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Please Join Me with Trudy Dujardin, FASID, LEED AP

Flowers from a “Green” House

When our thoughts turn to love, we often turn to flowers. Long established as a romantic gesture, there is nothing like a bouquet of blooms to melt your loved one’s heart. Many people do not realize, however, that hothouse flowers are grown in greenhouses filled with pesticides, and the blossoms you bring into your home have been repeatedly treated with toxic chemicals.

There is a wonderful company that has changed the way we grow and buy flowers, however. Organic Bouquet is the largest online provider of organic floral arrangements and gifts. All of their flowers, from select farms in California, Colombia, and Ecuador, meet stringent standards for environmental safety, monitored by multiple certification agencies and associations.

Their eco-friendly flower arrangements include roses, calla lilies, tulips, gerbera daisies, hyacinths, sunflowers, alstromeria lilies and blue iris, and are shipped nationwide to all 50 states.

CEO Robert McLaughlin remembers the effect of synthetic chemicals on the environment and workers in the horticulture industry when he began his career in 1984. “I watched our head agronomist die at an early age from toxic chemical exposure,” he says. “He rarely wore protective gear and seemed to always return to the packing shed soaked in the chemicals that would eventually end his life. There had to be a better way.”

Today McLaughlin has created a company that positively effects the environment, the floral industry, and the people on the farms. They make choices every day to support responsible commerce, environmental stewardship, and the health of the people who work for them.

“All plants, flowers, vegetables, and livestock were grown or raised for thousands of years organically. Only in the last 100 years have we discovered synthetic chemicals and begun to overuse them,” he says. “This phasing out of synthetic chemicals and returning to natural methods proves that chemicals have been a brief but damaging fad, that hopefully will never be repeated.

Good things to know about Organic Bouquet:

  • Each time you make a purchase, the amount of carbon emissions from that shipment is offset by rolling funds into a project that reforests abandoned pasture land with native tree species.
  • Shipping boxes are made from recycled and recyclable materials.
  • Boxes are printed with water-based ink, naturally non-toxic.
  • Their glass vases are made from 100% recycled glass.

 

If that doesn’t convince you, consider this: the company is USDA Organic-Certified, follows America’s VeriFlora sustainability certification program, and is Fair Trade Certified, an international movement which ensures that producers in poor countries get a fair price for their goods.

For more information and to order your Valentine’s Day flowers, visit them at www.organicbouquet.com. 

 

 

Home ~ Health ~ Humanity

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A recent column by Nicholas Kristof entitled Are You a Toxic Waste Disposal Site? raised some disturbing issues. None of it, sadly, was news to me. The United States has delayed appropriate testing of industrial chemicals over and over again, largely due to the influence of lobbying groups. Mr. Kristof’s column said that “Scientists have identified more than 200 industrial chemicals–from pesticides, flame retardants, jet fuel–as well as neurotoxins like lead in the blood or breast milk of Americans, indeed, in people all over our planet.”

 

Tractor spraying soybean field at spring

Tractor spraying soybean field

 

As the pioneer of the sustainable design movement, I have spoken out for years in favor of non-toxic, chemical-free built environments to support our health, and the well-being of our families. I believe that your home, your health, and the future of humanity depends upon it. My clients know that whenever I can use a “green” alternative in fabric, upholstery, paints and floor finishes, wood furniture and cabinetry, that’s what I choose. I created the phrase “eco-elegant (TM)” to demonstrate to people that homes can be beautiful, sophisticated, and serene, and still maintain their health through clean air and furnishings that do not off-gas potentially dangerous fumes.

 

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My philosophy is simple: to live in a way that shows respect for all life on earth, we must be open to questioning the impact of our choices. One of my environmental heroes, Chief Oren Lyons of the Iroquois Confederacy, described to me the tradition of tribal leaders in making decisions: Not only do they consider the impact on the next generation, they also examine the consequences all the way to the seventh generation.

 

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I wrote my book, Comfort Zone: Creating the Eco-Elegant Interior, to show a healthier way of living. I urge anyone who cares about their health and a holistic approach to lifestyle and the earth to read it. On pages 232-233, you’ll find an easy-to-reference listing of green products that is the culmination of my lifetime of work selecting the most eco-friendly products. It includes everything from bedding and carpeting, to duct work and adhesives, to vacuum cleaners and products for your pets.

 

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I promise you, there’s a healthier way to live, and the changes are not difficult to make. Ready to protect yourself and your family, friends, and companion animals from a poorly regulated industry? I want to help. Click here to take the first step toward the Eco-Elegant Life.

 

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Small Shifts Cause Large Waves: Paris 2015

Gulls on the side of the Seine [url=http://www.istockphoto.com/file_search.php?action=file&lightboxID=4328606][img]http://www.erichood.net/paris.jpg[/img][/url]

The 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, also known as COP21 (Conference of the Parties 21) is the twenty first meeting of what is now a near-universal membership of 195 countries. Begun in response to climate change at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the “Rio Convention” included the adoption of the UN Framework on Climate Change. That was the first framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. 

The COP meetings exist to review the Convention’s implementation. The first COP took place in Berlin in 1995. COP3 was where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, COP11 produced the Montreal Action Plan, COP17 was in Durban where the Green Climate Fund was created.

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Ed Mazria is the founder of Architecture 2030, an organization committed to protecting our global environment by using innovation to develop bold solutions to global warming. He has called COP21 in Paris “an end to the fossil fuel era.” The historic agreement signed there is a long term goal committing almost 200 countries, including the U.S., China, India and the EU nations, to keep the global average temperature increase to “well below 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees centigrade.”

According to Ed, “the Paris Agreement introduces a new world, one that envisions an end to fossil fuel emissions and secures a strong mechanism to address climate change.”

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photo courtesy of Architecture2030.org

COP21 attracted nearly 50,000 participants, including 25,000 official delegates. Multiple forums were held on a variety of related topics. In addition, thousands of demonstrators were permitted to gather on December 12, in spite of France’s tightened security after the recent terrorist attacks. 

The following is a guest post by architect Veronica Schreibeis Smith, of Vera Iconica Architecture in Jackson, Wyoming. Veronica attended the Sustainable Energy for All Conference at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, held from November 30 to December 12, 2015. I asked her to share her thoughts here.         –Trudy

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photo courtesy of Architecture2030.org

We’ll begin with a few questions:

Q: Veronica, what part of the Paris Climate Conference did you attend?

A: I attended Sustainable Energy for All.

(Referred to as SE4all, “Sustainable Energy for All is a call for both revolution and reform; a radical vision where everyone can access and afford the reliable energy they need to live a productive, healthy, secure life, while respecting the planetary constraints that we all face as a result of climate change.” –Rachel Kyte, SE4All CEO/Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General)

Q: Why did you attend the Conference?

A: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Many times, our good intentions have unintended consequences. As the SE4All initiative focuses on powering the world, we need to simultaneously be working on initiatives that empower (people) to make the right decisions on how to use the energy once they receive it.

Buildings consume almost half the world’s power production. If we deliver power to exponentially more people, while only focusing on doubling the efficiency of the infrastructure and doubling the amount of of sustainable energy, we likely have not made a positive impact, but rather have continued on a track of more consumption.

My focus is how can we implement grass roots movements in Third World countries that educate people on how to have healthy and sustainable homes, and make healthy decisions for their families regarding consumption and preservation of culture, once they receive the energy.

To date, my role has been as a participant in think tank type of discussions to brainstorm what initiatives and actionable steps could be viable for making this come true.

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photo courtesy of SE4All.org

Q: What was your takeaway on the most actionable steps?

A: To get involved. Not just wait and see what others are going to do, but to donate your time or money; if you have an idea, to reach out to the United Nations Foundations and share (what) you want to put into practice and just need financing for; to promote and encourage yourself and others to get involved as a public + private relationship to make meaningful change.

What do you think were the key accomplishments?

A: For the Paris talks in general, the level of unprecedented participation from around the globe. There was a social media survey from the UN that was mostly electronic, but in some areas they had paper ballots hand-delivered to UN outposts, and tallied by staff there. For every one thousand humans on this planet, one person responded to the survey. That is 7 million people from around the world uniting to create change and a better life for a healthier planet. That alone is huge. Good will follow–in exponential increments!

From that survey, the UN defined the 17 top priorities for the 21st century. The top five are:

  1. Poverty
  2. No Hunger
  3. Good Health
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality

The movement asks all of us to become a global citizen. This video explains more:

Veronica continues:

  • Nature is integral to human wellbeing, and a shift in the realization of our interconnectedness to the environment is continually growing. We can see this vast change in only six short years since the unsuccessful climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009. Last month, an unmistakeable belief in a successful outcome for the Paris Climate Talks was clear after the first week.

 

  • There is no doubt that alterations in timing and logistics played a part. Most notable was the change from the world leaders’ involvement as the negotiators in 2009 to their limited role as speakers and advocates early in the first week, followed by relinquishing final negotiations to environmental and policy professionals. The greatest contributing factor came from outside the closed doors, and even outside Paris.

 

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photo courtesy of United Nations Conference on Climate Change

  • The Earth to Paris movement reached an unprecedented number of people across the planet. The Internet allowed access for all, which diminished the chasm that has distanced us in the past, such as residing in a developed versus developing countries, age gaps, social and economic backgrounds, and more.

 

  • Thousands of videos hosted by celebrities grabbed our attention on social media, surveys invited us to express our opinions, and finally, the call for Love Letters to Paris invited our thoughts to be hand delivered to leaders behind those closed doors. And it worked.

 

 

  • What keeps me going back to the United Nations Foundation discussions is the focus on how public and private sectors can unite to transform ideas into reality, to move from talk to walk. We heard success stories from Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, examples of how companies like Phillips Petroleum are leaping toward carbon-free operations and incorporating holistic, circular economy strategies, and how start-ups are innovating solutions, such as Mobilsol, which delivers off-the-grid solar energy via drones in Africa.

 

  • A subtle shift in perspective and an increase in awareness, followed by one actionable step after another is the catalyst needed to inspire individuals, companies, and economies of scale to make meaningful change, toward better husbandry of the earth.

 

  • Small shifts in perspective can cause massive ripples. After all, thoughts are things, and the unification of humanity’s thoughts will certainly cause waves. A connected world is powerful. A united world is power. Join in the efforts. Do your part. You make a difference as a collective part of the whole.

