Category Archives: Environmental Wellness

Simple Changes To Reduce Toxic Chemicals In Your Home

photo: Michael Till

 

Have you ever thought about how many chemicals you use in the course of the day? Scented soap, hair products, plant food, cleaning supplies, bug repellant – they all have different chemicals both for function and scent. Of course we don’t always know what chemicals we are rubbing on our skin or or spreading on our floors and counters, but it’s easy to assume that products on the market are reasonably safe.

In fact, I know many people who would argue that they’ve used certain products for years and their parents used the same ones, and everyone’s fine, so what’s the big deal? Well, I’ll tell you. The average household has about 20-25 gallons of toxic materials, most of which are in cleaners. Of all the chemicals typically found in homes, 150 have been linked to allergies, birth defects, cancer, asthma attacks, and psychological abnormalities. Isn’t that crazy?

And, the toxic chemicals in household cleaners are three times more likely to cause cancer than air pollution. So if you think everyone in your family has been fine despite using various chemical cleaners and such, think again – how many people do you know who have developed cancer from an unknown source or who suffer from allergies or asthma? It’s very likely that exposure to chemicals is what could have caused some of those ailments.

Just because a chemical is not banned does not mean it is smart to use it. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only a fraction of the more than 75,000 registered chemicals have gone through complete testing for human health concerns.

If you’re think you might want to take a few small steps to reduce the amount of chemicals in and around your home, I have some ideas for you.

Insect Repellants

In my article, Everyday Plants That Repel Pesky Bugs, I suggested you might plant catnip, citronella, and peppermint near and around the areas where you want to keep mosquitoes away. If you prefer something you can apply directly to your skin, try this mixture I used last summer:

Organic Mosquito Repellant

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup witch hazel

5 drops citronella or eucalyptus essential oil

Mix in a spray bottle and spray directly on skin.

Easy and inexpensive! The only drawback I found was that since it isn’t a lotion or oil, it will run down your arms or legs if you use too much at once. The good news is that a little goes a long way, and you can just set the spray nozzle to a light mist, and you’ll be fine. And you’ll smell good too!

Keeping Your House Clean

If you can get in the habit of immediately removing your shoes when you come in the house, you can greatly reduce the amount of pesticides, chemicals, and dirt in your household. Have you ever thought about all the places the bottoms of your shoes have been? Public restrooms, parking lots, restaurant floors – you can imagine all the stuff you are potentially bringing back to your own floors. If you have kids or pets who play on the floor, it’s especially important to leave your shoes at the door.

As for actual cleaning agents, consider ditching the products you buy and trying these instead:

  • Baking soda to clean sinks, tubs, and toilets
  • Vinegar and water to clean windows, mirrors, and chrome
  • Lemon to fight bacteria and reduce odors

If you want a general all-purpose cleaner, you can mix this up in a big batch:

All-Purpose Cleaner

1/2 cup vinegar

1/4 cup baking soda

1/2 gallon water

Mix together and store in a couple of labeled spray bottles.

There are tons of other non-toxic recipes for practically any cleaning job. Eartheasy.com has countless ideas for safer dishwasher soap, laundry soap, disinfectants, carpet stain removers, and more.

Controlling pests

Opportunistic insects and rodents may make their way into your home if they think they can find food there. Avoid the temptation to use a pest control service or other chemicals as a preventive measure. Instead, follow these steps to avoid the problem:

  • Keep your house clean, especially your kitchen floors and counters.
  • Take trash out regularly and make sure the trash cans in your house have tight-fitting lids.
  • Think like a bug (or mouse!) and consider their possible entrance sites to get in your house. Caulk windows, install door sweeps, and patch screen holes.

What if the pests have already arrived?

  • Avoid chemical pesticides like Raid or fly strips or any other products that will also release chemicals into the air in your house.
  • If you have ants coming in, you might like to know that they won’t cross a line of cinnamon. If you can block their entrance with a little cinnamon, they will turn around and go elsewhere! I will tell you we had mixed results with this technique this year, since we weren’t able to find their point of entrance. We went through a lot of cinnamon before we just decided to wait them out. Eventually, they left!
  • Ants also hate cucumber peels. Place a few in the spot where the ants are coming in, and consider it their Unwelcome Mat!
  • People in the south often have to deal with roaches, but did you know a mixture of equal parts baking soda and powdered sugar will kill them? Gross, I know. But if you’ve got a roach issues, just spread that mixture around the area where you see them, and they’ll soon be gone.
  • You can make your own fly paper by boiling water, sugar and corn syrup together, and then spreading the mixture on brown paper grocery bags.

