Household Wisdom: Traditional Homemaking Tips for Modern Living

by Tiffany in Book Reviews

Picked this book up from the library a few weeks back and promptly renewed it so I could hold onto it longer. With a wistful sigh I will return it this afternoon… Household Wisdom: Traditional Homemaking Tips for Modern Living. For me it is partly a beautiful coffee table book that walks us through homes of days past… the the crisp linens, the hardwood floors, the fine white China, etc. I loved flipping through the pages and looking inside traditional homes that have a distinct old world feel to them. But beyond the pretty pictures it has has lots of advice for tailoring traditional homemaking methods to more modern living.

It has great advice on how to clean areas of the home including rugs, wood floors, curtains and blinds, antique textiles, and fireplaces. It goes into ways we can make our home feel “homier” with homemade potpourris, pomanders, and vintage linens. There are recipes for classic beauty creams and cosmetics such as Rose Water & Almond Cleanser, cold creams, and skin toner. There are also homemade remedies for illness and ailments. It gives insight into how women of days past cared for their homes and their families and teaches us some of that lost art. It is really fascinating how they lived and how much of the innovations they made back then are still practical today, perhaps preferred in many cases.

If you want a nice read for a lazy, cold Sunday this fall or winter I recommend this one. Just be warned, it may make you want to clean house!


Greening the Hereafter – From Burial to Cremation

by Tiffany in Environment

Woman in Mourning at Cemetery in Fall

One aspect of green living we may “forget” to consider is what will become of us after we die. And no I am not talking about an afterlife, I mean what will become of our physical body. Yeah, kind of a morbid topic but this post is part of the Green Moms Carnival being hosted by Deanna at Crunchy Chicken. Visit to her blog to see what others are writing about this topic.

I decided after my grandmother passed that I liked the idea of a place where you can go and visit your loved ones after they pass. Although I think it can be a source of guilt for some if they want to move away from that location later. I did not like the idea of the “decomposition” that occurs after burial. I found I could barely get those thoughts out of my mind whenever I entered the cemetery where she was buried. I also did not like the idea of body preservation or wakes with open caskets. Later, when I was diagnosed with cancer, it was hard to NOT think about what I wanted my “end” to look like. I decided that I wanted no funeral or service. I also thought it would be lovely to be cremated and then have my ashes buried in a wooden box with a tombstone above. Ultimately though I wondered about how much rural land is lost to create huge cemeteries, how eco friendly it is to burn your body, and what method was best.

What is Not So Green About Funerals, Burials, and Cremation:

* Land being cleared to use for cemeteries

* Embalming fluid and other chemicals used to sanitize and preserve bodies that can end up in our ground water

* Chemicals used to preserve your body when you donate it to science

* Urns, urn vaults, and coffins made of plastic or metal which will not biodegrade or do so very slowly

* Fossil fuels being used for grave excavation and for making tombstones

* Fossil fuels being used for funeral processions and body transportation

* Fossil fuels used to cremate bodies

Some Greener Choices:

* A wood, cardboard, wicker, or bamboo coffin or urn/box

* Donating organs

* Refusing embalming fluid or other chemical preservatives (may not be allowed if you plan on a burial/funeral)

* Having a small private service or memorial gathering

* Scattering ashes instead of burying them (legal in ALL states)

* Refusing a vault for internment of ashes or coffins and reporting cemeteries to the FTC if they claim it is the law

* Burial at sea

So… with all the pros and cons weighed I think I would prefer to be cremated since the energy usage to do so must surely be offset by the transportation and excavation costs of a burial. I want my organs to be harvested and then I want all preservation chemicals to be refused and my body immediately cremated and put into a cardboard box. At that point I would prefer my ashes be scattered somewhere of my choosing. BUT I will allow for my family to pull rank and have my ashes interred somewhere, if it is important to them. In lieu of a funeral/memorial I would prefer trees be planted. Money spent on funeral flowers would be better spent on donations to environmental causes. Low impact last rites for a low impact life…

So what do you think? Have you made plans of your own?


