't really know what to do about compost, but I knew we were throwing away a lot of kitchen scraps that could probably be composted. But then I found the above-referenced city ordinance banning kitchen scraps in compost. What's an eco-conscious girl to do? In other respects, our community is very green. I've never lived in a more walking-friendly place, and we do love our weekly recycling ritual. Our garbage goes to a waste-to-energy facility, so I think I can feel good about that.

After my composting dilemma, I went to bed, where I saw my ever-growing pile of books about our food sources on the nightstand. The next two books on my reading list are The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. These are borrowed from our wonderful library, with due dates looming. I decided to give myself a break, though, and will return the books without reading them. After my other reading this month, I certainly have enough disgust and righteous indignation to get me through the summer months. I can re-check the same books out of the library, or look for them at our upcoming church book sale. By then, I may need to re-fuel the fire for inspiration to eat locally-grown organic food.

Until then, expect to hear from me about Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting by Michael Perry. It looks like a much-lighter read on the same subjects, and the writer is from Wisconsin, so I like him already. Maybe I'll find that medium button yet.

Monday, May 25, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want

In the spirit of Paul's post below about stuff, stuff, stuff... I bring you my first segment about using what we have in creative ways. This post would be so much more dramatic if I could figure out how to post pictures strategically throughout the text, but here goes.

We live in Minnesota. It's very dry here. My son has sensitive skin. So, we have a small humidifier for his room, which doubles as a guest room. The directions on the humidifier, coupled with a toddler's budding curiosity, dictate that the humidifier be raised from the ground. His room is not small, but because it is also a guest room, space is tight. Also, money is tight. Also, my husband's time is a premium commodity, and asking him to install a shelf just puts off other essential projects (e.g., childproofing the house, telling me I'm beautiful, buying ice cream). Installing a shelf myself is simply not an option, because my husband would end up un-doing what I did to fix it. So, I decided to get innovative.

There is a space behind the bed, because in order to fit the huge queen-sized bed frame in the room with the crib and all the other baby things, we (= husband) arranged the bed diagonally. I have bins full of the baby's outgrown clothing, so I stacked them up behind the bed's headboard, and placed the humidifier on top of them. Voila - we have extra storage space for the bins (which are hidden by the bed frame), and a raised surface for the humidifier. Underneath the humidifier is a baby towel that is now, sadly, too small to dry off anything but the baby's gigantic feet.
Several questions probably come to mind when viewing these pictures, so I'll do my best to anticipate and answer them.
Q: Does this woman ever dust?
A: No.

Q: That's all clothing outgrown by one child? In 15 months? Those are big bins!
A: Yes. Actually, there are probably twice that many bins around here, in the basement and the garage. Thus, the need for more storage. In my defense, the vast majority of his clothes are hand-me-downs, and some were bought from a second-hand store. Also, when we're absolutely sure that we won't need them any more (for future children), they will be re-sold or donated. Finally, cute baby clothes stave off the effects of postpartum depression. True fact.

Q: Those Rubbermaid bins can't be good for the environment. They were probably manufactured with all kinds of toxins, and in a sweatshop no less. For shame.
A: That wasn't really a question, now was it? If it makes you feel better, those Rubbermaid bins will be used and re-used by our household until they fall apart. I have not found an affordable, greener alternative, as handwoven bamboo baskets are not within our means. There are plenty of other sustainable resources I could have used to stack up behind the bed (the 36 pounds of dog hair that I sweep from our floors daily, for example), but this served a double purpose.

Q: Where can I get a penguin humidifier?
A: At Target, and probably other places. It's made by Crane.

Q: Why don't you just install a whole-house humidifier?
A: It's on our list. But we'll probably still use the small humidifier in the baby's room, because it's just that dry here. And the penguin is just so darned cute.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Growth Curve

The tomato plant that the farmers' market vendor promised would flourish in a pot. We'll see. If it does, I hope the raccoons enjoy its bounty.

From the top: last year's sad basil, curly parsley, sage, rosemary

From the top: basil, thyme, oregano, dill and chives

When Paul and I were growing up, our grandparents (of the vinegar-drinking fame) had a huge garden. It was over an acre in size, and they grew everything I could imagine a Wisconsin garden could grow, including their own popcorn. We benefitted not only from the produce from the garden, but also by learning how food is grown. When we were really young, our grandparents delighted in teaching us how to dig in the dirt, and I remember at least one occasion when Paul was treated to a gigantic carrot straight out of the ground, sans washing. When our grandfather became ill with cancer, we were enlisted to help my grandmother in more than symbolic ways, by weeding, watering, and harvesting. Their garden was organic before it was a popular concept, and they were so proud of the fact that they did not use chemical pesticides.