There are natural solutions to practically any pest problem. You just have to dig around and do a bit of research to find your answers. It’s a good investment of your time and energy to create a healthier living environment for you and your family and also to protect your loved ones from contamination and potential diseases.

You’ve probably noticed by now that so many of these solutions are much cheaper than products you buy at the store. Easy changes that will  help you live healthier and save money? That’s a 2-for-1 deal you can’t pass up!

Everyday Plants That Repel Pesky Bugs

 

Insects have an important role in our ecosystem. They aerate the soil, pollinate blossoms, and even help control other pests. But what if you just want to sit on your deck without getting eaten alive by mosquitoes? Or maybe you want to create a space that is free of bees to reduce your kids’ risk of getting stung?

There are a variety of plants that repel certain bugs. You can plan your garden around them, and at the same time avoid the use of smelly chemical repellants on your skin.

Mosquitoes

There are a variety of plants that will repel mosquitoes. Many of them have a strong aroma that the mosquitoes don’t like. Pick a few of these plants whose scent you enjoy, and you’ll be set.

Catnip - This leafy plant will get all the neighborhood cats to come visit you! Catnip likes full sun and can really take off, so you might want to control it a bit once the plant gets established.

Citronella grass - This is the plant that is used to create the citronella oil you find in citronella candles. No need for a candle, though. The plant is tall, gorgeous, and fragrant. It grows really well and likes to be watered often.

Peppermint - This herb will also grow like crazy, so you’ll need to control it too. You can never have too much peppermint, though. Harvest it and use it in cooking, in tea, or even externally to control itching. Bonus: Peppermint is also a natural way to control rodents, so you can grow a border of peppermint around other plants, and the critters will stay away.

Bees

It’s not easy to repel bees, because most plants will attract them for pollination. There are a few plants that people claim to have bee-repelling properties that might be worth a try.

Marigold - This flower does well in a variety of climates, and it appears that red marigolds do the best job of keeping bees away. Marigolds need a lot of water during hot weather, but they’re also very hardy.

Geranium - This colorful perennial also repels bees (and mosquitoes too). They like full sun, and you can plant them in clusters around areas you particularly want to protect, like your kids’ sandbox or the doggie wading pool.

Basil - This herb also grows easily, and you can harvest it all summer to use in your cooking. Basil plants prefer a steady water supply, and they will also produce little flowers that you can pinch away to get a more flavorful plant.

Flies

If you’re cooking out on the grill this summer, you might want some plants that deter flies. Ditto if you like to eat outside on your deck. Put some of these plants out on  your deck table, and you’ll spend less time swatting the flies away from your plate while you eat.

Lavender - This pretty plant has a very pleasant scent that flies don’t like. Lavender grows well in both gardens and containers, and it is very tolerant to heat. An added bonus to having lots of lavender? It also attracts butterflies.

Rosemary - This easy-to-grow herb also has a lot of cooking and baking uses when you harvest it. Rosemary likes its soil on the dry side, and it also prefers a little breathing room in order to flourish. Interestingly, cats dislike the scent of rosemary, so if you plant some catnip to keep the mosquitoes away, you can balance that with some rosemary to keep the cats away!

Keep in mind, of course, that you don’t want to keep all bugs away. They do serve a purpose, and you could end up with a doomed garden if you are overzealous about deterring insects. A few plants here and there to keep the pesky bugs away is just fine, though, and I promise you’ll have a more pleasant summer! Enjoy your time outside!

 

4 New Easy Lifestyle Changes To Help The Environment

 

In all the different areas of our lives where we strive to find balance, we have to remember the environment. It’s important to think beyond ourselves, think about all of Earth’s other inhabitants, and also consider future generations. When you make positive choices in your life that take care of the environment, it not only contributes to your own overall wellness, but also the wellness of animals, plants, and other people.

Since people starting talking more about taking care of the environment, we have heard a lot of the same tips over and over – use canvas bags for your shopping, turn off the lights you’re not using, and recycle your cans and bottles, right? So today I thought I would give you some new ideas that you can implement into your life. Don’t worry, they’re fairly easy – just a few things you may not have thought about before or may not have thought about in a while.

Turn off ALL your gadgets – completely.

We all know to turn off the TV or radio when we’re not using it, but did you know that many of your gadgets still continue to use energy, even when they are off? Your devices actually continue to conduct electricity through their power cords when you leave them plugged into the wall.