Chewing Gum – Harmless or Toxic?

by Tiffany in Environment, Health & Healing

Chewing Gum - Harmless or ToxicFor awhile now I have had a no gum rule for my kids. Thankfully it isn’t a real big issue since none of us were ever big gum chewers but when Halloween rolls around I need to be vigilant about gum. It has nothing to do with cavities or sugar though. It is instead about choosing that they NOT chew on plastic. Plastic has all kinds of chemical and toxic nasties and in true bone-head fashion we decided to take a relatively normal and natural product (gum) and plasticize it. Well, no thanks.

Native Americans chewed the sap from spruce trees and thus introduced us to “gun chewing” many, many years ago. During the first days of gum mass production, gum was made from chicle, which is a natural latex sourced from the sap of the Sapodilla tree. But after WWII, innovators decided to make a synthetic rubber for gum instead. A typical gum base will generally have ingredients like polyvinyl acetate (plastic) among many others. The problem is that we are essentially chewing big gummy balls of chemical laden rubber, dipped in sugars and sweeteners, when we chew conventional gums. Sounds delicious right?

Canada took steps at one point to get polyvinyl acetate listed as toxic after studies showed it was a likely carcinogen but the gum manufacturers played hardball and won out. A preservative called hydroxyanisol (BHA) is also often found in gum and it IS listed as a “reasonably anticipated’ carcinogen but that does not stop minute amounts of it from being allowed in chewing gum. Apparently this is just another industry where the ideals of capitalism are proven false and apparently money is all that is required to make selling poisonous products, perfectly legal. I should mention that the company behind Glee still uses chicle in their gum and they deserve big props for that. However I still won’t let my kids chew it because they do use some of these chemicals in their formulation.

And of course there is the environmental aspect. The gum the natives chewed and the gum made from Chicle was natural and eventually decomposed. Modern chewing gum is non-biodegradeable!

Think about how much gum you have chewed in your lifetime. You probably never gave it much thought when you wrapped it up in a piece of paper or a tissue and then tossed it in the garbage. That gum is still around though… somewhere, and probably looks pretty much the same as when you tossed it. Some countries, like Singapore, have even banned it. Others have established programs (cool link BTW) to collect and reuse (recycle) chewing gum to make new products.

If your own kids have gotten into the habit of chewing gum you may be able to convert them over to something else, like taffy or ginger chews. Or when they ask for gum in the store you can just get creative and offer them something else instead. When they go Trick or Treating perhaps you could make a deal and trade the gum for other candy or for a small bit of money. My kids now automatically know that the gum should be declined, traded, or tossed if given to them.

One clever way you might educate your kids about gum is to give them a Make Your Own Gum Kit that uses natural chicle. You could show them how gum used to be made, tell them how it is NOW made, and then discuss the health and environmental impact of gum while they have fun making some of their own flavored gum.

Have you and/or your kids made a habit of chewing gum? What have you done to avoid it?


5 Ways to Lower Your Winter Energy Bill

by Tiffany in A Green Home

dryer vent

Old habits die hard. Well, at least some of them do. My husband and I had an interesting conversation last night after he came home from work late for the 4th night in a row, right after he worked two overtime shifts on the weekend. You see my husband has gotten into the habit of jumping at the chance to get overtime work because those opportunities were so rare after the 2008 recession fiasco until recently. When the recession first hit, he was laid off for weeks at a time and obviously this was a source of stress and anxiety for him. But we weathered that storm quite well in large part due to our greener lifestyle. Now that, coupled with a shift towards minimalism, means we are spending less than ever and I had to remind my husband of that. He doesn’t need to work overtime and I would rather have him at home than to have extra money we don’t really need. The habitual idea that you need to work harder instead of enjoy life more is hard to break. It was such a cool revelation (to me at least) to see how values and attitudes about money have changed on this great green journey of ours.