 

Veronica

Veronica Schreibeis Smith is the CEO and Founding Principal of Vera Iconica Architecture. Veronica’s entrepreneurial half is driven by the vision of creating company structures that support and empower individuals to reach their highest potential, while the architect in her is driven to raise awareness of the profound effects our surroundings have on our wellbeing. She has practiced architecture on four continents, and continues working internationally. She chairs the Wellness Architecture Initiative for the Global Wellness Institute, and recently founded Designed Developments, a B Corporation that invests in a new model of building to inspire and perpetuate the celebration of the richness of culture, pay homage to the natural landscape,and create environments that nourish our wellbeing and feed our souls. 

 

Tell the Good Stories

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There’s a wonderful quote by Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

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I felt doubly blessed after reading those words, because I’m convinced that what makes me come alive is also just what the world needs. I recently had the privilege of attending two multi-day conferences–The Nantucket Project, on Nantucket Island in September, and The Design Futures Council’s  (DFC) Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design in Dallas, Texas in October.

The speakers were among the most renowned politicians, business leaders, philanthropists and artists in the world. The topics they spoke on were self-selected, and reflected their deepest beliefs and best work.  It’s easy to become discouraged when we focus on the world’s problems, but it’s also possible to focus on solutions. Pete Seeger once said: “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”

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At both conferences, I was completely captivated by the number of intelligent, thoughtful, creative and dynamic thought-leaders and life-changers on this planet, and the optimistic stories they told. I was uplifted, inspired, and re-invigorated in my desire to keep spreading the word about sustainable design. I want to do everything I can to help make the earth a cleaner, healthier place to raise our children and grandchildren, and take good care of our elders, too!

having fun in the waves

The Nantucket Project bills itself as a convener of thinkers and ideas, a think tank and an academy of learners. If you believe in being a lifelong learner, as I do, then I hope you’ll attend one of their annual island gatherings. Steve Wozniak was there, from Apple Computer, Inc., and Ben Carson, a Republican presidential candidate. Regardless of your political leanings, it’s always good to be exposed to the thoughts and ideas of people on the public stage.

nantucket projectBen Carson

Tony Blair, Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for ten years, spoke on the Africa Governance Initiative, designed to challenge the African continent with needed reform and reduce poverty. Neil Young introduced the concept of PonoMusic, bringing high resolution music to music lovers around the world.

After that experience, I couldn’t imagine anything that could compare to what I had just seen and heard, or that any other event could match that one for integrity. But then I headed southwest, to Dallas, and to the Design Futures Council’s Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design.

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The first Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design was held on Nantucket, 14 years ago. I had long had the desire to to have an “awareness-raising” conference for architects, landscapers, designers and contractors, to provide a platform for knowledge and understanding for an environmentally-conscious built environment. My friend and colleague Jim Cramer was the first to make that conference a reality by supporting it with his following in the Design Futures Council.

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I am deeply gratified to have been a part of this movement from the very beginning. At our first gathering we established The Nantucket Principles, offering a path for a strategic approach to sustainable design. Every year for the past fourteen, design leaders from around the world have convened to share their thoughts and ideas, to challenge outdated beliefs, and to make a positive contribution to the world.

DFC Sr Fellow right way up

At the Sustainable Design Summit, I was honored as a new Senior Fellow for the DFC, an unsought recognition that I treasure as a firm believer in the DFC’s mission.

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Here I am being honored as a Senior Fellow, with Scott Simpson, Managing Director, Greenway Group, and James P. Cramer, Chairman and Principal, Greenway Group, and President, Design Futures Council!

I was enthralled by the speakers there: Jason McClennan spoke on Living Buildings for a Living Future (watch his TED Talk here); Dame Ellen McArthur educated us on “The Surprising Thing I Learned Sailing Solo Around the World” (watch her TED Talk here), and we talked about the Building Blocks of a  Circular Economy.

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Those two conferences changed my life, not by altering any of my values, beliefs or passions, but rather, by reaffirming what I already knew: that there is a world filled with possibility, that the right time to give up hope is never, and that together, we can create something beautiful. Both conferences told me a story that I could believe in: that we can change the world.

As Tom Scott, co-founder of The Nantucket Project says, “If you want to be good at making outcomes, you’d better get really good at telling a story. And you better make sure that story has integrity.”

We can all do this in our own lives. Let’s find the good stories, stories with integrity, and tell them to each other, every day.

This is Impossible Concept with Graffiti on Gray Cement Street Wall.

The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving. –Oliver Wendell Holmes

Design Futures Council: Senior Fellow

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This has been an especially gratifying year for me. In the past twelve months, I’ve published my design book (Comfort Zone: Creating the Eco-Elegant Interior), I’ve been named to the College of Fellows for the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), and I have just received word that the Design Futures Council has named me a Senior Fellow.

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Ed Mazria reporting on the climate, 2014

The Design Futures Council (DFC) is an interdisciplinary network of leaders in design confronting global challenges. I’ve been a longtime member and contributor, happy to join with my friend and respected colleague James P. Cramer, who became the DFC’s primary founder and facilitator of information and inspiration throughout the organization.

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To be named as a Senior Fellow by this highly esteemed group of professionals is recognition for “significant contributions toward the understanding of changing trends, new research, and applied knowledge that improve the built environment and the human condition.”

Jim Cramer says, “The leadership role of design is of critical importance toward the creation of a healthier and happier planet. The new Senior Fellows of the DFC have been selected for the tremendous impact they have had on our world.”

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A happier, healthier planet is what I’ve worked for throughout my career. I’m proud to join the other Senior Fellows in that endeavor.

 

Clean Slate

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My commitment to living sustainably is a 365 day a year endeavor, and I know that’s true for many of you, too. Earth Day, though, provides us an annual opportunity to reflect on our connection to to the earth, and to make a fresh start with a clean slate. Andy Goldsworthy, a British sculptor and environmentalist, says, “We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say we’ve lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.”

Silhouette of Man Raising His Hands or Open arms when sun rising up

One of the ways we lose that connection is through the use of pesticides and dangerous chemicals. Warning people about the dangers of these toxic materials has been a large part of my life’s work; you can read some of what I’ve written before here, and here. My book, Comfort Zone: Creating the Eco-Elegant Interior, offers several helpful resources, from a guide to green products, to a recommended reading list, to my own personal stories of being exposed to pesticides and other chemicals, beginning as a small child. We have options rather than resorting to dangerous and toxic products. Learning more is the first step.

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The half life of some pesticides is over 500 years, and the drift when sprayed can be over a mile. There are surprising ways to be exposed to pesticides, for instance, an alarming number of pesticide ingredients can be found in ordinary house dust.

Pesticides and fertilizers can also find their way into groundwater over time, in one of two ways. Chemicals can enter groundwater through a stream after a rainstorm as runoff. Or they can reach groundwater by leaching, which is the downward movement of a substance through soil. Not only does this result in algae bloom, which removes oxygen from the water and results in “dead zones,” but the 75 million pounds of pesticides Americans spray on their gardens each year can be ingested by fish, who become diseased. Once we eat those fish, the cycle of pollution has come full circle.

Beautiful child with sunflower

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), pesticide use has increased over 50% in the past three decades, and today totals 8 pounds for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. Approximately 875 pesticide ingredients are formulated into 21,000 different products. Our children are most at risk, according to the The National Academy of Sciences, due to their immature systems and a more rapid metabolic rate. In addition, children frequently consume fewer different types of food, possibly leading to higher exposure through their diets.

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Good news! A highly toxic pesticide and known carcinogen used primarily in strawberry fields, methyl iodide, has been withdrawn from the market by its manufacturer.

If that isn’t enough to concern us, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has identified at least ninety six different pesticide ingredients registered for use that are potential human carcinogens. The link above will take you to a page where you can order the booklet that lists them.

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We also know more today about products that include parabens, known to be endocrine disruptors, that are commonly used as preservatives in many popular cosmetics. They are also used as food additives. Dr. Frank Lipman, a leading holistic physician, offers an overview of dangers and tips on how to avoid them here. We all need to read labels. Whole Foods has wonderful, safe, clean products for your hair, skin and face. I also like Nurture My Body products, available online.

I have been stirred to action by leading environmentalists, scientists and authors who have spoken out about the dangers we face. One of the books I often recommend is Our Stolen Future, by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers. Rachel Carson, in Silent Spring, published in 1962, said, “Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called ‘insecticides,’ but biocides.”

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Rachel Carson

She went on to explain that the pesticide industry grew out of World War II with chemical testing. Once scientists realized they had the ability to kill insects, they envisioned a new and better world for people.

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A book titled Our Daily Poison: From Pesticides to Packaging, How Chemicals Have Contaminated Our Food Chain and Are Making Us Sick, by Marie-Monique Robin, is also a film by the same name, a documentary that reveals a broken safety system. You can watch a three minute video about the film here.

Being aware of the dangers of pesticide use is not enough to protect us. Unfortunately, we can be exposed to very toxic chemicals without our knowledge or permission. Several years ago, I lived in a beautiful apartment in Greenwich, Connecticut with stunning views of Manhattan and Long Island Sound. My apartment was pristine and clean and chemical free, so at first I was puzzled about my dizzy spells.

When I spoke to other tenants in the building, they affirmed that many residents were being made sick by something in the air. I hired an Industrial Hygienist to investigate, and found that the building management was using a rodenticide that had been banned from use for over fifteen years, since it had been linked to kidney cancer. The force of air from the elevators was pushing the vapors of this toxic chemical from the basement onto each floor.

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On April 9th of this year, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an account of a Wilmington, Delaware family that was poisoned after being exposed to a banned pesticide at a vacation condo in the U.S. Virgin Islands. A couple and their two teenage sons were hospitalized after occupying a condo one floor above a space that was sprayed with an odorless pesticide called methyl bromide, that can cause convulsions and coma. It was banned for us in residential settings in 1984, but it is still marketed for some agricultural uses.

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Two weeks later, the EPA reported that there is evidence that methyl bromide has been used improperly at locations in Puerto Rico. In addition, Virgin Islands newspapers have reported that companies on two other islands, St. Thomas and St. Croix, had stocks of the pesticides.

It’s easy to become frightened and even overwhelmed by what’s happening on our planet, but knowledge is power. I have always believed in the Power of One, the ability each of us has to make a difference. By being informed, and by informing others, we can protect ourselves and our planet. Let’s start today!

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Our Brother’s Keeper

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It’s impossible to honor Earth Day without reflecting on the animals that share the planet with us. Although great strides have been made in animal protection and endangered animal conservation, we still have a long way to go. In our rapidly overpopulating world, where habitat is disappearing and animal species are declining, we have no choice but to see the animals as our brothers, and to do what is in our power to protect them.