Unfortunately, neither through nature nor nurture, I did not inherit the gardening gene. I grow some herbs, which usually include enough basil to keep us in pesto through the winter. But my other gardening efforts, even including houseplants, have been bleak. I suppose it's just as well for our current circumstances. Our yard is tiny, and just barely big enough for our two dogs to relieve themselves. We also have a host of hungry raccoons roaming the neighborhood. (A few summers ago, one of them broke into our screened-in porch to steal some tasty dog food out of a sealed container!) I know genius gardeners who have grown whole vegetable gardens in pots, in a smaller space than ours, but the last several years' worth of my efforts have shown that I just don't seem to have what that takes. Sorry, Grandma and Grandpa.

Lucky for us, we seem to live in a hotbed of farmers' markets. We have a small one within walking distance of our house that starts up in July, and two huge markets in nearby Minneapolis that operate all summer. The farmers' markets have everything from freshly-made sheep cheese to Vietnamese dim sum, rabbits and jam, and of course, locally-grown organic vegetables and herbs. I didn't know what we would find when we ventured to the Mill City Farmers' Market yesterday, since it's so early in the growing season. We were delighted to find stands full of vendors and food, but also the crowds to support them. There was even a little stand with animals for children (and adults, of course!) to see, and my son loved meeting a baby goat, ducks, chickens, and rabbits. To find a farmers' market near you, visit:

We also joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program this summer. It's a program by which a family can "subscribe" to a local farm, paying in the late winter or early spring for a share in that growing season's harvest. CSAs are increasing in popularity, and we had no shortage of choices when we picked our farm. This is the first summer that we've joined a CSA, and I hope to blog about it as our produce arrives. We will get a weekly box full of whatever was harvested that week, and it will be delivered to a home in a nearby neighborhood. We're hoping to walk to our pick-up site most weeks. I've been warned by our CSA-experienced friends that the first year can be a challenge - there is often a lot of food in each box, and it can be a challenge for one family to eat it all. We have an extra freezer, so I'm hoping to freeze some of the bounty, and I'm diving head-first into all of our cookbooks and my bookmarked recipe sites to think ahead about how to be creative with a few pounds of arugula. CSA members take a risk by subscribing - if the farmer's broccoli crop fails, then there's no broccoli. But that's a risk we're willing to take. We look forward to trying some new vegetables, and expanding the uses of the vegetables we know and love. And, if we get 17 pounds of zucchini one week, I'll feel like a real gardener when I try to push it off on my friends.

So, even though I can't walk into my backyard to harvest a salad, I'm still keeping my eye on the skies for rain and sun, and I feel involved in the growing process that brings food to our table.

Farming is Cool

So says the New York Times.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Stuff, stuff and more stuff

It's not secret that we fill our homes, our lives with 'stuff'. There is an innate desire to acquire more stuff from early in our lives.

While many are making efforts to reduce the amount of stuff in their lives - it's not hard to spot our communal failure in this - the storage industry is booming and apparent as we drive through any community today.

Part of the problem with this is we disassociate the true costs of things we acquire. The video "The Story of Stuff" does a good job of pointing to some of the true costs of our stuff. Some of the rhetoric may go a little to far, please try to overlook that and take the main message to heart.

On YouTube:
On it's own site:
(You may need to cut and paste the links, have some difficulty this morning.)

Other small steps . . . the innate desire - my son strongly desires more stuff - most kids ask for stuff in stores, his went farther, he wanted more food than his sister, more toys, more paper-towels to dry his hands in public restrooms! One day I explained that the paper-towels had to come from somewhere and we should try to compete to see who could use less. Now, when we're drying our hands he'll often bust me - "dad, I used less paper than you!"

We love Jesus, but we drink a little

Most of you know and the rest of you will figure out that one of us is an Episcopal priest, and the other one of us is married to one. Don't be scared.

This pretty much sums us up.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Martha, Martha, Martha

Tactical Transportation

I, like many, grew up riding a bike - mostly up and down the driveway - later a little farther, always disappointed with the parental imposed boundaries that kept me safe.
My riding faded away with the arrival of 4-wheelers and later a drivers license.
Two years ago I began riding again, largely to improve my health, but with hopes of riding to work eventually.

I began slowly. Riding a little over a mile to a school near our house and later a few miles further (still avoiding big hills). Someone gave me a trailer I could put my children could ride in - when my son Noah first asked if we could go all the way to McDonald's I laughed out loud.