Anyway, that conversation reminded me that it was time to ramp up my annual energy saving plan, especially since we are in a new house and don’t know exactly what the costs will be. Energy plays a large role in everything we do. From the time we wake up until the time we go to bed, we are dependant upon the energy flowing through our homes. And even as we sleep, we use energy to keep us warm and protected. But all this power usage comes at a price and sometimes we suffer under the burden of high energy bills. To that end, here are some ways that you can help to cut down on your energy consumption.

1) Plug up leaks – Air leaks contribute a large amount to home energy consumption. If your windows and doors are aged and drafty, you could be wasting as much as 35% of your energy dollars through them. Making sure the leaks are sealed will prevent the loss of heated or cooled air, meaning your heating and cooling system doesn’t have to work as hard. You can use a candle to detect drafts and then fill them with insulation, caulk, etc. Draft snakes are also easy to make and they work great!

And it’s not just windows and doors – remember that the fireplace, ducts, electrical outlets and plumbing are all potentials for energy loss.

2) Replace with energy efficient materials and appliances – while you might not be able to run out and replace everything in your house, as things wear out you should take care to replace them with energy efficient models. This goes for everything from windows to washing machines. When looking for our new place we made sure to find one that had Energy Star appliances. We opted to replace our washer and dryer recently because the we felt they were energy hogs and we managed to snag a more energy efficient set on Craigslist for only $300!! We got them off a well-to-do young man who was selling off all his belongs to go backpack in Europe. I had to go to a laundromat for a couple weeks and it took over a month to find the perfect set but eventually we did.

Another tip – Vent your dryer indoors… it is amazing what a difference this can make.

3) Do Your Own Insulation – There are soooo many ways to add some extra insulation to your home… draft snakes, hot water heater blankets, pipe insulators, etc. You can also use heavy duty thermal curtains on windows. We have them on every window and they are perfect for winter and summer.  They block all light and they are so heavy that they block drafts as well. Pretty quilts can also be hung over windows and put on walls like tapestries to help with insulation. Quilts and blankets on couches and chairs also helps with making surfaces appear warmer so you won’t be tempted to turn up the heat.

4) Lower the thermostat in winter – Every degree makes a difference in your energy consumption. Keep your heating thermostat lower and throw on a sweater! Get some organic long johns for you and the kids too. Having a stack of fresh linens and blankets in the common rooms also encourages kids to bundle up when they need to and you can keep the thermostat set low. You’ll see considerable savings on your power bill.

5) Use appliances responsibly – It goes without saying that the television, lights, stereo and game consoles should be turned off when they aren’t in use. But it’s surprising how many people don’t do this basic step. Other things aren’t so obvious, like phone chargers or mp3 chargers. We often leave them plugged in when not in use. Did you know they continue to draw a current even when not plugged in? Those little things do add up. Make sure that you turn off or unplug any appliances that aren’t in use. We have a couple nifty power strips like this Practecol Power Strip that we really like. It has two spaces at the end of the unit for stuff you never want to be turned off like alarm clocks or DVRs. Then you use a remote to turn off the others each night. It is ingenious IMO.

How do you save energy in the winter?


6 Natural Ways to Beat Stress

by Tiffany in Health & Healing

6 Natural Ways to Beat StressI walk a fine line on this blog. I would like to say I brazenly talk about all the difficult stuff I might face as a mom but really I don’t. Instead I blog more about the good stuff which can of course leave people with the impression that you are either perfect or dishonest. But alas it cannot be helped most times because I value the privacy of my children as they get older and I have to be mindful of everything that gets sent out into the world wide web. You just have to try and be as real as you can without hurting your kids in the process and it isn’t easy.

I have been having one of those weeks. No, one of those months. I think all moms probably know what I am getting at… life just gets so stressful and overwhelming that you feel as though something has to give. Well, I let work go quite a bit and that didn’t help because I just had more time to stew about what was stressing me. I let cooking go and that worked out well initially because my husband started doing the cooking instead. But then I felt guilty about that, so problem not solved after all. I ended up reaching out to a professional for help with the biggest source of stress in my life and hope to see some results with that soon (pretty please) but with every step forward there seems to be two steps back.

