Friday, April 30, 2010

Day 101: Tell Obama to Stop Championing Offshore Drilling

I wrote email to Obama today telling him to knock it off with this "drill, baby, drill" business, and to commit additional resources to (1) clean up this horrible spill in the gulf and then (2) support clean energy research and development.

You can take action on oil spills through the Sierra Club. They're a good group.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Day 100: Take Action on Mountaintop Removal Mining

Today I've declared to be Day 100 of this blog, and this is the day that I begin to take broader actions. Of course, I'll still regale you, our dear readers, with tales of homemade this-or-that. But today, I will also begin the more difficult and time-consuming task of TAWTPMO: taking action when things piss me off.

First up, mountaintop removal coal mining.

This is a horrible practice in which mountains are blown up, the coal extracted, then the mountain pieces are put back into a mound, and covered over with grass and baby trees.

mountaintop removal

The valleys in between the mountains are filled with the earth that used to be the top of the mountain. Filling the valleys destroys the streams that flow(ed) through them. The birds and animals that lived on the mountain and near the streams are dead. The scenery and vistas are ruined (Coal mining execs tout these new flat lands as better because they solve the "lack of flat space" problem in the mountains, can you believe that?) The water and air of the people who live in the towns nearby are poisoned. Giant coal ash pits are created to hold the waste sludge. These pits leak frequently and cause injury, death, and mar the landscape.

North Carolina and Georgia are the largest consuming state for coal mined in this way. Each time I turn the lights on in my house, I'm benefiting from this mountaintop removal mining. The coal comes from poorer states, WV and KY, and is brought here to be burned.

This has to stop.

Today I used the interactive tool on Follow the Coal Money to find out who in my district is taking dirty coal money. I was especially interested to learn that Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) has taken over $300,000 in contributions since 1999 from coal industry (the vast majority of these dollars coming from companies that do mountaintop removal or who do business with mountaintop removal companies), including over $108,000 this year alone. He's the 3rd highest paid Senator by the coal industry.

I sent a sharply worded email, asking basically, WTF. Coal is bad enough, but Mountaintop Removal Mining? Come on! This is some medieval stuff.

Then I sent emails to my Congressional Rep (Howard Coble) asking for him to support the Clean Water Protection Act.

You can get started by going to iLoveMountains.Org and reading about the issues, then clicking "Write to Congress" to tell them what you think.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Buying organic

Did you ever wonder when to buy organic and when you can maybe afford not to?
Here is a cheat sheet that you can put in your wallet and remember which veggies are probably better off purchased with an organic label.

Organic Cheat Sheet

Day 99: Flattr Us!

A few months ago, I saw an interesting video about a social micropayment system called Flattr. I'd describe it myself, but I think their video does a much better job.

I love this concept, a virtual tip jar where you can give pocket change (about $2 per month) to your favorite web sites. The problem is nearly all of the sites are in Swedish! We loved Sweden when we visited there last year, but I can't read a word of it. (Actually, I take that back. While there I learned what "utfart" means.) So, unless a lot of Swedes like laughing at two Americans trying to save the planet, we're going to have to earn our coffee money with AdSense.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Day 98: Support Local Farmers

One of the easiest things you can do to improve your eco-footprint and give back to the community is to support local farmers.

Here are some pictures from when Tony and I went on the Piedmont Farm Tour yesterday.

Kids checking out a freshly laid egg.

Here is a list of concrete, practical things you can do:

  1. Eat more vegetables and simple foods. Get used to the taste of "real food".
  2. Buy your veggies at the farmer's market. This will ensure you're getting stuff that's local, seasonal, and "real".
  3. Get locally-produced, humanely raised meat instead of buying "the cheapest" at the grocery store. Can't afford to do that? Try half-servings or meatless days then. No biggie.
  4. Check out for a super list of farmer's markets and farms in your area. You can search by zip code.
  5. Patronize food co-ops and natural grocery stores if you have these. Check listings for towns nearby also. Twice a month Tony and I find ourselves driving through Richmond, VA. We love to stop at Ellwood Thompson's as we're driving through, as a treat. I think of it as "my" grocery store now, even though it's not really in our neighborhood!
  6. Join a CSA. (Community supported agriculture - these are "clubs" where you get a box of fresh local veggies each week. There are also meat CSAs.)
  7. Call up local farmers and ask about delivery options. I do this every week.
  8. Talk to the farmers about their livelihood. This is a wonderful way to get connected. Farmers have so much to offer in terms of nutritional knowledge, information about pesticides, economic implications of what they're doing, reasons for why they grow things this way or that, etc. It is really interesting to consider all the factors that go into growing food and (hopefully) making a profit from that. While you're at it, visit local farms. Usually local farmers are thrilled to have people interested in what they are doing. Call up a farmer, especially one who has a web site or a consistent presence at the farmer's markets, and ask for a tour. The worst they can say is 'no'.
  9. Watch Food Inc or Fresh and learn about how the industrial food system works (hint: it's probably not what you thought).
  10. Talk to the manager at your grocery store about stocking more local produce and locally-raised (non-CAFO) meat. Ask what it takes to get this done. Find out what the problems are with doing this. Just talk plainly with the manager. You don't have to be a jerk about it, just find out the problems so you can figure out if they're fixable, and if so, by whom.
  11. Take more pleasure in the act of feeding yourself and feeding your family. Think of food as fuel (tasty, tasty fuel) and really be discriminating about what you put in your body and in your kids bodies as their fuel.
  12. Commit to making each meal yourself, from the best ingredients you can find. Realize that this might take longer than popping something in the microwave or assembling things from processed packages so that it looks like you're "cooking". Learn to be ok with this new time commitment. This is a tough one. Maybe the toughest on the list.
  13. Experiment, and embrace the disasters when they come. You may buy 3 pounds of kale from a farmer (that doesn't sound like so much, does it?) and then you are stuck eating kale for a month. Kale burgers, kale soup, kale quiche, kale nuggets... Find some humor in it.
  14. Start slowly. Make one change a week. As you run out of something in your kitchen or in your pantry, make a conscious decision about whether you will restock that item. Be mindful of your choices, and be deliberate. You don't need to napalm your current kitchen. Just make a change here or there, and add more changes as you go.
  15. Start your own garden. Start with something easy like peas or lettuce or zucchini. Or herbs! Anyone can grow herbs. Try rosemary or thyme. I have the worst black thumb and I can still grow this stuff! Ask a farmer how to get started, or buy their seedlings to get started. Don't worry about sounding like a newbie.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Day 97: Cut Your Hair, You Dirty Hippie

Well, in true Megan-style I like to be consistent and predictable at all times. No surprises. Nothing out of the mainstream. Nothing unexpected.

So, I'll follow up my introspective, activist Earth Day posting that declared that this blog shall forevermore be devoted to Things That Matter ("We here at GvG should do more for the community and not just these piddly little individual actions!") with a posting of utmost importance: I decided to cut my hair for summer.

Someone alert the media. Who am I kidding, they all read this blog already.

How is this green? Well, it means less shampoo and less water, less drying time and more ease-of-maintenance. Plus I was just starting to feel like one of those peasant-skirt-wearing-hippies. You know, when you're wearing beet lipstick and herbal pit spray, you don't want to take any chances that someone might think you're a hippie. No siree! So clearly it is time for a haircut.



Thursday, April 22, 2010

Day 96: Earth Day Reflection

On Earth Day (and nearly 100 actions we have posted on this blog!) it seems appropriate to address the overall mission of this project, how we feel about the progress we've made, if we're still enjoying the process, tweaks we should make, etc.

Overall I would characterize the project as a success. We've enjoyed working on this project together as a couple, and we've developed and changed our attitudes about what is possible. Sometimes it is good to do crazy things just to break down barriers in our thinking.

So, I think - but can't yet totally confirm since Tony is not reading this yet - that for the next phase of this blog we'll be working on developing actions to impact the next ring in our "concentric rings" model. For example: We have, thus far, written mostly about household issues and individual- and family-specific changes. We've focused on things like making food, reducing trash, reusing goods, transportation issues for ourselves, reducing our water waste, reducing consumption, etc. Our overall locus of control has been individualized and impact-based. Much of it has centered on reductions and alterations in our personal behavior.

The next ring of the concentric ring model might be to widen our focus to our workplace and perhaps to the slightly wider circle of our neighborhood. Can we continue all the progress we've made on our household agenda while also implementing some changes in our workplace and in our neighborhood? What would those be, and can we do this without annoying everyone or making them think we're weirder than they already do? (I was teased unmercifully the other day at College Coffee for allowing Tony to pee in a jar and pour it on the compost. Believe me, there is no "allowing" about it.)

Some previews:
(1) work on community activism around issues we care about and for which we feel that we can enact change - specific issues are still being determined. I tend to take on too much, so we are going to be judicious.
(2) work on building community around the neighborhood. We have discussed several specific agenda items. Not sure which ones will happen.
(3) take on larger projects here at home, now that we have some of the basics covered. (i.e. we've figured out cooking, but let's nail 4-season gardening; or, we've figured out trash reduction, but let's figure out energy reduction also, and then move on to energy production)

This Earth Day might also be a time to reflect on what's worked so far in our project and what hasn't. Tomorrow I'll summarize what's worked and give updates. The next day I'll summarize what has not worked, and give updates.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Day 95: Pick Up Trash Where You Find It

Claire and I went to pick up trash on Saturday on University Drive. It's easy to pick up trash when walking. But it bothers me when I run outdoors and I see trash everywhere, because it's hard to run and pick up trash at the same time. So I make a mental note of where the worst spots are, and I try to go back and pick it up at some point. I noticed University Drive near Lowe's Foods was getting pretty trashy over the winter, and it just kept getting worse. This is my favorite spot to find bluebirds also, so the trash was troubling. Claire and I headed out on Saturday at about 11am.

Picking up trash

We took 2 bags, gloves, and a good attitude. This child loves to pick up trash! It is great to work with her. We spent about 30 minutes and cleaned up the area from Lowe's north to the corner. In just that area, I'd say about 200 yards, we collected 2 bags worth, plus some cardboard. In the picture below you can see the area we cleaned: from the bags back to the stoplight in the distance. That's a lot of trash for such a small area.

Picking up trash

This is Claire's expression when I asked her how she felt about picking up so much trash!

Trash stats: lots of smashed cans, plastic bottles. Most fast food containers were from Taco Bell and Bojangles, neither of which are located on this road. Most common item was plastic wrappers (such as candy wrappers and thin plastic wraps for drinks).

Later when we were at the garden center, one of her substitute teachers came up to us and said "hello" and then asked "were you guys out on University earlier picking up trash?" Claire was so excited to be able to say "yes!" The teacher then explained that she saw us, and then she thanked Claire. It was nice.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Day 94: Keep a mason jar handy

No, people. Not for peeing in. Please. What is it with you and your one-track minds?!? Really.

NO, actually, we read in No Impact Man about keeping a mason jar around for EATING and DRINKING out of, you sick perverts. Geez.

And we liked the idea, so first Tony began taking it to the coffee shop, and now I tried it today. It's a nice feeling, heavy but a good size. Regular coffee with cream has a lovely shade, but a mocha looks really pretty with its many layers.

One other benefit is that the wider mouth makes it easy to clean, and because it's glass it doesn't hold a smell like other materials (plastic comes to mind), so it rinses easily. You can use it for water later in the day.

Morning jar of joe

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day 93: Eat Dandelions

Welcome to spring. The dandelions are everywhere and so of course I figured we should eat them: how much more "local" can our produce be? Walk out your front door, and voila, nature provides.

Claire and I picked up a bag full of dandelion greens on a trash pick-up adventure on Saturday.

Picking dandelion greens

We brought the greens home and I quadruple-washed them, painstakingly picking all the weird pieces out and washing all the grit off.

Washing the dandelions

How to wash dandelion greens

Dandelion greens, washed

I then made a dandelion and beet greens frittata. Well, that's what I'm calling it anyway. We had roasted new potatoes, sweet potato, and beets on the side.

Dandelion frittata and roasted potatoes and beets

What I did:
1. Wash the dandelion leaves and stems.
2. Wash and chop the beet greens.
3. In a large stainless steel skillet, saute greens in olive oil with fresh chopped garlic and sliced vidalia green onions.

dandelions and beet greens, ready to saute

4. Move the greens to a plate and melt a little butter in the pan.
5. Crack 12 eggs into a bowl (I used Asgard Farm local/beautiful/real eggs $2.50 a dozen and they come to Burlington on Fridays for pickup). Throw in some baking powder (about .25t) and some cream (a tablespoon?). Whisk this.
6. Put the egg mixture in the pan. Gently put the greens in, distributing them evenly and letting them sink into the eggs. Cook this - but do not stir it - on medium for about 5 minutes.
7. When the egg stuff begins to set around the sides, move it to the oven. (Mine was set at 400 for the potatoes and beets, so I left it like that.)
8. Cook in the oven for a few minutes until it just begins to set in the middle. Take it out and put some chopped tomatoes in the center. Top with some shredded pepper jack cheese. (I used 1/2 block, I think that is about 4 ounces.)

Dandelion frittata

9. Put it back in the oven to finish. Maybe another 4 or 5 minutes?

Here is Tony's reaction:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Day 92: Homemade lipstick, attempt #1

When cooking with beets this winter, I noticed how much they stain. So of course the first thing I thought was, "can I make a lipstick from this?"

During the experiment, I took pictures. What follows here is my first attempt at making beet lipstick. The basic idea was I wanted to strain the beet juice and use it to color some regular Chapstick.

Step One: cut off the beet stems and a small piece of the beet, and save the rest of the beet and the greens for another use.

Step Two: put the beet pieces in a blender and blend them up. In this picture you can see the beet juice on my finger.

Step Three: put the blended pieces into the mortar and pestle and grind them up more.

Step Four: put the beet paste into a bandana and squeeze the juice into a bowl.

Step Five: take an old tube of Chapstick and put it into the mortar and pestle, then blend the beet juice into the Chapstick.

Here is what it looks like when it's done:

Step Six: try it on your lips.



Verdict: I can't see a thing, colorwise. But it works just like Chapstick! (Psst, I wouldn't call this a success... maybe next time I will try straight beet juice...)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Day 91: Learn how processed food is made, Part 2

Today's processed food lesson: What is maltodextrin? My favorite smoked almonds have this stuff on them and I wondered what it is.

Maltodextrin is an umbrella term for a highly processed saccharide polymer derived from starch (corn, potato, rice, or less commonly, wheat). There are lots of these sugar-like things made from different starches. They are called dextrose, generically. But they can also be called things like "rice sugar" or "wheat sugar" or "corn syrup" on a label. [1]

Maltodextrin appears as a powder. It is absorbed in your body like glucose. If a factory takes the corn starch they would normally make corn syrup out of, and they just cook it a little less, it is maltodextrin [2].

Maltodextrins are classified by their "DE" or "dextrose equivalent" number. The numbers are usually between 3 and 20. A higher number means the glucose chains are shorter and the product is sweeter.

Maltodextrin can also be used as a thickener. It is on some peanut butters as a fat replacer. [2]

I have no information on why it's on these nuts, but here's my theory: These almonds are coated in some powdery, spicy, salty junk to make them taste delicious. I think the maltodextrin is in that mixture to make it have the right mouthfeel and to hold the spices and salt. Just my guess.

I really don't need to be eating that. I guess compared to a Twinkie, a jalapeno smoked almond is closer to "real" food, but really, wouldn't a plain almond be good too? Or just a roasted, salted almond?

[1] Sugar Association web page.
[2] Ettlinger, Steve. 2007. Twinkie, Deconstructed. p. 64.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Day 90: Save water for plants

We haven't implemented any serious efforts at outside rainwater diversion (yet), but in the house, I have tried a few strategies for saving and re-using waste water. Here is a picture of a bucket I'm using in the kitchen to catch pasta water and other kitchen water. For those who were fans of Tony's Pee Week, THIS IS NOT A PICTURE OF PEE.

Pasta Water for Plants

After it cools, I imagine the plants will like it because of the extra nutrients in there.

UPDATE: after making beet lipstick (see posting later this week) the water is now a lovely shade of pink!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Update to glass jars in the pantry

A few weeks ago I posted some shots of my pantry and the recycled glass jars I am trying to use in there to store things. I've also been using the glass jars to store leftovers or portions for lunches (e.g. yogurt, etc). Tony has also been using recycled mason jars for his coffee and water at work.