Last year I decided I couldn't let hills stand in the way of more miles and pushed onward. I started tackling hills late last April (early riding by Alaskan standards). Soon thereafter I began running small errands, avoiding late fees at Blockbuster by enjoying an evening ride into town (6 miles give or take one-way) By late May I could make it over the big hills on the 8+ mile ride to work! I soon felt the sky was the limit and found I could replace many miles of driving by biking.

The kids were willing to sit in the bike trailer as long as there was a worthy destination among the errands, like ice-cream (a stop I could afford in more ways than one - through saved gas and burned calories).

As winter fell I acquired studded tires and try to ride to work at least 1 day a week in the winter. In part, I feel this is helpful in showing the bicycle commuting is possible in most places. Others certainly out-do me on this - but few do it on a "tactical mountain bike" like mine.

If you care to start - I suggest you start with the bike in your garage - or other cheapy - then upgrade as a reward after you are putting on the miles. A few other tips:

I ride for fun, for transportation, for health, with family and friends cycling has become a way of life for me.

Cloth napkins

It seems that the advice to use cloth napkins instead of paper towels or paper napkins abounds in articles and on websites that proclaim ways to save the environment and your family budget. And yet, like so many of these things that have come slowly to our household, I didn't use them regularly for the longest time. And again, I don't really know why. We had a good two dozen stacked up in the dining room cabinet, reserved for special meals and holidays, but at least half were stained and not fit for such special occasions. I couldn't bring myself to throw them out, so why not use them on a daily basis? Inspired, I dragged out the stained pile for Earth Week this year. We used them all of that week, and we started using our cloth hand towels for drying our hands more, too. After a week or two, we had reduced our paper towel consumption considerably, so much so that my husband started apologizing for using them at all.

More recently, we had family in town, and I hadn't had time to retrieve all of the cloth napkins from the clean laundry pile, so I dug into the pile of "nice" (non-stained) cloth napkins. I realized then that I had only used them for one special occasion, and that they had sat, stacked, in the dining room cabinet, since that one dinner. Why? Because they were wrinkled. They're linen, so they need to be ironed before setting them out on a pretty table. Who irons? Not me, certainly. That wastes precious natural resources, like my time and attention. So, the "nice" linen napkins have made it into our regular rotation. A nice side benefit is that they make every meal seem a little more special, so we tend to slow down and act more civilized at meal time. At least, those of us over the age of 2 do.

There are instructions on the Internet for making your own cloth napkins. I won't bore you with the details of the last time I tried to use a sewing machine, but let it suffice to say that I won't be making any cloth napkins any time soon. If you're crafty, or have a crafty friend (Hi, Mom), knock yourself out. Cloth napkins are big at garage sales, estate sales, craft sales, etc., or they can be found at Target, TJ Maxx, etc. I'm pretty sure our original (stained) napkins were a wedding gift from Target. I like the fact that ours are fairly neutral in color, so they can be thrown in with a light or dark load of wash, whichever happens to be running at the time. That way, we tend not to run out of them too quickly.

Diet Coke, I wish I knew how to quit you

So, all this talk about organic this, and natural that, and what do I wash down my organic, locally-grown salad with? A nice tall glass of chemicals. Mmmmmm.... Diet Coke. I know better. It's bad for me. It can't be good for the earth to manufacture it and ship it to me, even if I do justify it by only buying the 2-liter bottles and recycling them when I'm done. And even the 2-liter bottles cost money. I'm ashamed that Diet Coke brings me away from my favorite co-op and my beloved Trader Joe's (within walking distance!), so that I can go to a conventional grocery store for (groan with me) Diet Coke.

So, I'm trying to ditch the aspartame habit. I wish I could go cold-turkey with caffeine altogether, but I live with a small creature who insists upon sleeping with his feet in my eye sockets most nights. In order to keep said creature (and, oh, by the way, myself) alive by not driving into a ravine or falling asleep at a hot stove, I depend on caffeine. Coffee makes my stomach all rumbly-jumbly, and it tends to make me jittery. I love tea, and I even love the ritual of making a cup of hot tea, but I do love the convenience of just grabbing something cold out of the refrigerator. Voila: we have iced tea. I brew it from real tea leaves (some of which were inherited from a dead quasi-relative; don't ask), and then I compost the leaves when I'm finished with them. (By "compost," I mean, throw them in the dirt with my potted plants, because I don't know what I'm doing.) If there's leftover hot water in the kettle after I've filled the tea pot, I use it to sanitize the kitchen sink. (I've heard, probably from Martha Stewart, that water that has been boiled once should not be cooled and used again to make tea. Really, I just like the sight of a steaming sink.) We have Earl Grey, Keemun, and Irish Breakfast leaves waiting to be brewed. Despite a five-year stint in Dixie, I can't bring myself to sweeten iced tea, but I love it black, with lots and lots of ice.