This week it has become abundantly clear that we are going to have “bully” issues in this new neighborhood, which is always fun. AND my 10 year old son announced to me this morning that after 4 years of no epileptic symptoms… his seizures are back. He described what he was experiencing and I compared that with some bizarre things I had noticed myself and it just seems pretty clear that we are dealing with small seizures again. If history repeats itself they will get bigger and more frequent. I keep remembering the words of a neurologist many years ago… “We don’t know what the extent of the damage will be and we may not know for years.” Well, we saddled up that pony 10 years ago when we decided to vaccinate our first child and now we get to ride it, wherever it may go.

Stress relief has become a serious matter for my sanity lately. Here are some small things that really make a difference…

Meditation Rituals – Making time for quiet and reflection has become really important and to help me get in the zone I am making it more ritualistic. One thing that helps is creating a circle or a clear cut area where you can meditate. If I go outside I might make a circle of leaves and then sit inside it or I might draw a circle with chalk on the deck. I am a very visual person and carving out that “sacred space” has really helped. I grab my Shuffle and then listen to a guided mediation or some inspirational music and for just 10-20 minutes I will concentrate on nothing more strenuous than breathing. Just make a circle… and then call out the four corners. Okay, just kidding about that last part.

Music – It really does work miracles, at least for me. I have gotten in the habit of putting on some headphones whenever I am feeling stressed and listen to some celtic or new age songs or perhaps nature sounds like birds chirping and waterfalls. I really like Quiet Heart & Spirit Wind… beautiful music and nature sounds together. As I write this post I am listening to a composition called “after the rain”.

Crystals – Cultures for centuries have had beliefs about the properties of crystals.. that they offer protection, luck, or that they have healing properties. And this is no new concept to me since I have long been singing the praises of amber teething necklaces and their natural analgesic properties when worn in contact with the skin. Each crystal has a vibrational balance and an energy that can help to regulate your own energy. Good stress reliever crystals are Clear Quartz (my fave), Rose Quartz, Citrine, Amethyst,  Aquamarine, Garnet, Howlite, and Amazonite. You can wear them in pendant form or hold them for quick stress relief. I like to hold a Clear Quartz crystal to my temples or the inside of my wrists. You can find lots of crystals on Etsy including a fave shop of mine called White Magic.

zen stones

Feng Shui – I used to be a VERY much into Feng Shui and in fact I consulted with a corporate office to redo their large space to align with the principles of Feng Shui and positive energy. It is essentially the art of arranging objects and spaces so that they create balance (yin and yang) and allow for the unobstructed flow of energy (chi). This concept introduces the idea that our life and work spaces reflect and affect our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. I am sure you have had the feeling once that your house or office is just so cluttered you can’t think straight, right? Well, that is EXACTLY what Feng Shui addresses. By re-designing spaces with a Feng Shu Bagua in mind you can create the positive energy and outcomes you want. Once you get started, it is really quite fun.

Candle Therapy – Candles give us feelings of calm and serenity. I find it HUGELY relaxing to light a couple candles in the evening and take a shower or bath with only candlelight. I also like to take candles outside to sit in the dark during various phases of the moon. Candles at breakfast time can also help to get the day off to a peaceful start.

Walking – There is almost no better way to clear your head and let go of some negative energy. When my husband returns home after work I enjoy taking a short drive to a local Metro park and walking in the woods for 30-60 minutes. The fresh air and the exercise do wonders for my mental health.

Sometimes when we are stressed to the brink of what we can take it is amazing what we can accomplish with some simple items like candles, crystals, or a walking trail and just a few minutes of relaxation time.

What do you do to relieve stress?

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

7 Comments on 6 Natural Ways to Beat Stress