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(image: fightforrhinos.com)

One of the more disturbing news items was reported by The Huffington Post on April 14th, with a story about Sudan, the world’s last male Northern White Rhino.The Northern White Rhino has been on earth for 50 million years, but poachers in search of their horns have reduced this once plentiful animal, a subspecies of rhino, to only five left on earth. The last male and two female rhinos of his subspecies are cared for under 24 hour armed guard at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Two other females live in captivity.

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To make Sudan less of a target for poachers, his horn has been removed, and he has been fitted with radio transmitters. It is hoped that the forty year old Rhino will one day be able to produce progeny, and save his species from extinction. Ground rhino horn is considered a health aid in Chinese medicine, and is particularly popular in Vietnam. There are just 1,037 rhinos of all subspecies still roaming wildlife parks and national conservancies.

rhino  photo world resouces

There are many ways to help animals this Earth Day, from contributing to Save the Rhino, the World Wildlife Fund, or The Humane Society. Or you can do something closer to home, perhaps even in your own backyard.

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If you’re using pesticides and herbicides on your lawn and garden, you’re using them on your pets, too. Whatever chemicals collect on your dog’s or cat’s paws and fur stay there until the next time you give them a bath, although unless you bathe them immediately, they have more than likely been absorbed into their bloodstream. Those chemicals also get tracked inside, where they don’t break down, due to the absence of water and sunlight. If you love the look of a vibrant, weed-free lawn, but you also love your companion animals, consider the following:

  • According to a study conducted over a six-year period at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Tuft University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, a dog’s exposure to lawn pesticides–specifically those applied by professional lawn care companies–raised the risk of canine malignant lymphoma (CML) by as much as 70%.

 

  • Dogs at highest risk for acquiring CML were over 50 pounds, living in homes where pesticides and herbicides were professionally applied, and where owners used lawn care products containing insect growth regulators (killing agents).

 

  • A 2004 study from Purdue University showed that dogs exposed to chemically treated lawns had a dramatically increased risk of Transitional Cell Carcinoma (bladder cancer). Breeds at highest risk include Scottish Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, West Highland Terriers and Beagles.

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Many of our ideas about having a perfect, green lawn are leftovers from an era when pesticides were considered safe, and water was plentiful. The ideal of having a lawn like a green carpet began in the mid-1950s, but we’ve learned a lot about the dangers since then. If you don’t have pets yourself, consider that pesticide poisoning kills 60-70 million birds each year in the U.S. alone. Those chemicals also end up in our groundwater, through rainwater runoff, or by leaching through the soil.

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I love animals, especially my three Bichons, G.G., Tuffy and Ellie, and want to give them the best possible life that I can. Lawn chemicals aren’t the only way we can unintentionally harm our pets. There are dangers from flea and tick products, and the marketplace is full of low quality commercial food that is not only unhealthy, but can even be contaminated with toxic chemicals, or melamine.

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Here are my Ten Tips for keeping your furry friends healthy:

  • Instead of using commercial pesticides and herbicides on your lawn, hire an organic lawn and garden company that can feed your grass without endangering your pets or family. I use Growing Solutions, an organic lawn and plant care company that is dedicated to maintaining safe, healthy environments for their clients. The owner, Chris Baliko, is knowledgeable, helpful, and very responsive to his customer’s needs.

 

  •  If you choose to do it yourself, begin by establishing a base of healthy soil. Healthy soil has a high organic content that discourages weeds and disease. You may have a few weeds, but some are actually beneficial, such as clover, which adds valuable nutrients. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection offers helpful information.

 

  • Before you apply commercial flea and tick products, be aware that at least 1,600 pet deaths related to spot on treatments were reported to the EPA over the last five years. The EPA assigns risk levels to all pesticides, and has said that  some flea and tick preparations contain ingredients that are likely carcinogens to humans. Serious medical reactions for your pet can include heart attacks, seizures, and brain damage.

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  • Alternatives exist! The best pest repellent is a radiantly healthy dog or cat. Fleas are less attracted to healthy animals.

 

  • In the house, sprinkle floors with a borate powder (such as 20 Mule Team Borax), then sweep or vacuum it up. It kills flea larvae very effectively without risk of toxicity.
  • A bath with any kind of shampoo will drown fleas.  Just leave the lather on for 3-5 minutes, and you don’t need to use a flea preparation.

 

  • Comb your pet regularly with a flea comb to remove fleas from his fur, and dunk the comb in a glass of soapy water to drown any fleas you find.

 

  • One of my favorite stores in Westport, Connecticut is Earth Animal. Founded by Dr. Bob and Susan Goldstein to offer products for pets that are pure and natural, they offer a complete holistic flea and tick prevention program. By simply adding powder and drops to your pet’s daily diet, a combination of vitamins, minerals and herbs will change the odor of your pet’s blood chemistry to repel pests. At the same time, it builds their immune system. And it’s available online.

 

  • The Goldsteins are also advocates of a home-cooked diet for your dog, and so am I. I like Dr. Harvey’s Canine Health Organic Pre-Mix. You simply add hot water, a protein source such as chicken, beef, turkey or even fish, and a small amount of quality oil. Add a daily vitamin supplement, and your pet will thank you for making her healthier than she’s ever been.

 

  • Animals can be easily sickened by toxic household cleaning products, too. You can clean with ingredients from your kitchen, such as lemons, vinegar, and baking soda, or use organic cleaning supplies, such as those made by Seventh Generation.

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I have many more tips for keeping your pets safe, including using Bucks Mountain Parasite Dust, among other methods. You can find my previous blog posts here and here. “The greatness of a nation can be judged by how its animals are treated,” said Mahatma Ghandi.  We can do a great deal of good by giving all animals the respect they deserve.

 

 

Don’t Just Sit There

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Whenever we sit down, to work, to eat, to meet with others, or to relax, we don’t tend to think much about what we’re sitting on. A sofa or a chair or an ottoman all have been engineered for our comfort over the years, with fabric, foam filling, and a sturdy structure to support our bodies as we rest. And since 1975, according to the Green Science Policy Institute, upholstered furniture has been designed for our (supposed) safety as well, with the introduction of flame retardant chemicals.

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The chemicals intended to keep our homes from going up in flames have been linked to cancer, neurological defects, developmental problems, and impaired fertility. Manufacturers first began adding fire retardants to furniture due to a California law that required foam cushions to withstand a candlelike flame for 12 seconds. A now defunct group known as Citizens for Fire Safety, led by chemical manufacturers, was instrumental in getting the law passed, according to a Chicago Tribune article. (Read it here.)

Broom, Dust & Fur Ball on Parquet Floor

In 2004, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) warned of high levels of toxic fire retardants found in house dust, in every single home sampled. The average level of brominated fire retardants measured in dust was more than 4,600 parts per billion (ppb). Like PCBS, the fire retardants known as PBDEs (polybrominated biphenyl ethers) are persistent in the environment and build up in people’s bodies over a lifetime. In minute doses they impair attention, learning, memory and behavior in animals.

baby

Recently the EWG released a new study done with Duke University, where they found evidence of exposure to a cancer-causing fire retardant, TDCIPP, in the bodies of all 22 mothers and 26 children tested. The children had an average of nearly five times as much as the mothers of a chemical formed when TDCIPP breaks down in the body.

seat 2

I’ve shared my concerns about chemically laden upholstered furniture before. In addition to PBDEs, your furniture likely contains formaldehyde, polyurethane and dioxins. All of these toxins infiltrate your home and the air you breathe through “offgassing,” the release of chemicals into the air through evaporation.

Today, we can choose soy-based versus foam cushions, recycled filling for pillows, water based stains and organic upholstery fabric.

In addition, the EWG shares these tips:

  • Do your homework before buying baby products. Many kinds of baby products still use harmful chemicals. Find out before you buy.
  • When buying a new sofa, choose one made without fire retardants. New regulations make it much easier for furniture manufacturers to sell products that have not been saturated with chemicals. Contact the manufacturer to ask if fire retardants are in its furniture.
  • Want to reupholster your sofa? Replace the foam, too. The old foam likely contains fire retardants. Ask your upholstery shop to find retardant free foam, or choose an organic filling.
  • Inspect foam cushioning for damage. Exposed foam can cause fire retardant chemicals to leach out more quickly. Items such as car seats and mattress pads should always be completely encased in protective fabric.
  • Use a vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter. These vacuums will remove more contaminants and allergens from your home.
  • Be careful when removing old carpeting. The padding is typically made of scrap foam that contains fire retardants. Old carpet padding can become somewhat pulverized by the time it is exposed for replacement. Isolate the work area from the rest of your home.

There’s a petition to the Consumer Product Safety Commission asking for national furniture flammability standards that do not encourage or require fire retardants. Find it here, and get toxic chemicals out of our couches!

Pets and Pesticides

Dog Scratching Flea

Spring brings warmer weather, and with it, the re-emergence of our pets’ worst tormentors: fleas and ticks. Pet owners can spend more than $200 per year per pet on flea shampoos, flea collars, and topical flea and tick controls. The hidden cost isn’t in the damage to your bank account, however, but the potential damage to your pet’s health.

The Humane Society of the United States has added its voice to the The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in warning that some flea and tick products contain chemicals, specifically permethrins, that not only can cause the death of your dog or cat, but are likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

At least 1,600 pet deaths related to spot on treatments with pyrethroids were reported to the EPA over the last five years. They account for more than half of major pesticide pet reactions, including brain damage, heart attacks and violent seizures.

Little sad dog

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) has a report entitled Poisons on Pets that details the risks to both pets and children. Because children’s bodies are still developing, they are more sensitive to the effects of toxic chemicals than adults. Toddlers’ hand to mouth behavior makes it easy for toxins to be ingested, for example, and children spend time where toxins from pet products tend to accumulate: crawling on rugs, playing with pet toys and holding their much loved pet dog or cat.

As bad as the products are for people, they’re worse for pets. The NRDC says that based on the available data, hundreds and probably thousands of pets have been injured or killed through exposure to pesticides. Just like small children, pets can’t tell us when they’re being poisoned at low doses.

Sleepy kitten

Flea control products on the market include seven specific organophosphate insecticides (OPs). OPs work by blocking the breakdown of the body’s messenger chemical, acetylcholine, and interfering with the transmission of nerve signals in the brains and nervous systems of insects, pets and humans. In the presence of OPs, acetylcholine builds up in the body. The resulting interference with nerve transmissions is of such a magnitude that it actually kills insects. But even at normal doses, it can also harm pets and children (from the NRDC’s Poisons on Pets.)