I'm not a full-on convert yet, though. What to do in restaurants, where the Diet Coke surely tastes better than the swill they call "tea," but is really sweetened powder from a can? Maybe I can just have water and save my caffeinating for home.

Two book reviews, and one movie review

Lest you start to think we're all about the cleaning products, we're a full-service blog here.

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan
I've been meaning to read Michael Pollan's work for a while now, and I don't know what was delaying me. A New York Times journalist, Pollan writes about nutrition without promoting a specific diet, and with these three maxims to guide us: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants. As the sleep-deprived mother of an active toddler, it takes quite a lot for a work of non-fiction to hold the attention of my addled brain, but this book did the trick. It's very readable, and it left me wanting to know even more about how our food is grown and raised, and how it gets to our table. The book taught me that eating organic, local food is not just a matter of doing something good for the environment, but also for our own health. Pollan highlights the inherent problems with how the government brings nutrition information to us, due to the nature of powerful lobbies from agricultural industry. This is the kind of book that has me reading in bed late into the night (despite my sleep-deprived status, even) to poke my husband in the shoulder and start a one-sided conversation beginning with "Did you know...?!" Most of all, the book left me with a strong desire to have a long conversation with my grandmothers and great-grandmothers about how they fed their families.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, thanks to books like The Poisonwood Bible (one of the few books I will read repeatedly, and it gets better every time) and Pigs in Heaven. Already thinking she was brilliant, I hesitated to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for several reasons: I didn't want my idealistic vision of the Kingsolver I knew and loved to be tarnished by what could be a mediocre work of nonfiction (see my proviso about nonfiction, above). I didn't know if I wanted to know more about "locavorism," the art of eating locally, since I live in Minnesota and I didn't want to be depressed by my limitations. But an interview of Kingsolver on Krista Tippet's radio program "Speaking of Faith" , along with several enthusiastic reviews from friends, provided just the impetus that I needed to read it. And oh, how I'm glad I did. Another late-night poke-to-the-husband's-shoulder read, the book details the resolve of the Kingsolver's family to eat locally for one year in rural Appalachia. Neither Kingsolver nor Michael Pollan are vegetarians, and Kingsolver does a beautiful job of explaining her family's decision to eat (ethically raised) meat. She and her family even raise poultry (and eggs) on their small farm. Kingsolver is a poet in the best sense of the word, and her writing is gently convincing, making the reader want to adopt her lifestyle, or at least her ideals. I have a black thumb, a tiny yard (taken up by two dogs), and a neighborhood full of aggressively hungry raccoons, but the book still instilled a desire in me to grow my own food. For now, my efforts will be focused on tending our small herb garden, one tomato plant (promised by the farmers' market vendor that it's the kind that does well in a pot), and making the most of our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) bounty this summer.

PS - This book has so infiltrated our lives that last night, when I asked my husband if we could get a heritage turkey for this year's Thanksgiving feast (to be ordered in the spring for the upcoming November), he said, "Just not a live one. Please."

PPS - There is a website (linked to the right) for Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. All the links and recipes listed in the book are on the site. Check it out.

Super Size Me (2004)
I know, I know. Until a few weeks ago, I was the last person on the planet that hadn't seen this movie. I should have seen it ages ago. But I finally sat down and watched it, and I was impressed. Morgan Spurlock, the protagonist of this documentary, and he undertakes to eat at McDonald's for three meals a day, for one month. At the beginning of his experiment, he undergoes a battery of tests by physicians, nutritionists, and personal trainers to assess his overall health and fitness level. He is deemed healthy and fit. These professionals urge Spurlock not to undertake the experiment, but they are rather lukewarm about it at first, thinking that a month of McDonald's won't do much harm to this robust, healthy individual. A few weeks in, however, they are all begging him to quit, due to the quantifiable damage he is doing do his body. This is not the most scientific of experiments (one subject, reporting subjective feelings most of the time), but it is powerful. His data about the fast food industry, obesity in America, and the food industry in general, are strong reminders of how our eating influences our health. I would give the movie two thumbs up, with the exception of the vomiting scene on one of the first days of the experiment. I don't do vomit. For those with weak stomachs, just fast-forward when he starts talking about getting the "McSweats."