The other day I went to get my yogurt and granola for lunch, and when I saw the jar lids, the idea of the yogurt being in a pickle jar and the granola being in an artichoke jar was rather unappetizing. Bleah. I decided to cover the jar lids with some old stickers that I had laying around.

Here is the result:

Day 89: Learn how processed food is made, part 1

I am going to be a Debbie Downer and start a little series called "Processed Food Fun Facts" or "Learn how processed food is made". I'll have a series of factoids on here designed to teach some kitchen chemistry and food science.

FIRST UP: Hexane

So you're all proud of yourself for eating less meat and more vegetables. You saunter up to the checkout line with your package of Boca Burgers, and slap it on the counter. Along with your non-meat textured soy protein, you've just ordered a heaping portion of hexane, a chemical neurotoxin used in the refinement of gasoline.

Veggie Burgers Contain Hexane

In cooking and food science, hexanes are used to separate oil from seeds. This makes your Boca Burgers less fattening. It also makes them more unhealthy and disgusting.

After processing, larger-than-trace amounts of hexane stay in the food, and you eat that. Hexane is a known neurotoxin. Proceed with caution. If you must buy Boca Burgers, or other soy-based processed foods, buy the ones marked Organic (NOT "made with organic ingredients", it must be marked "Organic").

I don't buy Boca Burgers, but I have been known to consume the odd Clif bar now and again. Clif bars also are made with hexane.

A better solution: make your own food from whole ingredients that resemble the original natural processing. If you want to eat processed food, why not try making it yourself? This was one of Michael Pollan's Food Rules I think. (Something like "Eat all the Twinkies you want, just make them yourself.")

So on my list of things to do is to make my own granola bars. I make granola already, so how hard could it be? I think it would be relatively easy to make a bean-based veggie patty also. I am thinking black beans would be nice, and by the time it was all said and done it would probably have more protein than a Boca Burger anyhow. And I could vouch for all the ingredients. Consider this on the Green v. Green to-do list!!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Day 88: The Dishwashing Detergent Debate

Earlier I posted about eco-dishwashing detergents. After much testing, and three months of back-and-forth, I have determined that the winner is........ Seventh Generation powder automatic dishwashing detergent.

This stuff works great, and when we're going through Richmond we can stop at Ellwood Thompson's and pick it up in bulk.

Also, never, ever buy Mrs. Meyers for cleaning dishes. All that aromatherapy on the dishes is just a terrible idea.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Day 87: Keep planting things

This weekend I added thai basil, cinnamon basil, one tomato plant, jalapenos, and summer squash. That last one was actually meant to be zucchini but I grabbed the wrong pot and didn't notice until I got home.

Soon the violas will die and I'll replace them with strawberries I think, or maybe lettuce. Can't decide yet. Then the pansies will die and I'll replace them with more tomatoes or maybe those zucchinis. Who knows. It's very exciting to have things growing. I check on the plants all the time. It's very soothing to weed them and study them.

Oh, and in the backyard we have a crazy amount of lemon balm. It's everywhere. I'm considering it for groundcover along the sides of the yard. We have insane amounts of it.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saving Lives, One Old Lady at a Time

After finding a lost dog, setting up signs for it around the neighborhood, and letting it spend the night in the garage, our family felt like we had done our good deed for the weekend. However, we had something much more exciting in store. Tonight on the way to the Mellow Mushroom with the kids, we noticed an old woman with a handicapped sticker driving erratically in a Cadillac in front of us. She was weaving, putting her blinker on for no reason, and then started driving up on the curb. When she re-entered the roadway, she continued her weaving and erratic path. Tony called 911 and followed her. While the 911 operator said they would send someone out, we weren't entirely sure where she was going or if they'd be able to find her, so we followed her. After about 2 miles of her weaving all over the road, we finally caught up with her and came up alongside her right. We looked over and she was actually asleep at the wheel AND her sun visor had become disconnected, sitting vertically and blocking her vision!

Soon, it became clear that she was approaching a 12-lane intersection with a red light on our side and was not going to stop. She appeared ready to just plow through the intersection, completely asleep. Tony sped past her to the intersection and started honking loudly, trying to get the attention of everyone around and warn her. She was about to be T-boned by a truck and/or hit a family van head-on, but the honking got that drivers; attention and they slowed just enough to be able to avoid her. The old lady finally put her brakes on and came to a stop in the middle of the intersection.

Tony ran out of our truck and over to her car. He used his police voice on her (I imagine this is a very cranky version of the professor voice), and convinced her to open the door. He asked her to back up slowly into the turn lane, and she did. He said she was very confused and then angry at him, accusing him of pulling her over without being a police officer, and saying that she didn't want the police to come because she had had run-ins with them before. She also said that she "wasn't asleep but the horn woke me up". She was obviously in a bad way. I called 911 again and reported our location, and after about 5 minutes they sent one officer.

Tony told the officer the story and then the left once the officer said we could leave. We were very relieved that no one was hurt, although we both thought for a moment as she headed for that intersection that she was a goner.

We headed back to Mellow Mushroom and ordered a Red Oak (local beer) for each of us and some pizza. Well, about 10 minutes after we got there, we saw the strangest thing. Up the street come two police cars, sirens blaring, lights on, following... guess who. Yup, our little old lady was running from the cops!

The Chase

A third police car finally joined the chase and they pulled her over about a block away from the restaurant where we were sitting outside, blue lights blazing, the whole bit. This pretty much stopped traffic for a while in that lane, and our whole restaurant patio was watching the drama. Of course, we had to explain what was going on, since, unfortunately, we knew exactly who she was. After about 20 minutes the police got her out of the car, into a police car, and a tow truck finally towed her car away. Let's hope she won't be getting her car or her license back for a long, long time.

Day 86: Personal Care Products: Toothpaste

I've been a Crest girl since I was old enough to brush. I've also never had a cavity. This week I decided to try to green it up a bit. Here were my requirements:

1. No baking soda - I have very sensitive teeth and somewhat receding gums on one side, and several dentists have recommended NOT using baking soda based toothpastes. This rules out making my own toothpaste.
2. Must have fluoride - same reason. Sensitive teeth need more fluoride, or perhaps more correctly, fluoride will reduce sensitivity.
3. Must have recycled plastic container
4. Must have minty flavor
5. Must have no animal testing and no animal ingredients.
6. Must be made by a good company

I decided on Tom's Natural Toothpaste Spearmint flavor with fluoride.

Here's what I notice so far.

1. It's 2.5 times more expensive. Regular Crest costs $2. This stuff costs $4.99.
2. It has sodium laurel sulfate (SLS) in it (yuck) which causes it to foam in the mouth just like "real" toothpaste. This gives detergent properties.
3. The spearmint is nice.
4. The biggest flaw in it is that it doesn't cause your whole mouth to tingle like "real" toothpaste.
5. I'll keep using it but I'm pretty skeptical of the SLS in it. I might try a different brand when this runs out.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Whole wheat bread recipe

By request, here is my whole wheat bread recipe - it could not be easier.

I'll give the basic dough recipe. You can make this in your bread machine and finish in the oven, or mix up your dough manually.

3 cups whole wheat flour
1.5t salt
2T butter
2t yeast
3T powdered milk
1 c water plus between .3-.5 cup extra (judge this for yourself - if it's a hot day, add a little less. If it's a cold day, add a bit more -- more water will help it rise a bit and yield a less dense loaf.)

Do a first rise, knead and second rise, and then finish in oven for 20 minutes on 400.

Good luck. I make this every 3 days or so. It's a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Day 85: Personal care products: Deodorant

Well, how can I possibly top Tony's Pee Week? I considered doing a body fluids trifecta, for example, "Spit, Sweat, and Snot: Personal Eco-Management for the Skittish". But I've decided that despite the Internet's apparent love for Tony (our traffic went through the roof during Pee Week - wait, is that love of pee or love of Tony? Hm... Also, did you notice we now have different ads along the side? The cat urine ads I understand, but Jimmy John's Subs?!? Someone explain this to me!), I can't really see myself being able to top him, what with all the details and the photos and the double entendres.

So let's just leave it a little more, well, Megan-like, shall we?

This week I'm taking advantage of this sweltering spring week (high of 92 today? Are you kidding me? We went from frozen tundra to dog days here...) to experiment with herbal deodorants. So far, I smell like bug spray. I have not heard any outwardly derisive comments in class or out in public. Claire did say she likes me to smell more like baby powder and less like roast chicken. I think she's smelling the sage. It does have a "medieval kitchen" sort of quality to it. I like to think that I don't need the full compliment of 13th century coverups for rotting meat, but hey, you never know. This stuff I'm using currently has sage oil, lavandin oil, and lemon peel oil in an alcohol base. (Wikipedia tells me that lavandin is a hybrid of lavender.)

I do want to notify The Internet At Large that sage is one thing, but if I ever end up smelling like patchouli please host an intervention. Paint my toenails, haul me off of the Grateful Dead tour bus, and douse me with tropical summer breeze antiperspirants, STAT. Because if I ever smell like patchouli, something has gone seriously, definitely wrong.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Day 84: The Pee Bee: A Look Inside the Lindner Hall Mens' Room

Tony: You should really look in Lindner Hall mens' room!
Megan: No, that's okay. Really.

After writing my last posting, I decided to take Organic123's suggestion and use an old milk jug to store urine. [Megan says,"Oh my god! You are not really going to tell people about that, are you?"] Rather than keeping a full gallon jug on the sink, I grabbed a half-gallon jug and set it behind the toilet. [Megan says,"Please tell me you're not going to write about this on the Internet. For everyone to see. Your pee jug?!? Please. No."] It fit perfectly and could not easily be seen. Megan went a full day without noticing it and, after I told her it was in there, still couldn't find it. [She now claims she still wishes she did not ever know about this.] I smiled proudly at the end of the day while carrying it triumphantly to fertilize our two new pear trees. [Megan was not smiling.]

While this is a good solution for the home [Megan disagrees], it isn't suitable for the workplace. I doubt that even my greenest colleagues in the Environmental Studies program would approve of me keeping a urine jug in the science building. Fortunately, toilet technology is advancing such that less and less water is required for each flush at work. In fact, the urinals in the brand new Lindner Hall building at Elon are waterless. With the Sloan WES-5000, there is no flushing at all.


Eric Henry, owner of the ultra-green T-shirt company, TS Designs, explained to me how these work during a recent field trip there. A small cartridge at the base of the urinal releases just a bit of a chemical solution that is lighter than human urine. This chemical floats above the urine and "seals" it off from the air, preventing any odor. (You can look at Eric's own waterless urinal and grey-water toilet on the TS Design's virtual tour.)

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these urinals is the image of a cartoon bee placed just above the cartridge. A short NPR story covered the resurgence of this pee bee which had been used on toilets in Britain a hundred years ago. While one could put instructions on the wall telling men where to aim to maximize the urinal's effectiveness, I think William Szilveszter's blog summed up the arguments in favor of the pee bee.
What do you think men do when they stand there and pee? What do you think they think about? Well, if you think world problems are solved at those wall-mounted, porcelain receptacles, think again. Most men seem to focus on aiming their streams. Yes ladies, it’s true. Whether we admit it or not, we aren’t doing much more than playing “First One to Erode the Urinal Cake” or pretending we are Chief Fireman Baker, a gruff loaner (sic) with a heart of gold who also happens to be Urinal Town’s only hope to quell a fire that threatens to decimate the local orphanage.
Equally interesting were the toilets in Lindner's restrooms. These featured the UPPERCUT® Manual Dual-Flush Flushometer: down for a regular 1.6-gallon flush, up for a 1.1-gallon flush.

UPPERCUT Manual Dual-Flush Flushometer

Comparing this to my home toilet's 3.0-gallon flush, both options are saving a lot of water. Still, I'm not sure why they opted to have a complex flushing handle with wall-mounted instructions when they could have just set it for 1.1-gallons and let people flush twice, if need be. I also wondered why they bothered to install dual-flush handles in the mens' room. How often would a man use the toilet to whiz when there are perfectly good urinals (with bees!) right there? Regardless, I am very proud of Elon University for being very conscious about it environmental impact and for installing such forward-thinking plumbing.