The seven OPs are chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, naled, tetrachlorvinphos, diazinon and malathion. Another commonly used pesticide in a popular topically applied product is fipronil. According to Virginia Dobozy, a veterinarian at the EPA, fipronil products are classified as carcinogens, producing malignant as well as benign tumors in laboratory tests. Exposure to these insecticides can more than double the risk of Parkinson’s later in life. For pregnant women exposed to pesticides, their children were 250% more likely to be diagnosed with brain cancer before their fifth birthday.

children and pets

We want to believe that all of the products available for sale have been tested and proven safe. But that’s just not so. According to the CPI, “The EPA cannot make its own assessment because unlike the regulations directing the FDA’s approval of human products, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act does not require pet products to undergo field trials prior to approval.”

What should you do instead? There is no question that ticks carry dangerous diseases that are transmitted to humans, including Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF), among others.Some of these are transmitted by ticks in their nymph stage, or even at full grown size, but are no larger than a poppy seed. Here are some of the non-toxic alternatives available:

  • Earth Animal, a holistic pet care retail store and website begun by a veterinarian and his wife, offers a natural flea and tick prevention program that is based on adding powder and drops to your animal’s daily diet. A combination of vitamins, minerals and herbs helps to change the odor of the pet’s blood chemistry, so fleas, ticks, mosquitos and black flies do not like either the odor or taste of the blood. The odor is undetectable by humans. During the flea and tick season, you can mist your dog’s belly, paws and coat daily with an organic bug spray to help repel insects.
  • Another safe, environmentally friendly product I use is Damminix Tick Tubes.  Since Lyme Disease begins with mice, not deer, Tick Tubes rely on the natural nesting instincts of mice to fight the battle. Placed on your property in areas where mice frolic, the biodegradable, cardboard tubes are filled with permethrin treated cotton balls. Mice collect the cotton to build nests in their burrows. Young ticks feeding on the mice are killed by the mild insecticide before they can spread Lyme Disease to you and your family. It is important to use this only on the perimeter of your property, in safe places that are not accessible to pets or children. Even mild insecticides are poisons, and must be used carefully and responsibly.
  • I use organic cedar mulch as another layer of protection in my garden beds. It’s a natural pest repellent, but does not harm beneficial insects such as butterflies and bees. You can even place a small amount in an open container in your pantry or closets for a pleasant cedar aroma that will deter indoor pests.
  • Buck Mountain Parasite Dust, available only through veterinarians and pet stores, can be used to rid animals, gardens and buildings of flies, fleas, ticks, mites, ants and more. Its active insecticide is a chemical derived from the Neem tree, which is both a repellant and provides disinfectant and healing properties. You can sprinkle the dust on your pet’s back from head to tail, and brush against the hair to bring the dust into contact with the skin. A teaspoon of the dust can also be placed on a window sill to eliminate fleas, flies and other bugs in your home. It is safe for use in your garden as well.
  • Essentria IC3 Insecticide Concentrate (formerly labeled as Eco Exempt) is USDA National Organic Program (NOP) compliant, so it can be used in restaurants , schools, animal clinics and healthcare facilities without danger. Recommended by Chris Baliko, Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLCP) of Growing Solutions LLC, Its active botanical ingredients include rosemary oil, peppermint oil and geraniol (found in many essential oils). These act as octopamine blockers, disrupting insects’ central nervous systems. Because mammals, birds and fish do not have receptors for octopamine, botanical oils are very safe to use.

I’ve written extensively about non toxic flea and tick control:  read more here. 

In addition, follow these steps:

  • Wash your pet with a pesticide-free shampoo, and brush or comb frequently.
  • Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture on a regular basis. Dispose of the bags immediately after use.
  • Keep your lawn mowed.
  • Cats should be kept indoors at all times.
  • The NRDC has reviewed the ingredients of more than 100 products and published a guide called Greenpaws Flea and Tick Products Directory.  Make informed choices, and keep your pets, your family and the earth safe from harm.

dogs and the sea

 

Earth Week 2014

earth

Earth Day is on Tuesday, April 22nd this year, but many organizations and individuals are celebrating the entire week as Earth Week. From Monday April 21st to Friday, April 25th, you can help mark the event in your community, your workplace and your home. Every little step counts, often for the littlest creatures among us.

butterfly 2

For a new approach to celebrating with family and friends, the Earth Day Network is suggesting an Earth Day Dinner,  prepared with as many local, seasonal and organic products as possible. Look for new sources of locally grown produce and organic meats and vegetables. Include information behind the history of each food, and if you know something about the farm where it was grown, or the farmer who grew it, share that, too.

Colorful vegetables and fruits

This is also a good week to make the switch to “green” household cleaning products.  See my March blog post on ways to Clean Green.

clean green

In this month’s What I Love, I share information on how to keep your pets free of ticks and fleas, without resorting to chemicals that are toxic to them, and to you and your family. Read it here.

itchy dogs

Seventh Generation offers excellent green living tips on their website for the entire month. Some of my favorites are:

-Open windows and doors occasionally (even in winter) to bring in fresh air and rinse out pollutants that have accumulated inside. I also suggest investing in a whole house air filtration system. Learn more here.

-If every home in the U.S. replaced just one 12-pack of 300 sheet bathroom tissue with Seventh Generation’s 100% recycled product, we could save 1.9 million trees and 690 million gallons of water.

-Dust with a damp cloth to ensure that household dust, the final resting place of many toxins that enter our homes, is removed and not stirred back into the air.

red bedroom

My five things that everyone should do to live more healthfully are here. 

Tips on creating a “green” and healthy bedroom are here.

There are many more posts on my blog about choosing non-toxic products and materials, and living a clean, holistic life. I encourage you to read through the archives and learn more!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”–Margaret Mead

garden 3

 

 

 

 

How to Clean Green

branch of a blossoming tree

Winter has at long last drawn to a close, and Spring is on our doorstep! It’s time to clean house, literally, ridding our homes of odors, fumes and dust that have built up since we shut the doors and windows last fall. Spring cleaning has been a tradition for hundreds of years. It dates back to the time before central heating, when people threw open their windows to rid their homes of smoke, ash and coal dust, generated by their efforts to keep warm. March was the preferred month for spring cleaning, as it was warm enough to open the windows, but still too cool for insects.

It’s not as crucial for us to thoroughly clean only once a year, but spring is a wonderful time to make a fresh start, and rid our homes of harsh chemicals and toxic ingredients, some of which may be damaging to our health.  Here are some tips on how to “clean green” this year, and enjoy a safe, healthy home that’s good for both you and the earth.

Step Number One: Look in the Pantry

cleaning with lemons

Your new best friends can all be found in your kitchen. Baking soda does a fabulous job on countertops and getting rid of odors. Add some club soda (great for your glass surfaces), olive oil, vinegar, kosher salt, and lemons. Now you’ve got almost everything you need to clean mindfully, reducing your negative impact on the earth.

Step Number Two: Get Rid of Your Commercial Cleaners

green bubbles

Here’s what you’ll be saying goodbye to: alkyl phenol ethoxylates, ammonia, chlorine, lye, formaldehyde, petroleum solvents, and synthetic fragrances. Those are the ingredients in most conventional cleaning products. They actually pollute your home with a toxic mixture of petrochemicals.

Step Number Three: Be Kind to Yourself and the Environment

garden

It’s not always  “Better Living through Chemistry.” After filling our homes with synthetic chemicals, many of which are stored in the body, and polluting our streams and rivers with the residue rinsed down sinks and toilet bowls, it’s time to take back our homes and our health. You don’t have to make your own cleaners from scratch, as homeowners routinely did until after World War II. There are now a number of safe, environmentally friendly products available on your grocery shelves. One of my favorites is Seventh Generation.

In case you do feel up to the task, however, here are a few tips for cleaning green:

Kitchen: Try baking soda sprinkled on counters, tabletops, sinks, refrigerators and cutting boards, use a damp sponge to scrub lightly and rinse. if you need more abrasive action, add a little kosher salt. For stains and greasy spills, you can add lemon juice or vinegar. Vinegar kills most mold, bacteria and germs, and lemon juice has antibacterial and antiseptic qualities, plus it is a natural bleach.

Bathroom: Baking soda and vinegar will clean your sinks, showers, tubs and tile. If you like, add a little lemon juice for a fresh scent.

To clean grout, mix half a cup of hydrogen peroxide with one cup of water. Spray it on the grout, let it sit for one hour, then rinse.

To clean the toliet, use one quarter cup of baking soda with one cup of vinegar. Pour it into the bowl, let it sit for a few minutes, then scrub and flush.

Wood Furniture Cleaner: Make a natural furniture polish from one quarter cup white vinegar with one tablespoon of olive oil. Or you can mix two parts olive oil with one part lemon juice.

Glass Cleaner: Mix one quarter cup white vinegar or one tablespoon lemon juice with two cups water. You can add three to four drops of liquid soap, but it’s not necessary. Spray on glass and mirrors, then wipe off using old newspapers for a fabulous shine.

Floor Cleaner: Mix one half cup Borax with one gallon hot water. For hardwood floors, try a gentler mix of one quarter cup white vinegar and 30 ounces of warm water. Put it in a recycled spray bottle, then spray on a cotton rag until lightly damp. Use the rag to wipe your floors clean.

Carpet Cleaner: Sprinkle your carpets with baking soda before vacuuming to deodorize; to clean stains, mix equal parts Borax or baking soda with salt and white vinegar. Apply the paste to the rug, let dry, then vacuum.

Sterling Silver:  The fumes from commercial silver cleaner can be very strong. Instead, try  making a paste of baking soda and water, and polishing with a soft cloth.

 

 

Something in the Air

falling leaves

We often think about fragrance as something light, a delight, an aroma that is carried on the breeze.  We love the lavender-laden air of Provence, the balm of herbs growing in our gardens, the honeysuckle clambering over a trellis to reach our bedroom window. There’s the smell of rain after a thunderstorm, the richness of soft soil and fallen leaves in autumn, and the heaven of a pot of soup simmering on the stove.  In our chemical-dependent world, however, fragrance is not so much a pleasant breeze as it is a heavy storm cloud, making it hard to breathe.

storm clouds

A report by the women’s health advocacy group Women’s Voices for the Earth found that sensitivity to fragrance is more widespread than thought.  Apparently tens of millions of people in the U.S. are sensitive to common fragrance ingredients in household and personal care products.  What makes it almost impossible to identify and avoid fragrance allergens, however, is the fact that companies are not required to disclose the tens to hundreds of ingredients that make up a scent.