As you can see, I've been on a binge (forgive me) of books and movies about nutrition lately. Why now? Well, for one thing, I think I was finally ready to start absorbing some of this material. I need to lose some pesky baby weight. We're signed up for our CSA this summer, and I wanted to give myself somewhat of a pep talk to eat all the vegetables coming our way. I've been feeding our baby organic food since he started eating solid food last summer, and we've gradually been changing our diets as well. The CSA starts in a few weeks, and I think I can safely say that I'm psyched up to try the harvest, and proudly so, after my recent reading and viewing.

Behold the Squeegee

Paul and I have a lovely aunt. She's fastidious (some would say certifiable) about keeping a clean home (we love you, Aunt Sharon). One would understandably expect to see a lot of cleaning products in her house, but there has always been one area that has been spotless without the help of chemicals or green cleaning products: her shower. It's spotless. It would make Howard Hughes gasp at the perfection of it, and it has made me a true believer. There are no water spots or odors, and it looks brand-new despite years of use. The reason for this exquisite cleanliness is another humble tool in our green cleaning arsenal: a simple squeegee. You can buy one for about $5 at just about any hardware store, drug store, or discount department store (read: Target), which, the last time I checked, is about the same price as a can of my formerly-favorite shower cleaner. We recently had a brand-spanking-new glass shower door installed, and the manufacturer and the installer both recommended daily use of our beloved squeegee to keep it clean. They have a product that they sell on their showroom floor, but they admitted that the squeegee works better to keep a shower clean.

What's wrong with cleaning a shower with a green cleaning product, or making your own vinegar-and-water solution for the shower? First, in my experience (and in the aforementioned guru aunt's experience), any cleaning product, green or not, won't work as well to clean the shower. That's important. Second, even green cleaning products must be manufactured, packaged, and shipped to you or your store, and that comes at the price of fossil fuels. Third, I haven't found a cleaning product that doesn't require some kind of rinsing, and that costs water. I'd rather spend that extra water to rinse off myself, thankyouverymuch.

I promise, I don't work for the squeegee industry, or the "Big Vinegar" lobby.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Humble, powerful vinegar

I can't believe that my first post on this blog is about vinegar. Paul (the co-author of this blog) and I ruthlessly mocked our grandmother's penchant for the sour stuff. Then again, she claimed to drink a glass of it every day. (I'm not ruling that out just yet - she is proving to be a posthumous visionary ahead of her time with her wisdom about organic gardening and warnings about high fructose corn syrup, but I'm not quite ready to down a glass of vinegar unless it's already been embibed by a cucumber.) My love for vinegar is centered more on household uses than health benefits.

Shortly before my son was born 15 months ago, my husband and I moved into our first-ever house with wood and tile floors. I wanted an effective way to clean the floors that would be safe for our two dogs as well as the (eventual) baby. Vinegar, water, and some essential oils did the trick, and I never looked back. Not only did vinegar fit our new budget (reduced by one full-time income) better than commercial floor cleaners, it worked. I'm the clean freak of the family, and I needed to have clean floors. When my nesting instinct kicked in, the bottle of vinegar was my powerful ally against dirt, dog hair, and dust. I began cleaning our kitchen counters with a vinegar and water solution, and discovered that a baking soda and vinegar mixture in the kitchen sink drain not only cleans the drain effectively, but it makes an impressive foam show that any preschooler would love to see. I use the vinegar and water solution to sanitize and rinse plastic toys, and for a several-times-per-week shower of the high chair. I began to use vinegar instead of fabric softener in the laundry, when we discovered that the baby had sensitive skin. Vinegar in the laundry helps rinse the detergent away without adding extra perfumes and dyes that can irritate sensitive skin. (Again, it's cheaper than the commercial alternative.) Vinegar is a powerful antiseptic, which was important for me - I'm often lured in by claims of antibacterial properties on commercial cleaners, even though I know that they're not always best for our health or the environment. Vinegar is easy on the environment, and safe for sewer and septic systems.

A word about the odor: I have a keen sense of smell. My husband has called it a superpower, I think of it more as a super-liability. The smell of vinegar used to bother me, but diluted with water (and often with some essential oils added in), the smell no longer bothers me. Also, the smell dissipates when it dries. I've actually found that vinegar can eliminate smells. If we've had fish for dinner, for example, a bowl of vinegar placed on the kitchen counter will virtually eat the odor of dinner. That has to be healthier (for us, and for the earth) than commercial air fresheners. (We also like to open a window for the same effect, but of course that's not always possible in Minnesota and Alaska!)

Here are some more interesting uses of vinegar: