Archive for ‘Sustainable Living’

March 11, 2014

Renegotiating Environmindful Monday and Tip #14: Why You Don’t Want To Use Fabric Softener

You may have wondered what happened to Environmindful Mondays.  Well, quite honestly, I did too. After doing a little reflecting I realized that the reason I haven’t been posting isn’t because I ran out of environmental posts but instead because I realized that with some of the posts and things I’ve been doing in my home, I realized I was missing pieces of the puzzle to be able to fully explain why some of these topics are important, which I think is crucial to making change.

If we make a change in our lives just because someone told us we should but we don’t understand why we are doing it, chances are it won’t last.  On the other hand, if we understand a situation/problem and understand how we fit into or contribute to that situation/problem, then it makes it easier to understand why we should change and what the impact is if we choose not to.

For example, let’s say a friend says, “You should really stop using fabric softener.”  You ask why and the response is, “Because I heard it’s bad.”  At first you think, “Oh, geeze. Okay, my friend says fabric softener is bad. I’d better stop using it.”  So you do.  Time goes by and you forget the conversation with your friend.  You forget the details (because there weren’t any).  Over time you start to miss the scent of freshly washed clothes and start getting annoyed with static.  Or, maybe your spouse asks, “What’s so bad about it?”  You can’t remember.  You can’t justify your decision, so chances are you’re going to buy fabric softener and start using it again.

Environmindful Monday Tip #14: Why You Don’t Want to Use Fabric Softener

On the other hand if your friend says, “You might want to reconsider using fabric softener.”  You ask why and the response is, “There are a lot of dangerous, and even, toxic chemicals in them.  Some cause asthma, some are hormone disruptors (meaning they can cause birth defects) to both people and wildlife, and the scents you smell are typically carcinogens, which are toxic chemicals linked to cancer.  This stuff isn’t just bad for the people who use it either.  All of these toxins are in our air from our dryer vents and they are even finding it in our ground water and drinking water from using liquid fabric softeners in our washers.”  You try to justify your fabric softener addiction for a minute and say, “But I hate static.”  Your friend says, “Oh, then you’re just over-drying your clothes.  Don’t dry them so long.  You won’t have static.”  If you’re like me, when I first heard all the information on fabric softener I had to hold onto my stomach.  At the time, my son was about 3 years old.  When I realized I was putting all of these chemicals directly on his skin via his clothes, into the air and into our water I felt sick.  But you know what?  It made an impact.  I stopped using fabric softener immediately.  I also haven’t forgotten the dangers these chemicals pose to myself, my family, our air, our water and the rest of the environment.  And I definitely have not had any sort of urge to use fabric softener, in any form, in my home since.

I still want to honor the commitment I made to Norwex and the Norwex R.A.C.E., myself and you, as my readers to continue to share environmental posts, but I am renegotiating with myself (and you), to make sure I honor that commitment in the best way possible, therefore, you will continue to see Environmindful Monday posts, maybe not every Monday, but on Mondays that I believe I have content that is worth sharing and that I am clear on why these topics are important and why we should all be committed to making a change.

Oh, and yes. I’m aware that this Environmindful Monday post is coming to you on Tuesday.  I’m working on that too. 😉

May you have a clean and healthy day filled with fresh scents of a real spring breeze.


June 25, 2013

Dripping Springs Ollas


The attached chart shows approximate coverage and depth for the Ollas I am using in the 4×4 raised bed on the Urban Farm this year.

Dripping Springs Ollas site has a where to buy section if you are interested in trying them.


May 1, 2013

Observation – The Best Gardening Tool and Permaculture Principle 1

After a little stretch of nice weather (upper 70s) in the Twin Cities, snow and Winter Storm Warnings are again in the forecast, so let’s get back to the alphabet, shall we?


We were all born with two of the best garden tools ever.  No, not our hands.  Our eyes.  Although it might make for quick work to have strong hands, it is our eyes that will provide us with the most benefit in the garden.

If you’ve ever wondered why those old ladies and old men seem to have the most amazing gardens, it’s all the years of  observation.  Sure, they know what to do, they’ve been doing it for years.  But there really is only one way to plant a seed or plant a plant… bottom down, top up.  Observation teaches us everything else.  Observing means learning what works and what doesn’t.  Paying attention to where the water goes when it rains.  Paying attention to where the winds come from in the summer and in the winter and what it does to our landscape?  Do we get snow drifts in the same spot all of the time? It means learning where we have micro-climates in our yard so we can select the best place for our favorite plants.

Observation means paying attention to the natural traffic flow in our yards (both animal and human) and knowing that changing that flow will affect other areas.  It’s choosing when to make change and knowing when to leave well enough alone because attempting to do otherwise would only make us crazy.

Observation means paying attention to our soil.  It means knowing how well it drains or holds water. It means knowing where we have low spots that puddle and high spots that dry out.  It means learning from that and choosing the best plants for those locations.  It means knowing when our soil needs “a little something” and getting it there.

Observation means looking to the existing trees, shrubs, plants and even weeds to determine what might grow well with them.

It means noticing when we only have a couple of pests on our plants so we can implement our pest management plan vs waiting until we have a full infestation and wondering what went wrong.

Observation means knowing what is happening in your own back yard.  Who shares your space?  The neighbor’s cat?  How about deer?  Rabbits?  It’s about learning their paths, their habits so you know where to distract or divert them if you don’t want them in that part of your yard.

Observation means knowing yourself and your family.  It means knowing which parts of your yard you frequent (great place for a kitchen garden or herbs) and which places you rarely visit (maybe a place for a nut-tree or two).  It means knowing where your kids play ball (not a good place for Grandma’s delicate cutting flowers) and where they like to dig (maybe add a children’s garden or a fairy garden).

Observation is so important that is the first principle in the Permaculture Design System.  Permaculture, for those who may not know what it is, is a design system developed in the 1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. The Permaculture Design System is based on three ethics (Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share) and twelve design principles.

Principle 1: Observe & interact

The other day, I begrudgingly cleaned up the winter mess from our two dogs.  Let me tell you, given too much time on my hands I started calculating how many piles of poo that was.  Trust me, you don’t want to know the answer!  In any case, even though I was in the midst of a less than appetizing job, it did give me a few hours to observe my yard, something that doesn’t happen very often.  As I slowly worked my way around, searching for poo, I was able to see how everything survived the winter, notice where the lawn and soil look like they could use a little compost and seed, and I took note of changes I wanted to make.  My poo duty led to nice new paths giving better access around the veggie gardens and within the raspberry patches.  It lead to moving the compost bin because while it worked in its current location for a number of years, it is now in the way with the addition of the chicken coop.  I planned out (in my head) where I will change the grade slightly to capture water for the new raspberry patch before it runs out under the fence and into the neighbor’s yard.  I planned additional trees and shrubs around the perimeter, minimizing mowing in spaces nobody travels to and I realized that one of the apple trees is on enough of a slope that it probably isn’t retaining the water it needs and that again, with a little movement of soil I could change that process.

Observe and interact means taking note of what is in place and looking for guidance from nature to tell us how to interact appropriately.

Again, our eyes are, by far, the best gardening tool we have.  But we have to take the time to actually observe.  The soil and plants and animals around us will continue on their paths, it’s up to us whether we take the time to watch and learn.


February 2, 2013


Breathe in. Breathe out.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
When you take a breath what do you think about?

Do it again. This time, think about your breath and the air you breathe.
Where does it come from?
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Breathe in. Breathe out.

Did you think about the plants and the trees?
I know. Many of us don’t want to stop and think about that. We feel weird. Or think others will think we’re weird.
But the plants and trees give us the gift of oxygen every second of our life.
And we, in return, give them carbon dioxide.
We have a relationship with the plants and the trees around us.

But it’s easy for us to forget.
It’s easy for us to forget that we have a relationship with the plants and trees on this planet.
But there’s more to it than that.
We have a relationship with every living species whether we want to admit it or not, we are connected.

When I stop to think about that, it makes me wonder, why is it then, that we find it so easy to abuse that relationship?
Why is it that we get so focused on “me” and lose focus on them?
Why do we find it so easy to ignore the earth and neglect the environment?

I know, some of us, myself included, like to think we’re being conscious of the environment. I recycle, I shut the lights off when I’m not using them, I don’t use chemicals in my yard, I compost and I try to be conscious of the Carbon Footprint I’m leaving behind, but the reality is, I like my life.

I like sitting on my iPad, typing away in my dining room, while the furnace runs to keep me warm on this frigid day. I like my car and the ability to go where I “need” to go whenever I want to.
I like the convenience of the stores that provide the “necessities” within a couple of miles of my home.

I like my life. And the reality is, to acknowledge that I’m connected to this planet, to the air, to the water, to the plants and the trees, and every living being from the microbes in the soil to the animals in the jungle on the other side of the world means I need to take responsibility for it.

Most of us would do anything to take care of our family and friends if they were in need. They are our blood, they hold a special place in our heart and we wouldn’t want to lose that. Yet to ask us to think about the earth, the environment or the living things around us is a different story. We take it for granted. In our lifetime, we’ve always had air to breathe, water at our disposal and food on our tables.

What if you chose not to feed your children or take care of an elderly grandparent or neighbor, how would you feel? Would you feel a pang of guilt in the pit of your stomach? Would you heart hurt knowing you’re neglecting them when you could be and should be doing something to help?

So why is it that when the plants and trees that supply the air that we breathe get neglected or the water that we take for granted that runs from our taps everyday gets wasted and when we abuse the resources that the environment provides for us, by using more than our “fair share” do we not feel equally guilty? Why do we find it so easy to disconnect ourselves from this?

What if we didn’t? What if, instead, when we go out the door or look up from our phones or out the windows of our house or cars, and we started paying attention to the air we breathe, the amount of water we use and the ways we could take care of the world around us a little better?
What if we treated the air, the water and the environment like family? Would you do anything differently? I know I would.

And when you really stop to think about it, we should. Because whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are connected. We’re connected to every living thing around us just like we’re connected to our families and friends. Yes, we have a direct relationship with some, and a more distant relationship with others, but it’s no different than the relationship we have with our parents versus our distant cousins. And while we might feel a tighter bond with our mother or father or siblings than we do with our great aunt she is still family nonetheless.

So let’s pretend, even if it’s just for a moment, that the air is our mother, the water our father, the soil our siblings and the oil our grandparents. Let’s pretend we love them and value them the same as we do our families. Let’s pretend we care. Because if we do, we might change how we treat them. We may start paying attention to them. We may begin feeding them, nurturing them and watching out for them. We may restore the neglected relationship we have and start living in harmony again.

Let’s pretend for a moment that we are connected to the entire world around us. Let’s pretend that if we care for that world, that it will care for us.

Because guess what? She’s not called Mother Nature for nothing. We are connected.