Beautiful woman

Some companies do voluntarily disclose this information.  Seventh Generation, one of the leaders in the green products industry, has been disclosing all fragrance ingredients, including allergens, since 1998. They go as far as listing every essential oil that is added to their products.

Symptoms from fragrance exposure and sensitivity can include respiratory effects, immune system impacts, headaches and allergic reactions. The addition of chemical fragrances is common in cleaning products in particular; the European Union has identified 26 chemicals that are likely to cause reactions in sensitized individuals, including Amyl  cinnamal, Benzyl alcohol, and Hydroxy-citronellal.  See a complete list here. 

You can search for fragrance free products, but it’s not an easy task.  Fragrance is found in 96 percent of shampoos, 91 percent of antiperspirants, and 95 percent of shaving products.  And it goes beyond the addition of chemical fragrances.  The Environmental Working Group has been actively campaigning for safer cosmetics, evaluating nearly 80,000 personal care products.  Their findings are alarming: there are an average of 13 chemicals found in the bodies of teenage girls, for instance, including dangerous products such as phthalates, triclosan, parabens and musks, all endocrine disruptors.

Although it may require a search, you can find organic, fragrance free products to support your health, and make you feel beautiful.  Some of my favorites are: Nature’s Gate lotion (fragrance and paraben free), Seventh GenerationNurture My Body (not all fragrance free),  Jason (means “healer” in Greek), Kiss My Face (olive oil and aloe vera), and Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Nourishing Lotion (99% natural and fragrance free but not necessarily organic). .

Evan Healy (philosophy:  The Skin Breathes) is a skin care line that can be found at Whole Foods.  You can also check out Juice Beauty and Jurlique!

If you’d like to learn more about what major cosmetics companies are using in their products, make a visit to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep:  a cosmetics product database.  You may be surprised to learn that the products you trust contain chemicals that are linked to endocrine disruption, among other concerns.

A book and website you may also find of interest is No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics.  The authors, Siobhan O’Connor and Alexandra Spunt, leave no bottle unturned in their expose on the most dangerous ingredients in widely used brands and the best clean make up, hair care and skin care products.

And finally, while you’re treating your body well, check out Julie Morris’s cookbooks:  Superfood Kitchen and Superfood Smoothies.  Superfoods are the most nutrient desnse foods on earth, with a remarkable ability to heal, energize and promote radiant good health.

kale

Kale is one of my favorites.  Here’s a quick and easy way to add it to your dinner table:

Organic Braised Kale

Place 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven, heat, and add minced garlic and onion to taste.  Sautee until slightly browned.  Add kale and braise until kale is wilted and not tough.  Approximately 15 minutes, or longer if you prefer.  Sprinkle on some freshly ground black pepper and grated parmesan cheese.  Health and good taste in a serving!

My personal philosophy is A Healthy Home is the Ultimate Luxury.  A healthy body is the ultimate necessity for a good life.  Take good care of yours!

woman on beach

 

 

 

It’s Time for Plan Bee

Flying honeybee

The humming that you hear when you step into the garden in summer is the song of hundreds of bees, honey and bumble, moving pollen from one flower to another as they feed.  Not only a charming aspect of the garden, bees are responsible for the successful pollination of fruits, nuts and many vegetables, including many of the plants you grow in your backyard.  Honeybees are critical to agriculture.  Best-selling food author Michael Pollan has estimated that they pollinate thirty to forty percent of the food we consume.

healthy foods

With so much at stake, the health of our honeybees has to be a primary environmental concern.  For the past few years, though, bees have been dying off from what was, at first, an unknown cause.  Labeled “Colony Collapse Disorder,” the die off began to get the attention it deserved from scientists worldwide.  Several theories were proposed, including mites, viruses or other pathogens, or a decline in natural habitat.  Increasingly, however, scientists began to identify two main sources of concern:  farming monoculture, where bees suffer a dietary imbalance from feeding on only one kind of pollen, and a new class of neurotoxin pesticides, called neonicotinoids.

(I first wrote about the danger to bees in April 2013; you can read that post here. )

farm

Although nicotine has been used as an insecticide since colonial times, today’s nicotinoids are different.  Based on nicotine, they also include clothianidin, thiametoxam and imadacloprid, among other chemicals.  They’re used to coat plant seeds, and are released as a lymph inside the plant as a permanent insecticide.  Bees who have sucked dew from maize leaves that absorbed neonicotinoids becojme disoriented, get lost on their way back to the hive, and die.

Nantucket beekeeper David Berry, owner of the Nantucket HoneyBee Company, says, “(The nicotinoids) are literally part of the tissue of the plant itself. It seems to be collectively lethal to bees. The wax in a beehive is like a sponge. Over time these chemicals collect in the wax and seem to become much more damaging to the bees.”

There is some good news, though!  Greenpeace reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is introducing new labels for neonicotinoid pesticides that will prohibit the use of those pesticides when bees are present.  The labels will include information to reduce spray drift, and in red letters, they will read “this product can kill bees and other insect pollinators.”

Europe has already gone one step further, and has banned the use of neonicotinoids entirely, due to their fatal impact on European bee colonies.  A bill was just introduced in Congress to impose a ban on neonics until a scientific study can prove no harm will come to bee colonies from its use.  Greenpeace has a three step plan that includes:

  1. Banning the seven most dangerous pesticides
  2. Preserving wild habitat
  3. Restoring ecological agriculture

Ultimately, there must be a ban similar to Europe’s in order to protect our vital bee population.  Labeling is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Here’s How You Can Help

You can sign the petition asking Congress and the EPA for the ban on neonicotinoids, support local, organic farms in your region, and plant a bee-friendly garden of your own.

garden

Your choices do make a difference in keeping the earth around you a healthy home for bees and other wildlife.  Here’s a step by step plan to help you create a bee-haven, with some added tips from beekeeper David Berry:

Step One:  Do not use fungicides, herbicides or pesticides in your garden, relying instead on natural controls for insects and other gardening problems.  Read my tips on organic gardening here.

toddler gardening

Step Two:  Plan your garden to include pollen and nectar sources as close to all year round as possible.  On a warm winter day, honeybees may be out foraging for food for their young.

winter garden

Step Three:  Start with the earliest bloomers, including witchhazels, willows and Acer maples. David Berry adds that letting part of your property go back to its wild state helps to feed bees and other beneficial insects. He stresses that urban areas can be wonderful places for bees to collect nectar, too, where people plant gardens and water them. The next most important time is the middle of the summer, when the heat builds and not much is in bloom. That’s when plants such as Russian Sage and Lavender can be helpful. Clethera, sometimes called Sweet Pepper Bush, blooms on Nantucket in mid-summer, produces a beautiful fragrance and makes great honey. Luckily for Nantucket beekeepers, much of Nantucket’s open space has clethera growing on it, says Berry.

milky white witch hazel blooming after rain in the spring

Step Four:  Plant masses of flowers, as single plants may not attract bees. Another tip from David Berry: look for older cultivars. The older variety of plants are better for bees, including clover as part of the lawn. It wasn’t until the fertilizer companies convinced people that clover was a weed that it began to disappear. Clover makes some of the best bee nectar!

flowers

Step Five:  Plant with the bees’ favorite colors:  purple and blue, followed by yellow and orange.

honey bee

I would add my own petition, that if we are to protect the earth and all the living things in it, that we must first remember to see beauty in the smallest forms of life, and then share that beauty with a child.  Here are wise words from one of my favorite naturalists and authors, Rachel Carson, from her book The Sense of Wonder:

“And then there is the world of little things, seen all too seldom.  Many children, perhaps because they themselves are small and closer to the ground than we, notice and delight in the small and inconspicuous.  With this beginning, it is easy to share with them the beauties we usually miss because we look too hastily, seeing the whole and not its parts.  Some of nature’s most exquisite handiwork is on a miniature scale, as anyone knows who has applied a magnifying glass to a snowflake.”

Beautiful child with sunflower

Learn more about Rachel Carson and her work here.

For a humorous look at the life of bees, watch Bee Movie, written by Jerry Seinfeld!  The cartoon does point out that without bees pollinating our flowers and crops, plant life and our food chain would be in serious danger.  Watch a short clip here.

bee-9

For more information on bees, visit HoneybeeLives.org. 

 

 

Your Sacred Space: Part Two of an Interview with Trudy and Women on Fire Founder Debbie Phillips

Debbie Phillips

This is part two of my interview with Debbie Phillips for Women on Fire, the group she founded to bring an amazing circle of fabulous women together for inspiration, strategies and support.  The following is a transcript of part two of our talk on Your Sacred Space:  How to Create an Inspired, Healthy Living Environment. Read Part One here

continued…

Trudy:  What I’m striving for is indoor air quality–whatever we put in that space.  And the only space you can really control is your own environment, your home, so that everything in there supports your health and wellbeing.

Debbie:  Right.  Well, I love that notion, and I’m sure that people listening are thinking, “Well, how can I control other environments?”  But like you said, we can control our homes.  We can also control our cars, and some of us can control our offices.  Is there any way, Trudy, to control other environments–short of wearing a mask?

Trudy:  I think a lot of it is education, and you know I’m big on that.  I’m always trying to promote how to support yourself at home through my blog and also in the lectures I do on The Holistic House.  People ask, “Where should I begin?”  Begin in the nursery because your baby is sleeping in there 20-24 hours a day and breathing in that air.  But your own bedroom needs to be almost like a bell jar–really clean and free of dust and dust mites.  Don’t have a lot of wall-to-wall carpeting because there is so much that gets trapped underneath there.

Debbie:  Really?

Trudy:  Oh, yes, microbial growth.  At least area rugs can be sent out and steam cleaned.

Debbie:  Interesting.  So choose hardwood floors and rugs over wall-to-wall carpet.

Trudy: Hardwood floors, tile floors, stone floors–those are the cleanest.  They are the easiest to keep clean and dust-free.  When people who are really allergic or who have asthmatic children come to me, I tell them to damp mop their floors–as if we have enough free time to do all this.  But try to damp mop floors twice a week.  It is believed that our livers detox somewhere between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m.  Your liver and your kidneys are really hard at work, so you want to sleep in a really clean environment so you’re not still taxing your system and your organs.

Debbie:  Trudy, I’ve seen those air filters that often can be bought at specialty stores.  is there any kind or a particular air filter that you would recommend?