Easy solution #1 Get a surge-suppressing power outlet strip.

If you plug all your appliances into a surge-suppressing strip, they won’t continue to use energy when they are off. Anywhere in the house where you have a few appliances grouped together, you can plug them all into the same strip. You can do it with your computer, monitor and printer in one room; your hair dryer, hair straightener and radio in the bathroom; and your toaster over, microwave and electric can opener in the kitchen.

When you are done using those appliances, shut them off and then flip the switch on the surge protector too, and your devices will be completely turned off. Try it for a few months and see how much energy you save!

Use smaller cooking devices

Easy solution #2 Bake in your toaster over, cook in your microwave, grill in your George Foreman!

The smaller the appliance, the less energy you will use to cook your food. I have a toaster oven, and I use it for all sorts of things. I bake potatoes in there, make garlic bread, brown rolls, warm leftover pizza – the possibilities are endless. You can use your microwave to boil water, steam vegetables, melt butter, and so many other things instead of using the stove.

As summer approaches, remember also that if you can avoid using the stove and oven as much as possible, you’ll keep your house cooler and save on air conditioning costs too.

Change your lawn care habits

You may not be able to control mother nature, but you can retain moisture in your lawn.

Easy solution #3 Keep your lawn long and let the clippings fall

You can save reduce your need to water the grass if you can get your grass to retain some of the water it gets naturally. You can slow evaporation by keeping your lawn a bit on the long side. And rather than bagging your clippings, let them fall as you mow. This acts as a little shield from the sun, allowing your lawn to retain water a bit longer. The clippings will also reduce your need for artificial fertilizer – an added bonus for the environment.

Sometimes I think people get a little too wrapped up in the appearance of their lawn, wanting to keep it really short and trimmed and also using fertilizers and chemicals to make it lush and keep away weeds that are actually harmless. Try looking at your lawn with a new eye. Embrace its natural state – it’s beautiful (and so are dandelions!).

Be done with disposables

Easy solution #4 Switch to cloth napkins and reusable lunch bags & silverware

When I used to take my lunch to work, I used one of those insulated lunch bags. They work great, and they’re really easy to wipe clean too. I packed silverware from home, so I wouldn’t need to use the plastic utensils at the office, and I even put my sandwich in a little tupperware. If you get in the habit, it’s really just as easy as using disposables. Bring it all home, clean, and you’re set for the next day.

At home we made the switch to cloth napkins. They’re not just for special occasions anymore! We haven’t had paper napkins in the house for years, and we don’t miss them at all. And if you don’t care much about appearances, you don’t even need to invest in actual napkins. Any old fabric will do. You can even cut an old cotton shirt into squares and make those your napkins!

You can even use different colored napkins for different family members, so everyone can remember which one is theirs. Use them for a few days, and then toss them in the laundry.

There are so many little changes you can make to help save the environment. I know you have some tips of your own too, so please share them in the comments!

10 Most Important Foods To Buy Organic

 

Buying organic fruits and vegetables is important – some more so than others. It can be expensive to buy organic, though, so I thought I would give you some guidelines on which foods you should always choose organic, and which ones you can settle for conventionally-grown.

Why buy organic?

There are five great reasons to buy organic foods.

Reduce your exposure to pesticides

Research has repeatedly shown that pesticides increase your risk for cancer. They also inhibit your body’s immune system (making you more susceptible to major diseases) and can even affect brain function.

There have also been studies that have shown that women who have been exposed to pesticides have an increased risk of giving birth to babies with birth defects. If you’d like to know more about all the different effects of pesticides on humans, kidsforsavingearth.org has a great summary.

Organically-grown food is better for the environment

The use of pesticides has a profound adverse effect on the environment. They are damaging to water, soil, and wildlife. Pesticides that get soaked into the soil run off into our water systems, killing millions of fish every year. Pesticides also add to air pollution, and some even harm the ozone layer, which contributes to global warming. Pesticides also take a very long time to break down, which means their adverse affects continue over a long period of time.

More vitamins and minerals

It’s a fact that organically-grown fruits and vegetables retain more of their natural vitamins than non-organic foods do. This chart shows you what a difference there is between the two.

Help farmers and their families

Pesticides are such strong, harsh chemicals that you can imagine what long-term exposure does to the people who work on farms. Researchers have shown a link between pesticides and asthma in farm workers. The regular exposure also increases a farm worker’s risk of cancer.

Taste!

If you’ve ever tasted organic produce, you know it tastes very different from conventionally-grown foods. Even after washing your fruits and vegetables, it’s not the same. When you buy non-organic foods, you are definitely sacrificing taste!

Which foods are most important to buy organic?

You know all the reasons to buy organic, but we also know buying organic is more expensive. One way to decide which foods to buy organic is based on which foods tend to retain the most pesticides. The most contaminated foods are the ones you want to try to buy organic as often as possible, if not always. The least contaminated ones might be the ones where you can choose non-organic and save a little money.  The Environmental Working Group produced a guide of the most and least contaminated produce, and they include the following:

Most Contaminated

Apples
Celery
Strawberries
Peaches
Spinach
Grapes
Sweet bell peppers
Potatoes
Blueberries
Lettuce

Least Contaminated

Onions
Sweet corn
Pineapples
Avocados
Asparagus
Sweet peas
Cabbage
Mushrooms

You can download and print the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide, which you can take with you whenever you go to the store. They will also send you tags with the same information that you can hook to your shopping bags.

I hope this article has given you a better understanding of why you should choose organic foods when you can, and which foods are most important to buy organic. When you do choose inorganic foods, don’t forget to always wash those foods as thoroughly as possible. There’s an all-natural produce cleaner called Eat Cleaner that you can buy in a spray or in wipes (for eating on the go) that has no smell or taste, and it gets rid of pesticide residue, as well as E. coli and Salmonella. I’ve read some rave reviews about Eat Cleaner from people who are very knowledgeable in the field of environmentalism. I think it’s worth a try if you buy non-organic produce.

If you are curious about going organic and think you might like to start moving in that direction, let us know how it goes! And if you already shop organic when you can, I’d love to hear from you too. What made you go organic? How much do you think it affects your food bill? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

 

Gardening is Green! How To Know What To Grow

 

Spring is here! Actually, here in Kansas City it feels like we skipped straight to summer. But that just means it’s the perfect time to start planning a garden.

In our continuing quest to make our lives more balanced, it’s important to think of the environment and make sure we are reducing our impact on key  resources (using them conservatively) and also making positive choices that contribute to everyone’s quality of life – people, animals and plants included.

Growing your own vegetables and herbs – if you do it in an environmentally sound way – is a great place to start, since it’s beneficial to the planet and to you. Plants help prevent global warming by using carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas that traps heat) to make energy for themselves. Not only do plants use carbon dioxide, but they put out oxygen, which is what people and animals need. So more healthy oxygen and less carbon dioxide is good for us and the planet.

Another consideration is the small impact you can make as part of the bigger whole. More people planting food in their own gardens means fewer trucks on the road transporting fruits and vegetables, less pesticides being used, and overall energy and fuel conservation. Everybody who plants a garden makes a difference, just as everyone who recycles or uses energy efficient bulbs or carries home groceries in reusable bags makes a difference.

If you haven’t planted a garden before (as with anything new), you can start small.  There are just a few things to consider when deciding what to grow, and then you’ll be on your way to fresher, healthier, greener food.

Location - For the most part, in many areas of the US, you can plant just about any vegetables or herbs. You’ll have more success with certain fruits in southern states where it stays warmer longer. Weather.com has a terrific tool that will show you all the best flowers, trees, vegetables, fruits, and herbs based on your zip code. It’s a great place to start!

Space - There is no space too small or too large to grow a garden. Even if you don’t have a yard, you can grow plants! Here are some ideas that will work in different size spaces:

Large outdoor garden - There are some vegetable plants that really spread when they grow, and they’re fun to watch because they grow so fast. If you’ve got the space, consider cucumbers, green beans, and tomatoes.

Small outdoor garden - If you don’t have a lot of space, consider vegetable plants that won’t spread out too much or vegetables that grow in the ground. Some ideas would be carrots, cherry tomatoes, beets, or scallions. There’s a great book called, Fast, Fresh Garden Edibles: Quick Crops for Small Spaces that has a lot of suggestions on what to grow in small spaces, and also includes details about caring for your garden, which might be a bit different, depending on how small your space is.

Along a fence - This is a great area for bushes with berries such as raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. Others that are less common are gooseberries, rhubarb, and (my favorite!) red currants. Depending on the type of fence you have, it can even serve as support for the growing bushes.

Front yard - Yes, you can have garden space in your front yard and still maintain your home’s curb appeal! Sunflowers work great in the front, and you can also landscape with strawberries or herbs.