Trudy:  As you know, I had such a struggle with chemical sensitivity.  I had to go through a two-year detox program, which was almost like being on chemotherapy.  It was really rough.  So I don’t want to see other people go through that.  The one filter that the environmental physicians–there are only 400 in the whole world; it is a very specialized group–like is the Austin HealthMate Plus.  And the reason for that, Deb, is that it has a HEPA filter in there to filter out particulates–dust, mold spores, animal dander, pollen in the spring.  But it also has zeolite in the carbon filtration, which filters out vapors such as car fumes.  If you have a garage that’s part of your house, car fumes can infiltrate and go right through all the little perforations into the house.  The Austin HealthMate Plus filters out all of that.  It will filter out and lower the VOCs from your furniture because all furniture finishes have VOCs.  So that’s the filter I swear by.

Debbie:  That’s great.  Is there a particular kind of mattress or pillow or bedding?  I know it should be from organic cotton, but is there any particular brand or style that you think is best?

Trudy:  There are so many out there, so I want to tell everybody:  Buyer beware.  Make sure you really go to someone who can say that a mattress is truly organic cotton or it’s truly organic wool because it has been certified.  I personally like a wool mattress that’s been tufted, and then I have it encased in organic cotton.  I get my physician to write me a prescription slip, so to speak, to give to the people making the mattresses, saying that i refuse to have it sprayed with fire retardant.  By law, they have to add fire retardant in case there is a smoker in bed and a cigarette is dropped.  But it’s a problem because the rest of us have to pay the price by sleeping on a bed immersed in that chemical, and you really don’t want that.

Debbie:  Wow.

Trudy:  The other thing you want to do–because dust mites and the little things they leave behind are what a lot of people are allergic to, especially asthmatic children–is to get an encasement, a completely zip-around mattress protector.  It’s not just a pad on the top, and it’s made out of barrier cloth.  That keeps out dust mites, bed bugs, all those things that can happen, and you are much safer.  Your pillow really shouldn’t be foam or anything made of a chemical.  it should be organic cotton or organic wool, again, in an organic-cotton encasement protector.

Debbie:  Is there anything around the waterproofing of a mattress pad?  Would that necessarily have chemicals in it?

Trudy: It could.  Until I look at the label, I wouldn’t know.  You have to be careful of chemicals, especially where you are sleeping at night.  That’s the one room to change.  People say, “I can’t afford to go through and change my whole house.”  And I completely relate to that. But try to make your bedroom as clean, organic and chemical-free as possible.  That’s the goal.

Debbie:  This is so helpful because one of the things Rob and I have done is to create a couple’s sanctuary, but we have not gone to this level. This is very inspiring.  I want to talk about something else that would potentially be a tip, Trudy, and that is because we are talking about an inspired environment with a strong emphasis on creating a healthy environment.  I want to tell you a quick little story.  When I met Rob, who is now my husband, he had this rule that one way to create a sacred environment was that all shoes were to be removed before entering the house.  it took me a little while to get used to that, but I have adopted his ways and I have to say that I love it.  And, Trudy, you are the only other person I’ve met who has a porch full of shoes. I wondered if that’s a rule at your house–a shoeless house–and is there a good reason for not wearing shoes in the house?

Trudy: Absolutely.  I think it’s sacred.  It’s respectful to remove your shoes, to not bring in all that stuff from the street.  Asians do that a lot.  But there is also a very scientific reason for it:  When we are walking around on the street, we are actually walking through viruses, bacteria, chemicals sprayed on the streets to melt ice, and all of that.  We walk through that, and we definitely don’t want to track it into the house.  People I’ve studied with have said that if you could make pesticides iridescent and if you used a black light on them, they would glow.  And if you had somebody walk through his yard after it was sprayed for ticks or mosquitoes or whatever and then you tracked him as he walked through the house, there would be footprints everywhere he went in the house.  So that’s your practical reason.  Let’s not bring all this inside.  My biggest pet peeve is pesticides, chemicals, insecticides, mildewcides, and all of that.  I understand the purpose of it and I know what people are trying to do, but I think the public doesn’t always know the horrible side effects of it.

Debbie:  Right.  It’s funny, but I wonder if you have had this experience:  both of our homes on Martha’s Vineyard and Naples are shoeless, but I still feel a little embarrassed asking people to remove their shoes. 

Trudy:  You know what I do?

Debbie:  What do you do?

Trudy:  I go to Rite Aid and buy the little cotton socklets in all sizes, and I leave them right there at the door because sometimes people don’t want to slip on slippers if they feel that somebody else’s feet have been in there.  I relate to that.

Debbie:  I do too.

Trudy:  So get a fresh, sealed bag of little socklets, and you can get the ones that the men don’t mind wearing.  They’re almost like the little things they give you in the hospital when you’re walking up and down the halls.  And that just covers it when they’re in your home, and they can choose their colors.  Then it becomes sort of fun.

Debbie:  What a great idea.  Thank you, Trudy.  That solves that problem.  What are some other ways to detox our homes or space?  And, by the way, I hear a lot about that.  People will talk about, “I’m going to clear or detox my space.”  Is there an appropriate way to clear and detox a home?

Trudy: The biggest thing is what you put in it.  Let’s say you’re painting.  There was some wonderful person who sent me an email this morning, “How do you choose your paint?” I wasn’t sure if she was asking about color or if she wanted to know how to choose a safe paint.  For the latter, the biggest thing you can do, if you know you have oil-based paint and you’r’e going to repaint, is to go to a low-or no-VOC–again, Volatile Organic Compound–water-based latex paint.  Oil paint is a petroleum product.  People say, “Oh, my house doesn’t smell anymore.  I painted it three months ago.”  If you could dye those VOCs purple, you would see that they go on forever.  It’s truly deleterious to your health.  It’s truly injurious.  It’s not good for your lungs.  It’s just not good for a lot of reasons.

Debbie:  Do the major paint companies make those or do you have to find a special company?

Trudy: They do.  And so you don’t have to spend a fortune for that.  If you don’t have a chemical sensitivity, you probably don’t have to go as far as I do with it for my own health.

Debbie:  You were referring to a question from Jill Dulitsky, from Vernon, Connecticut.  She asked, ‘We are redoing our house and making a much more open floor plan.  How do you choose paint?”

Trudy: I emailed her back so we will continue that discussion, for sure.

Debbie:  I don’t know whether she did mean color.  Melissa McClain from Seattle, Washington, is very into color, and we should just bring up the color issue since I’m not sure what Jill meant.  Melissa asks, “What is your philosophy on finding the perfect color for your home or room?”

Trudy:  It’s really client-driven.  After I sit and talk with clients, I get a feel for what they like.  I also give them a client questionnaire.  It’s long.  I ask them, “What are your favorite colors?  What colors do you hate?” I tell them to get five of the current shelter magazines and tear out pages and write on them, saying, “Trudy, I love this.  I hate that.” By the time we’ve spoken and they’ve filled that out and I look at their tear sheets, I have a good sense of what they would thrive in.  There has been a lot of research done on people who have thyroid issues, which I do.  They thrive with the color blue.  Well, it’s no surprise that I have a lot of blue in my houses.  That’s my house in Connecticut.  Debbie would love it.  It’s more taupe and white and the sandy colors.  And say people with stomach issues really resonate to the color orange.  So, basically, what I do is interview everybody and I find out what they love.  Sometimes they don’t even really know what they’re gravitating to, but I can see it.  I can see it formulating.  Then we get a little report back to them, and we sit down and start with color swatches.  Then I see what they respond to.

Debbie:  I love it.

Trudy:  They always reach out with their hand for the things they love.

Debbie:  Really?

Trudy:  Oh, yes.  If they don’t like anything, the hand doesn’t come forward.  When they see a color they love, the hand goes out and they start rubbing it.  I say, “Oh, that’s it!  That’s the one.  That one likes Sea Glass.  She likes that color.”

Debbie:  This is why you are the genius you are.  That is really great to know.  I know you love blue. All those blues are so beautiful on your site.  What color don’t you like?

Trudy:  You know, it used to be orange, but I’m in love with that color now.  When I was going to art school, I took a course at Yale.  It was a color study course.  It forced us to become neutral about color.  Most people don’t know this–I think you might, Deb–but I was a fine arts major, and I was a painter first.

Debbie:  I did know that.

Trudy:  I approach color in a whole different way.  I had a studio in Rowayton, Connecticut, on the water.  I’m always by the water, whether it’s a river, a lake, Long Island Sound, Nantucket Sound, whatever.  I did commission paintings, and I loved it.  I taught art for a while in Rowayton, and I taught at New Canaan High School.  I loved working with the high-school students.  I just loved that.  But it was too solitary for me when I was working in the studio.  I’d come home at night and I’d think, “I didn’t talk to anybody all day.”  So I found myself gravitating toward doing rooms, and I thought, “OK, now I have to get more information about this.”  So I went back to school at Parsons in New York.  I also did a lot of on-the-job training.  I had some wonderful mentors and teachers.  You can shift course midstream.

Debbie:  Yes, you can.

Trudy:  It’s OK to do a mid-course correction.

Debbie:  Well, as I always say, we’re stomping our perimeter.  We’re building on what our interests are.  Like the fact that you were two years old and you were sketching, and then you just continued to build on that to be the person you are and create the amazing environments that you do now.

Trudy: You know, Deb, I really thought when I was younger that I was just going to grow up and be an artist.  I didn’t know I was going to go into interior design.  It just evolved.  It was an evolutionary process.

Debbie:  Melissa McClain also asked the question, “Was there a defining moment where you knew you wanted to be a designer?”

Trudy: Yes.  It was in that studio.  I said, “You know what?  I want to work with people.  I want to make rooms that they feel good in.  I want to work with fabric.”  I just jumped in and started.  I didn’t have enough training yet, so I went back and got the training that I felt I needed.  But the best training I had, Deb, was on the job, watching other designers that I really admired.

Debbie:  Oh, I’m sure.  Trudy, believe it or not, our chats just go so quickly.  In the ten minutes or so that we have left, I want to give our women some other tips for creating an inspired environment.  Are there other things, in addition to the advice that if you start with any place start with your bedroom?  Did we answer the question about what’s he right way to go about detoxing a room?