Indoor planting - Even if you don’t have a yard for a garden, you can still grow a variety of edibles, especially if you have a balcony. Start with herbs on a windowsill. If you want your plants to double as decor, try combining them in bigger pots. There’s a great book, Grow Your Own Herbs in Pots that has all sorts of suggestions on which herbs go well together based on height, color, leaf shape, and even fragrance. You can also grow vegetables in containers such as five gallon pails, planters, or even plastic bags, as this lady suggests for potatoes.

Healthy variety - There’s a new study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry indicating strong evidence that a variety of berries can protect the aging brain from memory loss and other degenerative changes. Leafy green vegetables like leaf lettuce and spinach are rich in vitamins and minerals and can decrease your risk of cancer and heart disease. Carrots also help you fight disease and of course help improve your vision. Even sunflower seeds are packed with vitamins, especially Vitamin E.

Depending on what your health priorities are, you can plan your garden accordingly. The agriculture department of North Dakota State University put together this easy list of foods and their benefits that makes it easy to pick and choose. Or check out this fun chart if you are hoping to help a certain ailment (but see your doctor if it’s warranted).

Truly going green - Keeping in mind our goal of benefiting the planet, I have to tell you – it’s time to give up all your pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, and other chemicals. I know, they’re easy and cheap and they get the job done, right? But they’re also defeating your purpose.

By adding chemicals to your garden, you are potentially serving cancer-causing agents to your family. They also pollute the soil and water, and in general are harmful to the environment.

I’ll cover the hows and whys of natural gardening in a future post. For now, though, you might be interested in a helpful guide called The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control: A Complete Guide to Maintaining a Healthy Garden and Yard the Earth-Friendly Way. It has tons of tips  and information about how to naturally avoid pests and diseases, how to maintain your healthy garden all season, and even new ideas on what to do if you still encounter problems. It’s a much healthier approach, with less impact on the environment.

Are you ready to start gardening? What are you thinking about growing this year? I’m definitely thinking about corn, but still deciding on other veggies. Maybe green beans? Let me know your gardening thoughts. I’ll see you in the comments, and you can also like One Move Forward on facebook!

 

 

 

Wellness and Life Balance – What is it, and where do I get it? Part II

In yesterday’s post, we talked about the first three dimensions of wellness – social, physical, and emotional. Today I’ll explain the last four, which are career, intellectual, environmental, and spiritual.

Career wellness (or occupational wellness) is about finding work that is fulfilling to you, while also maintaining balance between work and the other parts of your life. When you want to make an impact in your career, you make an impact in the organization where you work, and then in turn you make an impact on society.  The impact can be positive or negative, and the best way to make a positive impact is to find work that you find fulfilling. In future posts, we’ll discuss how to find a career in which you gain satisfaction, unique ways to make a positive impact in your place of employment (and the effects that can have), and new ideas on balancing a demanding job with the other important parts of your life.

Intellectual wellness covers a lot of ground. Part of it is being open to new ideas and experiences. When you have the desire to take on unfamiliar challenges, learn new concepts, and improve your skills, you can move toward intellectual wellness. Critical thinking is also a component of intellectual wellness – when you examine your own thinking and judgments (and those of others), you build your ability to see things differently. We’ll talk more about how to keep an open mind, how to challenge yourself when you feel stuck in an old rut, and how to build on past experiences to learn in new ways.

Environmental wellness is the process of making positive choices relating to your impact on resources such as air, land, water, and energy. Positive environmental choices will contribute to sustaining or improving quality of life for people, animals, and plants. I look forward to talking about how to limit toxins, chemicals, and pollution. We’ll also talk about food safety, how to make a positive environmental impact, and anti-consumption movements.

Spiritual wellness is not about religion or how to live your life according to your religion. Regardless of whether you believe in a specific organized religion, you can move toward spiritual wellness by working on discovering your meaning and purpose in life, identifying values that are important to you, and then behaving in ways that are reflective of those values. These skills will help you develop peace and harmony in your life. We’ll talk more about calling on your personal belief system to help cope with both daily hassles and life crises, how to use your values and beliefs to elicit a relaxation response, and how to let go of worries, pain and stress to focus instead on hopefulness and satisfaction.

That’s it – you now know the seven dimensions of wellness. As you work on balancing all seven, think about what you are working toward. The highest and most important goal of your wellness journey is to attain peace – inner peace. And, in the words of The Dalai Lama,

“Without inner peace, it is impossible to have world peace.”

Let me know your thoughts about career, intellectual, environmental, and spiritual wellness in the comments! What areas do you want to work on?