Trudy:  There are different ways to detox a room.  From a spiritual level, I like using sage.  When I first had a house in Monomoy on the water on Nantucket, I knew a wonderful woman who was a minister.  I had her come over, and she brought some other people.  We said prayers to the north, the east, the south and the west.  We asked blessings from every direction, and that was a truly blessed house.  Wonderful.  That’s one way to detox–mentally, spiritually and emotionally.  The other detox method concerns the materials you are using.  Say you bought a piece of furniture from a place where they use a lot of particleboards in the middle, and the formaldehyde levels are off the wall.  You can even smell it.  It has that kind of stinky smell.  I would get that piece of furniture right out of the room immediately.  I would stick it down in the basement until it offgasses enough.  That’s one way to detox.

Now the truth is that formaldehyde probably never offgasses enough that it’s truly safe.  But to detox a room, you have to minimize whatever is toxic in it.  So if it’s the furniture, that’s one thing that goes.  If it’s an old chemical-sprayed rug, one that you’ve used a lot of retardants for stain and stuff on, you just have to get rid of that.  It’s time to roll it up.  What people forget is that, even with area rugs, the pad underneath is disintegrating over time.  We have a friend in New York who is being treated for leukemia.  He had a stem cell transplant, and they’re calling me for a lot of advice on how to detox the home.  The big thing they talked about was that they had all of the Oriental rugs taken to be steam cleaned.  No chemicals, just steam cleaned.  But it was the pads underneath that needed to be changed.  There was too much microbial growth.

Debbie:  Interesting.

Trudy: Get a new pad for under your rug.  There are a lot of simple things you can do.  You can put a coat of nontoxic paint on the walls.

Debbie:  You’re inspiring me.  There are some really simple things like that I need to do.  I think we’ve had the pads under our rugs for ten years.

Trudy:  There’s always time for a change!  We vacuum the rugs all the time and even have them shampooed from the surface.  But it’s best to roll them up and send them out to be steam cleaned.  And we never check that pad.  I’m guilty too.

Debbie:  Hey, Trudy, I always hear about mold and how that is really dangerous in a home.  Is there anything we can do about mold?

Trudy: The minute you have heat and moisture and darkness, you have a breeding ground for mold.  Mold needs all three.  You don’t see mold growing in bright sunlight.  You don’t see mold growing where there is no moisture, and you don’t see it growing where there is no heat.  So, if it’s freezing outside, you don’t see mold growing on the rocks or anything.  Mold and pesticides–those two are my pet peeves.  It is deleterious to your health.  They affect respiratory systems. Stachybotrys atra is one.  There were some fatalities in Long Island of infants who were in basement rooms that had been paneled, and there was stachybotrys atra growing on the sheetrock behind the paneling.

Debbie:  How do you test for mold?

Trudy: You can get kits.  You can order them online.  You put these little plates out, and then you collect them and send them off to a lab.  They will tell you if you have it or not.  You can also use a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH).  They are wonderful.  These guys are like doctors.  They are just amazing.  They have so much information, and they can come and check for you.  It’s truly like having people with doctoral degrees in all these chemicals and the molds.  They are very valuable.  I have one I use all the time:  Microecologies in New York.  I’ve known them for about 15 to 20 years, and I have a lot of trust and faith in them.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, Deb, but when I walk into a moldy house, it smells sweet to me.  Have you ever noticed that?  I can smell the mold or the mildew.

Debbie:  Well, you’re such a pro, Trudy.

Trudy: I don’t know if it’s being a pro or that I have such heightened smells from being chemically sensitive.  That’s one of the downfalls of being chemically sensitive.

Debbie:  And I’m just so glad that you’ve been able to recover.  One of the reasons is because you live in this holistic house.

Trudy:  Deb, there’s one last thing I wanted to say.  We’re probably getting close to the end.

Debbie:  We are.

Trudy:  I was so torn between just talking about how to make your home pretty and beautiful and talking about it being green and healthy.  Then I realized that I want the two to go together, hand in hand.  And that’s why I talk about “eco-elegant.”  I want the two to not be separate, but to be all one.

We focused on the “green” now, because let’s start with everybody’s health.  Their environment, their built-in environment, their home, or just their bedroom, if they can do only one room in the home, is truly supporting.  It’s their underpinning.

Debbie:  Yes.

Trudy:  It’s got their back, so to speak, and their heart, as (Woman on Fire) Agapi Stassinopoulos (author of Unbinding the Heart) would say.

Debbie:  That is a very beautiful way to put that.  And, you know, Trudy, you are such a part of Women on Fire, and I’m grateful for Women on Fire to have access to your wonderful work.  I could go on and on.  I’m grateful to have a woman like you.

Trudy: Thank you.  I am so honored to be a part of this interview.

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Gardening with Nature

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Someone once said that a garden (and lawn, for that matter) has very little to do with nature.  A walk through the woods is proof that wild vegetation is opportunistic and provides only the toughest competitors with space, sunlight and nutrients.  By contrast, we fill our garden with tender annuals and plants that have gone through multiple hybridizations until they bear little resemblance to their original form. Add to that that we prefer our lawns and gardens weed free, carefully edged and mulched, and there’s a sharp divide between a wild meadow and suburban landscaping.

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The real difference, however, is our dependence on chemical pesticides, herbicides and fungicides to keep our properties looking as nature never intended.  The best way to create a garden fit for children and pets is to make it a sanctuary for life:  bees buzzing through the flowers, trees brimming with nests and berries, and soft grass that’s safe for bare feet.

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Lawn and garden chemicals are poisons to living things.  They pollute our water, harm wildlife and interrupt the delicate balance of our eco-system.  100 million pounds of lawn care chemicals are used by homeowners on their lawns every year.  These include chemicals that kill weeds, insects and a variety of plant diseases.  Many of these chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, and liver or kidney damage.  There is a way to have a healthy lawn and garden without resorting to chemicals, however.  Here are three simple steps you can take right away:

  • Healthy soil = healthy plants.  Good soil is alive, teeming with bacteria and organic content that is naturally resistant to pests and disease.  You can boost your soil’s health by spreading organic compost or alfa meal.
  • Use corn gluten as an organic fertilizer.  Organic fertilizers feed your lawn slowly; quick release chemical fertilizers encourage rapid growth that weakens the grass, promotes disease and leaches into nearby surface waters.
  • Tolerate a few weeds.  You can dig them out by hand if they bother you, or you can adopt the philosophy of “live and let live.”  A few weeds in the garden can also provide a home for beneficial insects, which keep the overall landscape in good health.

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Worried about fleas and ticks?  Here are four ways to combat these pests without toxic chemicals:

  • Use Natural Flea and Tick Controls on Your Companion Animals: Look for Buck Mountain Parasite Dust, available only through veterinarians and pet stores.  Its active insecticide is a chemical derived from the Neem tree, which is both a repellant and provides disinfectant and healing properties.  A favorite pet store is Earth Animal, which offers a three step process for natural flea and tick control.  Learn more here.
  • Reduce the tick habitat naturally:  Ticks like moist and shady areas, so let in more sunlight.  If there are many trees, it’s possible to thin their crowns to let more sunlight reach the ground.  Clearing away leaf debris (a favorite tick home) is important, as is cleaning up along stone walls and keeping them free of branches, weeds and other plant debris.
  • Establish a Tick Border: A Tick Border is a three to four foot wide woodchip border that is established between the woody edges of your property and your lawn.  Ticks are loath to cross the sunny, plant free zone.
  • Put up Deer Fencing to stop “tick buses:”  A single deer can be host to more than 200 ticks, so by removing their hosts, you reduce the number of ticks.

Here’s Where to Learn More

Earth

We’re all connected to each other and to every living thing.  The earth is one planet, with air and ocean currents that ignore international boundaries and continents that are impervious to lines drawn on a map.  On a much smaller level, the chemicals you use on your lawn and garden do not stay on your property.  It’s up to each one of us to research and find less-toxic solutions to our pest problems.  You can start here:

  • Integrated Pest Management:  IPM is an environmentally sensitive approach that suppresses pest populations and reduces use of pesticides.  It’s a safer means of controlling pests, with an emphasis on control, not eradication.  IPM holds that wiping out an entire pest population is impossible and environmentally unsafe.  Natural biological processes provide control with minimal environmental impact.  That may mean using beneficial insects that eat target pests, or biological insecticides, derived from nature. The EPA has more information:  read it here.
  • Bio-Integral Resource Center:  BIRC is a nonprofit organization that offers leadership in the development of IPM methods.  BIRC works with homeowners, farmers, cities, park and water districts, schools and pest control professionals in pesticide use reduction.  Visit their website here. 
  • Two books to add to your library:  Common Sense Pest Control, by William Olkowski and Sheila Daar, and Less Toxic Alternatives, by Carolyn Gorman.

book Common Sense Pest Controlbook Less Toxic Alternatives

 

Connecting the Dots

There’s so much information about health risks bombarding us every day, warning us to avoid things or add things, do this and don’t do that.  It can make your head spin.  Scientists and environmental physicians agree that exposure to chemicals can be dangerous for your long term health.  The problem is that illnesses, including cancer and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, can take decades to develop.  We’re all exposed to thousands of toxins both inside and outside our homes:  how do we connect the dots and protect ourselves and our families from harmful chemicals?

You wouldn’t take a bath in paint thinner or breathe gas fumes for fun, as Mehmet Oz, M.D., and Michael Roizen, M.D. said in a recent article they wrote for Real Age.  But little risks, such as breathing paint fumes one day and cleaning with ammonia another, may add up.  Melanie Haiken wrote a wonderful informative piece on how to cancer proof your home, including how to replace seven carcinogens you may not have recognized for Yahoo Health.

To keep it simple, here are my top five things I believe everyone should do.  Remember that a healthy home is the ultimate luxury!

1. Make your bedroom the cleanest room in the house.

During sleep, your body works to remove any toxins you were exposed to during the day, and to restore energy and health for body and mind.  Replace your mattress and bedding with an organic mattress, made with natural latex, wool or organic cotton.  Be sure your pillows are all natural as well.  Non-organic cotton is grown in fields soaked in insecticides; dyes and color fixers use heavy metals such as chromium, copper and zink.  You can request “no fire retardant chemicals” be used on your mattress; this requires a prescription from your doctor.

2. Keep the air in your house pure.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America rates indoor air quality as one of the top five environmental health risks.  Clear and purify your air by adding a room air-purifier, or go further and install a central filtration system.  Models are available that can remove particulates such as dust and pet dander, along with molds, spores, pollen and chemical gases such as sulfuric acid, ammonia and formaldehyde.  Commercial cleansers are often overlooked culprits in polluting indoor air; some of their ingredients are carcinogenic and toxic to the lungs, liver and kidneys.

3.  Reduce or Eliminate VOCs with Water-Based Paints.

That just-painted smell is actually the off-gassing of chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, toluene and zylene.  The Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from paints last far longer than the odor does, as can vapors from floor stains, finishes, sealants and caulks. According to the EPA, some of these VOCs are known to cause cancer.  Low- or No-VOC products use water as a carrier instead of petroleum-based solvents, reducing the levels of heavy metals and formaldehyde. Even low VOC paints, though, can contain fungicides and biocides, used to prevent mildew growth and extend shelf life.  A product I use and recommend is EnviroSafe Paints, which uses no fungicides or biocides at all.

4. Be Clean and Green with Non-Toxic Cleansers
Many conventional cleaning products, rather than cleaning your home, actually pollute it with a toxic mixture of petrochemicals. Experts say chemicals inside our homes may have concentrations of up to 100 times higher than outdoor air. Synthetic fragrances are added to mask the odor of chemical vapors, implicated in headaches, dizziness, skin rashes and respiratory problems, as well as deadly diseases.  There are many good green cleaning products on the market made from natural ingredients, such as Seventh Generation:  look for products containing citrus oils and enzymes.  You can also make your own from items you have in your pantryI’ve given instructions on an earlier post.  Read it here.


5.  Protect your lawn and garden from contaminants.

Once you’ve made your home a safe-haven from fumes and toxic chemicals, you won’t want to live surrounded by pesticides and harsh fertilizers.  Lawn and garden chemicals are poisons to things that live, including you and your pets.  The residue from these products are too easily tracked into your house, polluting your pristine space.  A study from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) found pesticides in 100% of the people who had both blood and urine tested.  Many of these chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, and liver or kidney damage.  Learn to tolerate a few weeds, or get the family outside in the fresh air to dig them out by hand.  Healthy soil is “alive,” so boost your soil’s health by spreading organic compost or alfa meal.

To do even more for your health, be vigilant about BPA in plastic bottles and pitchers, and in canned goods.  Cook with glass, cast iron or porcelain or ceramic-coated pans rather than old nonstick cookware.  And choose skincare products made from natural and organic ingredients.  Doing just these few things will help to minimize the effects of unavoidable exposure to toxic chemicals and fumes.

Finally, believe, like I do, in the Power of One:  the power each of us has to make an impact, create change, and help heal the earth.

 

 

 

 

 

Drink Your Vegetables

 

Part of living a Holistic lifestyle is taking the best care you can of your mind, body and spirit.  Today our world is host to innumerable chemicals and potential toxins that we breathe into our lungs, absorb into our skin, and digest with our food.  Some of the environmental assault is unavoidable, but we all can make healthier choices to feel good so we have the energy to do good.

I feel my best when I eat foods that are gluten-free, sugar-free and organic.  Everyone’s body and nutritional needs are slightly different, so it may take some trial and error before you find the foods that make you feel terrific and energized, instead of drowsy and fuzzy-headed.

For those of us in Connecticut, there are organic cafes nearby that offer healthy, green drinks and organic, raw foods to add energy and zest to your life.  Here are two of my favorites:

 

The Stand Juice Company

The Stand Juice Company,  located in both Norwalk and Fairfield, Connecticut, serves vegan muffins, cupcakes and cookies, as well as salads, vegetarian sandwiches and of course, a large array of juices.  The “Greenie” has kale, collards, cucumber and celery; the “Freshie” is a blend of cucumber, apple and lemon.  You can find a smoothie with raw cacao, dried cherries, banana, flax seeds and almond milk (the “Choco-Cherry) or apple, banana, cinnamon, hemp protein and almond milk (the “Hempster.)

The guiding principle behind their foods and juices is that our bodies need fresh, organic, alkaline foods for optimal health.  You can find them in Norwalk at 31 Wall Street, and in Fairfield at 87 Mill Plain Road.  Or check out their website here.

Catch a Healthy Habit Cafe

Healthy Habit founders Glen Colello and Lisa Storch created the raw food and juice cafe to offer their customers a wide array of foods that cover the healthy-eating spectrum.  They offer raw juices, smoothies, and meals that sound familiar (burgers, spaghetti and meatballs, pad thai) but that are made from healthy ingredients.  The pad thai has zucchini and kelp noodles, for instance.  And the “meatballs” are meatless.

Mr. Colello trained at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) in Manhattan and is certified as a health counselor.  Although he changed his eating habits in one day ten years ago, giving up meat, dairy and sugar, he understands that most people transition to healthy eating more slowly.  The shop is designed to help customers on their healthy eating journey, and appeals to all different palates.  Visit them online here.

Connecticut Green Drinks

Every month, people who are focused on green, sustainable living and who are working toward a healthier planet can meet to discuss their plans and goals at events across the state called “Green Drinks.”  Green Drinks offers a social networking venue for the eco-conscious, and most groups meet monthly.  Groups meet in Stamford (Wednesdays), Norwalk (Saturdays), Fairfield (Tuesdays), Bridgeport (Wednesdays)  and New Haven (Wednesdays).  For more information, go to ctgreendrinks.com.

I hope 2013 is the year you take better care of yourself.  Start small if you need to, by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet.  And try out some of the delicious juices offered at The Stand and Catch a Healthy Habit!  You’ll love how you feel.

 

 

 

 

 

Driving Down Electric Avenue

Imagine a perfect world, or a world close to perfect:  one without noxious CO2 emissions and a rapidly declining ozone layer caused by millions of gas-guzzling vehicles crowding the streets of the world.   The possibility is closer than ever, when automakers plan to have as  many as 30 different electric cars driving down U.S. avenues by 2015!  (Although visionaries have always planned for electric cars, as seen in the 1905 version, above!)

Unlike hybrid cars, which are still powered by a battery and a gasoline engine, electric cars today are powered exclusively by electricity.  What’s changed?  Battery technology has improved, meaning that batteries stay charged for longer distances, and auto makers are better able to respond to consumer demand.

Electric cars reduce our dependency on foreign oil.  Drivers of EV’s (Electric Vehicles) charge their cars at home, never go to gas stations, and never have to schedule oil changes or emission tests.  Some, like the Chevrolet Volt, retain their hybrid status, giving drivers the option of using gas for longer journeys.  With an MSRP of $31,645., the Volt is typical of the new brand of affordable EVs, very different from the six figure Tesla.   (Even they have a new Model S rolling out this fall, with prices beginning at $49,999.)

Today, you can buy a Chevrolet Volt, a Nissan Leaf, or a Mitsubishi i-MIEV, all for under $50,000.  There’s also a $7,500. federal tax credit available Take a look:

Chevrolet Volt owners only go to the gas station once a month, according to the manufacturer.  Launched in 2011, new models have an extended range and the option of electricity or gas.  MSRP:  $31,645.

There are already 36,000 Nissan Leafs on the road,  With no tailpipe and no emissions and no gas station fill ups, the starting MSRP of $35,200. has become affordable to more environmentally-minded consumers.

The Mitsubishi i-MIEV claims to be the most affordable electric car available.  The starting MSRP of $29,975. gets you a car with a markedly different appearance:  the company says it’s their “eco-status symbol,” designed to get people thinking about creating a different world.

Charging your car on the electric grid means that the environmental cost is transferred to the utility company rather than OPEC oil dealers.  Although that’s still not a perfect solution, it maintains a stronger local economy in our own country, rather than paying for high priced oil.  At a cost to operate of 2 cents per mile, versus a gasoline powered cost of 9 cents a mile, and no emissions, it clearly seems as if we should support the new technology.  The more electric cars we purchase, the faster the solutions will be developed.

The future belongs to us and to the decisions we make about how to live.  I believe in the Power of One to make a difference in the world.  My next car?  I’m not sure which I’ll buy, but it’s going to be electric.

 

 

We Are the Stewards of Our Planet’s Future

10th Annual Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design Hosted by the Design Futures Council

I’ve recently had the privilege of attending several important and inspirational conferences dealing with sustainable design and how designers, architects and engineers can work together to protect the fragile health of our planet.  The Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design, held in Boston earlier this month, was one of the most stirring and motivating of all.

The Design Futures Council, an interdisciplinary network that explores global trends, challenges and opportunities to advance and shape the future of the industry and the environment, sponsors the Annual Summit.  Limited to a delegation of 100 leaders in the field of architecture, design and construction, the event was convened to identify change drivers, analyze emerging data and explore innovation in sustainable design.

The First Leadership Summit and the Nantucket Principles

There are certain achievements in my life in which I take the most pride:  one of these is my participation in the very first Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design, held on Nantucket Island nine years ago.  At that three day session, the Nantucket Principles were developed, providing a philosophical, strategic and tactical path toward sustainable design.  Since that first session in Nantucket, the Summit has been held throughout North America, in St. Louis, Boston, Santa Fe, Austin, Vancouver, Chicago and Atlanta.

We knew then, and believe today, that the planet can become healthier, greener and more abundant.  We have pledged ourselves to that goal, to engage, to listen, to learn, to educate, and to act toward a strong sustainable model.

 

I invite you to join us in our work by engaging in holistic living, embracing sustainable principles, and challenging limiting beliefs wherever you find them.

All the Summit speakers gave incredible and moving presentations, some of my favorites among them were:

  • Michael Graves, a DFC Senior Fellow, who recognized students and emerging leaders
  • Natalia Allen, a design futurist, who spoke on Weaving Sustainability and Technology
  • Ed Mazria, a DFC Senior Fellow, who talked about Leadership Toward 2030, What We Are Learning About Our Biggest Challenges
  • Bob Berkebile, a DFC Senior Fellow, who talked about Redefining Design and Practice:  Journey to Regenerative Design
  • William Kamkwamba, a self-educated Malawian inventor, who gained fame in his country when in 2002, he built a windmill to power electrical appliances in his house in Masitala using blue gum trees, bicycle parts and materials collected in a local scrapyard.  His story is told in his inspirational book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind:  Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, written with journalist Bryan Mealer. http://www.amazon.com/Boy-Who-Harnessed-Wind-Electricity/dp/0061730327

 

Important Points to Ponder

  • Could climate change be happening much faster than some scientists claim?  What would be the result?  James Hanson, director of the Goddard Institute at NASA, talks about it in this video.  Watch it! http://bigthink.com/jameshansen

Thank you for taking the time to read and share these important topics.  As the Design Futures Council declares, we are not waiting for an economic upturn or new regulations.  We are not waiting for someone else to lead.  We will act.  I hope you will too.